Author Interview ~ Fran Clark

Today SSV welcomes Fran Clark, a professional singer and songwriter, and now the author of Holding Paradise – a novel of mother, daughter, and their search for connection. Fran was born and currently lives in West London. She is studying for a Creative Writing MA at Brunel University. Recently, she released her second album of original songs. She is now working towards the completion of her second novel. Fran talked to me about her novel and her writing.

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Fran, please tell us about your book and where you got your inspiration for it? Why did you feel you had to tell this story?
Holding Paradise is about love, trust, betrayal. It explores relationships and takes us from the Caribbean to London and back again. I was inspired by my mother’s stories about life in the Caribbean that I compared to that of someone raised in London, as I was. That sparked an idea about the lives of two women from different worlds.

What did you enjoy the most about writing it?
I think the thing that was most satisfying was my relationship with the characters. They lived with me for almost three years – the time it took me to write it. I watched them grow and they helped me move the narrative along into places I may not necessarily have planned.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it all imagination?
In some respects, there are similarities, but I would have to say that it was important to infuse more imagination into the story than real life. Who wants to read about real life anyway? Most of us are pretty boring. A novel is a place to escape real life.

What do you think about research? Did your book require lots of it? How do you research?
I recently wrote a post about research. I think it is absolutely necessary if it adds to the authenticity of your story. As writers we need to achieve a believable sense of time, place and setting. Imagination alone is not always going to get you there. If historical detail is needed then you need to get your facts straight. Holding Paradise did not need a lot of research, and I was able to find answers by talking to family and reading up on the time the novel is set. Research can be very exciting but you don’t want your fiction to sound like a history book. Making the researched material flow into the narrative is important.

Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Well hate is a strong word but I certainly disliked many attempts at writing along the way. I write short stories and some of them should never see the light of day. I have two novels filed away on my laptop that I’m sure I will never resurrect although I may borrow some of the better ideas within them some day.

What are some things you learned from writing this book?
Mostly I learned that I love to write. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. I am a singer-songwriter, and music has always been my passion. I’m happy when I’m making music and can’t imagine my life without it. And that is exactly how I feel about my writing now too.

What do you think about editors: writers’ best friends or necessary evil? What was your experience with editors?
Yikes – don’t get me started.  Pretty sure I’ve written a post about this on my blog too! Firstly I have to say editors are completely necessary. All top writers have them and so should all the rest of us. I get tired of reading awful grammar and typos in books. Those writers who feel they don’t need them are mistaken. Writing is a lonely job but to make your writing really work you need to bring in expert help. I didn’t always see eye to eye with my editor about some of the changes he wanted to make but with compromise we worked it through and he absolutely improved on a few aspects of my writing.

What’s next? What are you working on now?
I’m in the middle of writing my second novel. Unfortunately it is taking a bit of a back seat because of family commitments and the heavy workload from my Creative Writing MA. But I intend to finish it this year. Lots of research is needed for this story, so I need to get stuck in and get it written. I’m really looking forward to completing it – having a second novel will make me feel truly initiated into the title of writer.

What is your writing environment (a quiet room, a coffee shop, loud music, etc)?
I usually need as much quiet as I can get. I sometimes write late at night when everyone else is tucked up in bed or in the early hours of the morning when everyone else is still asleep. As a bad sleeper this tends to work for me. But it must be said that I can lose myself in my writing and whether I have music playing softly in the background, or the television is loud in the room next door, I can click away at the keys and not notice anything else.

When did you first tell yourself: I’m a writer?
That didn’t happen until I let other people read my work. The feedback I got from the first readers of Holding Paradise was very encouraging but it wasn’t until I paid for a professional critique. After I read the report I thought, ‘Hey, a professional has read this and didn’t laugh out loud.’ It was a positive report and to have someone I didn’t know speak about my work like that made me want to pat myself on the back: I had arrived.

Are you scared of sharing ideas – so nobody could steal them?
That has never really occurred to me. It is often said that there are no new stories or plots and in many respects that’s true. The important thing is the telling of the story and that’s what sells books. I focus on my storytelling and making sure I’m writing something that is worth reading. That’s all I can do. If someone has to steal ideas, then that’s pretty sad, don’t you think?

What do you do when a new idea pops up in your head while you’re working on something else?
Notebooks. The writer’s friends. Jot all your ideas down. You can come back to them anytime and by recording it you’ll never forget the idea. But there is no problem with writing more than one story at a time. Some writers prefer to work that way while others find they have to focus on one. I’m a multi-tasker but I don’t think I could work on two novels at once. I can fit in the odd short story and my assignments for University but that’s about all. That’s more than enough if you want to do your writing justice.

What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Just start. Be dedicated and persevere. There will always be difficult times and times when you feel you are writing rubbish. But that’s what editing is for. As long as you are passionate about your story then the ideas will come. See if you can finish the whole piece, that is do a complete first draft, without the input of others. When you get to second draft stage, then get opinions as those can sometimes help you improve your writing. Trust your own opinions too. Don’t assume that because someone doesn’t like something about your story that it is wrong. Writing should never feel like hard work. I’ve spent some really happy times just tapping away on my laptop.

 

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Holding Paradise

On a grey and miserable morning in 2008, London businesswoman Angelica Ford boards a plane and flies off to the blues and greens of her mother’s island in the Caribbean. Angelica is desperate. She is looking for a way to save her marriage and win back her daughter. A web of lies has torn a hole into her seemingly perfect world and she is convinced that only her mother, Josephine Dennis, can help her turn her life around.

Josephine Dennis arrived in England by ship on a cold winter morning as a young mother joining her husband. She weathers a lifetime of secrets and betrayal, as she raises her family in 1960s London. A matriarch with strong family values, she told her children colorful stories to guide them through life. It is the wisdom of one of these stories that Angelica seeks. Josephine has one last story to tell – the story that could change both of their lives.

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Fran will have her online book launch on Friday April 25 on her website, from 9am to 9pm GMT. See details on her blog to sign up for the party and a chance to win a copy of Holding Paradise. You can also view the book trailer on Youtube.

 

Author Interview: Jonathan Dunne ~ Balloon Animals

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing author Jonathan Dunne ahead of the paperback release of his comedy, Balloon Animals. Here’s what he had to say about his book, his writing, and his inspiration.

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What was the first thing you ever wrote?  

Some free verse poetry – very free. I liked to get away from it all. Instead of being cool and chatting up girls or smoking with my friends, I’d go sit in a field and just let my mind wander. Can you imagine! I soon realised that poetry wasn’t for me. It wasn’t blatant enough, too full of metaphors and allegories, and I prefer to tell it how I see it. What’s funny is that my main character in Balloon Animals, Jonny Rowe, speaks in metaphors when he’s nervous.

I began writing short stories and had a few published before starting my first novel. I wrote it as a thriller but, after reading it, a London agent asked me if it was a parody of a thriller. That was the moment when I realised that writing humour was where my natural talent lay, so I’m sticking with it.

Though all my writing, I think, has a certain sadness to it. To me, life is a tragic-comedy. It all started when I used to edit my mum’s shopping lists as a child. I’d join all the items together with a narrative plot – you know, the carrots blamed the turnips for the murder while the milk just stood there and watched.

What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

When I lose myself in it. It’s the best feeling. I feel like I’m on top of the world.

Other than your own, of course, what is your favourite book? What inspires you?

I don’t have a particular fave but I like ‘Fup’ by Jim Dodge, and anything by Dickens. If I’m being completely honest, my weakness is that I don’t read so much. I worry that reading other books will dilute my work, so I tend to stick with the masters, people I can learn from, without fear of it influencing my own writing. That doesn’t mean that I think there’s no good writing out there. I just have a very clear vision of what I want to read.

Film is my biggest inspiration. I love ‘Harold and Maude.’ I watch it at least three times a year.

Of course, music is also a big source of inspiration to me. DeVotchka’s music accompanied me through much of Balloon Animals because it has this great tragic-comic atmosphere that really helped set the mood. I recently did a two-way interview with Tom Hagerman of DeVotchka (Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack), which  I thoroughly enjoyed. At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Eastern European gypsy music to help inspire me for my new novel, Living Dead Lovers.

What’s your favourite opening line?

Hmm…if I had to pick one I’d say the opener to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’:  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Is there a book you wish you’d written?

No. The book I wish I’d written hasn’t happened yet. Not until I write it. That might sound odd but each book written is personal and applies to it’s writer. I can’t imagine writing any other type of book than the ones I write. There are certain books that I admire greatly, but each book is so personal, pure of form and particular to it’s creator. For that reason, that’s why there isn’t a book I wish I’d written.

Describe Balloon Animals in one sentence.

A tragic-comedy road-trip of unusual proportions.

How long had Jonny Rowe been with you before you gave him life on the page?

He grew as I wrote him. I just knew I had a character who was genuine, if slightly gullible to the ways of the world. Jonny wasn’t someone that I had fleshed out before I started writing, he grew with every page I wrote, and I edited as I went along.

For example, if Jonny had done something on page 5 that no longer fitted the Jonny on page 105, I’d go back and rewrite page 5, bringing it in line with who I knew Jonny would become by page 105.

How long did Balloon Animals take to write?

About a year, off and on. I passed it round a few London agents and all of them found something to like but, unfortunately for me, they found more not to like. One agent’s response to me was, “I don’t know how to sell it.”

My books tend to not be for the mass-market, and I know that goes against me, so I put it away for a while. Some books take a while to find their audience. Eventually I decided to self-publish and, lo-and-behold, my book is finding its market.

Jonny Rowe struck me as a loveable guy who hadn’t yet found his purpose in life and was struggling to make the transition from boy to man. It took a profound event, the death of 45, to spur him to action and introduce him to the man he could be. How much of Jonny, if any, is you?

Jonny is an easy guy to identify with. I think like Jonny sometimes, and even act like him, but Jonny is certainly a magnified version of me. I suppose I think a bit like Jonny, yet his purity is something that escapes me. Jonny is a surprisingly sweet guy considering the odd upbringing that he had.

Who is your favourite character from the book?

I don’t have one particular favourite over the others, though there were some characters I enjoyed writing more than others. Sooty Le Danse was a blast to write. She was the one character who was so strong that I didn’t have to think about who she was. She was almost independent. I wrote Sooty’s scene in half an hour. The first draft is what you read in the book. That bit was fun!

Jonny Rowe is part of an hysterically funny yet dysfunctional family, but within it there is the beautiful relationship between him and 45. Did you have your own 45?

I’m afraid the short answer to that question is ‘No.’ He’s complete fiction. Although, if I think about it, I suppose 45 is an amalgamation of lots of people I’ve met on the way. Really, 45 is an organic character that grew as I wrote him. I wish I had a 45 though!

One of the things that struck me about Balloon Animals when I read it was that it was obviously a comedy, but less obvious was the love story, the tragedy, and the coming of age story that it is as well. How much of that was your intention at the outset and how much of it grew out of the natural development of the story?

For me, writing is an organic process and the story grew naturally. It wasn’t anything I planned. Balloon Animals is a character-driven novel and I feel that there has to be a clear development of those characters, and the story, as a result.

So would you say that Balloon Animals panned out the way you thought it would?

Absolutely. I don’t know exactly what will happen on the next page during the writing process, but I have key scenes in mind and where they’ll be. Then I work on the narrative that joins it all together until the big picture is revealed. I compare my writing process to children’s dot-to-dot pictures.

Any unexpected developments in the plot that caught you by surprise?

Digging up 45’s corpse. Not even I was expecting that!

If we could get a sneak peak into Jonny Rowe’s life now, what would he be doing?

I think he’d be happier in himself and his life, but he’d still be sitting around the bong-house…and he’d never forget about the possibility of unwanted guests. Jonny complains a lot about his crazy life but I think he secretly likes it. Who knows!

If you could give Jonny Rowe one piece of advice what would it be?

At this stage, I’d ask Jonny for advice.

When can we expect to see the paperback?

Hopefully around May or June 2013, if I concentrate!

What was the best and worst part of writing Balloon Animals?

The worst part was the editing process (and I still find mistakes. Oops!). Hopefully all the errors will be eliminated by the time the paperback comes out, which will be one of the best bits so far.

Share with us a typical writing day.

My days are quite busy so I try to write in the mornings when my head is clear. I normally put ‘real life’ chores on the back-burner until after I’ve left my fictional world. I have a cabin next to my house where I write, except for when it’s really cold when I hide in the attic. I have a great view through the window in front of my desk from up there. It’s pretty cool.

Any funny superstitions or rituals?

I have a hotel reception bell that I ring once to announce my arrival into my other world. For me, staying in a hotel is quasi-real, just like my books. I also like to be surrounded by antique ticking clocks.

What are you working on next? When can we expect to see the next Jonathan Dunne novel?

My new book is called Living Dead Lovers and should be out some time in late summer at the rate I’m going. It’s about a half gypsy clairvoyant who falls in love with one of her dead clients. You can see the predicament she’s in…

The story follows the unconventional life of Valentina ‘Cabbage’ Moone, starting with her growing up with her Romanian gypsy mother and her father, who is a romantic, and continuing into her adult life where she is now a famed clairvoyant. It’s written in the third person and is similar to Balloon Animals in that it is written like a fictional autobiography. If you like Balloon Animals then you’ll like Living Dead Lovers.

Do you have any hobbies?

I collect antique clocks. As well as liking the sound of them, I like repairing them as well.

When you’re not busy writing or daydreaming, what do you like to do to relax?

Along with repairing antique clocks, I love having a mock fight on the lawn with my daughters and my Vietnamese pig, Georgie.

Jonathan Dunne, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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Head on over to read (the Greedy Reader) Emma’s book review of Balloon Animals. Find out more about Jonathan Dunne and his work on his website

Author Interview: Mia Marshall ~ Elements Series

Sonja recently had the privilege of sitting down with Mia Marshall. Mia is the author of the Element series and the second of book of the series, Shifting Selves, has just been released. Let’s dive into the interview and get an inside scoop into the series and Mia!

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What three words would you do to describe yourself?

Start out with an easy one, why don’t you? Let’s go with introverted, goofy, and determined. Determined is a nice way to say ‘overly intense on occasion.’

Are you anything like what you thought you would be when you were a kid?

Well, I still spend most of my discretionary income on books, and I still prefer fantasy worlds to reality, so that’s the same. In a lot of ways, I’m exactly what ten-year-old me would have wanted: I’m a writer, I have cats, I frequently eat cereal for dinner. I did take a lot of unexpected paths to get here, which would have thrilled the younger version of me.

Do you have ritual habits that you do when you write? If so, what are they?

I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. If I’m struggling to find words, I put on music. If I’m still struggling, I move to the couch for a change of scenery. If things are really bad, I take a dance break. But really, sit down and write is the ritual.

What do you do on a bad writing day? How do you get out of the funk?

No matter what, I have a minimum word count I assign myself each writing day, at least 1000 words. But I don’t beat myself up if those words aren’t particularly good, or if I stop the moment I hit 1001. So long as I keep writing, regardless of how hard it feels or how much I dislike what I’m churning out, I know I’m making progress.

What did you edit OUT of your books? What was the hardest thing to cut out?

In every book, there seems to be one character that doesn’t make it past the first draft. They’re either superfluous or require a lot more attention than I can give them in order to have a proper arc. In Shifting Selves, for instance, the first draft had Mac’s Dad show up for the final third, but he didn’t really add anything to the story. So, I sent him back to the woods until he’s needed for a future book. These cuts aren’t hard for me, really. Once I see the final, much tighter version, I usually just wonder what the hell I was thinking for the first draft.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher who first wrote “wordy” in the margins of one of my stories. I have a tendency to use twenty words when ten will do, and I constantly need to be aware of that. Part of it is just my style–I’ll never write sparse prose, nor do I want to–but I keep “wordy” in mind when I’m editing, and it helps me pare down my wealth of adverbs.

The best compliment is any time someone tells me my books transported them to another world and they can’t wait for the next one. There’s really no higher praise than that.

When you read a negative review, how do you react? Does your face scrunch up in disagreement? Do you cuss and rant out loud? Do you fall inside your thoughts and contemplate if they may be right?

It depends on the review. If it’s a variation on “It just wasn’t for me,” I shrug and move on, because no book is for everyone. A lot of reviews completely contradict each other, so I’d drive myself mad if I took them too seriously. If there are good points in a review, I’ll absolutely take them into consideration for future books, but I let my instincts tell me which ones I should pay attention to and which I should ignore.

The reviews that seem to completely miss a plot point or theme or that fixate on small details sometimes lead to muttering and cursing, but I usually rant to a friend and then just try to let it go. You can’t internalize this stuff–that way lies self-doubt, writer’s block, and the bottom of a bag of Cheetos. If it gets too bad, I remind myself that the 50 Shades bundle has a higher score on Goodreads than Macbeth, and suddenly the reviews seem far less important.

There has been a lot of talk recently in reading communities about Series vs. Serials. While there is definitely a series arc as to Aidan’s discovery of herself, I really appreciate that each book tells a complete story. How many books do you have planned in the series? Do you have the arc mentally (or visually) planned? Or do you wing it?

I definitely have a plan, though it’s drawn in broad strokes, and the details change as I move through the series. At the moment, I have a five book series planned, though there’s a possibility of bumping that up to six or seven. Honestly, a lot of that will depend on how people respond to books two and three. I write this series because I love it, but I also write for an audience. If people are buying the books, I’ll write more of them.

Regardless of how many books there will be in total, I definitely have an end game in mind. I’m not a fan of the never-ending series, and I think if a series isn’t heading toward a specific end point, there’s a risk of it becoming repetitive. Also, I want to give Aidan Brook a happy ending. I can only torture the poor woman for so long.

Was there a character or event that gave you growly fits? Made you grit your teeth and Grrrr as you wrestled it down and put it to paper? Anyone ever do something so stupid that you didn’t want to put fingertips to keys?

Oh, Vivian. That woman refused to tell me who she was for so, SO many drafts. I basically put her in as a placeholder, because I knew the series needed an earth, and I also wanted to show that elementals weren’t all equally powerful, but damn, I struggled with her. She was, in her time, a preppy college kid, a Los Angeles club kid, and a New Age earth goddess. Vivian, as we now know her, came to me about a week before the final version of Broken Elements was due. My lesson: despite being an introvert, I sometimes have a really hard time writing them.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? Would you go back and change anything in the first now that the second is out?

I’m good with book two right now and will likely remain that way until I realize I somehow backed myself into a corner for book three. I’d always love to go back and do just one more edit to clean the books up a bit more, but no one has time for that, least of all my editor.

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?

My primary theme throughout the series, the one I consciously refer back to while I write, is that of choice–choosing your family, choosing your life, choosing the right path rather than easy one. This is obviously true for Aidan, but I want it to be the case for all the characters. They should be active, rather than reactive, and I want them each to have their own series arc in which they make choices that lead them where they need to go, rather than blindly following the heroine just because she’s the one on the covers.

The covers of your first 2 novels are very indicative of the character of the books. Who did the cover art? And how did you settle on these adaptations? Will you stay true to this them throughout the series?

Cynthia Fliege designed both covers, and obviously she did a fabulous job. She makes a point to read each book before designing the cover, so they really capture the spirit of the books. Though we work together on some revisions, the concepts are entirely hers. Initially, they came about because we couldn’t afford to hire models for a photo shoot and didn’t want to rely on stock photos. The end result looks quite different from most urban fantasy covers, but hopefully that just makes it stand out. So long as she’s willing to design the covers, I plan to keep asking her.

Do you have a picture in your mind of actresses to play Aidan and Sera? Or actors for Mac and Simon?

We’re in dreamland, right? Emma Stone is too short for Aidan, but they can fix that through Hollywood magic and/or stilts, and I’d love to see what she could do with Aidan’s particular sense of humor. Sera is a lot harder, because Hollywood isn’t exactly awash in Pacific Islander actresses. Can we go with an unknown for this part? Mac would be a brunette/brown-eyed Chris Hemsworth, possibly mixed with a less hairy Opie from Sons of Anarchy. Simon would have to be that guy. You know. The skinny guy with dark hair and pale skin and really green eyes? Okay, I’m terrible at this game. Tell me who you’d cast.

Who is your favorite character? Why? Any based on people you know?

I can’t play favorites! I will say that Simon is the most fun to write, with Sera a close second. And Mac makes even me swoon a little. Yes, I swoon for an imaginary man I created. Yes, I do probably need therapy.

I try not to base anyone on real world people or relationships–I prefer my writing to be baggage-free as much as possible.

If you could have any of the abilities of your characters, which would you want and why?

If I was a water elemental, every morning, I could create my own private pool. No cleaning or gym membership required! I could work with that. I suppose the healing abilities could be useful, too, if I wanted to be selfless.

Josiah is not a lovable guy. The girls’ relationships with him reflect this. I want to ask so many questions – but they all result in spoilers. So, I will settle on . . . Tell me more, tell me more! Will these relationships ever resolve into cuddly feelings? Or will they finally just have had enough and smack him? Or something else all together?

I protest the spoiler-bait nature of this question! Here’s what I will say: Josiah isn’t evil in elemental terms. He’s an old one, and he very much has the moral code of one who’s lived for millennia and seen the world change time and time again. In his world, humans and shifters really are insignificant. Aidan and Sera, however, are very young elementals and are still connected to the human world–and they plan to stay that way. That’s not a conflict that will be resolved easily, if at all.

The old ones certainly seem like old fuddy duddies! Do you see them evolving in the remainder of the series? Or will they eventually evolve? Do you have any real world experience that you relate this to?

The old ones are very fixed in their ways, though of course each element reacts somewhat differently to change. Some might evolve; some might not. You’re trying to trick me into revealing a spoiler, aren’t you? It won’t work!

I don’t draw on real world experience, exactly, though I try to imagine a very stubborn grandparent trying to reason with their young whippersnapper of a grandchild, then multiply that by a hundred.

One of my favorite things about this series is the relationship between Aidan and Sera. Did you base this on a relationship with which you are familiar?

Though not based on any one person, I was definitely inspired by several relationships I’ve had with both friends and boyfriends. I tried to capture that ease you get when you’ve known and loved someone a long time, to the point where you practically have your own language and no amount of distance can really break the connection you share.

A penguin wearing a sombrero walks through your door right now. What does he say and why is he there?

If a penguin is wearing a sombrero, one must assume he’s on holiday and is looking for a party, particularly given how close we are to Cinco de Mayo.

If he ended up walking through my door instead of a bar, one can only imagine he’d sigh heavily in disappointment and ask where the liquor cabinet was–assuming he wasn’t fleeing for his life (frantically waddling for his life?) from my two bengal cats.

If you were stranded on an alien planet, which character would you choose to be stranded with and what three things must you have at hand?

You’re not giving me nearly enough information here. Is it someplace cold like Mars? Then I’d need Sera, obviously. A dry planet? Better have Aidan with me. It is a high tech dystopia in which lives are run by computers? Vivian’s the one. Is it a planet populated only by women and/or prepubescent boys? Then you better give me Mac, if only for some eye candy. Regardless of which world I ended up in, I’d want a fully stocked e-reader, a lifetime supply of coffee, and a really warm blanket. Hypothermia’s no joke, yo.

If you could only thank one person that has been along for the ride as you write, who would that be? Why? And, what would you say?

Well, I thanked her in the dedication to Shifting Selves, but it’s always worth thanking my mom again. When I was recovering from a major surgery and couldn’t work or pay rent, she let me live with her, which totally beat being homeless. Plus, she encouraged me when I had the crazy idea that I would use that time to write a fantasy novel, and she hasn’t stopped encouraging me since. I got lucky in the mom sweepstakes, that’s for sure.

Thanks so much, Mia, for sitting down and talking with us. I really enjoyed the first two books and cannot wait for the rest of the series!

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Enter the Contest to win Elements goodies!

Book 1

Book 2

Read the reviews that Sonja wrote for the books in the Elements series: Broken Elements and Shifting Selves. You can visit Mia Marshall’s website to get more information about her and her work.

Interview: Michael J. Sullivan’s Kickstarter for Hollow World

I’m happy to announce that Silk Screen Views has had a chance to catch up with Michael J. Sullivan, an author known for the Riyria series books and novellas. Recently, Michael started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new book called the Hollow World and it just finished a few days ago. The project has been very successful and an interesting adventure for Michael. Let’s move on to the interview and get a sneak peak into the campaign, Michael’s thoughts about the project and the book that started it all.

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~ Book Campaign: Hollow World Kickstarter ~

What made you think about starting a Kickstarter campaign?

I can take no credit for the idea. That’s all my wife’s doing. In general she takes care of the “business side” of things so I can concentrate on the writing end. She’s known about Kickstarter for a long time and saw some other authors* who did well with it and thought we should give it a try.

She’s pretty famous for always saying, “Well you won’t know unless you try.” And that has taken us in many interesting directions over the years.

*Authors: Brad Beaulieu, Tobias Buckell, T.A. Pratt

Why did you decide to try it out? You’re with a publishing house & under a contract.

Self-publishing isn’t new to me. I started out self-publishing, sold the series to traditional, and now I’m considering each project on a case-by-case basis. I just recently signed two books with Orbit, but they didn’t agree with my terms for Hollow World. I could have shopped it around elsewhere, but I was actually looking for a good excuse to shift to hybrid (doing some books self, and others traditional) so I leaped at the chance. I’m sure I’ll continue to do some of each from this point forward.

What was it like to brainstorm ideas for the Kickstarter? Was it easy to figure out donation gifts?

Most of that was my wife’s doing. We had a couple of requirements we wanted to stick to:
(a) having something reasonable at $10
(b) having something at $25 and
(c) providing a limited edition hardcover

We didn’t have any of the really high rewards ($1,000+) because I didn’t feel comfortable that I had anything to offer that was worth that much. Marc’s painting was so beautiful that it was a perfect choice to use for the stretch goals.

When did it hit you that the whole thing was going to work? When did it feel real? 

The next day when I got up and saw we were already 134% funded. But I never expected it to go over $30,000 mark. I figured it would do $10,000 – $20,000 tops.

If you could describe the whole experience in 5 words, what would they be?

Eye-opening. Exciting. Easy to do.

Did you ever imagine that you would gain the response you have to this project?

No, not at all. My wife and I had a bet going. I thought we would reach the goal a few minutes before the clock ran out at the end of 30 days.  She said we would get fully funded in 48 hours.  We were both wrong, it went to 100% in 17 hours, but she was closest so I had to clean the house that week. Well worth it!

What do you enjoy the most out of the experience?

That its success may be used as an example and encourage other authors to try the “non-conventional” options available to them. Earning well as an author has always been difficult, but by using all the tools at their disposal many authors who you’ve never heard of are actually doing quite well.

Was it tough to come up with new donation gifts as the project passed several goal marks? 

A little…yeah. I really wanted to do T-shirts but they can be expensive to buy and ship. Plus there is a lot of organization related to sizes.  In the end, I stuck to posters and bookmarks because they are (a) light to ship and (b) easy for me to produce.

What’s the standing for the Hollow World Kickstarter? Is it the first fiction novel campaign to be so successful?

If you look at the broad category “Publishing” it’s a small fry (still in the top 100 at #86). But there are sub-categories like children’s books, fiction, poetry, etc. In the fiction category, it ended up at #8.  But all the projects ahead of it are either:  interactive ebooks, anthologies, book & games together, or multiple book projects. So that makes it #1 for a single novel.  But again, that’s within the fiction category.  If you go over to children’s books there’s a project (Wollstonecraft) that earned almost three times as much but that’s a much different classification so it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

How active were you in the whole process? Networking, announcements, etc.

I tried not to be too obnoxious about the promotional end. I didn’t want to piss people off or get too annoying. Still, I have a big presence on Goodreads, Reddit, and the various staples like Twitter and Facebook. So I did post a few messages there. I also have emails of some of my readers and I did a mailing to them, but truth be told I stopped a lot of those activities once we did really well as there was no point to push it further. It’s not like this is the only income the book will ever produce. There will be plenty of people buying it when it is officially released.  My main goal (once we got past funding) was to have it do “well enough” that other authors would consider it a possibility for their own work.

What do you believe are key elements that made the project successful? Current fans? Word of Mouth? Your passion?

I think the key to any venture is having a product that people are excited by. The books I’ve released in the past have been pretty well received, but it’s been a year and a half since the most recent one came out. I think there are a good number of people who are anxious for my “next read.”  I also think it doesn’t hurt to go “direct to the readers.” There are a lot of people that get annoyed by “big business” taking so much of the profit, so having almost all the money (Kickstarter takes just 10% to process the payments/facilitate the process) is also a major draw. I don’t have full data yet, but I think that many of the contributors had never funded a kickstarter before and like the concept.

What advice would you give to other authors about your experience?

Wow, there’s a lot to say on this front. I’m actually going to do a whole write up on how mine was designed, what I did right, what I did wrong.  I’m going to be posting this for free so others can read it. But in general I say they should plan a lot ahead of time and be willing to make adjustments as it goes on.  Also don’t get stressed out during the middle of the campaign when contributions are slower.  It happens to almost all of them.

Artist: Marc Simonetti

~ Behind the Screen into Hollow World ~

How did you end up going from taking a break to writing Hollow World?

As a writer, you sometimes have these ideas that get into your head and you really have to write the book to purge them out. Hollow World was like that. I would keep coming up with more and more ideas about it and so it was really quite persistent. In many respects, the best thing was to get it written so I wouldn’t have it nagging me all the time.

Did the concept, writing and art all fall together easily for Hollow World or was it a step by step process that also had leaps of genius and productivity?

It’s one of those novels that came together really quickly for me.  But many of the concepts and ideas had been with me for decades. For instance, some of the inventions that exist in Hollow World are from notes I made 25 years ago. They finally started coming together like dust forming into planets after the big bang starts to calm down. The first draft was written in six weeks and that’s about twice as fast as most of my novels. So yeah, it was a pretty easy one and flowed together really effortlessly. Those are the best kind of novels for me!

How do you think people will react to you writing Sci-Fi? What did YOU think the reaction would be? What’s the reaction thus far?

An excellent question, and to be truthful I have no idea. To me, genre doesn’t matter. If a story is good, I don’t care what it is classified as but others aren’t like I am. My wife was a good test case as she generally enjoys fantasy but isn’t a science fiction fan. She loved Hollow World and she doesn’t love everything I write.

I think that if people say to themselves, “Well I like Sullivan, so I’ll take a chance,” then they’ll be pleased. To date the feedback has been really strong. My editor at Orbit, my agent and the beta readers (many of which are new to my writing) all loved it. I only had one person (a fellow writer) who didn’t like it, but that was because they liked a protagonist in the short story Greener Grass and he’s not in Hollow World. That guy was a bit too unlikeable to carry a whole story. In small dosages I can “take him” but my trademark has been characters that you would like to hang out with. So I needed to have a different main character for the novel.

I’ve guessed from your writing that your wife is your first, best, worst, love-hate critic and reader. How did she initially respond? What was her response once she read the book?

You are very correct about Robin’s role. While it was under construction, I would drop hints here and there and she often gave me very skeptical responses. I was really afraid that she wasn’t going to like it. She tore through it (always a good sign) and when it was over she said, “I know this is a standalone book, but I could see a story made about this, and that, and the other thing…”

I knew it was a big hit. She also has roamed around lamenting, “I miss Pax.” Which is a REALLY good sign. It was because she missed Royce and Hadrian that I wrote The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn. So responses like that from her are the best indications that the book came out well.

While being between contractual obligations, why Hollow World?

Oh, Hollow World wasn’t the only thing I worked on after my Riyria Revelations. There was Antithesis (an urban fantasy), and then The Crown Tower, and The Rose and the Thorn. Not to mention The First Empire Series which was actually supposed to be written before Hollow World. As I mentioned, Hollow World really just wouldn’t leave me alone so I had to get it out of my head so I could concentrate on other stuff. I’m now back to writing The First Empire while I wait to see how the readers think about the new books.

What about the story made you sit up, not let go and keep at you until the words were written?

Well I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. Oh wait, that’s a line for my secondary career as a spy/assassin. But seriously, I really can’t say because it would spoil the fun. Part of what makes the book intriguing is the unexpected directions it takes and the characters that you follow.  I don’t want to say too much about that.

But one of the cool things about this book is that different people will see it differently. I’m sure that a lot of people will assume I’ve interjected some of my own beliefs into it, but I’m a master of playing both sides of an argument and so only I and Robin know my real take on things found between the pages. It has the potential to be polarizing, and I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing, but it was interesting to do from a writer’s perspective.

How did you decide on the artist for the cover and the promos for the Kickstarter?

When the concept of people living under the earth in beautifully carved out caverns with simulated sunlight came to me, I had a very particular minds-eye impression for what that would look like. I’m an artist, so imagining the setting down to the smallest detail is easy for me. Marc Simonetti has done the covers for the French editions of my Riyria Revelations and he has a great eye for perspective. His artwork shows a lot of depth. Plus there is a real drama to his style. I knew immediately that he would be the perfect choice. I also found some other painters who have great work (just in case he wouldn’t be available…or would be astronomically expensive) but I’m glad he both had the time, and the Kickstarter provided the funding, because he really did an exceptional job with the painting.

Can you give a brief description of Hollow World?

Sure, Hollow World is about an “average Joe” who has a penchant for science but circumstances prevented him from going to MIT.  He’s generally worked hard, done the right things, but lived a pretty dull life. When he discovers he has a terminal disease, he takes a chance to build a time machine and go to the future, where he thinks he’ll find a cure. What he discovers is quite an adventure for him, and the readers who come along for the ride. His time travel also sets off a sequence of events that could have drastic consequences, but I won’t get into that as it would spoil the fun.

Are you already working on a sequel to Hollow World?

No, not at all—and I’m not even sure there will be a book two. As I mentioned, my wife wants one (or two or three), and she usually gets her way, but it makes no sense to write another until we see how the first one does. I was the same way with my Riyria franchise. I wrote six books and that was all that there were supposed to be. But the series was well received, and yet people still wanted more, so I wrote two more books.  I can’t afford to take time away from other projects without knowing whether Hollow World has any legs or not…but if it turns out it does, then I have a lot of potential ways to go about more in this world and with these characters. And I would love to return and do the same with it as I did with Riyria.

Did you daughter read the story? What’s her response?

Sarah did read the book, and her favorite character is Alva…who isn’t even a person, but I wrote it with Sarah in mind. She liked the book a lot, but she’s not as enthusiastic about me writing more in that world as Robin is. I’m not concerned about that because she had an almost identical reaction after reading the first book in my Riyria Revelations and now it is one of her favorite series. She’s one of those people who like a book more the longer she is away from it. Having only recently read it, I figure she’ll be really excited about the time the official version comes out in January. Another contributing factor is that she REALLY prefers to read on paper (she read it on her phone). My guess is that it will go up a few notches on the re-read.

Do you ever feel lucky & blessed that writing has become what it has in your life?

Blessed, definitely. Lucky…I have a bit of an issue with that word because I think it is used as a crutch by some writers. Too often I hear would-be writers say, “You have to be lucky to make it,” and I think that absolves the author’s responsibility to write well. By their reasoning, any piece of crap can ‘make it’ if the person is lucky enough. Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it,” which sums up my thoughts on the subject.

A better adjective for me would be to say that I feel extremely grateful. I’m always appreciative of the fact that many have given me their time, encouragement, and money so that I can do this as a full-time profession. I feel like the two of us have a covenant. For my part, I need to write the best books I know how, and in return they give me enough money to pay the bills so I don’t have to have a day job which would take time away from my writing. It’s a pretty good arrangement from where I sit.

So blessed? Yes. Grateful? Yes. As for lucky…it seems to take away any responsibility on my part, and I prefer to think I have a part to play.

o=o-o=o

Thank you, Michael, for joining us on Silk Screen Views and sharing your thoughts and experiences on the Kickstarter & Hollow World. I learned a lot and look forward to your collected thoughts on running a Kickstarter as an author. I can’t wait to read the book! I’m totally curious and can’t wait to get my copy. This won’t be the last time you see Michael J. Sullivan on SSV. I’m sure we’ll find other reasons to bring him back.

Michael is one of the handful of authors that have given Silk Screen Views permission to repost their articles on writing in our Scribes Corner. You can find him there but to really get an idea of what he’s like, please check out Michael’s website for more information on him and his work.