Thursday, June 18, 2020

Return Interview featuring Urban Fantasy & SF Author Steven Campbell

Steven worked as a computer programmer for various Fortune 500 companies. He'd been repeatedly asked to move into management but always refused, not wanting to give up on writing. One day he got laid off and received a severance package, and decided to work full-time on his first novel.

Although Steven has been writing basically all of his life, that's when his writing career began to take off.

Welcome back to Up Around the Corner!
(For those who are interested, here’s the link to Steven’s first interview: Interview with Author Steven Campbell, August 2014)

It has been almost six years since you spoke with us last. Since then, has your writing career in any way progressed as anticipated?

It’s great to be talking to you again. Partially because I got to look back at myself. Six years is practically two infinities in the publishing world. When I spoke with you the first time, self-publishing had been maybe a few steps past infancy. And it has changed significantly since then, which has also changed my career. I’ve managed to hang on being a fulltime writer. But if I hadn’t embraced audiobooks early and made a few other practical choices, I might not be able to say that. There are so many books out now, it’s extremely difficult to stay relevant or noticed. Back then, I don’t think I had much in the way of hopes or expectations other than to keep doing it. So far, I’ve been able. But it gets harder and harder every year. I tell my dog at least once a week to enjoy this while you can, because I might not be able to always work from home.

Most readers would know you from your Hard Luck Hank Series. For those that may not be familiar with it, could you share a little bit about the series, and its protagonist, Hank?

It’s kind of a pulp throwback. It blends science fiction, comedy, and kind of noir. Hank is a mutant heavy, who is a fixer, gang negotiator, and a detective on a corrupt space station. He is great at his job because he’s very difficult to hurt and has a likeable personality. Both attributes come in very useful amongst violent criminals.

You have recently kicked off a new project, an urban fantasy, Spell Talker, set in Los Angeles California. What five words might best describe Spell Talker?

Hmm, five words? Am I using them now? Woops!
Modern. Scientific. Fantasy. Los Angeles.

Okay, beyond those five words, what would you like us to know about Spell Talker? Like Hard Luck Hank was to science fiction, how is Spell Talker a little different than other urban fantasy tales out there?

I always liked fantasy and I probably got into it long before science fiction. But I grew away from it because it seemed to really hammer down its subgenres and leave little room for divergences. The sword and sorcery epics. The urban vampires. You often know what is going to happen. I also never really liked how magic was explained. Or not explained. Magic is generally just…magic. Even if it’s explained it doesn’t make much sense, because it’s magic. Okay, so it’s mana from dragon snot. What particles does that produce? On tackling this book, I wanted to make a system that was at least grounded in science. It took me a long time. Whether or not the effort was worth it, I can’t say. For most people it’s probably good enough to say, “magic—POOF.” But I just didn’t want to write that. It’s also a kind of modern journey around Los Angeles. I’ve been living here since 1994 and I wanted to have it set here instead of Elftopia or Sweden, since I haven’t been to either of those places. It’s not a love letter to Los Angeles; there’s plenty of lousy stuff here. But there’s a lot of character in this region and I realized I hadn’t used any of it in a book before.

When not writing, where do you enjoy spending time? What is one place that you would one day like to visit?

I definitely need to check out Sweden or Elftopia since I just made fun of them. I’ve been fortunate enough to live at the beach in Los Angeles. I’ve been here for something like 20 years at this point. I can honestly say I’m the ugliest and meanest person in my entire city of 1.4 square miles. There are days I go outside and it’s just absolutely perfect. No matter how grumpy I was, I have to smile and appreciate it. Like it or not, humans are profoundly affected by weather conditions. I loved snow as a kid, but it’s really fantastic being able to put on shorts and flip flops and be considered overdressed. As for travel, we’re still deep in the pandemic times around here. I’d like to visit anywhere and not be worried about infection. There’s only so much bread I can bake. Though that has been a very beneficial side-effect of quarantine. I’ve become a lot better at cooking. Pressure cooker. Get one!

Although an author can never hit a home run for all readers out there, what is the most inspirational, or memorable, thing a reader has said about your writing?

This may be crass or unthankful, but I don’t really pay much attention. Writers have to have unbelievably thick skin—at least about their writing. Because like you said, you can’t please everyone. My own personal take is that 95% of the world absolutely hates Shakespeare. Hates his writing. They force kids to read him at school and you’d be hard-pressed to find any children sprinting to class so they can get a head start. If Shakespeare is loathed by the planet, what chance have I got? So I’ve long since turned off most of my receptors to feedback that rise above volume level three. Which filters out the screaming and filters out the cheering. I’ve had people say that I helped them with some terrible illness they had, or even their approaching end-of-life. But I just don’t dwell on it. I lobotomized that part of me during my many, many years of editors and readers and buyers despising my work. I can’t turn it back on and bask in the small praise I get from time to time. If someone writes me and gushes, I generally respond and ignore the gush, answering any questions they had.

Before I ask the next question, I want to share something that I don’t’ consider ‘gush’J One of my favorite parts of your novels are the banter and arguments between Hank and his longtime (mad scientist) friend, Delovoa. My wife and daughter love them too.

So here’s the question: Your Hard Luck Hank Series has been narrated by Liam Owen. When writing, do you hear Hank’s voice in the voice Liam Owen created? If not, who would you say Hank sounds like? What about the other recurring characters?

I really enjoy writing banter. And, as most things, I believe that comes across. The things I don’t enjoy writing end up being lousy because I’m having a bad time creating it.

But I don’t really think of any voice. It’s not a slam at Liam Owen, he does a great job on the audiobooks. My brain simply doesn’t work like that. I think partially because I’m constantly fiddling with the dialogue. If I played it like an audio recording in my head, he would be stuttering and repeating the same lines a hundred times and I’d go insane. But it’s a good question. Hmm.

The way I write and go through scenes is more like a dream. Not a Hollywood dream, because that’s not how dreams work. If you relate a dream or remember a dream, you’ll be like, “Some guy picked up a huge guitar for some reason.” You don’t remember if he had red hair, or had on pants, or even if he had legs. You don’t remember if there was grass on the ground or if you were upside down. You see some concept of a “guy” and a “guitar.” But nothing else is filled in. It’s disembodied. It’s not like a real photo or movie or audio. It’s just snippets and fragments that our brain is smashing together. And later, we try and make some narrative out of it.

So that’s what I see/hear when mentally going through scenes I’m writing. It’s a telescopic lens that focuses on only a couple pieces and the rest is just blur that is only hinted at. The voices are probably pretty close to my usual inner voice. We rarely change our inner voice. Like pitch it higher or lower to simulate other genders. And when we do, our own throat modulates to create it, even though we aren’t talking out loud. Try it. That’s really exhausting after a while. So I just mumble along in my own inner voice.

But this is a good question to keep handy. I think we tend to answer it figuratively instead of literally.

What might readers expect from you in the next year or two?
(Click on the YouTube Video and listen to Hank on Belvaille answer)

Once again, Steven, thank you for taking the time to speak with us!


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Interview with author Joshua E. B. Smith

Welcome to Up Around the Corner, Joshua. Could you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?
Hiya! First, let me say thank you for the chance to be featured on your site. I sincerely appreciate it, and will be happy to return the favor soon.

As far as myself, I am an independent author from Vienna, WV (which is effectively a suburb of Parkersburg WV – and I promise, it’s okay if you’ve never heard of it). I’ve been published for almost five years now, though it’s only been in the last couple that I’ve been taking it seriously.

I am the author of the dark fantasy/fantasy horror series, The Saga of the Dead Men Walking. My genre is a little hard to define, in truth. Most of the time when people think ‘dark fantasy,’ the thought goes to romantic paranormal or things of that nature. Up to this point in my series, there’s no real romance. Mostly, it’s just a tour of violence and monsters set in a Game of Thrones/The Elder Scrolls-esque fantasy world.

I currently have four novels published in the Saga of the Dead Men Walking, along with three novellas, and two more novels (and novellas) in the pipeline, including the well-reviewed Snowflakes in Summer and my newest release, Insanity’s Respite.

Can you share a little bit with us about your most recently published work?
I just launched (on June the 6th!) a full-length novel, Saga of the Dead Men Walking: Insanity’s Respite, which starts a new chapter in the Saga. The main character – an exorcist from the Order of Love – has been sent to Medias Manor, an asylum for the battered and broken with magical aptitude. His last adventure left him with a broken leg, a perforated arm, and a bad case of post-traumatic-stress disorder. The problem is, while he’s at the so-called ‘Safest Place in the Kingdom,’ a series of murders has recently come to light while a wedding rages (yes, that’s the right word) in the background.

Now he’s in a race to figure out what’s going on while battling the demons in his mind. The question, ultimately, is if the demons in his head are real, or if the only monster in the city is the one hunting the Queen’s citizens outside of the Manor walls.

What inspired you to become a writer, and what is one of the things that surprised you most in the process?
It’s hard to say what inspired me to become a writer. I’ve just always loved to tell stories. For a big chunk of my teenage years, I used to play “Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs” or MMORPG’s for short. These were computer games with a fantasy bent to them that had you going out and slaying dragons and ghouls and the like with sometimes dozens of other players in a virtual world.

When I hit my early twenties, my life changed a bit and I lost the time to log on and play day to day. But, I still had the characters I used to play in my head – and once I realized I could start putting them to paper, I realized what I wanted to do with my life.

As far as what surprised me the most in the process? The fact that writing a book isn’t just about writing a book. If all it took to write a book was to sit down, pull up my keyboard, and just write, I could have a new book every couple of months.

But as an indie author, writing your story – the thing that you are basing your entire business around, your product, your goal, the part that your clients consume and base their opinion off of – is only about thirty percent of the time. If that. The rest of the time is spent marketing. It’s spent designing covers, it’s spent formatting files, it’s spent researching advertising on Amazon and Facebook. It’s spent composing newsletters and trying to generate interactions on social media.

As absolutely crazy as it sounds, as an author, I miss writing. I look at the days when I can say, “Okay, I have just finished getting five ads up and running, I’ve scheduled another three or four FB posts, I’ve done a video, I’ve reached out to local support groups, I can actually write now,” as my days off. The writing is the easy part. The marketing?

That’s another story entirely.

What is one of the most challenging or difficult lessons you’ve learned as an author?
You get told going into it that most authors don’t make above poverty-line level incomes. There’s been numerous studies that have shown this across the board. The difference is between knowing it
and then filing your income on your 1099-MISC form. So, take that, and you take a lesson in humility at the same time because you are going to run into other authors who are making two, three, or even ten thousand dollars a month – they may not be better than you as an author (subjectively or even critically speaking), but they’ve found the critical lines of advertising and marketing that work for them in ways to maximize their income levels.

It’s really, really easy to get stuck in the mindset of, “Why are they doing better and I’m not?” when you need to be focusing on the mindset of, “My work speaks for itself, I just need to get more of it out there and be seen.” That’s a lot harder than it sounds and I honestly struggle with it every single day.

It’s motivation, but at the same time, it’s a hard fight in your head. Not going to lie to you either; some days, I don’t win that battle.

Name one of your novels and list five words that best describe it.
Snowflakes in Summer: Book 1 of the Snowflakes Trilogy. Wraiths, demon dogs, winter, and bad decisions.

What’s one novel that you’ve read and enjoyed, and has stayed with you? Why do you believe it has?
It’s kinda odd, but Dante’s Inferno. It is, to this day, the only poetry I’ve been able to pick up and stand to read. When I was a teen, I’d read it a few times a year. I was born and raised in a very religious family, but as a kid (and even as an adult), I’ve struggled with the concept of ‘Heaven.’ Hell, on the other hand, was easy. Revelation was my favorite chapter in the Bible, but I found it to be… lacking and light on the details, for lack of better words. The Inferno had such great visualizations that I felt like I was there and at the same time, it was such a great introduction to horror in literature that it’s hung with me and strongly influenced my writing style.

When not writing, what fun or interesting keeps you busy?

I cosplay for charity purposes with the Ghostbusters – West Virginia Division. They are a fundraising group that supports both the American Heart Association and the Children’s Home Society of WV, which is an agency that provides support for foster children and helps them find families in WV. It helps me balance out my life – I go from writing scenes of horror, misery and gore to going out and entertaining kids and showing them that you don’t have to be afraid of what goes bump in the night.

What can readers expect from you in the future?
More. A lot more. I don’t have plans to shift genres anytime soon, so I hope to stay in the realm of fantasy/dark fantasy/horror. Insanity’s Respite is the start of a new trilogy (maybe a four book series) and I am giving myself an ambitious (probably way too ambitious) publishing schedule for the next two books in it. About twelve years ago I wrote a mammoth, unformatted, five-hundred-plus page novel that I never finished. That it exists is an albatross around my neck for more than a decade. If I were to stick it in appropriate 6x9 formatting right now, it would likely exceed more than twelve hundred pages…

...but I can’t get back to it until after the current series comes to a close. And I really, really want to get to it.

You can also expect more from me on my Facebook and website. I am giving considerable thought to starting a writer’s blog/interview page of sorts (because I don’t have enough to do already – HAH!) to both give other authors and creators I know exposure and to serve as a platform to drive my own marketing plans into the future.

What are your short and long term writing goals?
You actually asked me this outside of the interview, but I wanted to fit my answer in here. Short term, it’s unlocking a positive net income with marketing. Marketing is the one thing I struggle with more than anything else in the world. Over the last few years, I’ve put in a few hundred dollars here and there with one marketing plan or another with nothing really to show for my efforts.

That said, the last two months, I’ve been taking multiple marketing classes and courses. I’m working (hard) on getting that right formula of keywords and ad copy and blurbs to start turning a profit. Right now, it won’t matter if my profit attributable to advertising is only a buck fifty; that’s a buck and a half more than I had. It’s also a sign that I can start scaling up. I earn that first five dollars? I promise, I’ll turn it around and turn it into fifty.

Long term goals, more books. “Nothing sells your last book like your next book,” - Craig Martell, author, and admin of 20BooksTo50k, an online marketing group. The more stock you have, the better your odds of being seen, the better your odds of turning potential readers into mega fans, and every book you write will theoretically earn royalties in perpetuity. I made a couple of dollars last week over two books I wrote five years ago – and while it’s not much, it’s a couple cups of tea at McDonald’s.

Talk of money aside (those are more ‘business’ goals than ‘writing’ goals), my short term is a successful launch of Insanity’s Respite and to really work on my fanbase. I love it when I know that someone who has read my work before picks up one of my books and is able to escape from this chaotic world we live in for a few hours to get away from it. I love being able to provide that kind of relief. I love being able to make someone feel when they grab a copy of the Saga.

I want to make more people happy.

If I can do that, the rest of it falls into place.

As this interview is coming to a close, is there anything else you’d like to add or share?
A few months ago, I heard a couple of the most inspirational quotes about writing. I like to mention it whenever I see someone hurting or frustrated, and it applies to more than just books – it applies to creating anything. Be it a song, be it a drawing, be it jewelry, be it cosplay, you can apply both of these quotes. I wish I could take credit for them, but I can at least pass them on.

You can’t edit a blank page,” and, “The only person that can tell your story is you.”

Of course, there’s also my line – and this one I can claim:

You are the God of your own world. Create accordingly.”

If you have a story inside you, get it out. Don’t worry about making it perfect. That’s what copy and line editors are for. Don’t worry about making it cohesive at the start. You’ll figure out where the pages go and you’ll find readers who have faith in you to help you make it better when you can’t.

And, ultimately, whatever story you write – you are the writer. You are the creator, you are the maker, you set the rules, you set the tone, you set the conflict and the rewards. You define the sins and you expound the virtues. You’re responsible for the dirt on every page, the souls in every character, and the air that they breathe.

Writing (or creating art in general) gives you more control over anything you have ever and will ever have in your life. Take advantage of it and do whatever you want, however you want, and don’t confine yourself to normal. Consider writing to market, of course, but normal? You’re an author. You gave up normal when you picked up a pen for the first time.

Below, please list the places readers can find out more about Joshua Akaran Smith and his works:

Want to learn more about the Saga? Ready to enter a fantasy world of blood, guts, tears, and gore where good things happen to bad people, and the good people are questionable... at best?

Use any of the links below!

Signed paperback copies are available, too! Just send me a PM and I'm happy to get one in the mail for you!

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And lastly, thank you to Terry Ervin for having me today! It’s been an absolute pleasure!
~Joshua E. B. Smith