BWG: What do you think makes a good story?
In my personal opinion, as a reader and as a writer, the basic process of storytelling is making and then fulfilling promises. It’s relevant in broad terms, such as, I expected to read a cookbook but instead I was given a crime thriller. To the more minute and nuanced instances of the traditional step up and payoff. That of course doesn’t mean that stories should be predictable, far from it, but the various techniques to spark and keep high reader engagement ultimately mean nothing if the story doesn’t fulfill its promises in a satisfying way.
In a “master work” there is a continual interplay of setup and pay off from the immediate happenstance of a scene, to setups that won’t payoff fully till after several books. Preferably each promise made and promise fulfilled builds upon each other over time to either deepen reader understanding or contribute to the growing conflict. The catch is pacing. Even a rollercoaster has “dead spots,” if however brief, for the rider to catch his or her breath. The art in storytelling is knowing exactly how much of what when, while blending the disparate elements of character, setting, plot, etc so that there are no seams between each just a cohesive whole.
BWG: How did you get into writing? Were there any catalysts in your life that set you on your path to loving the written word?
Honestly, I’m more interested in the craft of storytelling than the craft of writing. I have a learning disability when it comes to spelling and it took a bit of work for me to learn how to read when I was a child. Consequently, I pay an editor who has a love of the written word to turn my written words into something that’s intelligible (thankfully I haven’t made her pull all her hair out).
…That being said what I love about the written word, as compared to other forms of artistic expression, is the ability for writers to use the negative space of what is NOT said to draw a reader deeper into the world, thought, or expression of the writer’s creation. That is an experience unique to books, especially considered in terms of depth and specificity.
With that in mind, and to more directly answer the question, I got into writing mostly because I wanted to write books that I was interested in reading and because the storytelling process is fun. There are stories which appeal to specific cultures, men, women, young, old, or are universal in nature. The reasons why in each case are fascinating to unravel and reveal the nature of ourselves as a species and often the very nature of reality. I’m not really one to either produce or appreciate beautiful poetic prose, in and of itself. I wield the written word more as a battleax than a rapier, yet either, metaphorically speaking, if used skillfully can make a reader laugh, cry, pause, reflect, or yearn for more. And if I’ve done that, I’ve done my job.
BWG: What comes first for you, the plot or the characters, and why?
I basically write character stories that have superversive aspects. Ironically the main character is usually the last aspect I consider. What usually comes first is the tone or theme of the particular story I wish to tell and how those feed into the main conflict. I’m not that interested in genre tropes as I am in “truth.” There is nothing wrong with tropes, but at times their specificity…to uses a metaphor, can be like saying the most important aspect of a bridge is that it is red instead of the mathematical certainty that it will stand.
As I mentioned with what makes a good story, from the beginning I’m thinking what are the initial promises and setups. “Monster of the Dark” is ultimately a story of the human spirit and its ability to endure and triumph over adversity. Aspects related to that central axis are redemption/forgiveness, loss, meaning, and purpose. Consequently, the plot, setting, characters, and tone are designed to emphasize those themes over all else. The same events and characters could exist with a completely different core tone and theme…say revenge, escape, or the exploration of a new world. However, the book would have to be written in a completely different way to satisfy those focuses (if done well).
As practical example of that, at the end of the first chapter of “Monster of the Dark” the main character, Carmen, who is six years old at the time, is literally shot and killed. “Monster of the Dark” can be an utterly brutal story that holds nothing back, which of course is why it can also be very hopeful and positive. That being said, the scene serves two purposes: one, if as a reader this scene is too intense for you, please don’t read any further (tonal promise). Two, it tells the reader that death is not the central threat to the character (thematic promise). After those initial promises several more are of course added, tie them together with their corresponding pay offs in a satisfying way and you got a novel.
BWG: How was your first SPSFC? If you have other books, Do you think you will submit them to future contests?
Well, I got to the finals. I did much better than I ever thought I would. As for future submissions I don’t think I will. The contest was meant to highlight great and emerging sci-fi talent from independent authors. That I made it to the finals and that I’m answering these interview questions means, at least for as far as I’m concerned, I got my day in the sun. Because of that I’m more than happy to step aside and let someone else have a shot at the glory. Still, I might give it another go…just for fun.
BWG: What was the best part of the SPSFC experience?
I don’t have any social media accounts, but I did follow the contest on social media as best I could. I quite enjoyed following the progress of the other contestants, reading reviews, and finding new authors to read. I do want to take a moment to thank the judges for all their hard work.
BWG: For readers unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us about your SPSFC entry?
“Monster of the Dark” follows the life and experiences of Carmen, who is a Clairvoyant, from age six to nineteen. A Clairvoyant is a being that, more or less, has the powers of telepathy, telekinesis, and pyrokinesis. As mentioned, this is a story of the human spirit and more about how she finds her place with herself than her confronting the wider world (that comes later, this is a five-book series). It is a very intense, very intimate story on one exceptional person’s struggles that paradoxically have been experienced by everyone to some degree or another.
BWG: Where did you get the idea for your book?
I’m a big kaiju monster movie fan, so the initial idea came from old TOHO Godzilla movies, specifically Godzilla Returns (also known as Godzilla 1985). Hence the title of the book, MONSTER!!!! of the Dark. Godzilla movies…not without reason, have developed a reputation as campy or childish. It must be remembered, though, that the original Gojira made in 1954 was a very serious story created by a people trying to understand the horrors of nuclear war after having directly experienced it (as an aside: the movie Shin Godzilla accomplished exactly the same thing after the Fukushima nuclear disaster).
Generally speaking, in the mechanics of storytelling, a “monster” is a malevolent animal or thing that often results from human hubris or ignorance (in times past it was said there was a demon on the other side of the sound barrier). Typically, the monster is defeated through learning and overcoming its nature.
I am not ideological. I try very hard not to put forward any particular ideology in my books as ideal. That being said it is undeniable that we now live in a sharply ideological world where finding common ground across the aisle, so to speak, is becoming increasingly more difficult. Over time I have become fascinated with how one becomes an ideological monster, if you will, and/or comes to believe and perceive events, people, or things contrary to actual reality or their best interests. “Monster of the Dark” grew from those two seeds of a monstrous person (really people) that has basically unlimited physical destructive power told in a story set in the far future so that all aspects of the story could be very tightly controlled as befitting that tone and theme. Now, I am an unabashed optimist and when push comes to shove, I will openly say that people are inherently good. Because of that the story turns into how one DOES NOT become a monster instead of vice versa.
BWG: What was your most brutal scene to write, and why?
Anyone who read the book will assume I will mention THAT scene (several judges pointed it out in their reviews), but from the standpoint of my own personal emotions it was not very difficult to write, though I worked to write the scene delicately. Easily the most difficult chapter for me to write was Chapter 15, “The Artemis Incident.” That chapter in technical terms was complicated because it deals with recontextualizing the reader’s understanding of a central character and it does it all in one chapter. The chapter is also presented as a thematic inversion. As mentioned, “Monster of the Dark” is ultimately an optimistic story. Optimism by its inherent nature acknowledges the presence of “evil,” but supposes that it cannot harm you. Pessimism, by contrast, in its inherent nature acknowledges the presence of “good,” but supposes that it cannot avail you. That, in my opinion, is why pessimism is more distasteful than optimism, but in the chapter a case needed to be made on the contrary. Lastly, when I really get going, I’ll act out scenes as I write them—especially dialogue (my wife finds it hilarious if she is in the room). There were a lot of heavy emotions in that chapter. I deliberately wrote it in one shot to keep the same headspace throughout. Had to take a good break from the book after that.
BWG: What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
I’d love to answer this, but can’t without spoiling the rest of the series, sorry.
BWG: There is usually research of some form when writing a Sci-fi novel. Were there any exciting bits of research or rabbit holes you went down writing the book?
“Monster of the Dark” takes place roughly a thousand years in the future. Due to the nature of the story a lot of research went into childhood development, abuse victims, and responses to trauma. The background “sci-fi” elements common to the genre are of course there, but don’t take center stage in this novel.
Of the traditional concepts central to most sci-fi novels, the most interesting aspects of my research was the feedback I got from various test reads on certain story or technical ideas in preparation to write the novel. In many instances the test readers had trouble with extreme scale be it speed, size, or power (in a thermodynamic sense). It is funny to me that in all the possible fictional possibilities that could and does exist in science fiction, the thing that most broke people’s brains was presenting something that basically exists in the real world that has its dial turned up to twelve. Me being me I took their sensible feedback and turned the dial to fourteen. If there was any one source that produced the visceral almost aggressive presentation of technology in “Monster of the Dark” and vastly more so in the rest of the series, it was that.
BWG: What do you have coming up in the future?
I’m currently writing book four in the series, that is for now untitled. It will probably be the most complicated book I will ever write in almost all respects and so far I’m happy to say it is coming along quite well. It will probably be