Thursday, 12 April 2012

Author Interview - Ralph Ewig

Welcome, Ralph! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello everyone, and special thanks to Sam Richards for setting up this interview! I’m a self-described explorer of everything (from outer space to human nature), and in recent years I have started to share some of my exploits in the form of scifi novels and short stories. I was born and raised in Western Europe to parents of German, Spanish, French and Moroccan heritage, and then migrated myself to Seattle in the US at the age of 20 to study aerospace engineering. Seattle being the “Gate to the Pacific”, I picked up strong influences of Asian culture there together with three college degrees, and since then I have worked as an engineer at various space companies along the west coast. Currently, I live in Los Angeles California, and make a living working for Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

From my brief research, I can see you lead a pretty active lifestyle – how do you find any time to write?

That is a really good question. Life does keep me busy, and I learned long ago that time is absolutely the most precious (and ultimately finite) resource there is. There is so much I want to do, and you can trade time for just about anything else, but you’ll never get it back! I do lots of work in my head while occupied with other mundane tasks – I’ve had some of my best ideas while taking a shower or working out – so when I sit down at the keyboard, it’s really just to do a data-dump of everything that’s piled up in the last couple of hours or days. Throughout the year, I keep collecting ideas for places, characters, and story lines; only when a given project has reached critical mass do I start the actual writing. It’s become a bit of a winter-holiday tradition for me to bang out a new draft for a novel (most recently for Sadaka, the second book in the Lucid Space series). I also travel quite a bit between California and the SpaceX launch-site at Cape Canaveral Florida, and those long flights are great for getting some uninterrupted writing time.

When did you begin writing and how did you develop to where you are now?

I’ve always loved reading scifi. One of my earliest addictions was my dad’s collection of original Star Trek books. When I took my first creative writing class in high school, I wrote a short story for a Star Trek episode which grew serious legs around the school. As a teenager, I took up Kendo (Japanese style sword fighting) and other students in the dojo introduced me to table-top role playing games like Call of Cthulu, Midgard, and War Hammer 40k. I created game scenarios for my friends, which was a fantastic learning experience because you literally get instant feedback on your story, and you learn how people behave in stressful situations. If you want to know what your friends are really like, share a 24 hour RGP session with them, while everybody is hopped up on caffeine and trying to navigate their favourite character through an alien attack encounter – it can be a real eye-opener! When I got into my twenties, I finally decided to try my hand at the first draft of Eleuthera. Over the years, I re-wrote that book dozens of times, until the advent of self-publishing finally made me put it in front of the public eye in 2011.

Tell us about your books – what are they about?

For me, a good story needs three essential ingredients: interesting characters, a world worth exploring, and “something to say”. In some ways, I really start with the characters and then I’m just along for the ride, watching them grow as individuals and explore the world I build around them. I’m insatiably curious about any form of exploration, both “external” as in space or ocean exploration, but also “internal” as in transhumanism and evolution of life in general. There is beauty all around us, all you have to do is pay attention to it. I want my readers to have fun with my writing and discover wondrous new worlds, but I also want to make them think a little – to look at familiar things in new ways, or maybe even realize something new about themselves.

I see you work for NASA – as a science fiction writer, how much does your work inspire your writing?

To be precise, I’m not a NASA employee; however, the work I’m involved with at SpaceX is mostly funded by NASA, since we are developing a new spacecraft to take both cargo and people to the International Space Station (ISS). In my writing, I draw on my knowledge of astronomy (all of the locations in my stories exist in reality), engineering (most technology in my books is an extrapolation of current capabilities), and even operations. In the last two years, I went through a lot of training to operate the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from the ground during its flight to the ISS. When we work in Mission Ops, we use a voice intercom system (think radio but it goes over hardwire) to coordinate the various locations and people involved in the operation. If you listen to the conversation on those voiceloops without being in the control room, it gives you a kind of tunnel vision on what’s going on. In Sadaka, there’s an opening scene where a crisis develops on a space station, and I wrote it like a transcript of the voiceloop traffic in the mission control room. It’s like giving the reader the whole picture one pixel at a time, until the entire scene comes together in their mind and makes them go “holy [insert favourite expletive]!” when they suddenly realize what’s going on.

Who is your favourite author and why?

There are so many, it’s hard to pick one or even just a few. Growing up I read a lot of the scifi classics like Asimov and Heinlein. As I ran out of mainstream material and broadened my horizons, I discovered both old and new books which had a lasting influence on me. Going back in time, Norman Spinrad is one of my favourites, together with Edgar Rice Burroughs. Older scifi often has a range and depth of imagination which far exceeds more contemporary books; so little was known then about the realities and technology of our modern world that authors just had to make it up, and the line between scifi and fantasy gets very blurry. More recently there were William Gibson with Neuromancer, Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon, and Peter F. Hamilton’s Reality Dysfunction series. All of these books project not just a technological future, but also new forms of society and human interaction. Last but not least, I’m also a huge fan of Neal Stephenson, whom I had the honour of meeting at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company once. His books are awesome fun to read and usually depict mind-bendingly bizarre (yet fully believable) societies; Snow Crash and Anathem are two of my favourites.

You've travelled a fair bit and worked in a variety of vocations – how has this aided you as a writer?

My family is very international; I grew up in Europe but have familial ties to both North America (Canada) and Africa, and close friendships with many people in Asia. It certainly has added to my experiences and interactions with all kinds of people, cultures, and places. But it’s not just different places, but also being a part of different strata in society which I encountered working as a musician, a roadie, a lumberjack, a vineyard apprentice, and with many government and commercial space organizations. There are some stories with great plots, but as you read them you can’t help but think “people just don’t behave that way - lame!”. As a writer, I think it helps to have had interactions with people in all walks of life. A character born into wealth and corporate power will act very differently than one who has lived perfecting the skills of craftsmanship. Two people can have completely different perspectives when looking at the same situation, because all their life they’ve had very different priorities.

Tell us a little about your use of social media to promote your books.

Social media are a powerful tool to let people know of your existence and what it is that you would like to share with them. My heaviest use of social media is probably my blog ( where I post any interesting bits on space, design, beauty, scifi, and technology I come across on during my day. All posts are pushed to my twitter feed (@OpenAerospace) which over time has gathered more than 15,000 followers. Ultimately, the work I do in space exploration is funded by the general public, so I feel a strong desire and obligation to share the wonder and excitement I’m privileged to enjoy every day with as many people as possible.

What's the biggest mistake an inexperienced writer can make?

Lack of editing - as an unpublished author, it’s really hard to find someone to edit your story. Online services charge four digit numbers (and there’s always that worry they might rip off your story), and asking friends or family can be emotionally challenging. My mother once came across a draft for a story I had typed up with some pretty explicit content – awkward to say the least! On the other hand, one of my professors in college told me: “A bad idea presented well will fail eventually. A good idea presented poorly will fail immediately.” Be a perfectionist, details matter - no story should ever see the public eye on the first draft, keep editing, polishing, chipping away at it until it is perfect; and then have someone else copyedit it for you for good measure.

And finally, what's the key to successful self-publishing?

I think the key is to look at self-publishing as a journey rather than an event. Don’t expect to wow thousands of readers with your first story when it finally hits the shelves. There are millions of books for people to choose from, and with the availability of ebooks (which never go out of print), that number continuous to sky-rocket. Even if you’ve written the most brilliant book since The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it won’t matter unless people know it exists and have a way to get their hands on it. After you’re done writing, you need to introduce yourself to your potential readers (marketing), then the presentation of your story needs to convince them to start reading (cover design), and lastly you need to encourage them to share what they thought with as many people as possible (reviews). It takes time to build a base of loyal readers, and once you have their admiration treat them with the respect they deserve. If a tree falls over in the forest without anybody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Ralph Ewig is the author of “Eleuthera” and other titles – find him on Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and Amazon US. Catch up with Ralph on his blog -

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Helvetica Outbreak: The best thing that never happened to music!

My housemate and best friend from university came to stay last week, and as we relived the old days it reminded me of a little project we sank quite a few hours into - introducing Helvetica Outbreak, the ultimate drum 'n' bass/metal cross-over that sadly didn't make it!

Equipped with a couple of electric guitars and a macbook with Garageband, we had high ambitions which sadly were never realised. However, looking back on our jamming sessions, it doesn't matter that the music didn't travel much further than our ipods, because we had fun.

The Helvetica Outbreak myspace page still exists, so you can listen to our tracks - let me know if you like them!

Monday, 26 March 2012

Author Interview - David Hulegaard

Let's get to know you – give us a brief summary of who you are.

My name is David K. Hulegaard and I am an American author living in historic Oregon City, Oregon. I primarily write science fiction and paranormal books, but I tend to dabble in just about every genre. My brain goes off into too many different directions to stay put in one genre for too long.

When did you begin writing?

As a child, really, but I didn’t try to do it professionally until a couple of years ago. I’m a “talker,” and my friends would always tell me that I should write books. Maybe that was just a polite way of telling me to shut up. I don’t know. After putting it off for a long time, I finally sat down in front of a keyboard in March of 2010 and started work on my first novel. I’ve been writing ever since.

Is it difficult to find time to write with all the other responsibilities of life?

You can always find time. It’s a lack of motivation that hampers most writers. Some days are more challenging than others to sit down and commit to the writing, and it’s on those days that you need to ask yourself if you really want to do this, or if it’s just a hobby. For me, writing is more like the reward I get at the end of a long day. If the day was particularly frustrating, I use that in my writing.

I see you've written a few books – tell us all about them!

I’m currently in the middle of a trilogy called Noble. It’s about a 1940s private detective that is searching for a missing girl. The catch? He discovers that her disappearance is tied to a government conspiracy and an agent gone rogue. Saying any more than that would be spoiling the big surprise twist. The first book is out now, and the sequel, Noble: Bloodlines, is due out by the end of March. I’d like to get the finale out by the end of this year, but I’m not going to force it. My brain tells me which book I need to be working on at any given time.

I’ve also got a novella out called The Jumper. It’s an old fashioned ghost story built around the twenty-five year old death of a teenage boy at a youth community center. The angry spirit of the boy haunts the building and reveals himself to the night custodian. Over time, the custodian stops being afraid and starts trying to help the boy, uncovering a mystery in the process.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that I’ve got an anthology called Strangers coming out in April. It’s a short story collection centered around the theme of train travel. Each tale explores the dark and twisted back stories of seemingly average people that meet one another on a train. A beta reader told me that he thought it was very Hitchcock-like. I can’t think of a better compliment than that!

What would you say is the key to writing effective thrillers?

Every writer would probably answer that differently, but for me, I think the key is a good twist. You need to tell a gripping story that hooks the reader, but also leave them enough room to formulate their own theories and opinions about where the story is going. Some writers are really good at throwing red herrings, and others are really good at simply protecting their secrets until the last minute. I think either device is great as long as the reader enjoys the ride.

What's your experience of self-publishing? Is it something you'd recommend to others?

Self-publishing is hard. Everything is a challenge. That said, it’s also been the best experience for me. I have complete control over both my success and failure, but above all else, I have an opportunity to share my stories. If I had submitted my books through the big publishers, I have no doubt they all would have been rejected. Why? Because they don’t contain any zombies or vampires. I’m not talking down about those types of books, I’m merely saying that they make money, and publishers are only looking for books that make money. I don’t blame them for that. I mean, making money is why they’re in business.

And what if one of books was to be accepted by a publisher? It would sit in stasis for 2-3 years before dusted off and finally greenlit for publication. No thanks. When I finish a book, I can publish it in less than 48 hours, and I get 70% of the revenue from sales. There are no money-grubbing agents and no bosses telling me to make creative changes to “spice up” my book.

Self-publishing is not a free pass, however. It’s expensive, and very hard to get noticed. You must have your writing professionally edited and you must have an attractive cover. Marketing can be done for little money, but you absolutely CAN NOT skimp out on editing and cover art. Readers need to trust that independently published books are just as good as the famous authors they read. If we abuse that trust and fail them, then we all lose.

Does social media (facebook, Twitter, blogging) play an important role in promoting your books?

Twitter has become the most effective social media tool for authors. Facebook works well for some, but I haven’t had much interest from readers there. I do maintain a blog that generates a modest amount of unique visits. There are also sites like Goodreads and Wattpad that are great for independent authors. Anywhere that a potential reader can interact with you and find samples of your work is a huge plus. For me, I like to offer different content at each site, like a literary carousel.

Which authors and books have inspired your work?

My biggest influences would be classics like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Dickens. I also love folklore and legends. In regards to modern writers, Bernard Schaffer is my biggest influence. His novels are my textbooks.

And what other sources do you take inspiration from? Films/video-games/music etc.?

I’m sure other writers will cringe by me saying this, but I do love TV, film, and video games. Try as they might, they never seem to rot my brain. Seriously though, I love a good story wherever I can find it. Sometimes it’s in a book, sometimes TV/film, and sometimes in a video game. My Noble trilogy was inspired by a combination of the TV show Lost, the video game BioShock, and the urban legend about the Mothman Prophecies. Intrigued?

Being a writer sounds like a lot of hard work – is it worth it?

I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It is hard, but I could never find the joy that it puts into my heart anywhere else. I think anyone who creates, be it writers, artists, poets, or musicians, probably knows what I’m talking about. The power to create and shape something with your mind is nothing short of fascinating. People ask me all the time, “Where do you come up with this stuff?” I wish I knew. If I did, I could tap into it at any time and become wealthy.

In all seriousness, I don’t do this for the money. Sure, it would be great to “retire” and call writing my full-time job, but even more than the money I just enjoy the opportunity to entertain people. Getting good reviews gives me “butterflies,” but when someone takes the time out to write me and tell me about their experience with my books, it’s something else entirely. If I could pinpoint any one thing that propels me to continue writing, that would be most certainly be it.

David Hulegaad is the author of “Noble” and “The Jumper”, available on Kindle, from Amazon US and Amazon UK. Find out more about David and his books on his website, or Goodreads.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Resolutions - my next step towards self-publishing

Image from
As I mentioned in a recent post, self-publishing is a new goal I'm working towards. However, if I'm going to stick an ebook on Amazon or Smashwords, I need to have written a book first! I do have some plans for a novel, or possibly series of novels, but that's still in the early planning stage at the moment. Don't despair though; I have been doing something productive – redrafting my short story collection, Resolutions.

Resolutions is a collection of science fiction short stories which I wrote during my university degree. 10,000 words in length, the collection is love-letter to my favourite genre, with the main theme being the manner in which stories are concluded. As well as being a work of science fiction, the collection also contains elements of cyberpunk, body horror and neo-noir, along with some postmodern narrative structures.

Why have I chosen to publish this particular piece of work? Firstly, I really enjoyed writing these stories, and without being too arrogant, think they're actually quite good. Secondly, the collection is a fairly short piece, so redrafting it isn't taking me too long to do. Finally, as I'm taking my first infant steps into the world of digital self-publishing, redrafting, formatting and promoting Resolutions will be a really useful learning experience.

Think you might enjoy Resolutions? Have a taste and see what you think. I've posted some early drafts of a few of the stories in the collection – have a read and let me know your opinions!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Author Interview: John-Paul Cleary

Great to meet you, John-Paul – tell me a little bit about yourself.

I live in a small town in the North-East of Scotland with my girlfriend and our three-year old daughter who claims to be part Disney princess and part mermaid.

It’s cold and windy up here but it’s home.

How long have you been writing? Can you pick out an influence that started you off?

I wrote my first book when I was about eight and put it in the class library at school. I think it was an Enid Blyton inspired mystery and I remember there was a dog in it called Sebastian. I was a bit disappointed because none of my classmates took it out. The teacher didn’t prepare me for that kind of rejection but it’s something you have to get used to as a writer.

What are your favourite authors and genres to read?

I’ve tried most genres but I mostly read novels and sci-fi. My biggest sci-fi influence is fellow Scot Iain M Banks. My favourite novel is The Magus by John Fowles. I’ve read it at least four times. It’s a little dated now but I love the way he messes about with fantasy and reality, and form and content. It’s full of flaws and it leaves lots of things unanswered and I like that too. There’s no reason why stories should always tie up all loose ends. Unanswered questions make you think.

Your book is called Convergent Space – tell us all about it!

Convergent Space is a dramatic sci-fi space opera. The premise I think is quite original. Normally space operas either have Earth at the centre of some grand federation or are about a different galaxy where Earth doesn’t feature. In Convergent Space there is a grand federation called the Renaissance but Earth isn’t part of it. Earth is a faded power, a has-been, an outsider. It was implicated in a terrible galactic crime that destroyed thousands of worlds and has been shunned ever since.

The story revolves around Earth’s 200 year obsession with trying to prove its innocence and thereby regain its lost status. We pick up events when one of Earth’s space-faring investigators finally finds a clue that might just lead to the truth.

All this happens against a backdrop of galactic war as a dark force is rising out of the ashes of the worlds most affected by the earlier catastrophe. And both stories – the one in the past and the one in the present - eventually intertwine.

How important is it for you to receive reader reviews for your book?

Hey, good reviews can make your day; bad reviews can ruin it.

Why did you publish your book as an electronic text rather than a physical book?

Necessity. Convergent Space was turned down by the first 7 or 8 agents I sent it to. I got fed up with the rejection letters so I decided to publish it myself. Actually it was my girlfriend’s idea. It’s one of the best things I ever did.

What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?

There are only pros. You control you own destiny and you don’t have to share your royalties with agents and publishers. And you get to meet nice people like you Sam.

With work, family, and other commitments, how you find any time for writing?

I tend to write secretly when no one’s looking! That means from about 5 am. So it doesn’t encroach on the rest of my life but it does mean I can get quite tired after writing for 2 hours first thing and then spending a full day at work.

Do you have any essential elements in your creative process e.g. time of day, location, silence/noise etc.?

We moved house recently – same town, different street – so I’m looking forward to trying out our new study. I’ll let you know how I get on!

What's your top tip for writers who are considering self-publishing?

I’m no expert but if you’re going to self-publish be prepared to switch from writer to marketer when you finish your book. You will need to devote a serious amount of time to market your book, and I mean serious, like it’s your new job.

Also don’t rush your book out. I got one or two poor reviews at the start for putting Convergent Space out without proofing it properly. That was unforgivable considering I worked as a magazine editor for four years. I should have known better. The version on sale now has been fully proofed I should add!

John-Paul Cleary is the author of “Convergent Space”, available on Kindle, from Amazon US and Amazon UK. Or you can read a free excerpt on John-Paul’s blog -

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Review: Enter Shikari - A Flash Flood of Colour

Music by Rou Reynolds, Rory Clewlow, Chris Batten and Rob Rolfe, lyrics by Rou Reynolds, produced by Dan Weller & Enter Shikari and published by Ambush Reality.

It's generally accepted that a band's second album is the 'difficult' one. Thinking from the musician's perspective, I imagine that it's more the case that every album is difficult. Will the critics rate it highly? Have we strengthened or comprised our style? Most importantly, will the fans react positively? Electronic rockers Enter Shikari probably battled with all these worries, what with their experimental style and vast fan-base. However, they have marshalled their talent and creativity, and have achieved another triumph with their third album, A Flash Flood of Colour.

Let's start off with the positives. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Enter Shikari as a band is Rou Reynolds' unique vocal style. Reynold's mix of snarling growls, sneering spoken-word, and soaring melodies is showcased perfectly in this album, especially in tracks like the metal/dubstep fusion 'Arguing With Thermometers'. Leading nicely on from the former point, A Flash Flood of Colour blends and contrasts musical styles to skilful effect. Enter Shikari don't use a variety of genres just for the sake of it or merely because they enjoy those types music – they do it because it encapsulates their message. The fury of metal and punk, the swagger of dubstep, the relentless speed of drum 'n' bass – these are the calling cards that display the band's passionate beliefs and challenges to society.

My favourite thing about Enter Shikari's latest album is that it represents the natural progression of the band maturing into their style. I particularly like that the band have continued to create more chilled tracks, such as 'Warm Smiles Do Not Make You Welcome Here'. Yes, this album is a far cry from Take to the Skies, but that's not a bad thing. Enter Shikari clearly know who they want to be musically, and if you're not happy with that, then maybe you need to consider whether you're actually a true fan.

Onto the negatives. Let me say first that these are relatively minor complaints; this is a good album. However, A Flash Flood of Colour can be a little 'on the nose' lyrically at points. Yes, war is bad. Yes, corruption is bad. Yes, environmental awareness is good. We get the point. Another issue I have with the lyrical content of this album is the swearing. “What a prude,” I hear you mutter. This is a moral objection, but also one borne from my values as a writer. It's laziness to use foul language to convey a message, empty syllables that could be replaced by something a little more meaningful.

There are only a couple of other small criticisms I would level at Enter Shikari's third album. As I previously stated in my review of Common Dreads, I still think the guitars are a tiny bit lost in the mix, but there are a lot of other elements to blend so this doesn't bother me too much. I would also say that some of the tracks on this album are weak, like 'Hello Tyrannosaurus, Meet Tyrannicide', and the fact that the singles aren't included on the normal edition of record seems a bit cheap.

These negatives aren't massive hindrances in the path of Enter Shikari's latest musical offering. Despite some overly sincere lyrics and other minor flaws, A Flash Flood of Colour is a win for the band. This is a really great album for anyone who enjoys metal, electronica or a mixture of the two. I suggest you buy this album, turn the volume up, and enjoy.

Try this if you like: Chase and Status, The Devil Wears Prada, Hadouken!, Innerpartysystem, Killswitch Engage, Linken Park, Mad Capsule Markets, Nero, Pendulum, The Prodigy, Rage Against The Machine.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Author Interview: David J Pedersen

Tell us a little bit about yourself e.g. where you live, family, occupation, favourite type of breakfast cereal etc!

I was born in Racine, Wisconsin and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.  I’ve worked in sales, management and IT – which means I’m not good at anything but I can make a mess in lots of different places.  My lovely wife and editor, Angie Pedersen, is a published author of three books about Scrapbooking.  I have a 14 year old daughter and an 18 year old son.  Right now I’m trying the paleo diet, so all cereal sounds really good!

How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to pick up the pen?

I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, and got the bug to write a novel in High School – but was never patient enough to do it.  I’m not sure what finally made me turn the corner, if it was too much time in corporate America, or that I was finally mature enough to wait for the microwave to count all the way down to zero.  Either way I’m glad I finally did start because I can’t seem to stop and I’ve got a lot of story to tell.

I see you’ve written a novel called ‘Angst’ – let’s hear the sales pitch for it!

Angst is a story about midlife crisis in medieval times. After turning 40 Angst believes that any chance of his dreams coming true are gone. He is an overweight, paper-pushing, magic-wielder. Magic is mostly illegal and because of this he is stuck in a thankless job. His friends have drifted apart, his marriage is on the rocks, and the only person who seems to care is the teenage princess Victoria. They have become the best of friends, which upsets his wife, and makes things worse with his boss, the Queen. Angst believes that if he had just been allowed to become a knight everything would have turned out better.

The world around Angst is tumbling into chaos. Once extinct magical creatures have begun to appear, they are invulnerable and they are hungry. After pulling the proverbial "sword from the stone," an ancient sword so large people thought it was a statue, Angst discovers he can use it to kill these monsters. To rid herself of Angst, the Queen offers him what he wants the most, a title, possibly even knighthood. All he has to do is find the source of magical creatures. Angst uses this mission as a means to force his friends to accompany him, in hopes that it will pull them close together again. Unfortunately they don't know how much danger they will be facing. While his friends may be too old and out of shape to be fighting monsters, Angst is driven to succeed so he can become a knight.

One of the great things about this novel is that it isn't that traditional fantasy story of ‘a young man or woman filled with potential and seeking the path of greatness’. Angst is a guy who never found that path in his youth and has spent his life wondering why he never got the chance. When the chance is finally thrust on him, he finds that the grass isn't necessarily greener.

Do you consider your work to be in any way autobiographical – i.e. are you facing the same mid-life crisis that plagues your protagonist?

One of my best friends from High School said reading the book was like spending an evening talking to me.  While I’m not Angst, and most of the characters aren’t exact duplicates of friends and family, there are certainly more than a few similarities.  I have tried to follow Mark Twain’s great advice to “write what you know.”  As for a mid-life crisis, I guess it depends on who you ask.  I will say that if going on adventures while being surrounded by attractive young women means I’m going through a mid-life crisis – then I’m in!

Why did you choose to self-publish rather than follow the traditional route of publishing?

There are lots of reasons I never submitted anything to a traditional publisher.  The most important one was retaining control of the story and characters.  I have no doubt that a publisher could make my story more sellable, but I know what I want my story to say and really don’t want anything or anyone cut out.  For instance, there are things that happen in book 2 that may not be referenced again until book 6 or book 100.  I want the flexibility to leave those plot points and characters in place.

I also enjoy the immediate gratification I’ve gotten from self-publishing.  Writing your first book isn’t about money. Instead, my goals have been to entertain, write characters that people care about, and create situations that readers can relate to. And I love to hear that I have made someone laugh.  I’ve been told that I’ve met many of those goals, and I feel great about it.

How important is social media in the marketing/promotion of your work?

To this point it has been everything.  Most of my marketing and promotion has been done through Twitter and my blog.  I never thought I’d say this, but I love Twitter.  It’s a great way to find an audience, and network with other writers.  I’ve met some amazing people and have gotten some great feedback.  The interaction is both fun, and really makes me want to write more.

What’s the most challenging aspect of being a writer?

I want my books to be easy to read, entertaining, and relatable while at the same time being clever enough that you don’t always know what is going to happen. Readers who reviewed Angst enjoyed some of the twists and turns of the story.  I’m proud of my first book and am striving to make the sequel, Buried in Angst, as good, or better than the first.

Do have a strict writing regime or is your creative process fairly relaxed?

Not really - my schedule is crazy full so I fit writing time in when I can.  I try to schedule writing after work 2-3 days a week and feel pretty good if I get one day in -- I usually hide at a bookstore with my netbook and throw up a few pages while listening to various soundtracks.  Then I’ll edit and rewrite the mess a couple of days later at home in the evenings before handing it off to my wife for editing.

What genres and authors do you enjoy reading?

It’s unfortunate that my reading time is my writing time (and my family time, and my exercise time, etc).  I mostly enjoy fantasy and science fiction, but if I don’t have a lot of time to read I’ll pick up a comic book.  I’ve really enjoyed DC Comics’ New 52 soft reboot lately.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write!  More than anything you need to write.  Write lots, write little, write poorly – it doesn’t matter.  Every time you write it is like exercising a muscle; your writing will improve and so will the creative process.

David J Pedersen is the author of “Angst”, available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and other reading devices. He regularly blogs at

Monday, 13 February 2012

Author Interview: Natalie Binder

Who is Natalie Binder? Tell us your story!

I’m 26 years old. I live in rural Florida where I work as a public librarian. It’s a great job in a great community, but I’m not from here. I travel a lot. I went to Bard College at Simon’s Rock when I was 16. After I got my A.A. I went to work with AmeriCorps, which gave the opportunity to travel all over the country and meet all different kinds of people. I worked with a lot of different charities and government agencies, which is what inspired me to go into public service. In 2007, I went to Indonesia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. It was an amazing experience that still affects me every day—especially through my writing. I recently graduated with my Master’s in information science. I now get to be a librarian during the day and a writer and book reviewer by night.

How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to express yourself in this way?

I wrote my first play when I was eight. It was about dogs. I was a really quiet and isolated kid, so creative writing was a way to express myself and connect with people. I wrote all through my childhood. But I didn’t finish many stories, and I didn’t publish any. It took me a long time to work up the confidence to show my writing to other people. I’ve just started writing real, complete stories and trying to get published. It’s been an incredible learning experience.

Tell us about your book, “New Year's Day”, Redshift Vol. 1 – what's it all about?

Redshift is a time travel story about a twenty-first century man, J.D. Mitchell, who is suddenly and unexpectedly transported into the distant future. He falls in with a group of prison escapees and ends up as a pirate, traveling across the galaxy in search of a way home.

“New Year’s Day” starts at the end of Mitchell’s story, when he’s been captured by the military and forced to confess to everything that he’s done. Eventually we’ll learn how Mitchell came to be a pirate and why he was “kidnapped” by the future.

There were two real scientific “gimmicks” that inspired the Redshift storyline. The first was that in 2011, when I was working on an early draft of “New Year’s Day,” scientists discovered how to hide events in time. The second is that we are beginning to learn how to record people’s dreams and thoughts. I love that conflict between secrets and exposure. I’m planning to really dig into guts of that with Redshift, while also writing what I hope is a fun space adventure story.

The book is the first in a series of novellas – why did you choose this particular format?

I believe in a relationship between form and function. It was a hard decision. People love novel-length stories. The biggest complaint I’ve gotten about “New Year’s Day” is that it’s not long enough—it ends before people expect it to end. It only takes Mitchell through his first set of obstacles. But for very important structural reason Redshift can only hold together the way I’m writing it. I think that will become clearer when I publish “Surprise, Surprise” and “Deal of the Century” this year. The whole thing is built like a Mobius strip. It’s going to turn back in on itself at the midpoint.

I do think that shorter forms, like story collections and novlets, are a great fit for e-readers. The only problem is that I can’t do a Redshift story every week or even every month. Each one takes a lot of time and effort.

Why did you choose to self-publish, and why did you use Smashwords in particular?

Redshift is kind of a mad concept. I believe that it can compete on quality, but it’s not something a publishing company would or could ever gamble on. And that’s OK. The world is big enough for all kinds of writing and publishing now and many different levels of success.

As a librarian and a student of books, I wanted to self-publish to prove that I could do it. A lot of this has been an experiment for me—OK, how do I make an .epub version; OK, how do I get on a bestseller list; OK, how do I get into this or that category. I spent a lot of time in graduate school making web pages and gaming search engines. Now I get to do it as a hobby. A publishing company would never let me do that.

I chose Smashwords because of their extended delivery service. They put “New Year’s Day” on iPads and Nooks. You can even download it plaintext onto your computer. The ebook market is huge. I didn’t see any reason (and still don’t) to limit my distribution to a particular format. I did format my own Kindle version of “New Year’s Day.” Kindle is a very important platform for self-pubbers. I wanted to be personally involved in that process.

How do you make use of social media (facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc) to promote your book?

I am a huge fan of Twitter. It’s my preferred social network. I’ve also used my Facebook to page to document the writing process and share news. I blog about the books sometimes on Generally, though, I’ve found social media a pretty tough nut to crack. I think it’s easy for writers get caught up in the marketing side of self-publishing when they should be focused on craft.

In the months since I published “New Year’s Day” I’ve cut way down on self-promotion and used Twitter to get to know other people, ask questions, and talk about things I like. I’ve also started a blog, to help promote other writers. I still tweet about my new books and blogs and things as they’re released, but I try not to do that too much.

How do you balance spending time writing and all the other pressures and responsibilities of life?

It’s not easy. I’m so lucky to have a full-time job that I love, and that has to be my priority. I’m also involved in the community. And there’s a lot of pressure to tweet and blog and read and on and on during my free time. I have to take my writing time in big chunks on the weekends and very late at night. 10 p.m.-2 a.m. is my usual writing time.

What do you consider the most challenging part of the creative process?


Which books/films/television shows inspire you the most?

I’ve taken inspiration from so many different shows and books that it would be difficult to say for sure. Anyone who reads Redshift, and especially “New Year’s Day,” will see Firefly and Farscape in its lineage. I can’t help that. I love those shows. I’m a very straight-laced person in real life, but my other car is a smuggler’s spaceship.

But take Farscape—the person who created that, Rockne O’Bannon, took his inspiration from Flash Gordon. So when I was writing “New Year’s Day,” I had to go back and read Flash Gordon. OK, well, Flash Gordon was created in the 1930s to compete with Buck Rogers. And without H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, you could never have had Buck Rogers. So Redshift’s great-grandparent is really Wells’ The Time Machine. That doesn’t mean I’ve rewritten “The Time Machine,” or Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon, or Farscape—or that I’m claiming to be as good as them. I can’t make that judgement. But Redshift fits within a cultural milieu which is all around us and has a long history of literary influences.

You can trace anything back the same way. Star Trek and Firefly have a similar family tree to Redshift. You look at something like House—which is a huge mainstream hit—and it’s just Sherlock Holmes with a different name. At the same time they’re releasing modern versions of Sherlock Holmes that are clearly influenced by Hugh Laurie’s performance as House. That’s been going on since the first time Holmes was adapted for the stage. It’s very circular. So who’s to say who had the first idea? Or what will come out of it next?

What would you say to someone who wants to write and publish a book?

You should do it. If you really have that urge to write, you won’t be able to stop yourself. But I have these pieces of advice: 1) Don’t do it alone. Every successful creative work is a group venture. Get help from other writers. Get help from published writers. Let 40 people read it before you put it out in public. 2) Learn to accept criticism. If you have to explain why a character did such-and-such, or why such-and-such happened, you either need to rewrite that part, or accept that not everybody will get it and move on. You can’t convince people to like the book after the fact. 3) Study craft, not marketing. If you want to sell your story, you need to tug at people’s hearts, not at their wallets. 4) Don’t expect financial success or fame. The average book sells less than 100 copies. That’s not per month. That’s ever. Success is magic, and it’s made by audiences, not writers or publishers. 5) Be willing to spend some of your own money. At the very least you need to hire a smart editor and a talented cover designer. Rock bottom, you’re looking at an investment of at least $600-1000 per book—not counting your time.

I say these things not to discourage people, or to be negative, but to make sure they come into this with their eyes open. Some indie writers seem to take it really hard if their book isn’t a bestseller. Your book is doing OK if you’re selling just a few copies a month. Writing didn’t suddenly get easier because publishing did.

That said, there are huge opportunities and rewards out there for people who are willing to make the leap. No matter what, it’s an amazing life and learning experience. I am so proud of what I did with “New Year’s Day,” and I’m looking forward to publishing “Surprise, Surprise,” very soon.

N.V. Binder is the author of “New Year’s Day (Redshift #1),” available for free on Kindle, Nook and other reading devices. She reviews books at

Saturday, 11 February 2012

How to watch Star Wars

After listening to Kermode and Mayo's Film Review (the BBC's flagship film review programme) on Radio 5 Live yesterday, I have come to a realisation – there is a fundamentally correct order in which to watch the Star Wars films.

On the surface this may seem like a fairly trivial subject, but any Star Wars fan will understand the serious nature of what we're talking about here. Watching these movies in the incorrect sequence will ruin the viewing experience, spoiling the little magic that is left in this classic sci-fi saga.

Here's the perfect order to watch Star Wars:
  • A New Hope
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • A New Hope
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi

Why watch the films in this order? Firstly, you need to watch the originals before the prequels so that you don't spoil the reveal in Empire (which is given away in Revenge of the Sith). Secondly, you need to watch the originals again after the prequels to get rid of the bad taste left by Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen. Now, for your viewing pleasure, the best Star Wars impersonator on YouTube!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Nineteen Eighty Four meets Metalcore!

Check out this awesome music video by As I Lay Dying - combines two of my favourite things: metalcore and dystopia!

Monday, 23 January 2012

My New Year's Resolution: Self-Publishing

Countless times in the past I've made grand plans for New Year’s resolutions, which in reality haven't lasted past the halfway point in January. However, this time I'm really determined to achieve my goal – to self-publish a novel.

Why self-publish? Through my brief work experience in a couple of literary agencies in London, I've seen how frustratingly difficult it is to get a novel published through the traditional means, especially in a genre like science fiction or fantasy. However, self-publishing seemed to be a cop-out in comparison – lots of work and risk, with little chance of reward. Recently though, I've been researching self-publishing through ebooks and have been astonished by the success that a skilled and motivated writer can achieve. In particular, the science fiction author Michael R. Hicks has been a real inspiration – through hard work, perseverance and brilliant stories, he's living the dream!

Here’s my plan in brief:

  • Start work on a new novel idea – plan in detail and begin writing (‘This Dark World’ is shelved for the moment)
  • Redraft my science fiction short story collection – written for degree, 10,000 words
  • Publish collection as a trial run – test the waters, generate interest, maybe earn some pennies!
  • Eventually publish novel!
I’ll try to keep you all updated on my progress with regular posts. I’ll have to balance this new project alongside Tweet RPG, but I’m sure they’ll feed and support each other. If you have any advice, insights or opinions on self-publishing, feel free to comment below or send me a tweet!