Beneath the veneer of adventure, Empty Space is really about the way we confront our fears, how we accept or don't accept the unknown, Fate, and the possibilities that lie in the forked road of decision. Someone asked me with sincerity recently why I don't have a catchy genre slogan or why my cover only shows stars and a barn instead of space ships and planets. Not only does it encompass those underlying themes, it also showcases our primitive agricultural and superstitious selves and our migration toward the heavens, the heights to which we reach. As X-files said, "the truth is out there." Can you confront it?
I would like to think I would dive head first into the unknown like Dara does, to have the courage to accept and observe that Unknown without fear. I would hope others would be able to do this as well. The main character is not "taken," she goes freely into the abyss, to confront truth.
At the same time, I wanted readers to enjoy the rid
e and feel familiar to "the way things are," and sense who we are as individuals in a greater, interconnected universe.
As people read my book, I hope they are able to identify with the character's struggles, obsessions and traumas, as well as explore for themselves the depth of their own connections and truths.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
1A: I was 12 or so when the idea of being a writer entered my brain—I had a habit of using vivid dreams to help me write papers and stories for class. I was an avid reader of science fiction, and when I began to show talent, my English teacher at the time encouraged me to keep writing everything and anything I could. This encouragement continued into high school, and I won several talent based contests. Writing the first 90 pages of the book I now have published under the title Empty Space galvanized that desire to write. I was tired of everyone else’s stories. I wanted to make my own.
2. How long does it take you to write a book?
2A: The current published book took me all of 12 years from inception to publishing. I had some obstacles, however. I hope the sequel takes less time, now that my life has slowed down, and I am not in college or working so many hours. As to actually writing out a novel, not including the tweaking, adding, subtracting and editing, I can pop something out in a couple of weeks. I like to work in a lot of back story, small details, philosophy and character quirks, and that is usually what takes me extra time. I like to do some research too, and that usually adds to the time.
3. What do you think makes a great story?
3A: Great stories have characters the reader can identify with, situations that are familiar but fantastic, settings with details that make the skin crawl, and multiple complications. I love a story with multiple complications, and I love it even more when it is clearly described, and with a character of strong personality filled with all the normal flaws and flukes of the real people I meet every day. I love to see ordinary people randomly dropped into extraordinary circumstances, and watch that character grow into their role. When I was in junior high, I was a big fan of Clive Cussler’s books. I loved how he had so many things going on at once, and the twist from the past. I also read Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, as much Star Wars as I could get my hands on and loved The Last Unicorn, King of the Wind and Island of the Blue Dolphins.
4. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
4A: I am a high school special education para. That means I spend a lot of time helping students with learning tasks made difficult by circumstance and learning disability. Sometimes my schedule has breaks—days when the kids don’t need me, the class is watching a movie on the periodic table, or they are just taking notes. I also repeat certain classes, so I end up having some downtime. I take the coIn previous jobs this was not possible. Retail was too busy and the other schools either had me covering too many classes at once and overlapping, or would not allow it. My current supervisor uses my writing abilities and my BA in English and Creative Writing to help the students understand that writing doesn’t have to be hard, and that the words can come from inside the students, not just the text books.
At home I try to get in a few paragraphs here and there. I have a few distractions, like my jewelry business and sewing, so sometimes it’s hard to ignore those crafts when writers block sets inmputer with me to school and work on my own projects during those down times.
5. How do you balance family and writing?
5A: My boyfriend and I are a good match as far as being able to occupy our time. If I am in the middle of an idea and typing furiously, or staring blankly at the word processor, he leaves me alone and finds something to do in the meantime. Sometimes I bounce ideas off him, and sometimes he gives the encouragement I need to keep going. He doesn’t have as many hobbies as I do, so its easy for me to work writing around my time with him. My biological family has always understood my need for either privacy and loud music, or time to rant on ideas, and they were always good to leave me alone when I wanted to write. I do try not to spend all my time writing when boyfriend/family is in the house, or other friends. I do have a habit of making myself hard to get hold of, however.
6. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
6A: I look up conspiracy theories, read books on the subjects on which I intend to write, find documentaries…I spend a lot of TV time on the Discovery Channel, Discover Science, Investigation Discovery, History and H2, and find things on Netflix. Recently I have been listening to George Noory’s show, Coast to Coast AM< with my boyfriend, who is also a science fiction nut. Sometimes I use vivid dreams to build large portions of my plots. There are several places in Empty Space that are dreams I had sometime over the last 12 years, and they ended up in the story. The dragon-boxing idea came from a dream I had about it.
Sometimes I people watch when I am out, which I know is creepy, but it’s very useful. I like reading or watching media from other cultures too.
…And I taught myself to bellydance. That was the most fun ever.
7. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
7A:The most recent surprise is how easy it is to self-publish. The other recent thing I learned is that I seem to be a perfectionist, more so than I ever realized.
I was surprised every time I won any contests with my writing. Twice in high school I won awards for short fiction, and in college I won the big talent-based scholarship. The scholarship win really surprised me, because the piece I entered was something I wrote after getting angry with my professor, and I turned it in to the scholarship committee as a rough draft. That did a lot for my confidence.
8. How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
8A: Because of school, I have written more short fiction than novels. I have enough short fiction to edit together a compilation of stories and poems, most written during my college years. I was very serious about my education and tended to set the novel aside for homework. However, I have several novels written on notebook paper waiting for the day when I get to be a stay-at-home writer. I also have several outlined in word documents, and I expand on those whenever I have ideas or time to dream. So far, my favorite story is one I am working on currently, that started as a blog on a steampunk website.
9. Are your characters based on anyone you know?
9A: Of course they are. Never exactly, but I borrow habits and hobbies and personality traits from the people around me. It’s part of how I create a round, real character, and I think more writers do this than not—down to how they like their eggs and the wear spots in the furniture upholstery from the way they sit. People are multifaceted and change, and grow—observing real people helps us observe this growth, and these facets of being that change so readily in drastic situations.
Like I said before, sometimes I people watch. Since I work in a school, I have the opportunity to observe people there, as well as when I am out shopping, at large group-trainings, or just out with friends. I’ve been told I’m a character myself, so I suppose there are bits of me in all of my characters. Many of my coworkers think I am an ornery rebel in goth clothes.
10. Do you have a favourite place you love to write?
10A: I like to write somewhere either very quiet with a desk and a bunch of strangely colored lights, or somewhere cushy and comfortable with a spot to prop up any inspiring notes or images. Right now it is the leather couch in the living room with a TV tray covered in a bunch of multi-colored sticky notes with ideas jotted on them, heavy metal music in the background. I like a room with lots of inspiring pictures, especially pictures of space, or the ocean.
11. How hard is it to get published?
11A: I found self-publishing very easy. My publishing company has a publish-wizard that walks you through the program. I had my brother take the photo for the front cover and I made the edits to it to make the cover art. It was very easy to create the Kindle edition, and it has been very easy to edit and upload new editions.
I tried sending queries. I lost my patience after a repeated phrase from agents: “this story isn’t one of the genres I listed.” Then why is science fiction on your profile? Also, every time I sent a query, I had a panic attack, so when a friend who is also self-published offered to walk me through Createspace, I was relieved. I could do it on my own time, and there was no one in charge but me.
The hard part is advertising. It’s like trying to feed carrots to werewolves.
12. What do your family and friends think about your books?
12A: My family is just excited that I finally got it published. They have listened to me rant and daydream about it since I was 16, and so far everyone in my family has read it. My boyfriend’s mom can’t wait for the sequel, everyone who has read it so far has expressed the same. My closest friend Liz, who’s fiancé’s barn is featured on the cover of Empty Space, has bought all the versions I have produced. My grandmother won’t read it—she’s far too Baptist for Aliens. The ladies I work with at the high school are very supportive, and the high school librarian bought a copy for the school. She wants me to do an author-talk in January, and some friends out in the Kansas boonies want to read the book in their book club. I am very excited! My brother’s film buddies at the college all know about it, and some have read it. So far, everyone who has read it and reported back to me has said they enjoyed it.
My first review was a 5/5, and while I was elated, I would like some reviews that have some more constructive criticism.
13. What do you like to do when you are not writing?
13A: I have been drawing and sketching since I could hold a pencil. I taught myself how to make gemstone jewelry, some of which is geared toward the metaphysical crowd. I taught myself various religious and spiritual practices—I mostly work with crystals, hence the talent for wire-wrapping. I learned Chakra meditation, dream interpretation, and various aspects of the Occult. I took belly dancing classes for my main character Dara, so I would be able to more accurately describe the motions. I listen to metal, hard rock, 80s rock, techno, middle-eastern music, celtic and Pure Moods while I do all these things. Sometimes I watch movies, and I have a particular love for Anime. I learned how to sew from my mother, and frequently make my own dresses and costumes. Just recently I got a business license to take my jewelry to Anime and Sci-Fi conventions. Obviously I spend time with the people in my life—they are part of my inspiration.
I am a writer because I have always been a reader, and sometimes I research for fun(usually on topics of physics, astronomy, archaeology, pseudo-science, ancient aliens or occult practices).
14. Do you have any suggestions to help aspiring writers better themselves and their craft? If so, what are they?
14A: Practice! Submit your writings to beta readers! Attend conferences, go to a creative writing class to help expose yourself to techniques you might not encounter otherwise! It’s ok to love an author, but classes and workshops and prompts and reviewers can help you develop your own personal style. Try things that scare you! Poetry always bothered me—I am definitely a prose girl, but poetry made me think differently about the way I string my phrases together. I would never have messed with it had it not been for a really nice poetry professor and a really fun group of students at my Alma Mater’s poetry class.
Most importantly, have people read and respond to your work, and listen to their critiques. Listen carefully, but remember that it is still yours. You can take some and leave some.
15. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
15A: A mermaid, paleontologist, NASA scientist, jet fighter pilot, diplomat, to name a few. What I DIDN’T want to do was work anywhere near kids, they make me shudder. Guess what? I’m a special education para, and being a writer and a spiritual weirdo made me good at reading teenagers. Apparently they connect well with the rebellious goth lady who listens to metal.
16. What are your favourite books and which authors inspire you?
Star Wars—I always wanted to be a Jedi. It was part of what inspired my spiritual journey.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—reinforced in me that change is the only constant and the universe is a weird, weird place.
Terry Pratchett’s books inspired me to look at life in a different colored lens…something slightly magic colored.
Clive Cussler, Michael Crighton, and random books from the same category of authors, all entertained and some educated me. They definitely kept me out of trouble.
The Hunger Games was brilliant and I wish I had thought of it. Cheers, Suzanne Collins.
The Way of the Wizard, by Deepak Chopra, left me feeling empowered with the will to accomplish anything, and to this day, I reflect on those spiritual lessons to make myself a better person.
Everything from Zecharia Sitchen. I love his “Earth Chronicles” books. I know there is a lot of criticism for his ideas, but I find that sometimes the rookie sees what the training-blind scholar does not.
JRR Tolkein and the LOTR series. I am forever in the debt of a man who could invent languages such as that, to create a world so rich, and every fantasy writer since him, in my opinion, is in his debt for making it a literary genre instead of pulp fiction. CS Lewis helped with this as well, but Out of the Silent Planet was a much bigger deal to me than Narnia.
Vonnegut, oh Vonnegut…And Ursula LeGuin, who was forced upon me by a creative writing professor, and I grudgingly accept that I liked it.
William Stafford is from Kansas. End of story.
Amy Fleury made poetry look easy.
In a way, EVERY book I have read has influenced me. I tossed 1984 across the room in anger. I got bored with Little House on the Prairie. I read Island of the Blue Dolphins and King of the Wind 16 and 11 times, respectively, in the 5th grade. I read Jurassic Park 8 times. I have reread most of the books I own, because there is always something missed the first time around. My best friend exposed me to Fantasy, and I found codices for myself in those as well.
And finally, Chaucer, who showed that yes, you CAN eviscerate someone with fiction.
17. For an aspiring writer what do you feel are certain do's and don’ts for getting their material published?
17A: Do investigate self-publishing. Do look into editors, workshops, contests, conventions and classes where you can pass your work around. DO keep all the critiques you receive. Do try writing queries, it is good practice for selling your soul. Do research, do other things with your life so that you have life experience. Do write about something you are familiar with. Don’t lose hope when you don’t feel you are writing well. Don’t sweat the little stuff, fix it later and get your idea out. Don’t brag. Don’t let other people determine your fate. Don’t let a professor tell you that you are a bitch, a bully and a bad writer, just because writer’s block and life stand there like cows on the road. DO write something out of high emotional stress. You might surprise that critic/professor. Don’t depend on an agent. DO try to edit without spell check, sometimes the computer really is wrong. And like I said before, DO try something that scares you.
18. What are you working on now?
18A: The sequel to Empty Space, a compilation of shorts from the same universe but different timelines, a 3rd book related to Empty Space, a steampunk/Anunnaki return disaster(Year of the Nefilim/Past Agenda), an “end of the universe” apocalypse story based on some information gleaned from an episode of The Universe on Discovery (calling it Last Star for now) and I have a fantasy “kiss a toad” story I wrote when I was younger that I want to do as a YA fantasy, even though YA disgusts me.