Q: Why did you decide to write a book?
A: Writing is just something I do and have always done. As far as Robots From Neptune goes, I wanted to write a script that pays tribute to the Golden Age of Science Fiction—the 1950s and 1960s. There was a time when a hostile race invading Earth from within our own Solar System was at least remotely possible. NASA sort of ruined all of that. Now we have a pretty good handle on the emptiness of our neighbourhood, so all of the sci-fi stuff now has to be set very far away, or in a different time, or both. But once we looked up at Mars, et al, and wondered at the possibilities.
Why are zombie films so popular right now? I think it is because they take a very real fear (total societal collapse) and interject it into a setting that is clearly ridiculous (brain-eating corpses). So the real and the absurd coexist. The old alien robot books and films of that time served the same purpose. They provided a safe substitute for addressing the pervasive fears of invasion and nuclear destruction, which was so much a part of the Cold War culture.
We don’t have films like that anymore. If Hollywood sets out to make a robot film or an alien film, you’re going to have reason to believe it. The basic premises of Ex Machina and Arrival are very plausible. I wanted to write something that clearly is not. There is so much fun in that.
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I’ve been writing since the 4th grade. I used to write for a public access TV show and a local entertainment newspaper. These days I focus mostly on scripts, novels, songs, and short stories.
Q: How long did it take you to write this book?
A: I guess I would say it took me about two months to hammer out the first draft. However, I’ve been standing on it for almost three years now. The original idea began taking shape about seven years ago. Initially, I wanted the robots to be agents of the U.S.S.R. (having gone underground since the coup in 1991), but changing the setting to Neptune made things even more ridiculous. And that equals better, to my mind.
Q: What do you use to write your books?
A: Well, my soul and my head. But beyond that, a MacBook Pro. I lay on the bed with my feet at the headboard, put something on the dresser TV for noise, and bang away for hours. Sometimes I sketch out diagrams on a legal pad to help me flesh out the timeline or get a bird’s eye view of the whole project, but mostly I just key it in directly as I go. Revise much later, and often.
Q: What problems did you encounter?
A: Probably the hardest part for me on this project was twofold: I had never attempted to write a script before, and I had a pretty substantial learning curve in terms of standard formatting and conventions, etc. One such example is the fact that my aliens are very exotic looking, and trying to describe them within the confines of a script was very challenging. I’m not sure I succeeded, actually. I ended up building 3D models and drawing them with animation software. I have no idea what that did for my writing, but it did help me solidify in my own mind what everyone looked like. It was worth it for that much.
I also had a hard time mapping out how the robots would get to Earth. I didn’t want to just go with flying saucers, although I’m not sure why. You can’t really embrace cliché and distance from it at the same time. But I just wasn’t feeling it. Then I got the idea for a guy to try to build a homemade version of the Large Hadron Collider in his yard using scraps of junk (a feat probably more implausible than robots originating on Neptune, as a matter of fact), and I was sold out to the notion. But again, trying to describe all of that within a script is pretty difficult to achieve.
Q: How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since you’ve started?
A: I just feel like my ideas are sharper and more precise than they used to be. Of course, that probably says more about my previous state than it does my current.
Q: Do you structure your plots or just go with the flow?
A: Both. I always start with something set in mind, and I endeavour to get that idea onto the screen. But eventually, a character will stand up on his own and do something I did not intend. They divorce themselves from my control. In such cases, I always follow that trail. I’m not sure what I am writing is any good at all until that moment arrives. I don’t think writing should just be my own dictation of an early idea. It starts there, but something else has to happen, or the words are just rote and dead.
Q: Do you work on a set amount of words per day or does it change?
A: No. I write until I’m spent, and then I stop. I don’t necessarily write every day, but I do work on some part of one of my projects every day. Reading counts. Watching genre films counts. Drawing sketches of characters counts. Just so long as I am chipping away at some corner of the rock pile, it goes down as a productive day.
Q: Do you do a lot of research when writing a book?
A: I do enough (probably not enough). For this scrip,t I did quite a bit of research on the Large Hadron Collider. I still feel like my understanding of what it is and what it does is very superficial, though. I’m not sure that hurts my intent, in this case, because absurdity is a main character. We’re in an age now where the short answer to any question is only a few keystrokes away. However, I’m more convinced than ever that the long answers take just as much work to find as they always did. I stopped well short of that.
Q: How would you describe your writing process?
A: Like watching a dozen different pots heading towards “boil” utilizing a dozen different and unreliable sources of heat. Like playing Whac-A-Mole with a muse.
Q: What time of the day do you find is best to write?
A: Just about any time when I really should be doing something else.
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: Some random idea slips past the defective filter and irritates my brainpan.
Q: What draws you to this genre?
A: Science Fiction is great because it is not true but could be true. Those parameters can take you a long way.
Q: Have you ever tried to write other genres?
A: Oh, all the time. I’m more bound by the idea than the genre.
Q: Which author/book would compare yours too?
A: Well, in this case, think Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and the original The Outer Limits TV show meets Napoleon Dynamite. I’ve approached this sci-fi comedy as an animated film, but only because I cannot imagine what live action would look like. However, if pressed on the matter, I’m guessing it would look like iRobot and Independence Day…if Ed Wood directed the mixture.
Q: Can you relate to any of your own stories?
A: Well, I always incorporate aspects of my life into everything I write. Usually, it’s not the important stuff. In fact, I’d almost call them Easter Eggs related to my own memories. They’re in there because they make me giggle, and they add a touch of the real to the overall voice of the thing. For example, RFN is set in the fictional town of Hazelrigg, MO. That’s just the last name of a senior football player during my freshman year. I never even knew the guy but I just always thought that was a cool name.
I also have a horrific restaurant in RFN called Bobby Lee Sancho’s. It’s modelled after a terrible Mexican Food chain in my hometown that I have to take in every time I visit. If you’re a local, you get it; if you’re not, you see it immediately for what it is. It’s awful, but it’s so great. So many things about your hometown are like that.
Q: How many books have you written?
A: My son and I wrote and self-published a book. DOUBLE HOOKUP! A Father & Son Guide to Offshore Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. I also have a short story with The First Line Literary Journal, and three music CDs that my cousin and I recorded about 15 years ago. Beyond that, I have about ten other projects in various states.
Q: Have you ever written in collaboration with another author?
A: With song writing, I have done that many times. But no, never with prose. I wouldn’t know how to begin doing such a thing. Feels like we’d step on each other.
Q: Who designed your front cover?
A: Oh, yes. All of them. They don’t always look great, but they always look like they’re mine. Some people say getting a ”professional” cover is very important, but I disagree. I think all of those overly-slick, google-imaged covers end up looking the same. I think you’re far better off coming up with something no one else could have. Maybe get the font put on professionally (and maybe not even that), but the main image ought to be original. Why go through all of that original labor and sweat, only to have some clichéd high-gloss grandiose thing on the front? Aren’t there enough books that look like that out there?
If you don’t have the artistic chops to pull it off (and I really don’t, but I don’t have enough sense to give it up), then you should at least be able to sketch out exactly what your idea is and hire an artist to do that for you. So long as what you end up with approximates the picture in your head. Your head. But as for me, I am more interested in seeing something new that doesn’t quite work than something polished, perfect, and redundant.
Q: Who was the first person you showed your novel too?
A: I have a whole network of friends that is routinely burdened by my many projects. God bless them; they read and they are faithful. It’s a lot to ask, and it puts the reader in an awkward position. But I can’t help myself. I need new eyes to see new things for me.
Q: Have you ever dedicated a book to someone?
A: No. Not yet. But I will, and I know which book and to whom. But that day is not today.
Q: How do you market your books?
A: Well, this I guess. I’m still trying to figure that out.
Q: How do you deal with bad reviews?
A: I assume one of the following: He/she is an idiot; he/she is crazy; he/she just didn’t get it. Then I go away and pout because I know he/she is right. Unless the reviewer just doesn’t like the genre (and therefore could not like the work found within the genre), a negative review probably hits on something accurate. Writing is hard, and there are so many ways to do it wrong. Overcorrect to avoid one pit and fall into a deeper one on your left. Saying something positive is easy; saying something negative is not (if you have a soul). So I tend to feel like negative reviews carry a bit more merit.
Q: Do you use an agent?
A: No, I don’t havean agent. Passing that audition is just as hard as getting published in the first place—and then who can say that your agent will actually deliver? I have already had interest expressed from people in the film industry. Writers and producers, but no agents. They came to me without an agent, but somehow the agents have yet to find me. That’s not to say I am not interested. I am. Very. But the fit has to be right.
I would sign with an agent if we had a meeting and it clicked. He/she would have to really get me and where I am coming from with my art. I am completely open to coaching and feedback, so log as the intent is to make me the best me possible. If it is to make me as marketable and voiceless as possible, turn me into someone else…I don’t think I could do that.
Q: How much time do you devote to marketing your books?
A: I mean, I have a personal day scheduled? Kidding. When I am not at work, I am working on one of my projects. Marketing is part of that workload.
Q: How do you get your book reviews/reviewed?
A: Word of mouth. Twitter. Query letters. Quantity over quality. In fact, quantity becomes its own quality.
Q: Do you do all your own proof reading and editing?
A: No. I’m not nearly good enough for that (and I was an English teacher for a number of years). When I taught, I noticed how students would read their own work aloud and make corrections as they went along, never actually catching their mistakes. For example, if a word is left out of a sentence, the tendency is to read it anyway.
Minds work to fill in gaps. That taught me a lot about self editing. It is very tough to catch all of your own mistakes. It takes discipline to commit to reading the actual letters and words void of context clues. I have several people who review for me.
Q: How and where are you publishing this book?
A: This screenplay is entered in the All Genre Screenplay Contest through Dizzy Emu Publishing. It will come out on April 5 in paperback ($9.99) and eBook ($3.99). Available on amazon.com
Q: What are the main benefits of being an independent author?
A: Way better royalties (per copy) and all creative control. Other than that, I believe traditional publishing wins every race. For all the self pub pluses, I have never met anyone who turned down a traditional offer in order to do it themselves. I know they must be out there, but self publishing is a long, hard road.
At the end of the day: you publish a book; you’d like to see it sitting in a bookstore. Pretty much impossible to pull that off on your own. You can name exceptions, but that more proves my point than refutes it. The success stories everyone knows, and they all count on a single hand.
Q: What are you reading at the moment? Which book do you have by your bed?
A: I’m reading five right now, all of which are on the stand next to my bed: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote; Wool by Hugh Howey; The Bible (NKJV), All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, and Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway.
Q: What was the first book you ever read?
A: The Stand by Stephen King
Q: Who is your favourite author/book?
Q: What is your favourite quote from a book?
A: The old man was dreaming about the lions.
Q: What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
A: No Country For Old Men
Q: Where are your favourite places to read?
A: There is a pier built onto a gift shop in Galveston. I could read from that balcony for the rest of my life. Grow a long beard and never move.
Q: What books do you read to your children?
A: The Good Dr. Seuss
Q: When you read do you prefer a book or a kindle/tablet?
A: Oh, paper! I have to delve in there and feel the fibers and I have to turn the pages. I also have to carry the thing around. A tablet will never be a thing for me—not unless I receive a USB upgrade and can just download a book into my cortex with a mouse click. Paper. Must be paper. Sorry, forests of the world.
Q: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
A: If you find something that works, hit me on twitter.
Q: What’s coming next?
A: Cashing my advance? Daddy need a new pair of shoes. Um.. I think I will return to my apocalyptic novel The Bunker. It addresses the (to me, at least) pointless idea of nuclear holocaust preparedness. I kind of stopped on it because I don’t like what I think is going to happen. But I love the book, so we will probably reunite soon enough.