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Interview with Tony Valdez: Author of Space Opera Dax Harrison

Welcome Tony! Your debut novel Dax Harrison hit shelves last October. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about the book and what inspired the story?

Thank you! Well I’m a pretty typical nerd born in the mid-80s. So needless to say, I’ve consumed tons of space adventures from Star Wars to Firefly to Mass Effect and so on. I actually grew up wanting to make movies, not books. So a little while back, I wrote a short scene about a drunk space captain who passes out at the wheel, almost crashes, and wakes up to blame his robotic co-pilot. I thought it would be a fun little thing to shoot with friends and throw on YouTube. Almost immediately though, I started imagining ideas for a full-blown adventure, and ended up with a full length screenplay. But since I don’t have the budget, connections, know-how, etc to make a giant epic movie, I re-wrote it as a small (but epic) book!

Your book is categorized as a space opera, for those who do not know, what constitutes a space opera and how is it different than science fiction?

Don’t call me an expert, but in my opinion, “space opera” has a bit of a throwback vibe to it. Where some modern stories set in space try to steer closer towards a more realistic tone (trying to keep the “science” in science fiction), space opera brings a sort of retro charm connotation. A more free-wheeling, fanciful style of sci-fi where it’s okay to bend and maybe even break the rules a little bit more, so long as it makes sense in your imagined world and the characters make you believe in it with their earnestness.

Tell us about your protagonist, Dax Harrison. Is he inspired by someone you know in real life?

Not so much in real life, but Dax is an amalgamation of my favorite kind of fictional heroes. The rogues, the goofs, the guys looking to save their own necks but maybe find some courage and heart along the way. You could point to any number of obvious examples from Han Solo to Peter Quill and be right. My favorite comparison though is a cross between Ash Williams from Evil Dead and Zapp Brannigan from Futurama. Terribly brash and inept one minute, and pulling through in a pinch the next.

Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?

I really just wanted to write something fun, but I think it’s pretty natural for your personality and opinions to come out in the writing whether you mean to or not. (Mild spoilers) Dax goes from selfish charlatan to actual hero, a phony to the real deal. In a weird subtle way, it kinda reflects my own battle with imposter syndrome. I spent years blabbing to friends and family about pursuing careers in film, music, creative endeavors in general. But other than some scattered and half-hearted attempts, I never quite found the ambition, the discipline (or guts) to make things happen. To me, my little book is a milestone. I made a thing, a thing that I’m proud of! I started what I finished, and it’s not impossible. So if I can do it, YOU CAN TOO! Go make your thing! Write that book, paint that painting, build that IKEA desk despite the inexplicable directions! Learn to believe in yourself and be your own hero. Yeah, I know it’s cheesy. I’m a cheesy guy.

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you keep a hold of the reigns?

I think I kept the reigns fairly tight because it was my first book and I was laser-focused on simply trying to put the pieces together and have everything make sense. As I’m outlining the next book though, I’m discovering some fun ways for these now established characters to grow, and I definitely didn’t plan on some of the character arcs that are brewing now. I’m excited and I want to share, but spoilers!

The cover for Dax Harrison is very unique, in that it was an originally an oil painting. Can you tell us a little bit about why you went that direction and what the process was like?

Again, this was my first book, and I had no idea if I would ever do this a second time, so I figured “go big or go home”. I wanted something memorable that would capture the old-school adventure vibe, like an old Struzan or Frazetta painting. By sheer luck I met an amazing artist, Jessica Van Huelle (theladyjessica.com), at a local event where she was live painting for a charity auction. We exchanged emails soon after, I gave her my thoughts, some examples of other art pieces and elements I liked, etc. She pieced together a mock-up of the idea, I gave a thumbs up, and she went to work! She sent the occasional progress photo, but nothing compared to seeing the finished painting in person. I love it. It’s in my apartment still waiting for a frame because I’m lazy and scatterbrained. I will most certainly be going back to Jessica for the next one!

Ah! And I also cannot forget my awesome friend Seth Kinkaid (sethkinkaid.com) who perfectly solidified the retro sci-fi book design, with the big bold titles, sharp red back cover, and aging effects throughout. Is it bad form to gush obnoxiously about your book cover? BECAUSE I LOVE MY BOOK COVER! 🙂

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

For me? Just sitting down and writing. I’m not a “write every day” writer. I wish I could be. I’m not sure if I have a “process”, but I can tell you that Dax 2 has been mostly outlined for months. I chip away at it, then leave it, binge on books and movies and TV shows for a while, get a really cool “a-ha!” moment in the shower and then work on it some more, rinse, repeat. Speed wise, I’m the George R.R. Martin of silly sci-fi.

What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you?

If you’ve got a fantastical story with plenty of laughs, then it’s right up my alley. A few of my first favorites: Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Browne, Monster by A. Lee Martinez, and Christopher Moore’s Vampire Trilogy (Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, Bite Me)

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

I collected graphic novels for years, but I had to stop and be a financially responsible adult, haha. Right now I’m reading a bunch of suspense/horror thanks to my wife’s book club. I’ve also been on a kick with memoirs. I love first hand accounts from people I admire, especially comedians. Bruce Campbell, Chris Hardwick, Kevin Smith, Whitney Cummings, etc. When funny people spill their guts, they have a knack for brutal honesty that can make you laugh, cry, cheer and maybe even make you learn a little something about yourself, all at once.

Which fictional character do you most resonate with on a personal level?

I honestly have no idea. A weird, artsy Mexican nerd with warped humor and disgusting levels of optimism? If you know one of those, let me know!

Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

Not that I recall.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?

I try to, because it’s so easy for me to be distracted otherwise. I have to be that stereotypical guy with a laptop in a coffee shop working on “my next big thing”. Otherwise, I’ll find a zillion distractions/excuses trying to work at home.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?

Rich and famous sipping a margarita on a beach somewhere, of course! Pshhh! No, seriously, I hope to have at least two more books under my belt. Dax 2 for sure, and either Dax 3 or a fun fantasy story that I currently have brewing in my head. Maybe both.

Tell us about the trailer for Dax Harrison(show below). Did you make it yourself, and did you find that it has helped with marketing your book?

I did make it myself. I’ve edited video for fun since I was a kid, and I’ve always enjoyed making fake movie trailers. For the Dax trailer, I searched several stock footage sites for anything space, bar and booze related. I came up with a little speech for Dax introducing himself (played by me recording myself in my car as a sound booth). Add some royalty-free music for a small one-time fee, sync the video edits to the music beat, and boom! Trailer. People responded really well. I’m not sure if it boosted sales, but I had fun doing it, and I’d love to make more for future projects.

What other marketing strategies have you found helpful? Any resources you would recommend to other authors?

I searched high and low for marketing advice. I didn’t have much of a budget, so other than a couple social media ads, I didn’t pursue much. In the end, every author blog and advice column ended up circling around the same point: Just keep writing. “The best marketing for your first book is your second, and your third, etc.” So Dax 2 is where I’m focused for the time being. Once I have a publishing date for that, I’ll start panicking again about marketing strategy.

Thank you Tony! What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?

Dax has a home at daxharrison.com. I’m @rockhollywood on Instagram, @rockhollywood8 on Twitter. You can DM. I don’t bite.

More about Dax Harrison

Well, this is a damned mess…

Dax was so close to leaving the hero business behind him. He’d done his duty, saved the galaxy a time or two, and made out like a bandit with the movie and merchandise rights.

Now, Alliance HQ is forcing him to be the poster boy for their “ten years of peace” hoopla. If that’s not enough, a disgraced alien general-turned-war-criminal with an unpronounceable name has escaped from an inescapable prison planet, and he’s got Dax in his crosshairs!

Scrambling to avoid the madman’s swath of destruction, Dax finds himself stuck with a crew comprised of an overly enthusiastic fanboy cadet, an aging physician, a suspicious and tough-as-nails lieutenant, and a possibly malfunctioning AI. And they are all looking at Dax to save the day… whether he likes it or not.

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Jacqui Castle
Jacqui Castle is a professional freelance writer and first-time novelist, living and writing in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Jacqui's debut book, The Seclusion, was named one of Kirkus Reviews' "Best Science Fiction Books of September 2018" and is now available at all major retailers.
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