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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Rachael Sparks: Author of Resistant

Rachael Sparks is the author of the hard science fiction novel Resistant, which Publishers Weekly called “a scientifically accurate apocalypse.” Resistant takes place in a near future in which drug-resistant bacteria are winning the battle over humanity. Rachael was kind enough to chat with me about science, character development, and writing habits.

In the final battle with drug-resistant bacteria, one woman’s blood holds a secret weapon.

Rory and her father have survived the antibiotic crisis that has killed millions, including Rory’s mother—but ingenuity and perseverance aren’t their only advantages. When a stoic and scarred young military veteran enters their quiet life, Rory is drawn to him against her better judgment . . . until he exposes the secrets her mother and father kept from her, including the fact that her own blood may hold the cure the world needs, and she is the target of groups fighting to reach it first.

When the government comes after Rory, aiming to use her for a cure it can sell to the highest bidder, she’s forced to flee with her father and their new protector. But can she find the new path of human evolution before the government finds her?

Your novel draws from real-world science. Tell us a little bit about your background and what the research process was like for you.

I’m a microbiologist by training, a transplant expert, and now I work in hospital infection prevention with a medical device startup. So my education and career has centered around public health and that experience was half a lifetime of research for several books! For this novel, the research I needed to do was easy in that it was mostly mining my own brain and then confirming my filed-away facts were not yet discredited. Knowing that several friends who are legit scientists would be reading, I wanted badly for them to be convinced.

When did the idea for Resistant first strike you?

I’d wanted to write a sci-fi novel that explored this problem[antibiotic resistance], but a dream of a scene in the climax really inspired the characters. A handsome guy with swaths of discolored skin. . . readers will know his disfigurement plays into the plot but I honestly couldn’t say whether that was already in my mind or came after the dream!

 

Tell us about your protagonist? Are they inspired by someone you know in real life?

Rory is an amalgam of a lot of wonderful people I’ve known. She’s smart and a little unfiltered at times, with a bravery that can get her into trouble.  I wanted her to be flawed, to make mistakes and be mature enough to solve them on her own.

Do you have a favorite character out of all the ones you’ve created?

Yes, I like Navy. He’s not an open book, not easy to read, so he was a challenge to write. I wanted him to be reserved but not aloof, to have integrity despite having made massively bad judgement calls in his past. He’s fun to get to know as I write more about him.


How important is research to you when writing a book?

It’s critical, in my genre. In retrospect I would’ve loved for Resistant to be longer, with more science background explained — an excuse for even more research! So aside from enjoying the process, translating the useful bits into my writing in order to create an absorbing, believable premise is important to me. Science can be unwieldy for some, but the best sci-fi makes it palatable and fascinating to any reader.

Do your novels carry a primary message?

I hope so. My goal is to entertain while also imparting a bit of knowledge that arms the reader, even if only for an interesting fact to drop into cocktail hour.


If given the opportunity to start over, would you change anything in your books?

Ugh. Who wouldn’t? I’d just do more backstory for everything and everyone.


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

When I’m writing, it feels like it! Even the end of Resistant surprised me, so I credit Rory for that. But more often I feel like I’m a director talking to an actor: “How do you think your character would react?”

Do you often project your own habits onto your characters?

Sure! Our habits are our expertise, too, right? Rory and her father brew beer, for example, and I sorely wanted an excuse to explain how they might have harvested and cultured their own yeast and scavenged ingredients. Alas, it had no plot value.



What other genres do you enjoy reading?

I love a good mystery fiction with a bit of adventure, action romance — couples in peril saving each other is catnip for vacation reading. Magical realism genre is delicious when the authors ground it in theoretical science. I’m still in awe of Deb Harkness’ use of genetics to plausibly structure a tree of life that could explain a vampire!

 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

Oh hell no. When I sit down to write, I’ve usually been thinking about scenes for a while, and I first refresh myself on where I left off. But often I’ll also pick a random spot in my MS to re-read, as it helps me keep a consistent mood. And I turn on my playlist for each work in progress, and pretend it’s the soundtrack to the future movie. I don’t judge my progress on words — if it’s something I want to keep reading, I feel successful.

Some writers create a bubble around themselves until they finish a project – how true is that for you?
Gosh, that sounds lovely. I have a 4 year old, a husband I love to spend time with, dogs, career, and other relationships to nurture. Maybe one day I could do that! The closest I get to a bubble is a closed office door on an early morning.


If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?

Michael Crichton. Emily Dickinson. David Walton. Nora Roberts. Katherine Howe. Jacqui Castle. Deborah Harkness. Celeste Ng. Emily and Anne Bronte. And I’d invite Andrew Mayne, if he promised to entertain us with magic tricks.

Anne and the Emilys would likely clique off, but maybe we could ply them with sherry and put them at ease.

Awww shucks. I would love to be in a book club with you!

What do you do to market your own books yourself? Any advice on that front?

I doubt I have some magical insight here, but I try to promote myself on all the normal channels: website, social media, Goodreads and other places an author profile can be added. Talking about yourself is the pits, so I just try not to take myself very seriously. I think being fun, informative, genuine and engaged is the best marketing.

For advice, specifically to new authors, I say: to make the most of social media as an author, I think you have to abandon rules about friends on platforms. When launching a new book, everyone is your friend. I also suggest they ask themselves before spending dollars in marketing (a website, for example) – how can I measure its return, so I’ll know whether to continue investing there. Analytics and data are your friend!

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

I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram, but Facebook and Goodreads get a daily visit. My website is a great place and goes straight to my inbox!

 

 

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Author Interview Uncategorized Writing Life

Interview with Susan K. Hamilton: On Her Upcoming Release Shadow King, and Writing Dark Fantasy

Today we have author Susan K. Hamilton with us to discuss her upcoming novel Shadow King, releasing on October 2nd. Susan’s manuscript for Shadow King finished in the top 10 for the 2016 LaunchPad Manuscript Competition, which received over 1,000 entries from over 24 countries.

Welcome, Susan! Your book Shadow King is currently in production and set to release on October 2nd. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about Shadow King and what inspired the story?

Thank you!  In Shadow King, the world of Faerie has been destroyed by a corrupt, dark spell and all the Faerie races are forced to live in our world. Aohdan Collins is the Fae patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, and has worked relentlessly from the shadows to expand his empire. Everything changes, however, when he shares a shot of whiskey with Seireadan Moore. But Seireadan has her own secrets, and she’s looking for revenge against the person responsible for killing her family—and to get it, she may end up betraying the one she loves.

The inspiration for this story really came from one of the main characters: Aohdan Collins. I’d been trying to think of an idea for NaNoWriMo a few years back, and while raking leaves in my yard, the idea for his character popped into my head. From there I started to think about who he was, what he’d do, how he would move through our own world, and everything else came from there.

You describe Shadow King as Dark Fantasy. For those who many not know, can you explain some of the differences between Fantasy and Dark Fantasy?

That is actually a much harder question than it seems, and I have to confess, before Shadow King, I’d never written a dark/urban fantasy before. My work had mainly been more traditional fantasy.

But to answer your question, I would define dark fantasy as a story that takes elements of traditional fantasy and ties them to darker themes. In more traditional fantasy, you find mythically-inspired characters who occupy the moral high ground, and the story tends to have a very optimistic feel. Dark fantasy still has the fantasy themes but they’re often shown in a darker, grittier, more realistic light even if they happen in a fantasy world. If you change the setting of a dark fantasy to our real world, you also start adding the urban fantasy aspect to it.

Many people seem lump dark fantasy and horror together as well. I think the edges of both these genres bleed into one another but each also has very distinct and unique qualities, so I don’t think they’re the exact same thing.

Dark fantasy is also defined somewhat by the characters and their behaviors. In Shadow King, the heroes are dark heroes, and they do unsavory things. Aohdan is not a knight in shining armor—he’s a dark knight, but he has a very strong moral code that he lives by. He has a very strong sense of loyalty, responsibility, and of right and wrong—at least right and wrong as he views the concepts, which may be a little different than how readers perceive them.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
In a perfect world, I try to do some writing every day, but things don’t always work out as planned. After finishing my manuscripts for Shadow King and The Devil Inside, I was “written out” and needed a break. I spent quite a bit of time catching up on my “to read” pile. However, recently I’ve been getting back to writing and working on some new projects.

What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you?
The first would be Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. I read her Keltiad series years ago. I’m not sure they’re even in print anymore, but there was something about those books that I loved. They blended fantasy, science fiction, and Celtic mythology in a way I’d never seen. I loved her characters, the plot, the world she built… all three books just delighted me, and made me want to write something that (fingers crossed) would make people feel the same way.

Next would be JK Rowling. I’m sure lots of people would list her but what I admire about her work is her ability to take themes and make them not only understandable for children but engaging for adults as well. Plus her ability to craft a character like Snape. For so long in the book he is part of the darkness, the villain, the character you love to hate, but in the end, when his motivations become clear, it adds such depth of character.  I aspire to have my characters be that three-dimensional.

And lastly, I would say both Donna Grant and Karen Marie Moning. Both write in the romance genre, but they have very strong fantasy/dark fantasy elements in their stories. They’ve built magnificent worlds that, for me, transcend a single genre. I love how they’ve built their worlds and constructed their stories. And then there’s the sex. Personally, I struggle mightily with writing sex scenes… finding that balance where it is steamy without being overly graphic, but also not skirting around the subject either. I find both Moning and Grant have a keen eye for this balance and reading their work has helped me more clearly define what I want my voice to sound like in this area.

Okay, one more. I’d also include David Eddings in here. I devoured his Belgariad series, and while I appreciate the foundation that Tolkien laid for the entire fantasy genre, the characters in the Belgariad were, for me, so easy to relate to and care about. He also, in my opinion, does a wonderful job drawing his story out over several books without it feeling forced.

All books say that characters are fictional, but are they really all made up, or do you base them on people you have known in your own life?
To this point, I’ve never fully based a character on someone I know, although in The Devil Inside—which will come out after Shadow King—I had jokingly told an old high school acquaintance that I’d write him into the book. I used part of his name for a character, and the number of his football jersey is incorporated into an address that factors into the story. I did not, however, base the character on his actual personality.

A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
Because Shadow King is a dark fantasy, my primary characters have some traits that you usually ascribe to a villain. Aohdan is an underworld mob boss, and he didn’t get where he was by keeping his hands clean and following the rules. As someone notes in the story, “Bad things happen to people who cross Aohdan Collins.”

So it was important to me to find that balance between embracing Aohdan’s dark side but also the role he plays as a hero in the story. He’s not always a good guy but he’s got a very clear moral compass.

To create him I tried to keep in mind how characters were portrayed in TV series like The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy. When you look at those characters on the surface, they are criminals. They do bad things. They hurt people. They also live by clear codes of loyalty and honor. So while you might not like the things they do, you become invested in them as characters and dive into what motivates them to behave the way they do. Hopefully that will come across to people when they read Shadow King.


Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
I have them. All. The. Time. I even had one time where I ripped up 250 pages worth of work and started over from scratch because I was so frustrated with the story.

In Shadow King in particular there was one point where I was trying to do more of the story from the perspective of Seireadan, my female lead, and it meant rewriting some scenes that had previously been in Aohdan’s POV. Sometimes getting things from her perspective, because she’s not part of his inner circle to start, was hard.

And during my development edit, I had a definite writer’s tantrum where I knew—based on the editor’s advice— that I had to push the story out further, but it didn’t come easy. I ended up sending my editor probably a two page email just ranting about my frustration and how this didn’t work and that wasn’t lining up and I hated the whole story – and so on and so forth. Definitely had my “drama queen” crown on that day!

But the act of just dumping all that emotion and frustration out there, solved the whole problem. Halfway through the rant I had that, “ohhhh, that’s what I need to do” moment. I gave myself the next day off from rewriting and when I went back to it, things worked out great.


Did you have any differences with your editors while you were still becoming used to getting your work edited? How did you work through those differences?
Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of major differences but we did have a few disagreements. It can be hard to get feedback on your book, especially about changing things. The important thing to remember is the editor is trying to be your ally, not your adversary. They want to take your already great book and make it an amazing book.

The big key to working through those things is communication. You need to be able to express why you made some of the choices you did, but you also need to really listen to—and understand—why the editor is questioning certain things in your story.

There were a few places in Shadow King where I looked at feedback and (I confess) I got a little defensive. When that happened. I put the manuscript away for a little while and then went back and looked at the comment again. Most of the time, after I’d allowed myself to noodle through what had been said, it made more sense. If it didn’t, I asked for clarification.

In a few cases, there were some things I held firm on because they were important–and because I was able to explain my reasoning, the editor also had a better understanding of the point I was trying to make and we were able to reach a point where I felt I stayed true to the story while finding a way to improve it.

My favorite question – If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club? 

Some of these names will sound familiar, but I would say Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings, Kim Harrison, Donna Grant, JK Rowling, Karen Marie Moning, and Patricia Kennealy-Morrison because they’ve all written books or book series that have meant something special to me. I would love to hear their perspectives on other books and on writing.

Are you working on something new? And can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am working on something new. A couple somethings, actually. The first is a short story that I’m planning to submit for consideration in an anthology. I’m having a lot of fun with that, especially since I’m writing in first-person which is something I normally don’t do. It’s got some dystopian aspects and probably leans a bit towards supernatural fantasy.

I’ve also started tinkering with two new manuscripts. One is another urban/dark fantasy involving witches—the title right now is The Cardinal Witch. Along with that, I’ve also started some work on a follow up to Shadow King. Both are pretty new so I don’t have a lot to share yet, so I apologize for not having more details!


Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Most definitely!  From a writing perspective I would tell myself to start writing sooner than I did. I loved to write as a little kid and then got away from it. I didn’t really get reacquainted with writing until I was in college. The other advice would be to be braver. Easier said than done, I know, but I wish I’d been more comfortable being bold when I was younger.


What advice would you like to give writers who are working on their first novels?

First thing is be persistent. Things don’t happen overnight. There will be people who reject you and people who don’t like your work. Learn from those things and get better because there ARE people out there who do like your work and who will support you.

Second, make friends with other writers and authors. They understand what you’re going through as a writer. They’ll support you when you hit a rough patch but they’ll also call you out on BS as well, and that’s important.

Third, learn to love imperfection. No story is 100% perfect in every respect. Make your work the very best it can be, but when you get there, let it go and let it be what it is. It won’t be perfect, but it is yours so love it just the way it is. I learned this after self-publishing my very first novel many years ago. I couldn’t afford an editor or anything professional really other than the cover (and even that was a big favor from an artist friend). I know if I went back and read that story now, I’d be horrified because I’m a better writer now than I was back then – but that book was the absolute best I could do at that point in my life, and I love it for all the things it taught me.


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

Probably the best sites are Facebook or Twitter, and I’d love to hear from readers! You can find me all of these places:

Website: www.susankhamilton.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hamiltonsusank/

Twitter: @RealSKHamilton   /    https://twitter.com/realskhamilton

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/870122.Susan_K_Hamilton

 

Preorder Shadow King Today!
Ambition. Betrayal. Revenge.
Centuries ago, the Faerie Realm was decimated by a vile and corrupt spell. To survive, the different faerie races―led by the Fae―escaped to the Human Realm where they’ve lived ever since.As the Fae Patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, Aohdan Collins enjoys his playboy lifestyle while he works from the shadows to expand his growing empire, until one night when he shares a shot of whiskey with the lovely Seireadan Moore…A Fae Seer, Seireadan is haunted by a vision of the Fae responsible for destroying Faerie and murdering her family. Common sense tells her to stay away from Aohdan, but his magnetism and charm are irresistible.As their passionate affair intensifies, Seireadan is pulled into the center of the underworld. And while her heart is bound to Aohdan, she cannot let go of her lifelong quest to hunt down the Fae who haunts her visions… especially when she realizes Aohdan might be the key to helping her find him.But is revenge worth betraying the one she loves?
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Writing Life

Pixar Wants to Teach You the Art of Storytelling

Writers need positive support.

The internet is brimming over with writing advice. Unfortunately, the vast majority of it is negative. Instead of building writers up, the advice tends to send “you can’t ever do this if you’re a writer” messages. It’s disheartening, because we are all writers. We are all storytellers. Sure, some of us are better than others, but improvement comes with discipline and practice. Whenever I see an article tearing down certain practices or habits as not being those of “serious writers,” I roll my eyes. Why scare people away? There’s always room for more stories, and Pixar knows this.

What I’m learning in my writing journey is to talk to other writers, especially ones you respect. Writers learn from one another. If you can find writers who have the privilege of doing so as a career, definitely pick apart their brains. I have spoken to many writers over the past several years, and the happiest and most successful have one thing in common when it comes to advice: they lift other writers up. The best writers I have met even take the time to teach when they can.

Pixar is here to help!

The Pixar team is no exception to this rule. They are a team of quality storytellers. I’m still angry with them for making me cry within the first five minutes of “Up.” Yes, I cried. You did too, if you saw it. Don’t lie. Tears in five minutes. They’re THAT good.

Pixar in a box logo with Pixar lamp

Pixar has already been open with their creative secrets with their “Pixar In A Box” series. But now they’ve extended the willingness to reveal their secrets to include the art of storytelling, and I couldn’t be more excited. Their course in storytelling is available for FREE at Khan Academy online. It is a series of videos and activities all geared toward improving your ability to tell a story.

Here’s the introductory video to the series, to get you as excited as I am:

I am thrilled to see this series available. Not only is the Pixar team celebrated and awarded masters of storytelling, it seems that they are quite amazing teachers as well.

And if storytelling isn’t quite what you’re looking for, then choose from any of their other generous offerings. From Color Science to Animation, Virtual Cameras to Rendering, Pixar wants us all to succeed at making our stories become the very best they can be.

Happy learning!

Related Links:

Khan Academy

Pixar In A Box

PIXAR: The Art of Storytelling

Pixar Animation Studios Website

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Guest Post Writing Life

Developing an Antiheroine: Guest Post with Author Laney Wylde

(The following is a guest post by author Laney Wylde about the development of the antiheroine Sawyer in her forthcoming book, Never Touched.)

The Evolution of Sawyer: Creating an Unpredictable Protagonist

“Can we take a break from watching sex crimes?”

I cut my eyes over to my husband as the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit theme song pounds through the signature BUM BUM. Apparently, he finds the show “depressing” and doesn’t “want to watch the same season for the third time” and “the way you talk about Barba doesn’t reassure me that you’re not going to leave me for a Latino.” (E, you have no reason to worry unless I actually meet a real-life, Cuban, Manhattan ADA who wears three-piece suits and evokes a defendant to choke him with his own belt in the middle of court to secure a conviction.)

What I haven’t yet been able to convince my husband of is the fact that SVU quenches my thirst for justice. That’s what those “especially heinous” crimes deserve and often get from New York’s finest…and Barba.

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In my favorite episode of SVU, Barba finds a loophole in the New York State law which gives the victim he’s fighting for tons more justice than most he represents.

And, boy, is that woman entitled to every ounce.

In the last scene of this SVU episode, said survivor is actually smiling and hopeful. And, as most episodes of SVU are, this was based on a true story. So, I Googled it and found a New York Times article about the two real-life victims Barba couldn’t get justice for.

If only their stories ended with smiles.

In the article, these women describe what each day is like as a survivor, the severe limitations their assailants shackled them with despite their talent, intelligence, and effort, and how no amount of justice the courts can give them will make any of it go away.

None of it will ever go away.

For a lot of us, trauma’s that etching an event carved under our skin. We’re all familiar with it to some degree. We watch the nightmares and we wake up. We take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, peel off the shirt clinging to our sweaty backs. We remind ourselves that it’s over. We fear it’ll happen again, but, for now, it’s over. We try to fall back to sleep.

These girls wake up, take a few deep breaths and, eyes wide, see the rest of the world watching their nightmares. Years later. On repeat. With relish.

Now, I must confess that these resilient women were not initially on my mind when I sketched Sawyer. One of my friends still entreats me to title it after its initial three-word premise:

Stripper Math Genius.

Yes. I actually thought, “Hey, what if a stripper was good at math?” (to which my husband replied, “Is this your secret life?”).

But, after reading that NYT article and researching all I could, I took a terrifying step and scribbled a kind of trauma into Sawyer’s past that I had no experience with, no right to write about, praying that I’d tread carefully enough that those anonymous women in that article could read Sawyer and not want to punch me in the teeth.

I know, horribly presumptuous.

Let me be clear, I don’t know those women, but I know Sawyer. I know because I got everything about her wrong for weeks. But then she got her voice, and, holy balls, was it loud. So loud that I had to tear up the entire storyline I had spent hundreds of hours writing for her and start from page one. Once I did that, I learned just what she sounds like.

“My soul is crooked and dark, depraved and destined for hell.”

Ah, that’s my Sawyer.

Turns out, she is witty and socially inept, bookish and sexy, badass and scared shitless, and…

…didn’t love the guy I had destined for her.

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Yeah, that was a tough one for me to wrap my heart around. Never Touched was supposed to be about Sawyer and Guy A. Even when I was onto my fourth or fifth working title, Sawyer still ended up with Guy A. I kept working and reworking and re-imagining the final chapter and realized I had it all wrong.

I had her all wrong.

I was trying to construct her story when in reality, all I could do was write what happened. I couldn’t dictate the choices she made, just record the results of them. And she wouldn’t choose Guy A.

Enter Guy B.

Guy B was already there, sure, but he was supposed to be a transient figure. He walked in, left his mark on her, and exited stage right. But Sawyer wouldn’t have any of that. She fell stupid in love with him. And, much like love in real life, it screwed up everything.

But that’s also when I realized that Sawyer’s story isn’t a love story, though there’s one (or two) in it. Hers is a quest for security, a safety she knows doesn’t exist for people like her, and until I understood that, I wouldn’t get why she did all the logic-defying things she itched to do. Or resorted to doing.

So I stopped judging her. I stopped trying to fix her. Instead, I stood in awe of her. Then I gave space on the page for her thoughts, no matter how ugly.

And I’m going to ask you to do the same.

Because maybe you also have nightmares. Maybe you ache, too. Maybe your thoughts darken when you realize the justice you never got, never will get.

And, I’m betting you didn’t get Barba to plead your case either.

 

Laney Wylde’s Bio:

I’m Laney. unnamed (1)

Boy-mom, doctor’s wife, Christ-follower, mathematician, squishy powerlifter, lover of 30 Rock.

Most recently, writer.

I hope you’ll enjoy my debut, Never Touched, out November 12, and available for preorder!

 

You can visit Laney’s blog by clicking here.

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