Chatting with the Pros: Interview with science fiction and fantasy author Kevin J. Anderson

chatting with the pros

My guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is an award winning and best selling author who has written countless novels and over 56 national and international best sellers. A majority of his works fall into the science fiction or fantasy genres, but he writes across many genres. In a recent introduction for “The Big Idea: Kevin J. Anderson“, an article about the latest release in his short fiction collection, Selected Stories, John Scalzi calls him, “one of the most prolific authors working today”, and one look at his immense book list on Amazon would leave no doubt that this is an accurate assessment. (You can find my review of selected stories here). He’s written a lot of books, 56 of which have hit the national and international best seller lists, and he’s been writing for many years, and I’m sure we will find his knowledge and experiences enlightening. Please help me welcome Kevin J. Anderson.

KJA

Kaye: You have written at least 56 national or international best sellers. What makes a good story in your mind?

Kevin: People want to read a good story with an exciting/interesting plot, a well-developed setting, and engaging characters. Make it a story you WANT to read, with clear prose and action. I don’t like muddled, glacial-paced stories where the prose is just too precious.

Kaye: Why science fiction and fantasy? Why not western or romance or mystery? What’s the attraction?

Kevin: Well, I’ve also written plenty of mysteries, and some of my work has been set in the old west, and most good stories have a strong romance component (though I don’t write category Romance or Westerns). I like to tell an interesting story, and I move around a lot among genres, even though I am primarily known for science fiction or fantasy.  I grew up in a very mundane small town in rural Wisconsin, and I was captivated by SF/F from an early age, because it showed my imagination what was possible. I wanted to go to exotic places, whether they were filled with aliens or dragons. Science fiction took me to a much wider universe.  (And as a skinny, nerdy kid with glasses and a bad haircut, “romance” wasn’t much of a possibility, so I stuck with spaceships and swords.)

Kaye: You wrote several Star Wars and X-Files novels. Is it difficult to immerse yourself in someone else’s settings and characters enough to pick up a thread and run with it in the same tone and writing style? How do you go about getting yourself into that mindset?

Kevin: It’s no more difficult than trying to immerse yourself in the old west or ancient Japan for a historical. A writer’s job is to absorb the story, characters, voice, and setting. I was already a big fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Files, and Dune, and I enjoyed going to work in those universes. In each instance, I would completely surround myself with the property — whether that meant watching the Star Wars films over and over again, or the episodes of the X-Files, or repeatedly rereading DUNE and its sequels. You pick up the manner of speaking, the “look and feel” of the world, and you make it into your own story.

Kaye: You’ve done several collaborations, including books of the Dune series, with Brian Herbert and the Clockwork books which you collaborated with Neil Peart, drummer for the band Rush. What is the biggest challenge when collaborating on a book?

Kevin: You both need to have the same vision for the book—which means a LOT of talking and brainstorming ahead of time—and you both need the same work ethic (so each partner puts in the same amount of time and effort…a tortoise and hare collaboration will just cause a lot of friction), and you need to be flexible. There’s never only ONE way to write a sentence or describe a scene. I would never want to collaborate with a diva!

Kaye: Do you belong to any writing organizations? If so, which ones? Do you feel your membership in these writing organizations have been helpful in your writing successes? How so?

Kevin: I belong to the Horror Writers Association (and edited three anthologies for them, the BLOOD LITE series), IAMTW (International Association of Media Tie-In Writers), and SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, although some of their recent decisions have made me so upset that I would not renew my membership if I wasn’t already a lifetime member.  The problem with such organizations is that you can become to engrossed in the politics and bickering that you forget your real purpose, which is to WRITE.

KJA Series

Kaye: You’ve written several series, including Saga of the Seven SunsDan Shamble P.I. and the Clockwork books? Are any of your books stand alone? Why do you lean toward series?

Kevin: I’ve written many standalone books. The one I just finished last week, a vampire/serial-killer thriller STAKE, that’s not part of a series. But I like to tell big stories, and once you’ve done all the effort of world building and character building an entire universe, you want to spend some time. To me, a trilogy is perfect — a beginning, middle, and end, with enough room to tell the story and describe the world in all its glory. Pragmatically speaking, it’s a much better decision commercially to build a series, because readers will want more and more, and each new book will help sell copies of previous volumes.  Can you imagine if A.C. Doyle had stopped after writing only one Sherlock Holmes story?

KJA Stand Alones

Kaye: Science fiction authors create whole worlds from their imaginations, often with new languages created in their own minds, and you have created many. How do you go about creating a new language?

Kevin: Hmm, creating languages?  I’m not really a linguist and I don’t know that I’ve developed full languages (though I do use weird words).  I just make up the words by making what seem to be the appropriate sounds, linguistic flavors, scary sounds for monsters or villains, softer or ethereal sounds for pleasant things.  I can’t really explain it more rigorously than that.

Kaye: Your work has won many prestigious awards. Which award are you most proud of? Why?

Kevin: Awards are awards, and it’s nice to have them, but I really prefer READERS. That’s what makes your writing worthwhile. It’s not terribly prestigious, but the award I value most is one I received very early in my career, when I received a trophy with an engraved brass plate and everything, naming me “The Writer with No Future” because I could produce more rejection slips than any other writer at an entire conference. To me, that didn’t mean I was a failure as a writer or that my work was awful—it proved that I was more persistent, that I kept trying, kept getting better, and never gave up.  I still have that trophy.

Kaye: In addition to being an author, you and your wife, Rebecca Moesta, are publishers at Wordfire Press, but originally you were traditionally published. Why the switch to being your own publisher after being traditionally published for so many years?

Kevin: Survival. No choice. The publishing industry has undergone a tremendous upheaval equivalent to the Industrial Revolution, and I could either be a mammal and evolve or stay a dinosaur and go extinct. I am still traditionally published (four books released in 2018, in fact, and a new 3-book contract from Tor Books for an epic fantasy series), but I also have a lot of backlist titles that were out of print and my fans wanted to read them. So I started releasing them myself with all the innovations of new technology.  It’s just another alternative.

Kaye: What does Wordfire press offer as a publisher for other authors?

Kevin: We are nimble and flexible, and we can produce books and get them to market far quicker than a traditional publisher can manage. But when you work with an indie publisher, or if you do it yourself, then you have to do all the work, all aspects of it.  It’s another income stream and another way to get your book in front of your audience.

Kaye: Is Wordfire taking submissions? What type of fiction is Wordfire looking for?

Kevin: Not really, I’m afraid. When we are open, we’re looking for established writers who don’t need their hands held, writers who already have their own platforms, fanbases, and marketing efforts because we have to rely on them to do the work that a whole department at a traditional publisher would do.

Kaye: You recently signed on as an adjunct professor at Western State Colorado University and you are a finalist candidate for the director of their Certificate in Publishing program. What prompted you to venture into the world of academia?

Kevin: Actually, I’m now a full professor and I run their Masters program in Publishing. I will start the first group of MA students this coming summer. There’s a LOT of paperwork and bureaucracy in academia!  I have taught writing and publishing quite often at countless writers’ conferences and conventions, most notably our own Superstars Writing Seminars, which is just hitting its tenth year.  Becoming a professor and teaching at a beautiful university in the Colorado mountains is great, offers a little more stability than freelance writing, and (the bane of all freelancers) it gives me health insurance and benefits I wouldn’t otherwise get.

Kaye: Any writing pet peeves?

Kevin: I don’t like artsy-fartsy stuff, dense prose and opaque plots.  Tell me a great story with a cool setting and interesting characters!

Kaye: Creating characters, developing plot, world building – what is the most challenging part of writing for you?

Kevin: Those are all fun, but if I had to choose I would say I have most difficulty with building rich, fleshed-out characters. Plotting and worldbuilding—that’s what I excel in.

Thanks to Kevin for sharing with us today. He’s given us food for thought with some really great answers. You can find more about Wordfire Press here: https://wordfirepress.com/.  Kevin and his wife, Rebecca Moesta, head up the Superstars Writing Seminars each year in February, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for those interested in learning the business of writing. If you’d like to become a member of the Superstars Tribe, or would just like more information about Superstars, visit the folowing link: superstarswriting.com. Visit the links below to learn more about Kevin J. Anderson and his works.

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J-Anderson/e/B000AQ0072/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1545798018&sr=1-1-fkmr1

Wordfire Press: http://www.wordfire.com/

Blog: http://kjablog.com/

Join us next month on “Chatting with the Pros”, when I’ll be chatting with romance author Maya Rodale. You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress.


Writing for a YA Audience: Interview with FANYA’S illustrator.

Writing for a Y.A. Audience

Every book is a collaboration. I work with editors, cover artists, and the publishers in so many ways behind the scenes.  A few years ago, I got to collaborate in a different way.  This time it was with a local illustrator, Aaron Siddall.  He had an idea for a YA steampunk story.  He would illustrate it and I would write it.  We created a world of magic and mysterious creatures, and the book was released on November 14, 2018 from CHBB Publishing.  *Hold for applause, wink wink.*

Fanya - cover

I would like to introduce Aaron Siddall to all of you. We met years ago when I joined the Utica Writers Club.

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JE: When did you join the Utica Writers Club?  What do you like most about it?

AS:  The Utica Writers Club and I came together in 2010. I do write and occasionally read from things that I am working on, but I mostly attend for the creative energy. That and I find that writers make for excellent friends.

JE: How long have you been an illustrator?

AS: I’ve had a passion for art all of my life, but I had my first professional experience as an illustrator in 2001 working for Kenzer & Company and White Wolf Studios, both as a freelancer.

JE: What are some of the projects you’ve illustrated?

AS: Its hard to narrow down to favorites. But several stand out, such as; High Towers and Strong Places: A Political History of Middle Earth by Tim Furnish and published by Oloris Publishing.  How Robin Hood Became an Outlaw by Learning A-Z. Ravenloft Denizens of Darkness by White Wolf Studios.

Young Dragon 1 JPEG

JE: How did you come up with the idea for FANYA?

AS:  In a discussion concerning Steampunk and Fairy tales that I was involved with, I compared elements from both in relation to our world in the late 1800s (the Victorian era). In doing so, Russia and Alaska at the time were in the midst of tumultuous times, as there are many marvelous Russian Fairy Tales and the legends of the First Nations have many similar legends, these elements came together naturally in my mind.

World Map JPEG

JE: How did you come up with the title?

AS: Fanya is a name that shows up in both Russian and Inuit and Aleut peoples.

JE: What do you hope people take away from FANYA IN THE UNDERWORLD?

AS: Overall, I hope that people enjoy the action and magic of the setting. There is a great deal to think on and enjoy.

JE: What is your favorite illustration from the book?

AS: The one of Mr. Beisy on the doorstep in chapter two.

We hope you enjoy reading FANYA IN THE UNDERWORLD.  Reviews and emails are always appreciated.  If you love the artwork as much as I do, merchandise is available here.

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Merry Christmas!: Welcoming Children’s Author Robbie Cheadle to the WtbR Team

Robbie Chaedle

Robbie Cheadle is a very creative mother, author and fondant artist, who thinks outside the box to find inventive solutions for life’s difficulties. I first met Robbie through Sonoran Dawn’s Dead Man’s Party Halloween book event, where I did a reading of her short horror story, The Willow Tree, via audio recording for the event. During her takeover, Robbie posted images of her delectable creations to promote her Sir Chocolate book series for children, which she wrote with her son, Michael. She uses these image of her baked creations as cover art and to illustrate the book series. I thought this was incredibly innovative, and I immediately wanted to know more about this woman, and it didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to add her to the WtbR team.

Robbie is my Christmas gift this year, as I’ve been searching for a children’s author to join the Writing to be Read team. So, starting in January, Robbie will be popping in the second Wednesday of each month with her new blog series on writing for children, Growing Bookworms. I can’t wait to see what she has to share with us, so let’s learn more about her.

Kaye: Your Sir Chocolate covers are photos of your own delectable desert creations, which is very creative. Which came first – the baking or the writing?

Robbie: I started with baking and fondant art quite a long time before we wrote the books, but pairing the two was an idea that only came later. I used to write poetry and descriptive passages as a tween and teenager. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery was my favourite book when I was a tween. Emily is a poetess in the book and her father is a writer. The book inspired me to write down my thoughts and feelings.

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Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey? How did the published works of Robbie Cheadle come to be?

Robbie: I never planned to become a published author when I first started writing the Sir Chocolate stories. My son, Michael, aged 6 years old at the time was having difficulties with learning to read and write. He was diagnosed with an auditory processing problem which made these activities difficult for him. He had the loveliest story ideas about a little man made of chocolate who lived in a land where you could eat anything, even the sand, trees and houses. In order to encourage him to write, I made up rhyming verse stories using his ideas. Together we wrote them down in handmade books.

I have always enjoyed fondant art and sometimes Michael would come and sit with me and make his own version of what I was making. We started making illustrations for the books by taking photographs of our creations. My nieces and nephews enjoyed the Sir Chocolate stories, so I tried them out with my Sunday school class of children. One of my friends at the Church suggested I send the stories and pictures to a friend of hers who is a publisher in the UK. Anne liked the stories and gave us a contract for the Sir Chocolate series of books.

Kaye: You talk about fondant art. I, for one had never heard of this. Could you explain briefly what fondant art is?

Robbie: Fondant is also called sugar dough and is an elastic type of icing, almost like modelling clay. This is the substance that cake bakers use to make figurines, flowers and other edible artworks for cakes. The items in the picture I emailed you are all made of fondant.

Silly Willy

Kaye: You’re the co-author, along with your son Michael of the Sir Chocolate book series for young readers. How did that partnership come about?

Robbie: Between the ages of 6 and about 9 years old, Michael and I continued to make up Sir Chocolate rhyming verse stories from time to time. We would be doing something like visiting an ice cream shop and an idea would come to us. We would then chat about the idea and develop it into a story. Michael has delightful ideas like the chocolate snow and the ice-cream rainbow fairies who feature in Sir Chocolate and the Ice-cream Rainbow Fairies’ story and cookbook which will come out in 2020.

Kaye: What’s the one thing you hope your son takes away from this venture?

Robbie: I always hoped that Michael would become a proficient reader and learn to enjoy books and reading. It is not easy for a child who struggles to learn to read to develop a love of reading. I am very happy to say that this has happened. Michael now reads on his own for about 30 minutes a day. We often read together with me reading my book of the day and him reading his current story. Lately, these are all Rick Riordan books.

Kaye: What ages are the Sir Chocolate series aimed at?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate books are aimed at young children, aged 3 to 9 years old. They are lovely for beginner readers as they are comprised of rhyming verse.

Kaye: Each book in the Sir Chocolate series features a story and a cookbook. That’s an interesting combination. Would you like to tell us a little more about why you chose to pair the two?

Robbie: Sir Chocolate is a little man made of sweets and sugar. All the characters in the books are made of edible products as well as all the houses, trees, flowers and even the rivers and the rocks. As all the illustrations are made of cake, biscuits and sweets, it seemed natural to provide the recipes to make some of the goodies in the book and make the books into a series of first cookbooks as well as a story.

Kaye: You also write supernatural and horror for adult audiences, and you had two stories published in the recently released horror anthology, Dark Visions. (See my review of Dark Visions here.) Another interesting combination: horror and children’s stories. Is there a story behind how you ended up writing in those two genres?

Robbie and DVRobbie: I entered a short story for children in one of Dan Alatorre’s writing competitions and it won an Honourable Mention. I really liked the critique on my story that I received from Dan so when another competition cropped up a few months later I decided to enter. The topic for that one was horror so I thought I would give it a go. That was when I wrote The Willow Tree. Dan again provided an excellent critique in respect of the story. I entered The Haunting of William into his most recent horror competition in June 2018. That was how I came to write darker stories. I discovered that I enjoyed writing this genre and now I am writing a supernatural/horror YA book. I have just exceeded 50,000 words.

Kaye: I can think of many differences in writing horror and in writing for children, but are there also ways in which they are alike?

Robbie: The Sir Chocolate stories all have a villain ranging from the trolls in Book 1 to the candy stripped Roc in book 5. All stories generally have a heroic character and a bad character so there is a common thread between the two genres. The difference is that in the Sir Chocolate books the “baddie” is generally redeemed and becomes a contributing member of Chocolate Land. In my current book, the evil characters are not redeemed.

Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a horror story you’ve ever had?

Robbie: I have just written a horror story about cockroaches which infest a working microwave oven and gain unnatural powers as a result of the microwaves they are subjected to. I think that is about the most unusual story I have written to date but I have only been writing for just over two years and I only started writing horror this year.

Open a New DoorKaye: In addition to writing children’s stories and cookbooks, and adult horror, you write poetry. And you have a poetry collection out with Kim Blades, Open a New Door. What type of poetry can we expect to find in this collection? How did that collaboration come about?

Robbie: Kim Blades and I are both South African poets. Our collection is about life in South Africa and is divided into four sections entitled God bless Africa, God bless my family and friends, God bless me and God bless corporates and work. Each section is divided into poems about the good, the bad and the ugly of our experiences in each of these areas of our lives.

Kaye: What is the most important quality in a poem for you?

Robbie: I like poems that are simply written and have a strong message. I try to write my poems along those lines. I don’t believe a lot of “highbrow” language is necessary in a poem for it to be an emotional and evocative piece of writing.

While the Bombs FellKaye: You have another collaboration with Elsie Haney Eaton, While the Bombs Fell. It’s about life during World War II, which is quite different from the Sir Chocolate stories. What age audience is this book aimed at? Would you like to talk a little about it?

Robbie: Elsie Hancy Eaton is my mother and While the Bombs Fell is a fictionalized account of her early years growing up during WWII in a rural town in England. It features the deprivation caused by bombing and rationing and the other hardships experienced, but it also provides a lot of insight into the small pleasures people enjoyed during the war in the way of a Christmas pudding, the ingredients for which were literally saved up for most of the year, swimming in favourite spots along the river Waverney and learning to knit. The reason this account is fictionalized and not an autobiography is my mother was aged 4 to 7 years during the war and so she can’t remember all the fine details. I supplemented her memories with a lot of my own research.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?

Robbie: Marketing the books. Indie authors and writers with small publishers find it more difficult to get their books into stores and in front of the eyes of children. Children generally don’t use social Medias and, therefore, we are marketing to the parents and not to the actual child. Impulse buys are fewer as a result. I try to visit schools and Sunday Schools, but my time for these events are limited due to my work requirements.

Kaye: What other activities do you find time for when you’re not baking or writing?

Robbie: I am a qualified chartered accountant with a full time job and two sons. Any recreational time I have that isn’t spent with my family is used for writing, baking and blogging. I have two blogs, one for my children’s books, light poetry, baking and fondant art called robbiespiration.wordpress.com and one for my adult writing and darker poems called robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com.

Thank you so much Robbie for chatting with me here today. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m thrilled to have you on board. I look forward to your Growing Bookworms blog series. I have no doubt that you have some interesting things to share with us.

Welcoming Robbie to the Writing to be Read team is my Christmas present this year, and adding her blog series will be a great way to start out the New Year, too. You can learn more about Robbie and her writing and art one her blogs or click on the links below:

Sir Chocolate book series: https://www.facebook.com/SirChocolateBooks/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Robbie-Cheadle/e/B01N9J62GQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1542170868&sr=1-1

Bake & Write: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/author/robbie-cheadle/

Or look her up on social media:

Twitter: @bakeandwrite

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robbie.cheadle.7

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cheadlerobbie/

I hope all my readers will help me welcome this creative children’s author to the Writing to be Read team and be sure to catch the first segment of her Growing Bookworms series on January 9th.

Want to be sure you don’t miss any of Robbie’s Growing Bookworms segments?  Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.