It takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting and people live very constrained, limited lives. So, how does one find joy or hope in that setting? What is there to look forward to? How do people create lives worth living? That's what intrigued me about these characters, this world.
I published "Hold Still the Sky" as a series of short stories over the course of several months. I originally wanted to have each story deal with a different character or set of characters that all fit loosely together in the same world. But I kept getting drawn back a few core characters. Kara, Gus, Dido and some others. In the end, the novel is Kara's story. Not solely hers but mainly hers. And I had to do her justice.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I saw an announcement online a while back for a short story contest. The parameters were something like "describe humans meeting an alien life form." This sparked an idea for me and I started writing the story with the intent of submitting it to the contest. The contest rules required the story to be fairly short. However, as I got more and more into the world I was creating I realized that there was more I needed to write. So the short story turned into a longer story and the longer story turned into two stories then three and so on until I had a full novel.
Who and what inspire you to write?
My mother is a published poet, although modest as she is she'd hesitate to describe herself that way. My father, a teacher for thirty-nine years, has always stressed the importance of writing well and has written a political history book. So, that's the easy and obvious and true answer. But there have been so many other influences from Ray Bradbury to Stephen. R. Donaldson to David Wingrove in terms of books. Stan Lee, Ditko, Kirby, Byrne, Miller, Claremont and a slew of others in terms of comics and graphic novels. I'm probably dating myself a bit with those references. Then there are other creative influences from co-workers, television shows, movies, myths, fairy tales and so on.
Each author has his own inspiring journey. How did you begin writing?
Short answer: I quit my job, moved to a small town on the coast of Oregon and locked myself in a room for four hours a day. Did that for fifteen months and ended up with my trilogy.
Long answer: I have been scribbling away for decades. When I was younger I never thought about actually getting published. My writing was just for myself, something I played around with. Then as I grew older I made a few submissions to agents back in the early days of the internet long before self-publishing was a solid option. I got some encouraging responses but no offers. Life went on and I threw myself into my job for a number of years. Then after a particularly stressful stretch I went out with a couple of friends and co-workers to let off some steam. We ended up asking each other what we wanted to do in the next ten years of our lives. Without hesitation I said I wanted to write. I went home that night and wrote about twenty pages. That was the longest piece I'd written in about five years. A couple of years later, I dove into self-publishing.
What has been the most pleasant surprise about writing? How about an unexpected downside?
The most pleasant surprise - out of the many - is how natural it feels for me. When I was growing up I always thought of writers as being a breed apart, somehow different. That they were a different ilk. So different that for years I had that little voice in the back of my head saying, "You'll never do it. You're not like that." But when I made the leap and dedicated myself to writing, made it part of my daily life it turned out that it is the most natural thing in the world. There's nothing like the experience of writing. The flow of ideas drawing me on from one story moment for the next. The "coming through" of the story takes place in an altered state of mind that is both energizing and focusing unlike anything else in my life.
An unexpected downside? Well, like any creative endeavor or long-term commitment there are sacrifices to be made. Sacrifices may not be the best word. Choices. You have to obey the muse. You have to be rigorous. There's no room for half-measures in terms of the creative process. Yet you have to find a way to accommodate it in your life with all its other parts and people. Striking the balance that lets you create and keeps you engaged with the world around you is the hardest part. It would be really easy for me to crawl into a hole and write and write and write (see above, Oregon). But then I would burn out and miss out on the juice of life, which, in the end, is what fuels the creative process.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Lots of coffee. My wife calls it "magic writing juice."
Do you write your books in order?
When I start I have a general sense of the timeline and narrative flow but I wouldn't say I write the books in order. I work on one scene or set of characters and that leads to the next scene and so on. Sometimes the scenes stay in order, sometimes I jump around.
What is on your writing playlist for this book?
I've recently discovered a band called "Tape Five" and a genre of music called electro-swing. It's a mixture of old school jazz instrumentation and sensibilities with modern, audio production influences. That description doesn't do it justice. As with all music, you gotta hear it. I put Pandora on the "Tape Five" station and listen to whatever it plays.
Any favorite writing snacks?
Chips. Always chips. Can't get enough of them
What advice would you give to writers who aspire to be published?
To steal a phrase from the 70s: "Keep on Truckin'." It's simple. It's cliché. And it's also true. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. Throw in a little faith, a little trust, and a little blind luck. But, always keep writing.
Are you working on anything new right now?
I am. My goal is to have another book ready by the beginning of June. A time travel-ish story. A different twist on time travel. Plus artificial intelligence and genetic manipulation. All mixed with an odd romance.
Who is your favorite character in your current book?
That's a tough choice. They all speak to me in their own ways. Gun to my head, I'd go with Gus, Kara's supervisor. The old guy, the veteran. He wants to help the youg'uns but also has to make some tough choices of his own.
What is your favorite book of all time?
The Aeneid. I took Latin in high school and college and translating the story myself from the Latin to English under the watchful and sometimes tasking eyes of my teachers gave me a distinct appreciation for Aeneas and his journey.
Tell us in one sentence why we should read your book
One sentence? I've never held myself to one sentence. Let's say this: "Hold Still the Sky" will show you a unique world with memorable characters. And a robot dog.
Worldwide eruptions have clouded Earth's atmosphere. The remnants of humankind live inside domed cities. Biomass guidelines strictly regulate births, copulation and food rations. Amputation of "unnecessary limbs" is viewed as a noble sacrifice. Power is generated by massive solar energy-collecting sails. Hangers are those chosen to maintain the sails at great risk to life and limb. This is the story of Kara, one of the hangers. She's trying to have a baby.
Follow Kara, her fellow hangers and others as they deal with the stresses of life in the domes and discover the truth of the transformed Earth. By the end of the story, the world presented in "Hold Still the Sky" will be transformed. You will know the large-scale reasons behind the transformation and experience the upheaval from a personal point of view as the characters uncover the truth.
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Meet the Author:
I have been a fan of fantasy and science fiction ever since I can remember. Growing up I used to fall asleep listening to CBS Radio Mystery Theater and spent Saturday afternoons watching Creature Double Feature on WLVI, channel 56. Also, I collected comics and ended up doing my master's thesis ("How Green Is Your Power Ring?") on the structure of the modern, American, superhero comic book.
My mother is a published poet and my father a world-class educator. I caught the "writing bug" from them at a very early age. I can remember scrawling short stories on scraps of paper in my bedroom late at night when I was supposed to be asleep. My old job allowed me to travel the world. I have been to the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, the Sahara Desert, Machu Picchu and countless other spots in Asia, Africa and South America. I have also traveled extensively throughout the United States and am, once again, living in the Colorado Rockies.
I have been inspired by both my travels and all the people I've met and worked with along the way. My family and friends have encouraged me over the years to make a living as a writer. I am now taking on the challenge of following my bliss. And enjoying every minute of it!