Friday, April 26, 2013

Interview with Ryan Schneider

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
Eye Candy is a science fiction novel set in Los Angeles 2047. I feel it will be accessible by male and female readers alike. Please note that it does contain some adult content.

The beauty of the SF genre is its ability to take us to new places where serious matters can be discussed and explored.

We can explore themes such as humanity and technology and how the two intertwine.

We can discuss philosophy and the nature of our own existence while discovering a vision of a possible future, one in which air pollution is a thing of the past, cheap renewable energy is commonplace, and robotics is a daily reality as ubiquitous as mobile phones are to us today.

Against such a backdrop, Los Angeles in 2047, people still go to work and to the gym and to the sports bar to watch Monday Night Football. They still take the kids to school and pick them up in the afternoon and have to figure out what's for dinner. And they still fall in love and dream of living happily ever after.

Eye Candy was conceived as a stand-alone novel. But… I have already had an idea about what could happen next. And it’s intriguing…

Do you have a favorite character?
Tough question. This book has an ensemble cast, and it was challenging at times to not only keep track of who said what, but to also be certain that all the characters had equal opportunity with their dialogue and involvement in the story. It’s quite a colorful bunch, and I had a ball spending time with and getting to know each of them.

If I had to choose, I might say Les Grossman or Poo Raw.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish your book(s)?
Back in 2009, when my SciFi series The Go-Kids was ready, I began researching agents, crafting about a dozen different query letters, and querying agents I thought would enjoy my manuscript.

This went on for almost a year, with a handful of rejection emails.

Shortly thereafter, the self-publishing engine was really getting warmed up, and I began to investigate. In a very short time, I decided I wanted to retain the rights to my books and publish them myself. I wanted to retain control of them and bring them into the world on my terms. I wrote The Pillow Book as a project with a relatively short length (180pp), and began figuring out the self-publishing ropes. That’s how it all began.

If you used a graphic designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I decided that for Eye Candy I wanted a really, really great cover. Something that was an original piece of art, which was beyond my capabilities. I wanted something more than simply a collection of stock images and a loud font.

I placed an ad on Elance and had more than 50 responses. Many from people who were clearly quite talented. I ultimately chose to work with an artist named Scott who goes by the name Rahzzah.

Scott had just finished a three-year long collaborative project on a comic book titled Moon Girl. And it just so happened he was actively seeking new projects. We chatted a bit via the Elance interface and decided to work together.

We tossed some ideas around after I gave him a rundown of the plot and characters.

Scott whipped up about 5 sketches so I could visualize the concept. The fifth concept was Scott’s original idea based on a small story detail I had mentioned. It was a digital electronic newspaper which emits holographic 3D imagery. Scott was most intrigued by that idea, and I liked his interpretation of it. He roughed it up to about 80% completion and showed it to me to make sure I approved.

I was astounded.

Scott went ahead and completed the design and sent it to me and I was blown away. Honestly. I think the cover speaks for itself. It was so good that I was able to go back and fine-tune the scene in the book, incorporating the many details of the artwork. I hope readers will reach that scene in the book and will turn back to the cover to study it and enjoy it all over again with a new understanding of the context. Plus, there are some Easter eggs in there. I get a kick out of doing stuff like that. I hope readers do as well.

What is your writing process? Do you listen to music or do you like silence?
I typically write in silence. Years ago, I used to listen to music, back when CDs were mainstream. I found that I would press Play and 45 minutes later I would hear the CD player’s laser head tracking back to the beginning, and the music had ended. I hadn’t heard a thing. So somewhere along the line I stopped listening to music.

Instrumental music can be nice sometimes. But the language centers of the brain can really only focus on one source of verbal input at a time. So music lyrics can distract from the words on the screen.

I’ve known many writers who listen to movie soundtracks while they write. I’ve tried that a few times, but the music typically reminds me of the scene in the movie, which distracts me from my own story.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
I typically outline because I have to. When I decide to write a story, my mind seems to automatically race to the end, trying to piece it all together, and it comes at me so fast that an outline is the only way I can get it all down on paper.

But when the actual in-scene writing begins, the real stuff, I follow the outline insofar as it makes sense. Things develop and sometimes the story takes a turn and what I had outlined no longer works.

So it’s okay to let the muse take over.

When I was writing Eye Candy, I got to chapter 12, and the story began going in a strange direction. As I was writing, I was questioning what I was doing. This went on for a few days. I considered deleting it all and trying again. But ultimately I decided to forge ahead and see if perhaps there was a reason why I had written that chapter.

As it turned out, the events of that chapter came full circle to inform the climax of the story. I only had to wait about two months to get there so I could see it.

I truly have no clue where ideas come from. The whole writing process often feels ethereal and magical. I usually feel like a translator. Like C.S. Lewis once said, ‘I never made a book. I was given things to say.’

That’s how I feel.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Yes. The marketing can get a little overwhelming sometimes because it involves a lot of time-intensive research online, trying to learn about new websites and promotional opportunities. If you’re not careful, it can turn into a time suck and the next thing you know, you’ve not written anything that day. Today, for example, I only managed about two hours of writing because of this very issue.

The marketing is fun, too, though. It’s its own thing.

Sometimes I’ll feel myself getting a bit too worked up over it all, and I have to remind myself to take a step back and focus on the creative aspects of the business, which is the writing and the storytelling, entertaining readers with a good book that hopefully makes them think and makes them feel, whatever thoughts and emotions it may be.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
Write a lot. Because we only learn to write through practice. And because ultimately you will succeed or fail based upon the quality of your work, and nothing else.

Know that it’s a long journey, and be prepared to look at it like a marathon.

But if you’re doing it for the right reasons, namely because you love to write, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Try to be as professional as you possibly can. Make sure your book has a good cover, a good description, and is properly edited and proofread. Self publishing is fighting the uphill battle known as amateurism. A lot of readers, myself included, don’t want to read a book with typos on every few pages. I’m reading such a book now, by the way, written by a VERY established science fiction writer. Whoever made the conversion to the ebook was a freakin’ idiot.

I had a college English and film professor from West Berlin named Reinhardt Lutz. He explained it this way: It is a matter of form versus content. If your form is bad, sloppy, amateurish, I can’t even get to your content (what you’re trying to say).

But also remember that this whole process should be a joy. I love going to work every day. There’s nothing else I’d rather do. And believe me, I’ve tried not writing. I tried really hard. Several times. Couldn’t do it.

For me, the creative process is simply too much fun. Conceiving an idea, researching it to get the details right, writing it (putting fingers to keyboard), designing the cover, and seeing it all come to fruition with a book for sale in places like Amazon is simply wonderful.

Then, when people buy, read, enjoy, and comment on the book, it’s astounding. The feeling of getting lost in a good book is a feeling I believe we all seek. We long for it each time we click ‘Buy Now’ on Amazon. So when I hear that I was able to deliver that experience to a person I’ve never met but who decided to take a chance on my book… it’s all worth it.

Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
I am a fitness buff. I love exercise, working out, running.

I also love airplanes and aviation. I have a pilot’s license, too, and very nearly became an airline pilot. Alas, the calling to simply write was too powerful to resist.

I love movies. Though I don’t seem to watch nearly as many as I would like.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention being with my wife Taliya. We have great fun together, traveling, going out to dinner, to a movie, whatever.

What’s next for you?
I’m in the beginning stages of a new science fiction novel titled Hard Space. It’s about a luxurious space liner that gets hijacked on its voyage from Earth to Mars. I’m doing research (I love research) and plotting it out.

The goal with this book is to see if I can write it and publish it in a couple of months. One of the fundamental tenets of publishing is to have a deep backlist, with plenty of titles. Also, once you’ve managed to garner some readers and establish a fan base, it’s important to continue to produce books on a regular basis, in order to keep those fans reading.

Unless you’re a huge brand-name author like Stephen King or James Patterson, you can’t afford to wait a year or two between books. And perhaps not even then.

So, somewhat akin to the NaNoWriMo challenge in which every November people try to write a rough draft in 30 days, I’m trying to write a book in about 60 days. I think I can do it. I’m looking forward to the challenge. And now that I’ve blabbed about the book, its title, and its plot, I simply must do it. Right? But it’s okay. It’s a labor of love.

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