Author Interview: Alasdair Shaw

Author Interview of Alasdair Shaw

For this month, I interview Alasdair Shaw, a writer who seems to have taken a different path to a self publishing career, specifically through non-fiction before getting into science fiction. It’s great to see the flexibility that comes with self publishing.

Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?

Alasdair: I feel like I should make one up just to answer this question. Here goes…

I once bumped into Steven Spielberg at Cannes. He thought I had written Independence Day, probably due to the first installment of the Two Democracies: Revolution series being called Independence, and started talking about a sequel. A reporter overheard some of it and ran a big story about it.

Now, if I ever get famous, I am going to see how long it takes that bit of rubbish to appear on Wikipedia!

Have you written works in collaboration with other writers, and if so: why did you decide to collaborate and did it affect your sales?

The Newcomer Book CoverAlasdair: I have some short stories in science fiction anthologies. One of which, The Newcomer, I edited myself. I wanted to be involved in a joint project, something that would be greater than any of us individually would create. It also seemed a good way to introduce readers to authors they hadn’t yet encountered.

They have brought more people to my series, and also garnered a few very involved mailing list subscribers.

Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit?

Alasdair: Yes. Usually I aim for that time to be one where I am busy anyway, and so aren’t tempted. Having finished my first military science fiction novel, Liberty, I was posted to run a training exercise in south Wales. Days of caving, rock climbing, mountain walking, tactical exercises and live full-bore shooting forced the book out of my conscious mind. When I returned for the final edit, I saw several big flaws that needed addressing.

The Perception of Justice Book CoverWith my latest work, The Perception of Prejudice, I finished it just before Christmas then went back to it at the start of this month.

How much research do you do?

Alasdair: I spent a lot of time reading, searching, and walking the routes for my Walking through the Past series.

To be honest, I do very little research for my science fiction. The worlds are completely fictitious, so instead of researching real places I run things through in a sort of simulation in my head. I do a little digging into historical events that I want to resonate with references in my stories. The main piece of research is into the books, music, and artwork that Indie (my main character – a sentient AI) explores.

Was anything in the book inspired by your own personal experience?

Alasdair: Johnson’s command style is akin to some of the better officers I have met. She avoids micro-managing where she can, focusing instead on the big picture. She trusts her crew to do what needs doing, and refrains from pointless orders. It makes the story-telling harder – no “Shields up” to remind the reader they have shields when faced with an enemy attack, for instance.

One of the characters in my work in progress is partially based on my personal experience in life. Not his great riches, but his interpretation of the world and interactions with other people.

About Alasdair

Alasdair Shaw started his writing career with Walking Through the Past, a series of walking guides to archaeological sites in Britain’s uplands published by Archaeoroutes. He then got into writing physics textbooks, revision guides, and practice exam papers for OCR, Pearson, ZigZag Education and BBOP: School Physics Resources.

The Two Democracies: Revolution science fiction series starts with Independence, and continues with Liberty. A novelette, The Perception of Prejudice, comes out this month. The next full-length novel, Equality, will hopefully be released in summer 2017, followed by Fraternity the year after.

You can sign up to Alasdair Shaw’s mailing list at https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/k9x9t2  and see what else he gets up to on his website at http://www.alasdairshaw.co.uk.
The Two Democracies universe intersects with our own at https://twitter.com/IndieAI and https://www.facebook.com/twodemocracies.

Advertisements

Self publishing and Insults

Every now and again there’s an article or something published that just screams for a reply.  Here’s one that argues self publishing is an insult to literature

Gatekeepers have existed in many industries and usually gatekeepers add one of two values: (1) marketing (2) access to otherwise expensive infrastructure (production and/or distribution). The e-publisihing trend affects (2). To compare: Recording companies were gatekeepers, especially in the age of LPs and CDs.  Physical shops were gatekeepers for clothing and fashion. Books are following that trend. Essentially Amazon (and Co.) reduce production and distribution costs to near zero.

This leaves (1) and it seems traditional publishers are their own worst enemy here. I hear so many accounts of books being published but not being marketed.

If production and distribution are free (that value has gone) and marketing is not provided  (that value never arrives) then what is the value that traditional publishing brings.

Quality? Really? I’ve read some traditionally published books that have very poor plots and flat characters. Spelling and grammar.  Potentially, yes. Traditional publishers may do a better job of enforcing spelling and grammar.  But if that’s the argument why self publishing is an insult to the written word, it’s a very weak one.

Besides, there’s another way to judge works according to their quality, let the market decide.

Traditional publishing also has a lot to answer for. The limited space for published work versus the high volume of submissions has created a side industry exploiting their clients. It’s so bad that there is a mini industry just to expose these abuses.  For every site listed here (http://pred-ed.com) there is at least one (and probably many more) author who has been ripped off. That’s the sort of issues that a traditional publishing model creates.

Apart from the significantly higher commercial and legal risks you face when publishing traditionally (see you really going to sue yourself for missed earnings?) the main difference between the two is on where the slush pile resides. In the traditionally published world, it exists within the office of the publisher.  With self-publishing, it exists online. Amazon and other retailers provide a look inside, a ranking system and a robust and monitored review process to allow the slush pile to exist alongside the more successful works and some people who have seen it says something amazing work resides in the slush pile.

Ultimately the ease and cost of doing business in the world of written fiction has plummeted. The barriers to entry have significantly reduced. That’s something that almost every government aims for.

What I struggle with is why people are so dead against the democratization of the publishing world. It’s hardly as if the existing structure of traditional publishers have any robust regulation to protect those in the industry  (http://pred-ed.com).

Author Interview: Heather Hayden

Augment by Heather HaydenAuthor Interview of Heather Hayden

As a motivation for myself, it helps to look at others that are putting the work in and getting results. Here’s an interview with Heather Hayden, another Science Fiction author, one who provides some excellent advice (DON’T PROCRASTINATE).

Which writers inspire you?

Heather: This is a difficult question to answer. It’s like asking me what my favorite book is! I’ve been told by readers of my earlier books that I was influenced by Brian Jacques (too much time describing food…I’m not writing about Redwall Abbey!) Later books avoided this, though, and my writing style is definitely my own. However, my imagination has been stirred by many different writers and worlds, ever since I was a child first learning to read. I couldn’t pick a specific writer any more than I could pick a favorite book, but I can say that my influences are definitely a conglomeration of Jacques, Cherryh, Asimov, Novik, Colfer, Beddor, Jones, Collins…just to name a few.

From the Stories of OldHave you collaborated with other writers? If so, why did you decide to collaborate and did it affect your sales?

Heather: My first collaboration was released earlier this month, on the seventh! Myself and a group of other wonderful writers have put together an anthology of fairy tale retellings called From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings. Our goal is to reach new readers and hopefully publish more anthologies (some science fiction-themed!) in the future.

Do you have any tips for writers on what to do and what not to do while writing?

Heather: Don’t procrastinate. Seriously. Sometimes your brain will even try to convince you that those dishes Must Be Washed Now. Don’t listen to it. Pin that muse down by whatever means necessary, then apply butt to chair and fingers to keyboard (or pencil, pen, typewriter, brush, whatever your preferred medium.)

Do let your creativity flow. That doesn’t mean allowing your characters or plot to go haring off in every direction, but it does mean letting the story flex a bit if it needs to. (Pantsers may find this easier than plotters, or conversely more difficult.) Ignore that inner editor until you’ve gotten the first draft down on paper.

How do you relax?

Heather: I’m an avid gamer, so I do spend some free time gaming with friends—Minecraft is a current favorite, although I play MMORPGs at times, and 4X strategy games, and just-for-fun RPGs. I’m an even bigger bookworm, though, so I’ll frequently curl up with a good book and a hot cup of tea (or iced tea in the summer). Walking on the beach in the summer is also a great way for me to relax—I love listening to the ocean.

Do you remember the first story you ever read? What kind of an impact did it have on you?

Heather: That’s difficult to recall. I know I was reading by the age of five, because when I was in kindergarten I took books out of the school library. However, I don’t remember much of that year, or anything from before that. I do recall my favorite book from that time period, though—The Unicorn and the Lake by Marianna Mayer. It had beautiful illustrations and told the story of a benevolent unicorn and terrible serpent who end up doing battle. The story fascinated me and I read it over and over. A few years ago I tracked down a copy to buy—that’s how much I loved that book.

I definitely think it had an impact on me, as I grew up loving fantasy, and, later, science fiction (though one could argue that science fiction is simply another kind of fantasy!) I also recall wanting to be like that unicorn, so brave and selfless and beautiful, so it influenced me as a person as well.

***

Heather Hayden IconAbout Heather

Though a part-time editor by day, Heather Hayden’s not-so-secret identity is that of a writer—at night she pours heart and soul into science fiction and fantasy novels. In March 2015 she published her first novella, Augment, a YA science fiction story filled with excitement, danger, and the strength of friendship. She immediately began work on its sequel, Upgrade, which continues the adventures of Viki, a girl who loves to run, and her friend Halle, an AI. Her latest release is a short story “Beneath His Skin,” which is part of an anthology her writer’s group put together called From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings. You can learn more about Heather and her stories through her blog and her Twitter, both of which consist of equal amounts of writerly things and random stuff she’s interested in.

 

Book Review: Daughter of the Revolution

Daughter of the Revolution
by Becca Patterson
Link: http://a.co/0HBdsyq

DoTRThis was a great little YA science fiction romp with some thought provoking social commentary. Set in a distant future, I liked the way it portrayed the challenges that youth faced.

Originally the book made my list as I believed it would hit the social commentary about equality criteria. It was put to me as set in a matriarchy. What was interesting was that the matriarchal nature of the setting was actually quite subtle. Enough of the main characters were male that the full matriarchal nature of the setting remained in the background and it was only made obvious by the number of minor characters that were female. It seemed that female was the default for any minor characters. It didn’t give a sense of female privilege and it didn’t make me question any of my male notions on life. In fact it seemed to me like the setting was based around equality.

Where it did shine was in the commentary on youth and the increasing demanding world that they inhabit. They don’t become full citizens unless they graduate. Given the much harsher life those that don’t graduate college experience it’s a great analogy for the struggle that the young face today. Another interesting facet is children can be adopted out to corporations. Again, given the crippling nature of sued the loans, it’s another great analogy. In some way, I wish it had explored these concepts more.

The plot itself is wide ranging with a lot of danger and conflict for the characters. It’s a nice mad dash across that systems with enough twists and turns to keep the story moving. The characters are likeable though perhaps a little too effective given they are essentially schoolkids.

It certainly makes it into the softer side of science fiction with FTL travel (they’d travel between star systems) and enigmatic aliens called ‘Others. It still made the reader think. Characters were tied to their tablets (smartphone anyone?). All in all a good read.

I am open to review requests for certain specific genres.