Who are your biggest writing influences?
My friends, family and my life in general have been a huge influence on my writing. I was raised in a family of engineers that also loved good stories. Even now, my boys love good stories, especially ones that make sense, which is something I’ve always strived for. Nothing bothers me more in a book, TV Show, Game, or Movie then story plot holes, inconsistencies, or bad designs.
Ultimately I look at everyone I meet as a chance to influence my writing, be they inspiration for characters, stories, or just planting an idea in my head for dialogue.
Who are your favourite authors and books?
That’s a hard one to nail down. I’ve read and watched sci-fi since I was kid. I was all but raised on Star Wars in the theatres, and used to watch Star Trek and Doctor Who with my Parents and Grandparents. And of course, as any child of the 80s, I watched all the genre cartoons, GI-Joe (though I preferred the comics), Transformers, and of course Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and its sequels. Yes, I am a lying Macross purist, though I acknowledge that the compilation series Robotech introduced me to it.
Writing wise, I draw inspiration from many sources. From the classics like: HP Lovecraft, Heinlein, Asimov, EE “Doc” Smith, and Bradbury. Contemporaries that I hope to be counted amongst include: Timothy Zahn (who I had the pleasure to meet at Rustycon 32 here in Seattle), Michael Stackpole, Larry Niven, and Ben Bova
What other genres do you enjoy to read, and how have they affected your writing?
Outside of sci-fi, I love a well-crafted horror story. In fact my favourite modern horror writer is still Dean Koontz, though I do enjoy Stephen King’s short fiction. I also enjoy a good mystery, having read all of the original Hardy Boys books before I hit fourth grade before I moved on to Sherlock Holmes. BTW Benedict Cumberbatch is the best modern Holmes, period.
I don’t read mysteries much anymore though, as I find most of them too predictable, but then I have that problem with most movies too and love it when something hits me with a genuine surprise.
Military fiction is also a lot of fun, but five kids, a wife and full time job, I have a hard enough time finding time to write, thank god for Audiobooks and a long commute where I am now, so I am catching up.
What is your preferred writing style?
It really depends on the story. For short fiction I put together a general idea of what I want to write about and then just jump right in. For longer fiction, I feel that I have to plot and outline it out in order to avoid repetition and continuity errors. It might be a full up outline, instead I might just list the major plotlines I want to address in a chapter and go from there. When I first started writing, I was definitely a pantser though, but as things got longer and once the story evolved into a series I really had to plot things out.
How has your civilian service with various militaries affected your writing?
Even at work, where many of my co-workers are prior military, everyone assumes I was prior military as well, but I am not. I actually grew my beard while working for the navy so I didn’t get confused with shipboard personnel.
I was raised around the military, both my father and my grandfather were Civil Service overseeing military acquisitions. I grew up hearing about every weapon system, airplane and ship out there, reading about them voraciously. I was even AFROTC in college before some prior medical conditions made me ineligible. But most of my best friends are military, or prior.
My new job with the FAA is the first time in my professional career where I’m not working with and for our armed forces. Even in college, after I left ROTC, I worked at the Aviation Challenge program in Huntsville, AL, where most folks knew me best as either Link or Knight-26. It was the aviation/military offshoot of the Space Camp program. There I worked with even more folks in the military, most of which I still count as some of my best friends. A couple are even fellow writers.
Working with the military was a big influence. It helped me to ensure that I gave the characters the correct mind-set, that I have them speaking and acting properly, and that the militaries I have crafted are as believable as possible. One of the inconsistencies in sci-fi that annoys me most is when fictional militaries don’t make sense or the characters don’t act accordingly.
Spiral War is obviously a series, where can we expect it to go?
What started as a planned seven book series has grown into ten. I have each book plotted out however and know where the series will go. Once the team graduates from the academy they will set out into their career in the space forces and they’ll discover, along with the reader, why they were so rigorously trained. They will face alien enemies that inspire fear in all around them, meet new species, and come upon enigmatic older races that will influence everything they do. Eventually even their saga will come to a close and those that survive the horrors of that await them will see the end of the centuries old conflict. One thing to keep in mind, no one is safe, and any character can be killed, or incapacitated at any time.
How has the story of the series evolved over the years?
This is a good question. Spiral War evolved out of multiple sources, but two are the most key; my first written short story The Nonsubmersible Submersible (I wrote it in eight grade and titles have always been a pain for me) and my planned fantasy trilogy The Nocturnal Knights. Spiral War was originally Nocturnal Knights 2000, a sci-fi take on a straight fantasy story. I took the original fantasy characters and just pushed them forward in time. Later I started to flesh it out and took two of the main characters from the short story and based it around them, Blazer and Gokhead.
The next evolution came when I started to actually write the story. Still in high school, I had little idea where I wanted things go beyond a few major plot points and that I wanted to start the story with the team in the academy. As my knowledge of the world, science, people and the universe around us grew so did the story evolve. Characters came and went, all went through changes and then I discovered design. I started to not only draw little doodles of ships, weapons, aliens and equipment, but actually designed them. None of these designs were static and all have changed as I have established aesthetics and the physical principles around the universe in order to keep the designs as realistic as possible.
Through college things continued to evolve and I wrote out the first drafts of the first several books in the series. I wrote and rewrote things continually as I learned my craft, while at the same time becoming versed in the career path I set myself down. During that time I also discovered CAD and 3D design so many ships received their first redesigns to make them more realistic. Writing was not a huge priority through college however and I did not give writing serious time again until after I graduated and started working.
Life intervened at many occasions preventing me from dedicating the time I wanted towards writing and designing. Eventually the original first book had grown to a gargantuan epic, so I was left with either cutting out huge chunks of the story or splitting it up. I decided on the latter, splitting the book into two, and self-published the book out. This was a terrible idea, the book, and my writing were nowhere near ready to great the world. So I pulled the book back, re-evaluated it and then completely rewrote it. In the process I saw something else, it was still too long for a first book and the second book would still have been too long as well. So the book split again into three total books. Additional edits, advice from other writers, and another, more successful, go at independent publishing eventually led me to make the contacts I needed to meet my current publisher.
What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Grow a thick skin. Learn to recognize when someone is truly offering advice on how to improve your writing, and when someone is just being a troll. Take every critique to heart, even harsh criticism may have nuggets you can use to improve your skills. Join writing groups, in person or online and accept critiques. Learn your craft, study what makes a writer and a story successful. Don’t be afraid to tell your story. It may not be what the market is asking for, but it is your story and if you are willing to put the hard work not only into it, but the promotion that comes afterwards you can still make it a success.