Saturday, 8 June 2019

Meet the author: John Connery, author of Alien Exodus


Today on the blog, I am joined by John Connery, author of Alien Exodus, 


Hi John, and welcome to the blog! Tell us a little about your book – what is it called, and what is it about?

My first book is “Alien Exodus” and it’s available on Kindle. The novel is a young adult alien invasion science fiction novel. After Earth wins an alien war humanity has to welcome the other winning alien race on Earth. A teenager must overcome all his prejudices against a new alien schoolmate so the two of them can save Earth.



What inspired the story?

Honestly the idea came from the immigration debate. As a fire breathing liberal, I always felt that at the end of the day no matter what country you are from we are all still human. It got me thinking what if the immigrants where not human but aliens? And what if that alien race caused humanity to get involved in a galactic war that caused millions to die. Would I want to be so welcoming to another species?

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

My favorite book as a child was “What Dreams May Come” by Richard Matheson. I remember not being able to put it down. He created such compelling characters. Then they made a movie and it didn’t translate. Sometimes the elements that make a novel great don’t translate to different mediums.

I also remember my least favorite book when I was a kid. I got a copy of a sequel novel to Return of The Jedi. I was so excited to have more Star Wars. I don’t think I ever finished reading it because it was too boring to read. That memory has me very concerned with how Disney handles the property. I think if they can create a really great TV show on Disney+ we will be in good shape. I loved Rogue One so I know it can be done. It’s also very easy to mess up. I hope the Game of Thrones guys can launch another trilogy of stories as successfully as they have with GOT. A lot of people are upset with how they handled the last season so again it’s not easy.
  
Ok, we’re waving the Altered Instinct magic wand. Your story is being turned into a movie – and you get to cast the main roles. Who do you cast for the leading characters? Bonus perk: Who directs?

I love this question.  I always start my character development with picking actors. For my main character, Jane, I picture a young 16-year-old Jennifer Lawrence playing the lead character. The first time I saw her was in Winter's Bone when she was still a teenager.  Jane’s father is the main character in the novels prior to City Of Robot and for that I picture an older Bradley Cooper. I know that’s weird because they have been lovers in movies together. In the prequel novella that is available for free on my website I picture Kal Penn playing the second in command of the moon colony.



I got into writing because I have wanted to be a director. So my pick to direct would be myself. I think my story probably requires an experienced director. Someone like the guy who directed Passengers, Morten Tyldum, would probably be able to get good performances from the actors and get the look and feel of the future right.  But if we are picking anyone I would want Steven Spielberg. We can always dream.

Jennifer Lawrence was great in Winter's Bone - a movie not enough people have seen, I reckon! Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise?

A common theme in my future science fiction stories is how life is very similar in the future as it is today. Our basic needs and motivations are the same. The things in life that where important 200 years ago will still be important in the future. The difference in the future is all the set pieces. Happiness, love, security and success or failure. I like to imagine the future where financial gain is less of a driving factor. With improved science and technology basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing become cheap enough that everyone has access to it.  Also I tend to examine the idea that desire for technology is a be careful what you wish for scenario.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Tell us about yourself.

I’m a big Yankee fan. I like to get to the gym everyday especially if I send the entire day sitting. Music and movies have always been my favorite things, even more than reading. I have done a few 48-hour film challenges and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to do some more film making in the near future. I also avidly follow politics. I wish I spent as much time reading science fiction as I did political news. I also enjoy investing in the stock market so I like to do a lot of research on businesses. The thing I enjoy the most is goofing around with the wife and laughing at the puppy when he tries to alpha her. I know better.

Tell us about your main character. Who is she and what makes her special?

My series is broken down into three trilogies. Each trilogy spans a different generation so they have different main characters. My favorite is named Jane Young. Her story starts in City Of Robots as she turns sixteen years old. She is the youngest human left on Earth. She dreams of one day getting an apprenticeship building robots. All her friends have gone into bio engineering to work on finding a cure to prevent humanity's extinction. I find her story fascinating.  She is growing up in a city of robots, on a planet that is going extinct, which has made her the youngest person on the planet. I examine what kinds of things she enjoys? How does living with this reality affect her? What does she value most and what parts of life are most important to her? I really enjoyed creating her and now that I’m doing rewrites I feel like I’m getting to visit with an old friend.

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

My goal right now is to finish writing this series. I have ten books outlined. Once it’s done I would like to start another series that has to do with time travel. I also plan on writing a few novellas in the City Of Robots universe to fill in some holes that didn’t get covered in the main novels. I’m almost halfway done and hopefully if I can find an affordable editor I can finish by the end of the year.

What’s the most fun piece of technology/magic that you’ve included in your novel that you wish you had in real life?

That’s a tough question. I include a lot of set pieces in my stories. I love Back To The Future and I always thought all the set pieces helped make the stories work. City of Robots has a lot of robots. I love the international market where there are 100 kiosks of different types of food with robot chefs programed how to make the best cuisines from all over the world.  I like the idea of being able to take a flying saucer anywhere on the planet and get there in less than 30 minutes.

I used the idea of Noah’s Ark a few times. In my first book, Alien Exodus, the alien ship has a huge ark with all the species from their home world.  In City of Robots, they have a lab underground where they are trying to clone every Earth species to prevent extinction. It was used previously by the aliens who had tons of alien species in the lab that they studied to build their bio weapon. I guess it’s a zoo more than an ark.
  
Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies?

One of my favorite shows of all time is Mad Men. It took me a few tries to get into it. For me it’s science fiction, because it does such a great job of depicting life in the 60s NYC. For someone who wasn’t alive at  the time, it’s like visiting another world.


Mad Men, a stylish trip back to the 1960s

Another favorite show of mine is Dexter. I think it’s is behind my motivation to write City Of Robots from the first person. Some stories are best told from the main character's point of view. The other aspect of that show that I find brilliant is how they build suspense. Every episode has a ticking bomb that feels like it’s about to go off. Tension is drama and great stories have great characters and tons of drama. No one does this better than Dexter. It also takes place in Miami the location of one of my first loves, Miami Vice. I think I wanted my captain on the moon to be a little like Sonny Crocket.  And when we talk drama and suspense there is no show better than Breaking Bad.

I have to admit as a fire-breathing liberal I loved West Wing. I particularly loved the season with Santos running for President. I wish Beto could be more like Congressman Matt Santos. Can someone sit Beto down and make him watch that season? 

My favorite Star Trek is Voyager by a long shot. I feel like any television love list would not be complete without talking about the Sopranos. I ran a few episodes recently and it’s every bit as good as I remember. I’m excited to hear there is a prequel in the works starting James Gandolfini’s son. 

For stuff that is currently on, I love The Walking Dead. I’ll take zombie stuff any day of the week.  I will never say TWD is perfect, I thought The Strain was a superior zombie show in how they created suspense with more interesting characters. I feel like the golden age of TV is starting to dwindle. It’s as if there are so many venues now that they are creating too much content which is causing the content quality to suffer. I never liked network TV much because 24-episode seasons is too much to maintain a high level of quality. If I had one wish for television if would be for the networks to start making 12-episode seasons and having fall and winter shows so they could focus on quality. I never watched another network show after West Wing ended.



I have always referred to Shawshank Redemption as the best story ever told. A close second in my opinion is Lonesome Dove. I have watched both stories many times trying to figure out why they work so well. They both have great characters and conflict that builds on itself. Lonesome Dove was a mini series based on a book. If you haven’t seen it and love westerns I recommend that you watch it today, it’s that good.
  
Marketing is always a challenge for writers – to share the love, what have you found the most useful tip for spreading the word about books?

I write because I want to share stories with the world. I have been playing with Facebook ads. They have something called lead ads that easily autofill in and can be very targeted. I’m giving away a free novella which is a prequel to my City Of Robots series. It’s costing me about 25 cents per download. My hope is to be able to build my newsletter list using that technique. I think the best quality subscribers are ones that bought a book and then signed up. This is a classic example of the chicken and egg dilemma. How do you sell books without fans and how do you get fans without selling books. My goal is to some day have 1 million reads of my novels. I think that only happens with an investment in marketing. I don’t think there is a better way for an author to market then build up their news letter audience by giving away free short stories and hopefully turning fans into super fans and even friends. My guess is that in order to have 1 million book reads my newsletter list is going to need to have at least 100k active subscribers. If someone wants to invest the $25k, I’ll gladly give the investor a  percentage of every book sold in my City Of Robot series. There will be at least ten books.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

I’m active on Twitter. My Instagram has a shadow ban so I don’t post there as much mainly just cool science fiction images of robots and future worlds. My original idea for Instagram was to post images of things I was writing about. My favorite was an image of  the SpaceX lunar lander because I just finished writing a first draft about a moon resort that gets stranded on the moon for fifteen years.  Right now I’m doing a lot of interviews of science fiction writers on my blog scifitropes.com

My author website is johnconnery.com please download the Lunar Station novella there for free. I post a lot of cool science fiction stuff on Twitter @jcscifi

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

One of my goals is to spend an hour a day reading similar science fiction stuff to what I’m writing. This was one of the reasons I started the blog and interviewing other writers. I’m trying to find others doing similar stuff. It seems like everything is military or romance science fiction or space opera. My stuff is what I like to think of as future science, I examine what life might be like on Earth in the future. A future world after first contact with robots and spaceships. If you know of anything like that, please message me. 

Right now I am reading Stephen King's book on writing. Next I want to read the Ray Bradbury biography. My dad has been raving about it, apparently the two of them grew up with very similar interests.  I always say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree so I expect to find a ton of great information in his biography which hopefully makes me a better science fiction writer.

Thanks for calling by, John! It's been good to chat! 

Readers can pick up Alien Exodus on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2HKqWSO

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Let's talk about reviews

I chatted on Twitter a little earlier today about reviews - sparked because of another round of the popular reality show Authors Behaving Badly... so without wading into specifics about that drama, here's my thoughts on the art of reviewing, and how putting readers under pressure over them is absolutely the wrong way to go.



Hi. Let's talk about reviews. Recently in author Twitter, there's been a bit of a kerfuffle about reviews - with some authors demanding readers review more often and what kind of review to leave. First thing first, reviews are for readers, not authors.

Let's put a bit more meat on that - because if reviews are for readers, why is it authors are so keen to receive them? Well, reviews are for readers - but authors benefit from them too. That doesn't mean a review should be written to an author's requirement! Far from it.

Indeed, the best reviews are one thing more than anything else: honest. Authors benefit from reviews because it gets their work in front of others and being talked about, hopefully by reviewers whose honest opinions can persuade other readers. But the reader is the focus.

Simply put, if I tell you my book is brilliant and you should buy it, you're quite right to roll your eyes and say I would say that. If a reviewer you trust says my book is brilliant and you should buy it, they're not trying to sell you something and honesty is powerful.

Reviews are always welcome - but readers should not feel under pressure to leave them. Leave them if you want to. Don't leave them if you don't want to. Reading is a pleasure, not a job. If you want to leave a review? Great! If you don't? That's just grand too.

As to what to say in a review - say what you want. If you like a book, say that however you want. If you hate it, do the same. Every classic book you'll find on Amazon has one-star reviews, and if Ray Bradbury or Ursula Le Guin can get one star then I'm darn sure I can.

Writing a review can be intimidating - and authors who put pressure on others over how often they review or what they say when they do don't help that.

It needn't be intimidating to write a review, though. If all you want to do is leave a one-word review - "Great!" "Awful!" "Meh!" - that's cool. If you want to talk at length about what you loved/hated, also great! It's your review, it's up to you.

There are a couple of caveats, of course. If you read and review for your job, then sure, you'll have pressure on you. But not from the author, from your boss. I've been a professional reviewer for two decades and when my boss says "400 words!" I can't give him ten :)

And yes, there are reviews that are inappropriate. They include personal attacks on the author for private reasons (such as by stalkers) and comments that are racist/homophobic/prejudiced in some fashion. But heck, readers see those comments for what they are.

Still, in instances of particularly abusive reviews, they can usually be reported to the sites where they're left. That's not the main focus of what I'm saying in this thread, though, but it would be wrong of me not to acknowledge that such things happen.

The takeaway is this: Reading is a hobby. If you enjoy reading, don't let anyone suck the fun out of it by placing demands on you. Read what you want. Review what you want. Say what you want. And have fun doing it.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Meet the author: Nils Odlund, author of Lost Dogs


Nils Odlund is the author of the Lost Dogs series, a werewolf suspense series (that's shifter suspense to fans of the genre) - and he's also a fellow member of the Sci-Fi Roundtable, the best little Facebook group in town. He's also part of a shared free promotion with me that ends on June 3, 2019, so you can pick up the first book of his series for free right now. He stopped by the blog to chat about his work - so have a read, get to know him, then go pick up that book! 



Hi Nils, and welcome to Altered Instinct! Tell us a little about your most recent book – what is it called, and what is it about? Give us your elevator pitch to make us fall in love with it!

My most recent book was the sixth part in the Lost Dogs series. This one is a bit of a step away from the rest of the series as it features a new main character and is about things that happened in the background of the first five books.
The elevator pitch for the Lost Dogs series as a whole is something like “Roy and Alene, a retired old wrestler and an aspiring young journalist, on the run from the mob, the law and the past – trying to keep their acts together while their lives are falling apart around them.”
The initial idea for the story was to try and show of the world I'd created (a modern-day fantasy setting), by having a character travel across it by train – a bit like a road trip. Originally, the working title for the story was Werewolves On A Train.
It kind of grew from that, and it's now much more about the internal struggles of the main characters. They still have to cross from one side of the world to the other though.




As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?

Yes. The character Jen in the first part of the Lost Dogs series became much more interesting than I'd first planned. She was originally just going to deliver some news for the main character, Roy, so that he could move the plot forward. It turns out she grew to become his best friend, and she took on a life of her own. In the second part she had some really bad things happen to her, and I have a feeling I'm going to have to write an extra story just for her, to give that closure.

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

Growing up in Sweden, I read the Astrid Lindgren books (Pippi Longstocking etc.), but my favorite author from that time, whom I still read, is Tove Jansson, who wrote the books about the moomintrolls. The first book I fell in love with that I can remember was her Finn Family Moomintroll.




I love the Moomin books! I used to get the English translations of those out from my local library! Are there any particular themes you address in your story? What issues do you explore, overtly or otherwise? 

The various books in the Lost Dogs series touch upon different themes. And the main characters have different themes associated with them. Overall though, the main theme of the series would be about loneliness and belonging – about finding your place in the world, so to speak.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Tell us about yourself. 

I used to be a pretty serious gamer, but after I got into writing, that sort of died off, and the writing took more and more time. These days, I still play games, but not nearly as much. A current favorite is Hearthstone as a casual game, and I also just picked up and started playing Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.
What I also try to do is go hiking. There's a hillwalkers group here in town that meet every weekend. I don't drive, so joining others like this is a great way to get out of town and get some fresh air.

I managed to resist Hearthstone! It tempted me hard during my World of Warcraft days. What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?
The story I'm working on is told as a series of novellas. The seventh part is coming out on the 21st of June, and then there are an additional twelve parts planned after that. I've got a novel I'd like to write, and that I started several years ago but never finished. I hope to be able to start working on that in parallel with the series.

What has been your most satisfying moment as a writer so far? What made you punch the air? 

It's a seemingly small thing, but one of the most satisfying things is when someone buys the second part of my series. To me, that's a great indication they read and enjoyed the first part.

Marketing is always a challenge for writers – to share the love, what have you found the most useful tip for spreading the word about books? 

I'm in a number of Facebook groups, both for readers and writers. Talking about my stories there, when appropriate, seems to be the best way for me. I try not to be too much of a salesman, but rather bring up my stories in discussions where it would make sense to do so.

Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

I regularly post story quotes and progress updates on Instagram, here: https://www.instagram.com/nilsdlnd/ 

I'm also on Facebook and Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/svrtnsse/ and https://twitter.com/svrtnsse 

Finally, there's a blog, but it's quite rare that I remember to update it. It's constantly on the list of things I need to do better though: https://lostdogsseries.com/ 

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I just started reading Trust A Few, by E.M. Swift-Hook, and the best book I've read recently was Cailleach~Witch, by Jane Gilheaney Barry.

Thanks for calling by, Nils! And readers can start his Lost Dogs series by picking it up at mybook.to/LostDogs1

Lost Dogs is part of a free offer for 13 books - available without costing you a penny until the end of June 3, 2019. Check out the full links for every book below: 

SPACE OPERA: Trust A Few, by E.M.Swift-Hook mybook.to/TAF
SHIFTER SCI-FAN: Lost Dogs, by Nils Odlund mybook.to/LostDogs1
COMEDY HORROR: Zombie Turkeys, by Andy Zach mybook.to/ZombieTurkeys
POETRY AND PROSE: Pulling The Rug III, by Jane Jago mybook.to/RUG3
URBAN FANTASY: Hunting Darkness, by Ian Bristow mybook.to/HuntingDarkness
DYSTOPIAN: Hyde's Lament, by L N Denison mybook.to/HLDN
FIRST CONTACT: Aliens Crashed In My Backyard, by Mike Van Horn viewbook.at/alienscrashed
ZOMBIES: The Journey of Malchus, by Chandra Trulove Fry bit.ly/JourneyOfMalchus
ALTERNATE HISTORY: Light's Dawn, by Yvette Bostic tinyurl.com/y5nfn3dv
SCI-FI HORROR: I Killed The Man Who Wasn't There and other tales of futuristic horror by Darrell B Nelson mybook.to/IKilledtheMan (this book free in US only)
NEAR FUTURE SCI-FI: Dragon Moon, by Scott E Tarbet mybook.to/Dragon_Moon 
SCI-FI ANTHOLOGY: Tales From The Universe mybook.to/TalesUniverse
SCIENCE FANTASY ANTHOLOGY: Tales of Wonder mybook.to/Wonder





Friday, 31 May 2019

Meet the author: Lawrence Harding


I'm delighted to welcome Lawrence Harding to the blog today. Readers who have followed my work will hopefully have discovered Lawrence too - I was awfully pleased to share space with him in one of the Inklings Press books, Tales From The Underground. He's a good chap to follow on Twitter too - but enough of me talking about him. Let him take it away. So grab a cuppa, settle down and meet... Lawrence Harding.



Hi Lawrence, and welcome to the blog. Let's start away from writing for a moment. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Tell us about yourself.

My day job is being a grad student working towards a PhD, so a lot of my time is spent researching, writing and teaching (which is a lot of fun, and I wish I got more chances to do it). Writing is very much a downtime thing for me, along with (trying to learn) the guitar, cooking and getting nostalgia-hits though playing Pokémon.

What are your favourite genres to read – and what is it about those genres that draws you in?

I’ve definitely always leaned more towards fantasy than other genres. I enjoy the immersion into another world, and the “what ifs” that arise just by tweaking the way the world works even slightly. I also enjoy short ghost and weird fiction from the early 20th century for similar reasons – the ways writers thought about what were new and exciting ways to see the world are fascinating.

What were some of your favourite books to read as a child? Which were the first books you remember falling in love with?

The Redwall books by Brian Jacques. My dad left books lying around in the vague hope I’d start reading them. I picked up Pearls of Lutra and never looked back. Jacques had a real way with description, and a willingness not to plot-armour characters in children’s literature which struck me even then. I went to a talk by him once and a life-long regret will be being too anxious to talk to him afterwards.



Who are your favourite authors to read? And whose writing do you feel has inspired your own work most?

There are definitely too many to list, but Pratchett is one I have to mention. The way he turned his frustration with the world into often biting comedy really resonates with me. In that sense he’s something of an inspiration, as I’d love to be able to do that. Other authors I’ve enjoyed recently are N.K. Jemisin, Brian McClellan and Adrian Tchaivosky.

What’s next for you as a writer? What’s cooking in your literary kitchen?

I have the attention-span of a magpie so I usually have a number of projects on at once. I’m trying to throw together a collection of short stories set in and around monastic communities. Since the medieval literature I work with is often wacky and out there compared to modern tastes, I get a lot of inspiration from that. If they say write what you know, that means I end up writing about monks. When I tell people I research (much less write about) monks, I tend to baffle them, but there’s a lot of scope to explore really deep (and sometimes dark) themes in the walls of a cloister.

As a writer, have you ever had a character grow to be a much bigger part of the story than you expected? Who was the character and what was it about them that made them emerge from the sidelights?

In one of my unpublished stories I started out with a scene of a burning ship, and that was going to be the focus – how it came to be there, and how the protagonist got away. But almost immediately his boyfriend turned up, being adorable and concerned and just a lot of fun to write. In the end, their relationship became the focus of the story. I enjoyed getting to know Setholin and Fendel, and I hope I get to share their story more widely someday.

What has been your biggest challenge as a writer? What hurdles have you had to overcome, and what helped you to do so?

Finding time to write (and read) can be difficult when you’re balancing a day job that isn’t exactly 9-5, but demands your attention almost all the time. I went through a long period of barely writing anything, because I was a) exhausted and b) pretty much writing for my day job as well. Trying to keep to a schedule (and taking weekends firmly off work) has been a great help.

Away from books, what are your loves when it comes to TV and movies? (Altered Instinct will plant a flag on behalf of Quantum Leap, Babylon 5, Stargate, The West Wing and Star Wars, and fight to protect it!)

I tend to go for silliness. Television like Midsomer Murders is a comfort-watch for me, if only for the increasingly ridiculous murder methods (weaponized cheese and wine-bottles launched from a trebuchet, to name a couple). I’ve also been binging the new She-Ra with my partner, since it is So Wholesome. Another recent discovery is Inside Number Nine, which has its dark moments but makes me want to throw up my arms in despair that I can’t write like that.

With films, I range between folk horror, wholesome sci-fi like Pacific Rim, and have a whole host of “guilty” pleasures. I love a good bad film. Things like “Mr Vampire” or “Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes” are great stress relief.

I've not heard of Inside Number Nine! One for me to look up. Okay, you get stuck on an island and had only one book packed in your travel bag before the ship went down – what book do you hope you have in there?

Always difficult to pick only one, but probably Going Postal by Terry Pratchett.



Where can readers follow you to find out more about your work?

I have a blog at exploringotherwheres.wordpress.com – I review other sci-fi and fantasy there and have links to my published works.

A traditional question here at Altered Instinct – what are you reading at present, and what is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

At the moment, I’m reading “The Queens of Innis Lear” by Tessa Gratton. Over the past year… it never seems fair to pick just one, but Brian McClellan’s “Wrath of Empire” ticked all my boxes for military/political intrigue fantasy.

Many thanks for visiting the blog, Lawrence, we look forward to more from you. Mark me down to review that monastic short story collection! Seriously, I had my own swing at a short story set in an alien monastery, so I'm down for that. 

You can pick up Tales From The Underground at mybook.to/Uground - and Lawrence has also been published in Guilds & Glaives and Hidden Menageries.