Author Interview — Steve Cook

Once again Poseidon’s Scribe has landed a fascinating interview with a fellow author, who has a story appearing in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today’s interview is with Steve Cook.

Steven CookSteve Cook is a part-time writer, part-time teacher, currently dialing down on the latter so he can focus on the former. He’s married and lives with his wife and cat in London, England.

At last, the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Steve Cook: I began writing fiction in 2010. It was my first year working as a primary school teacher and I had prepared as much as I possibly could during the Christmas holiday. Then, the first week back in January, we had a record snowfall for the area and the school was closed. We happened to live opposite a Starbucks, which meant we were basically in there every evening. I just grabbed my netbook and took it over there and started to write, funneling all the readiness and energy into that instead. I rattled along writing chapters of a pretty terrible book idea, and then got into NaNoWriMo in a big way. That’s been responsible for most of my output over the last six years.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

S.C.: The easiest aspect of writing for me is world-building. I probably spend too long on it, but it pays off when you can write something in that suggests a deeper, richer world beyond it. Short stories and flash fiction that flesh out the world are something I really enjoy doing. The most difficult aspect of writing is editing, without a doubt, and I get round it by showing my stuff to different people. Everyone has a different thing they look for: my wife is a designer and illustrator, for example, and she really focuses on the visual design of what I write.

P.S.: What genres have you written in, and do you have a favorite?

S.C.: I’ve written mainly fantasy and science fiction. I enjoy both of them! Most of my fantasy writing in the last year or so has been for the Dungeons and Dragons group I run; they’ve been playing for the best part of three years now. I’ve been doing a lot of writing for Noctis Point, which is the book I’m working on right now. It’s set a couple of hundred years into the future, and it’s really fun to take technology from today, or even theoretical technology, and apply it to that setting.

AvastYeAirshipsP.S.: You wrote “The Clockwork Dragon” for the Avast, Ye Airships! anthology.  Can you tell us a little about that story?

S.C.: “The Clockwork Dragon” is a story about some privateers working under contract to retrieve an artifact; they’re ex-pirates, so it’s not long before treachery and greed overcome the captain, who teams up with the cook and absconds with the loot. It’s up to the first mate to track them down in a chase in the skies of Ireland and Scotland. Like most of the fiction I write, it grew organically from one image, one scene: a giant clockwork dragon, bellows for lungs, canvas wings and so on, hovering over an airship in lashing rain. I actually own a clockwork dragon miniature, and it has made an appearance in our D&D game!Clockwork Dragon

P.S.: You participated in Nanowrimo last November.  Was that your first nano?  What was that experience like?

S.C.: I’ve been taking part in NaNo since 2010. I honestly can’t remember how I came across it, but it’s brilliant. It breaks up the writing into bitesize chunks and even gives me a little chart to let me know how much I’ve written, what my average is, that sort of thing. It also helped me to come across other local authors in the Milton Keynes area; several of us met up towards the end of the 2010 NaNo to write together. I didn’t make it the following year, sadly; a combination of a lack of enthusiasm in my story idea and a crazy work schedule meant that I fell short by a considerable distance. In 2012, I wrote Poisonroot, and built the world that my D&D group plays in, so that’s constantly being worked on. In 2013 I cheated slightly and wrote ten short stories set in the world of Poisonroot; that was even more fun because I got to play with different styles and techniques within the same body of work. I actually completed two NaNo projects in 2014, because I did Camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year. That was the first version of what would eventually become Noctis Point, the bulk of which I wrote in November 2014. Finishing my most recent NaNo was a close run thing; I was working as a teacher still, and we had the inspectors come in. We had four days of twenty-hour work days, and writing just wasn’t a priority any more. I had to write 12,000 words in two days to finish. My NaNo author page is here.

P.S.: From your website, it appears you are into Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs.)  Do you find that helps your fiction writing, or takes time away from it?

S.C.: Definitely it takes time away from it! I’ve played a lot of MMOs, but for the last eighteen months I’ve been playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. It’s a real timesink, but it’s also a way to talk with my friends and be social. My wife and flatmate both play it as well, so there’s always something going on. There are some wonderful little bits of writing that are inspirational, but mainly I’m in it for the music, which I listen to when I’m writing.

Murder MatchesP.S.: You recently collaborated on a product called Murder Matches.  It looks like a murder story told from eight different points of view.  Can you tell us more about that?

S.C.: Nana Li is a good friend of mine, and incredibly talented. She had been working on an idea inspired by designer matchboxes, and wanted it to be a murder mystery where each matchbox contained a character profile or statement which, when put together, would help a reader solve the mystery. I love things that twist and I’m a real fiend for puzzles, so it was awesome to work with her on this. I can’t give away too much for fear of spoiling the mystery! Writing the characters was fun, as each one had a different voice. It was a real challenge, giving away a couple of clues in each one while at the same time trying to suggest a motive for everyone. We’re working on a sequel for release this year.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.C.: I’ve read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which is pretty much all I write. For fantasy, authors such as Trudi Canavan, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tolkien, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Raymond E. Feist and Peter V. Brett have really inspired me. On the science fiction side, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Stel Pavlou, Iain M. Banks and Dan Simmons are really high up on the list. I’ve read quite a lot of John Courtenay Grimwood’s cyberpunk books as well. The truth is I’ll read pretty much anything going! I can see little things that have inspired me from all of those authors, flairs or personal touches that strike me as being from that particular style of writing, but I try wherever possible to have my own style.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

S.C.: Noctis Point is a science fiction story set a couple of hundred years in the future. Through war and economic collapse, the Earth has eventually been united into an Empire, which has begun to reach out to the stars for colonization. In the process, it has encountered an alien race living on the moons of Jupiter; imagine spider-centaurs and you’re halfway there. These ‘Spiders’ are initially peaceful, but things quickly turn bad when they ambush a delegation from Earth during peace talks, and battle lines are drawn. Another faction involved in all this is the psychs, living on Mars. They are humans who have evolved psychic powers when they turn sixteen, and more of them are beginning to appear every year. Partly in fear of them, the Empire has ordained that they should live on Mars, in a base known as Noctis Point, where they will be trained in preparation for joining the Empire’s armies as elite soldiers. The story follows two main characters: Alex, a boy who manifests the power and is sent to Noctis Point to train; and Imperial Princess Ariadne Cutter, the daughter of the Emperor, whose role as her father’s spymistress leads her into a terrorist plot that could have grave consequences on the war.

P.S.: Please tell us about your podcasting activities.

S.C.: I run a once-weekly podcast, Pocket Fiction, where I read either a short story or part of a longer piece. Up until just recently it’s been my own work, which has been really useful for me, but I’m looking forward to working with some of my fellow pirates in the anthology. I’m always looking for people to collaborate with, and producing Pocket Fiction is genuinely fun. Having more time recently has allowed me to go for better production values as well. I built a little recording booth and I’ve begun to add sound and vocal effects to deepen the immersion even further. Pocket Fiction is available on the iTunes store, but I also upload each week to Tumblr and to YouTube, where each video is played over a roaring fire. That was one of the initial ideas I had for the podcast; that it was tales told around a campfire, something to make you feel warm and relaxed.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Steve Cook: Tell people who you trust to give you honest feedback that you’re writing; they’ll help you and support you, and hopefully you can persuade them to read your work. Sometimes it’s good to plan stories out, but more often than not I find the characters somehow wrest control of the story away from me halfway through and we diverge. It’s ok for characters to be different on paper than how you initially imagined them. Probably the most useful thing I do is read my stuff out loud; having to read each word finds every mistake, every awkward phrasing, and sometimes you pick up on things that you would otherwise have missed.

 

Thanks, Steve! I’m sure you’ve enticed my readers to visit your blog, follow you on Twitter, and visit you on Tumblr.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview — Robert McGough

Robert McGoughAnother treat for Poseidon’s Scribe readers today. I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert McGough, whose short story “Black Hydra” will appear in the upcoming anthology Avast, Ye Airships! He tells me he writes in the Horror, Steampunk, and Southern Gothic genres. On to the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Robert McGough: I have written fiction as long as I can remember really, though my first serious attempts came in high school. They were laughably bad, so I more or less shelved any sort of serious writing til about two and a half years ago, during grad school. As for where, I was born and raised in south central Alabama!

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

R.McG: Writing is easy. Editing is a nightmare. I can happily crank out 1-3 thousand words a day for weeks on end…but when it comes time to edit, I typically don’t. I would rather get new ideas to paper than spend time revising old ideas. I typically only edit when I am actually sending something off for submission.

P.S.: I see on your website you have participated in Nanowrimo several times. What were those experiences like? Do you plan to do it again?

R.McG: I have ‘won’ it three times now, the past three years. My first ‘win’ came about four months after I started back seriously writing. I would not trade the experiences for anything, but I find that each year gets a little bit harder. I will likely keep doing it until such point that I feel the strain outweighs the gain.

AvastYeAirshipsP.S.: You have a story, “Black Hydra,” in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Tell us a little about the story, and what inspired you to write it.

R.McG: I have created a fantasy/steampunk world that all of my steampunk stories take place in. As most of them are currently tied up in what I hope will be a future publication, I decided to write a story for this anthology. It is in fact the third story I have written featuring the main character, Colonel Gurthwait, a somewhat bumbling ‘great white hunter’ type.

P.S.: Your story “Whispers on the Wind” got published in the anthology Journals of Horror: Found Fiction. Please tell us about that story, and how you got the idea for it.

R.McG: H.P. Lovecraft is a huge influence on me, and this was the first story that I wrote in emulation of his style. It is about a writer who hears stories on the wind, and begins to write them for publication, and the fall out that ensues. It is not cthulian however, I have come up with my own mythos which is based on gnosticism. But if you love Lovecraft, then I think you will like it.

P.S.: Your website suggests you write in three genres: Horror, Steampunk, and Southern Gothic. I haven’t heard of Southern Gothic–can you describe it?

R.McG: The most famous southern gothic writers are Faulkner, Flannery O’Conner, and Harper Lee. They are tales set in the south that feature the eccentric, the strange, the grotesque. Like more mainstream gothic tales they often feature a bit of a hint of the supernatural. All in all, good stuff!

P.S.: What is your current work in progress?

R.McG: Tonight I finished a southern gothic tale called ‘Pearls Before Swine’ which is a take on deals with the devil. I am also working on a weird fiction story, editing up a steampunk novella, and am about to start a pair of fantasy stories. I typically keep several projects going at a time so that I don’t get bored.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?

Robert McGough: The best advice I can give is that whatever excuse you have to not write is likely bullshit. If writing is important to you, you will make the time. If you find yourself continually making excuses, maybe you need to find a different hobby.

 

Thank you, Bob! Folks can find out more about Robert McGough on Twitter (@talesbybob), Facebook, at his website, and his blog.

 Poseidon’s Scribe

January 16, 2015Permalink

Is ‘Write a Novel’ on Your Bucket List?

bucketHave you created a bucket list, and decided you’d like to write a novel before you kick the bucket?  Before you commit to that, we need to talk.

First, although I don’t have a bucket list myself, I like the concept.  What a great way to take charge of the rest of your life, to seize the remaining days and bend them to your will, to enjoy the wonders of being alive in this world at this time.

I think your attitude toward your list is important, though.  You shouldn’t consider your life a failure if you don’t cross off every item.  As Robert Browning said, your reach should exceed your grasp.

Most bucket lists contain items that can be thought of as events, or one-time experiences.  In the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” the characters’ list items included going skydiving, flying over the North Pole, visiting the Taj Mahal, going on an African safari, and visiting Mount Everest.  Those types of list items are fine; it’s a good idea to experience what our world has to offer.

However, writing a novel isn’t like that at all.  It’s been said that writing a novel is a one-day event.  As in, “one day, I’ll write a novel.”  Unless you sign up for something like Nanowrimo or the 3-day novel contest, writing a novel normally takes many months.

Further, there’s a significant difference between listing ‘write a novel’ and ‘get a novel published.’  Attaining publication is much harder than just writing a novel for your own enjoyment.

True, there’s a great feeling of accomplishment in writing “The End” after your novel’s first draft, and I imagine an ecstatic feeling at seeing your own novel in print, but both of those feelings are preceded by many long, solitary hours/days/weeks/months of writing.  Just in case you didn’t know that.

In short, writing a novel is probably unlike other items on your bucket list.  It’s less like ‘visit the Grand Canyon’ or ‘see a show on Broadway’ and more like ‘learn dentistry’ or ‘become a rock star.’  In other words, be prepared for a major time-suck.

So, you understand all that but have decided to keep ‘write a novel’ on your bucket list anyway?  You’re that determined?  Great!  I say, go for it.  I wish you luck.  Remember, if you are able to get your novel published, that work of creativity will survive your own death.  If it’s good enough, it could even become a classic and live on forever.  Even the work of a sculptor doesn’t survive as long, for stone eventually wears away, but the words of a book can be reprinted endlessly.

If you’ve made a bucket list, I’d love to hear about it, whether or not writing a novel made your list.  Let me know by leaving a comment.  Be assured that ‘one day,’ a novel will be written by—

                                                                               Poseidon’s Scribe

You Might Be a Writer If…

Jeff FoxworthyDo you have what it takes to be a writer?  If you did, would you know you did?  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.  To make it easy for you, I’ve developed a handy test along the lines of Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘Redneck Test.’  See how many of these apply to you.

You might be a writer if:

  1. You’ve ever jotted down a plot idea by interrupting a shower.
  2. You celebrate the birthdays of William Strunk and E.B. White.
  3. You’ve day-dreamed an entire talk-show interview about your best-selling novel.
  4. You have a favorite intransitive verb.
  5. You’ve cried over the loss of your favorite pen.
  6. You’ve ever invoked Hemingway to defend a drunken binge.
  7. Your muse is as real to you as your spouse, and that seems to bother your spouse.
  8. You have checked the Thesaurus…for mistakes.
  9. You’ve ever sneaked in extra writing time while at your day job, in the bathroom.
  10. Your computer keyboard cringes when you come in the room.
  11. You’ve ever said, “Honest, Officer, I was doing research.”
  12. Your few remaining friends groan when they hear you say, “Want to hear about my latest story?”
  13. You’ve called a company to rant about grammatical mistakes in their advertisements.
  14. You read the dictionary for pleasure, and then re-read it.
  15. The last three months of your wall calendar read October, Nanowrimo, December.
  16. Your study is wallpapered with rejection letters.
  17. Microsoft Word software development engineers call you for ideas.
  18. Your three children have told you they hate their names.  All three of them, Shakespeare, Dickens, and Dostoevsky.

Lastly, you might be a writer if:

19. Your spouse has asked when you’re coming to bed, and you’ve replied “as soon as I finish writing this intimate bedroom scene.”  An hour later, your characters collapse in satisfied weariness, but your spouse is no longer in the mood.

For those of you out there who are already authors, feel free to comment and add any other items to my test.  If you weren’t sure if you’re a writer, let me know if you found the test useful, or at least interesting.  As always I strive to be of help to beginning, struggling writers.  It’s all part of the free service provided by—

                                                             Poseidon’s Scribe

 

January 13, 2013Permalink