An Interview with #TotalTutor, Neil S. Haley

Again, I found myself being quite fortunate as I was interviewed by Neil Haley, host of Blog Talk Radio’s Total Tutor this past week. For those who don’t know Neil, he’s a former pro wrestler (which I thought was cool enough), but most recently, he’s the CEO and radio show host of his own talk show, Total Tutor. The Total Radio network is listened to by more than 2 million listeners a week and is broadcasted in 180 countries.

I met Neil back in October of 2016 when I was receiving my 2nd place award at the TAZ (The Author’s Zone) conference in Pittsburgh. My book, The Road To Mars, had been a finalist in the category of science fiction.

Neil interviews a variety of individuals – from authors such as myself to actors, actresses, and business entrepreneurs. You can check out his extensive celebrity guest list here.

And, of course, you can find my interview here.

For more on Neil and his work, you can go follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Have a great Friday everyone!

Character Dynamics in “The Road To Mars”

The Road To Mars follows, for the most part, a trio of characters (trying to be #SPOILERfree here). There’s Darion, my protagonist; Jack, the “thief”; and the Shepherd, my larger-than-life visitor from Mars. Each has his own agenda. Each is searching for something. And each may or may not take issue with someone in the group; unbeknownst to that person.

I know because I wrote it that way.

When I began fleshing out The Road To Mars, I envisioned it like a really bad family vacation. Nobody likes going somewhere – especially far away – with someone they don’t like. Or someone they’re not too familiar with. The Road To Mars is all about unfamiliar travel. Mars, by itself, is already an unknown landscape. But, in my story, it’s a haven. An escape. A place Darion wants to be. He wants out of the mess the Earth is in. The Pulse has damaged Earth with clouds that sap light and energy. The Earth, as far as Darion is concerned, is a lost cause. So he’s trying hard to leave it behind and get to Mars. Not just for himself, but for his daughter as well.

Jack, on the other hand, is more like a baby bird fallen from its nest. He’s survived the fall – survived the Pulse – but now he’s alone. Nobody is looking out for him. Until he meets Darion. And then, ultimately, the Shepherd of Mars. Jack has had little direction in life. He’s a got a bad seed in him, you might say. But, meeting Darion has given him direction. And the Shepherd has given him hope. Two things he’d never had before; and important to any person.

As for the Shepherd, his mere existence defies logic. He’s huge – more than seven feet tall. He’s built like an Olympic gymnast and speaks like he’s lived 10 lifetimes. Yet, all that power and wisdom is a cause for concern. Even for Darion, whose entire journey has been about finding said Shepherd. No man can be all these things in one. There must be a catch or something hidden. But, Darion – and Jack – are willing to see whatever that is till the end.

What I’ve just told you is incredibly important to any story: character dynamics. As much as I like the mythology in The Lord of the Rings and the universe where Harry Potter resides, I know neither of these stories would be worth their weight in salt if it weren’t for the characters. Where they come from. How they interact. Who they are driven to be next to. Or be in conflict with – all are imperative. For the characters push the plot. Push the agenda. And keep your audience interested till the end (Writer’s Digest has a good tutorial on this very topic).

For The Road To Mars I wanted to get this as right as possible. Each of my characters needed to feel natural. Needed to have predictable behaviors, yet be thrown into unpredictable circumstances. For it’s the unusual scenarios where development happens. Characters become more than a name on a page – they become (almost) like real people. Someone you or I can relate to. It’s key to telling any good story. And it’s key to transforming a book from I-read-five-chapters-now-I’m-done to, “Hey, when does the next one come out?”

I, for one, prefer the latter.

When a story “stays with you”

It’s 1989. I’m five. And it just so happens to be Christmas. I open my first present: a VHS copy of my soon-to-be-favorite movie monster, Godzilla. I watch it. It’s a horribly made dub, but I’m in love. Giant mutant dinosaurs wrecking cities with the theme of nuclear proliferation has me hooked. And from then on, I’m convinced the greatest thing I can do as a grownup is become a monstrous reptile myself (keep in mind, I’m still five at this point).

Flash forward to 1997. I’m in my English reading class. The teacher asks me what my interests are. I sheepishly admit science fiction and “monsters”. He selects Dune by Frank Herbert. I read through the novel – understanding little, but absorbing much – and when I’m done, I feel like I’ve been to another galaxy, another world entirely. One that’s full of monsters and sci-fi goodness.

Now, it’s 2013. A friend has been suggesting I read Ender’s Game for a long while. I finally take the plunge and read it. And I love it. Not only is it good (to me), but I find myself recognizing similar storytelling techniques that I might employ as a writer. Soon, the idea that I could write a full-scale novel comes alive. And I start writing that said novel, finishing in the latter half of 2015.

So what’s the point of all this? For one, I’m still a fan of Godzilla. For two, I am still a fan of Herbert’s original Dune saga and for three, I’ve read plenty more of the Ender series since reading the original Ender’s Game. Why? Because each of these stories had an impact on me. They had that “it” factor. But, most perhaps importantly, they stayed with me. We’ve all seen a movie or read a book we’ve found to be entertaining. But, was it good enough to come back to? Again? And then one more time? Aside from the three stories I listed, I can think of a few others that have had that affect on me. I’m sure you can think of your own list too. Often it’s just the right timing. Other times, it’s just our interests being realized through story. And yet, in some instances, it’s a good story that grabs us and doesn’t let go.

As a writer, I tend to desire many things: great sales, a following of dedicated readers, maybe a movie deal, to name a few. But, one of the greatest compliments I can receive is a reader who not only reads my work, but comes back a second time to read it again. And a third. And maybe even a fourth. Because that’s when you know you’ve written a good story. It stays with someone. It doesn’t end on the last page. It just keeps going, reigniting that magic you felt when you were five. And that’s a great feeling, as I can recall.

What is a writer’s responsibility?

Pilots fly things. Salespeople sell things. And accountants count things (my wife is an accountant so I know this to be true). So, by default, one would say writers write things. Or rather, it’s part of their job description. Write. Write. And write some more.

Sounds fun. If you’re into that sort of thing. Yet, what does a writer actually write about? Or what should he write about?

There seems to be plenty of voices in the world to begin with. There are people with opinions. People with experiences. People with opinions about their experiences. That’s a lot of topics to cover. However, most every book started with interest. What interested the writer. Because what interested them might ultimately interest someone else.

When I first started my writing journey, I wanted to be a satirist. That’s a fancy way of saying I wanted to be a “know-it-all-with-humor”. Think John Stewart minus the television program and New York roots. I thought I’d be able to break into the publishing world that way. There was a multitude of “know-it-all” books at the time too. And that seemed like a good way to “get ahead quick.”

Yet, that was the whole problem. What interested me wasn’t what I was writing about, but what was popular at the time. Yes, I believe I could be a great satirist when I wanted to (read my past work at your own discretion), but I couldn’t keep up the passion for it. Inevitably, I just couldn’t keep forcing it out of myself. I had some interest, but not enough drive. A change needed to happen.

So, I started by asking myself a couple questions. The most pertinent of which was like this: what would I like to read? What would I find to be exciting? And when I asked those questions, desire surfaced. And a book emerged – my first one. And hey, it felt really good. But, to that point, more began to pour out. Interest had brought me there, but passion and desire were driving me to completion.

So what’s a writer’s responsibility? First and foremost, discovering his or her desire. A powerful voice emerges from desire. And captures the attention of others when it does.

Are You Not Convinced?

It’s been said that you can have a great idea, but if your execution is bad, then your idea is sunk. Or rather, it’s worth less than nothing. Writing survives on the passing of ideas. From one person to another. So on and so forth. Which is what brings any writer – such as myself – to that unholy place of conundrum: is my idea good? Can it be passed around like a hot potato, yet leave people wanting that potato to come back around again?

Mars_GuyObviously, my own answer to that question is yes. Of course, I think my idea is good. Of course, I think my book is good. That’s why I wrote it. But, the big question remains: who else will think it’s good? Who else is going to like what I did? And who else will like how I did it? That’s the pertinent question. The purpose of this post, really. Who can I convince that my idea is good and do it well?

The Road to Mars was an ambitious work for me – at 372 pages, that’s pretty darn ambitious – so I took a lot of time trying to make it look and “sound” attractive. That means analyzing and editing. Writing and rewriting paragraphs. Reading and re-reading. It was a process that made me evaluate not only my writing style, but my idea itself. Was it cool enough? Did the world I invented suspend disbelief or was it just flat out unbelievable? It may sound maddening – especially after 372 pages in – but it was actually quite sobering. It forced me to reaffirm my earliest convictions: that yes, I think I had a good idea. And that yes, I needed to present it well, too (unlike the guy in this picture).

So, about that story of mine….

Okay, It’s Here! #TheRoadToMars

Enough with the hype already! My book is available. And you can check it out here. Or by clicking on the picture. road-to-mars-cover-6x9-bleed

First off, what a process this has been! Lots of learning and lots of time I didn’t foresee having to work through, but hey, I won’t bore anybody with those details. That’s probably best served for another day. Or maybe never. Either way, the wait is finally over.

And as a special bonus – yes, a bonus – I have included the first few pages of the sequel, The Shadow of Mars, at the end. So, if you’re like me and love to spoil the endings of things, you may feel free to skip ahead. And thus, spoil some of The Road to Mars. But hey, that’s your call!

Happy reading, folks. And don’t forget to comment and leave me notes telling me how much you love (or hate) the story. I appreciate it!

And another big thank you to my friend, Immanuel Mullen, for designing the cover and back. Thanks again!

 

 

#12Months12Books – April: “Spirit, Run”

This month has been rough. I’ll just throw it out there. I’m officially four months in and this #12Months12Books thing isn’t getting any easier. However, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to re-release this novella, Spirit, Run for the month of April. So here we go.

A little about Spirit, Run, I wrote this story about a year ago and shared the majority of it on my blog. I’d say this was one of my first attempts to do something that wasn’t a full-scale novel. The entire thing felt like a contained story, one that could be told in fewer words than a big, overarching tale. I liked the concept and away I went with it. Ironic considering how appropriate I feel the title has become for what I did with it: run. 

Originally, Spirit, Run was just Spirit Run (hopefully you caught the change there). There was no emphasis added; no comma. I know it may seem ridiculous, but that added punctuation made all the difference. It turned the title into a command. As if the spirit is being ordered to run. That’s what I liked about changing the title. Rather than sounding like a linear tale, one that followed a specific track, it was now left with a greater deal of freedom.

The main character, a spirit racing toward its human vessel, is commanded to run for its target. And it does so under the guidance of three angels; a trio of protectors battling on the soul’s behalf. However, they are unable to interact directly with the one whom they are defending. A real challenge considering the types of opponents they find themselves up against. As for what (or who) they end up fighting against, I’ll leave that up to the reader to find out.

Spirit, Run will be available on Kindle Friday, April 24.

Hope you enjoy.

 

#12Months12Books – February: “A Dinner with Titans”

A Dinner with TitansFirst off, much thanks to Diane Zizka – the one responsible for this cover piece. Thank you for your talents and hard work! It was much appreciated. I can’t do anything with watercolors. You’re a pro.

Now, onto the book itself, A Dinner with Titans.  Here’s a quick synopsis:

My February story follows a young man, Caretaker, who owns a castle in the wilderness. Everything’s fine except for one thing: he is surrounded by Titans, huge beings that destroy castles (like the Caretaker’s) and rule the land outside his walls. Over the years, the Caretaker has watched others fall and crumble, leaving him lonely and cut off from the world. But, the Caretaker makes a bold move and lifts his doors for one night – to host a dinner. For the Titans. His goal is to somehow make peace with those who might threaten his castle. But, when he opens his doors, he encounters something terrible. Not just the Titans themselves, but something sinister that has been eating away at his castle for years.

Okay – as you can guess, this story is a fantasy. But, I’ve written it as an analogy for the human heart. The Caretaker lives alone, behind his walls – guarded and afraid; fearful of being overtaken by the ‘Titans’ – the people we idolize or aspire to be like. His past experience tells him to keep his distance – to stay safe inside his castle – but his real enemy is not what’s outside his walls, but what’s inside.

When I was high school, I was asked to bring in an object representing love. I brought in a tiny paperweight. One that was shaped like a castle (terrible, right?) and honestly, I had no good explanation for it. But then I had to tell the class my reasoning, and I remember that presentation ending quite well; lack of preparedness and all. The ‘home is where the heart is’, but in my story, it’s a castle.

Looking back, I never dreamed I’d actually write a story about that concept, but hey, I’m a believer now.

I’ll have some more stuff to chew on with the next post. Till then.

The Color of Soul – January 24, 2015

The Color of Soul

In keeping with my book-a-month challenge, I’ll be releasing another ebook this weekend, The Color of Soul, on Kindle. And yes, the black and white cover was intentional.

This one is shorter than last month’s, The Scientist’s Dilemma, and follows two brothers who have sat down to craft a story together; two creatives bouncing ideas off one another, making something original, and using plenty of color to do so. Told through the voice of the elder brother, Curt, this was a story I literally wrote in about two weeks. I’m not short-changing the effort, I just wanted to tell a story between brothers. I have five of them myself. It’s an interesting dynamic and I’ve enjoyed it greatly. It felt good to touch on that in this short story.

What’s more, I wanted to produce something simple. Something that was original and something that was unique. I feel this story does some justice in that arena so I’m pleased with that.

I’ve always been intrigued with how color affects mood. Each has a specific feeling attached to it. The brothers point that out rather poignantly throughout. Right down to the core.

Since it’s a shorter story, it moves along rather quickly and my hope is that people can read it in an hour or two. But, if it takes you longer, then that’s just as well.

Moving forward, my other hope is to have The Color of Soul in audio format. So as I prep for February’s next release, I’ll be working towards my first audiobook. Much thanks to my friend, Kris, who has been schooling me in audio training. It’s clearly been needed and I’m grateful.

More to come on that later, but for now, The Color of Soul is slated to be available on Saturday, January 24. And for those who read The Scientist’s Dilemma, there are a few “easter eggs” in The Color of Soul for you. Enjoy.

So Your Book is Out – Now What?

Yesterday, I finally got to release The Scientist’s Dilemma on Kindle. Might go without saying, but hey – that was very exciting. It’s surreal knowing my thoughts and ideas are now open to praise, criticism, and verbal shellackings. I’m sure I’ll never tire of the high it gives me; be it for good or for bad. But, when the day is over and I’m lying in bed, an annoying question may creep up and invade my thoughts: so what now, Josh?

Obviously, I have some options when that happens – four of which I find to be the most immediate during this process.

My first option might be to keep checking up on my story. The Internet is a double-edged sword in this way. I can track views, likes, clicks, purchases – just about everything other than tracking my readers via satellite are some things I can do. And yet, if I’m not careful, I can find myself staring down the rabbit hole of never-ending browser clicks; hoping and praying that someone may have shared my link, viewed my webpage, or took the ultimate chance and made a purchase in the last five seconds.

Yes, the dark side of tracking one’s book can be dangerous. It’s nice to know how things are going, but if that’s all you’re doing then you’d best get to doing something else.

My second option would be to keep posting information about my book. Of the first two, this is the one that keeps things moving. A good business practice is to operate with forward motion. Lingering over concepts or ideas for too long creates stagnation and if you’re interested in being a professional writer, you have to view yourself in that same way. Your name brings a certain product and people – as nice or as thoughtful as they are – don’t always remember to check out your book. So you must remind them by continually getting yourself out there. This can be a tough one to execute and must be done with the level of charm that doesn’t turn people away.

Again, a double-edged sword, but if worked at, can become a powerful asset in your arsenal of online marketing. Am I pro at this myself? Oh, heavens no, but I’m learning as I go and this has proven to be a major part of what helps to build one’s platform.

My third option would be to look for more opportunities to share my work. I can post and connect links and write as many blog posts as I like, but I may be just working inside of a vacuum. With that in mind, it’s good to take a moment and think, “what am I not doing that I haven’t done before?” For this particular venture – The Scientist’s Dilemma – I decided I should only release it as an ebook. In the past, I would have scoffed at doing such a thing. “That’s too small. Either get recognized by an agent or nothing,” – that was my thinking. And with that stubborn attitude, I probably missed out on some opportunities along the way.

The downside here is looking back in hindsight, but there is a silver lining also: any chance you didn’t take doesn’t really matter anymore. If you’ve arrived at a point where it’s easy to look back and say, “should’ve done that” then you can ultimately use that to your advantage later. Learn what works and what doesn’t, but don’t try to recreate old scenarios for the sake of just trying to prove yourself.

My fourth (and last) option would be to work on the next project. It’s in these times when I can feel the most invigorated or the most demoralized. To know that my next work could be months, maybe even years away, is a daunting feeling. All sorts of doubts and dreadful thoughts can surface – and they can come from inside my own head or even come from the tongues of those around me.

The key in beating this is to be decisive in what project you choose to undertake. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself floundering between ideas, unable to get a solid grasp on what the best use of my time will be. This is normal though and is a natural part of the process, but it’s also not something to dwell upon or beat yourself up over. If anything, it might be healthy to have more than one project going at a time. Journaling is a good deterrent and can be very beneficial in flushing out the gunk that clogs things up. I’ve found journaling to be very helpful.

All that being said, back to it. I got some options to work with.