Thirll Me With #1 Sci-Fi!
I introduce to some, but not to all, perhaps one of the most successful indie authors on social media today. There isn’t an opening chapter in any of ALAN BLACK'S books that didn’t make me want to keep reading. From Sci-Fi to his heart-tugging work, A Cold Winter, regardless if you’re a man or a woman many will find his novels captivating and just downright enjoyable as books should be. The author of eleven novels and a bona fide bestseller on a variety of platforms, let’s see what we can dig out of this creative scribbler for the next few minutes. First let’s see what ‘real’ readers have said about him:
‘What a great rip -roaring adventure, I loved it from page one to the end.’ – METAL BOXES
‘And we have lift off into some great younger YA, YA and Adult reading!’ – TITANIUM TEXICANS
‘Do you need a heroine with grit? Thanks to Alan Black, Libby is that woman.’ – A COLD WINTER
SHELLEY: I discovered you when I came across your novel Empty Space. One of the first things that popped out at me in this is the class distinction between York August Sixteen, who is an orphan, and the richer cadets who are attending the academy with him. This is classic of course – the rich versus the poor, but so real even today. It drew me in, because as a kid I grew up poor and even at the age I am now I can remember studying the clothes of the richer kids who attended school with me, and remember how seeing their clothes made me feel so unfashionable! The richer kids also seemed to have more popularity, whereas us poorer kids kind of clung together out of necessity. Because most authors sometimes inject personal experiences into their novels, I have to start this interview by asking how you came to write York the way you did?
ALAN: York is a foundling having been abandoned as a baby. I wrote York this way because growing up in an uncaring system, abused and molested has an impact on his psychopathy. Plainly put, he doesn’t like to be touched and believes he’s perfectly right to kill those who do him harm. He is a sociopath in that the rules of his society do not apply to him. He has his own sense of right and wrong, justice and revenge. He is a dark character, so I managed to use him to allow my inner beast a little exercise. I also wrote him this way because I wanted to give this particular lead character an unhappy childhood to overcome and hopefully give him the possibility that he might be redeemed and become a healthy and productive member of society.
As to me putting myself in what I write. Well, most of my books I do a little ‘Hitchcock’ insert and I write myself in as one of my own characters. I am not hard to find in Empty Space as I barely changed my name. I mean, the character is named Allyn Blaque. Crikey, that is as close as I can get in a fiction book without shouting, ‘Hey! Look at me.’ If that isn’t enough of a hint, I am the short fat bald guy in any book. Yeah, that’s me. Off the top of my head I can remember where I am in seven of my books. Not in A Cold Winter of course since it is about a lone woman’s struggle to survive. But I am everywhere else. I don’t do this for ego, but I must do this to keep an eye on the characters in my book after I have published it. I mean, if I'm not there to watch him and control his homicidal urges, York might just derail all together.
Not only do I appear more physically in my books than most authors, but like every author, the reader will see more of the author in his books than the author is willing to admit. But as for York, well I was more than a little upset at our ‘free’ country and how many people disappear each year into slavery. I needed to make York a little crazy so he has justification to kill some of these people who think that forcing young children into the sex trade or as domestic servants is somehow okay. It isn’t something that I can do in real life, so I write surrogates to do my work for me.
SHELLEY: A very good point to bring out. Most are aware that in some countries, as well as here in America, people are forced into labor. I think that the way you deliver this message through fiction and the way you’ve written it, makes the reader form a subconscious opinion of their own regarding it. I know you grew up in Missouri. Tell us about your childhood. Did you ever experience any class distinctions as a kid?
ALAN: Nope. I write fiction and Empty Space is all fiction. I had a very happy childhood. It was poor, but loving. We didn’t have every toy on the market, but we always had plenty of scrap lumber, bent nails and empty cardboard boxes to play with. I never held any antipathy toward rich kids…how could I? I didn’t know any. And why should I feel jealous when my parents allowed me to dig a hole in our yard anywhere I wanted one or to build a tree house in any tree I could climb. We didn’t have a swimming pool growing up, but we could turn on the garden hose anytime we wanted. Mom didn’t even get mad when we sprayed her through the open kitchen window.
SHELLEY: Your mother sounds amazing. She also sounds like she could have been the inspiration to allow your creativity to be unleashed at a young age. What was it that first captivated your love for Sci-Fi?
ALAN: Oh, Mom definitely pushed us to be creative. We had a TV. Yes, they were invented by then. It was a 16” black and white with only two and a half channels, but we had it. Oddly enough, every year for year on end, it ‘magically’ broke on the last day of school and we never questioned that we didn’t have the money to get it fixed until school in the fall. For Mom it was ‘Get outside. Go play.’ Any sign of boredom or inactivity was met with a list of chores to do. We were forced to learn to play. No room for a baseball game? Make up something. You know, I got pretty good at tying a steel tipped dart on the end of an old fishing rod and reel, then casting at a target all the way across the yard…well, I was pretty good until Cheryl R. stepped between me and the target. I’ll bet she still has a dart scar between her jahoobies. After that, it was time to make up a new game.
SHELLEY: *LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY*
ALLAN: The first Sci-Fi I read was Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein.
SHELLEY: I’m going to have to look him up!
ALAN: Prior to Heinlein I read whatever I got my hands on. Reading was Mom’s only concession to go out and play, still Grandma had a fit if we were in the house and the sun was shining, but I could read outside just fine. I was in the 8th grade when I first read Heinlein. I read everything he wrote and ‘still’ managed to continue reading everything else out there. I believe that Science Fiction just gives the reader and the writer expanded possibilities. If I were to write a story set in 1890 in North Dakota, then I would be obliged to be as historically accurate as possible, limiting the range of my story.
SHELLEY: And you’re definitely right. I was having lunch with a couple of literary agents, and one of them was explaining how she turned down what could have been a bestseller because the author hadn’t taken the time to research the era in which he had written in. She found his first mistake on page one which caused her to assume that the rest of the manuscript was riddled with errors. If you’re writing of 1890s North Dakota, you can’t have your characters using a 1911 Armory pistol, because they hadn’t been invented by then.
ALAN: One of the things I want readers to get from ANY of my books is enjoyment. I try not to put in heavy messages. Many people find messages in my works, but they are only there by accident. Sorry, but Chasing Harpo isn’t really about how humans treat animals in zoos. It’s about having a few laughs reading an action adventure story about stealing an orangutan from the zoo. I’m a storyteller and hope to give my readers only a brief respite from the stress of the day. It’s good guys vs the bad guys, even if the good guy is a bit flawed himself.
SHELLEY: Flawed characters are great, if you ask me! And you must be doing something right. Your novel Metal Boxes starts off like a .50 caliber shot from a .357 magnum. What do you think made this book #1 on the bestseller’s list?
ALAN: Metal Boxes hit #1 on Amazon’s Best Selling Sci-Fi list because it is a good old-fashioned space opera. It’s the underdog against an evil organization. It’s a fish out of water story about a kid coming of age, forced into a world where he is out of his comfort zone and has to think creatively. It’s simple entertainment without a lot of technobabble. I even flip some of the science around so it is not so hard to understand and so that the reader can catch what is going on without having to stop and understand quantum mechanics.
It starts quick and continues at a fast pace throughout the whole book, giving readers only a few places to take a breath. Even after more than a year, this fun story continues to be in the top 100 of its genre. I’m not trying to spout off about the evils of technology or how humanity is going to hell in a hand-basket, but just giving a good entertaining story for a reader to enjoy.
Also, I quit my regular job the month that Metal Boxes became #1. Being a full time writer doesn’t mean that I can make up stories all day. My profession is writing novels. My business is selling my books. I spend at least 50% of my work day marketing and promoting my stories. Any author will tell you that isn’t the easy part of this business.
SHELLEY: We started off discussing Empty Spaces, which is currently on the bestsellers’ list. But you have so many novels, and your work has gotten the kind of ‘reading’ exposure that most Indies dream for. One of your friends calls you Mr. Timeless and I can see why. In Empty Space and Metal Boxes you launch your readers into outer space. Yet in A Cold Winter, the draw in which you pull your readers back in time when sleep was a luxury for the working people and instead of making a living, you created one every day with calloused hands, a breaking back and sore feet. What was your inspiration behind A Cold Winter?
ALAN: A Cold Winter was inspired by a movie producer who asked for a short story set in a specific location with as few characters as I could write. As a writer, I don’t wait for inspiration, but I will (following the instructions of Jack London) go after my story with a club. A Cold Winter is about one woman’s struggle to survive…alone. I took his perimeters, sat my ever-expanding butt into my chair, and danced my fingers across the keyboard until I had a story to give him.
SHELLEY: The novel is very embracing, and you just gave some writers perhaps the best advice they’ll ever receive. In the novel you actually capture 1890 North Dakota in every word. Is that what your friend meant when he called you Timeless?
ALAN: I think the ‘timeless’ thing was a joke, a pun on the word. I am only ‘timeless’ because I believe it’s the story that matters. Whether the story takes place in 1890 (A Cold Winter), 1920 (An Ozark Mountain Series), present time (Chasing Harpo) or the future (any of my Sci-Fi), it’s the tale that matters, not the time or the place. I have had more than one reader exclaim that they do not read Sci-Fi, but they enjoyed my other books first, so they tried one of mine and loved it. That is the point of timeless. It is the story that matters.
SHELLEY: At the time of this interview, you have four of your novels on the bestsellers list and you’re ranked at #83 for bestselling author in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. Did you imagine this much success during the two years it took you to write Metal Boxes?
ALAN: I did not, at least, not this quickly. As a fiction writer I can imagine quite vividly being wildly successful. But, I am pleased that things have reached this point this quickly.
SHELLEY: There might be some Indies out there who’ll read this interview. Would you like to offer them some advice on marketing or publishing?
ALAN: It takes persistence. Many indie authors will write two or three books and not reach the success they expected. It may take six or eight books before an author gets noticed by the reading public. An indie author MUST produce quality AND quantity. Do not quit. Also, marketing is hard. Believe me, it is 50% writing and 50% marketing. I have about 40 marketing suggestions at www.alanblackauthor.com FAQ #10. Some will work for you and some won’t. Some work for me and some don’t. Try them and keep at it until you become successful. There is room for all of us out there.
SHELLEY: Walk us through it. How do you come up with the characters and plots of a new novel?
ALAN: There isn’t much to tell since I am a complete pantser. I write almost exclusively by the seat of my pants. I do it this way because I am too lazy to take the time and write out a detailed outline. First, I imagine a sympathetic protagonist (or in the case of Empty Space, a lead character who doesn’t disgust us beyond measure). I choose them by age, sex and a few personality traits. Then I just throw every evil crappy situation at them that I can think of. Then I have to keep them working through each problem as I keep throwing more and more problems at them. As characters, they grow and evolve as the story grows. I am currently writing the sequel to Metal Boxes. I am about half way through. I don’t even know where the next paragraph is going. I will sit down and give my lead character a problem to solve and then we will work through the solution: word by word, line by line and paragraph by paragraph until I throw some more crap at him. I try to give them more problems before they have worked through the last set of crap.
SHELLEY: Alan, you make it sound so easy! Some authors are very ‘involved’ with their characters. I know I am. Now, I look at you and think, ‘Nope, this is one of those sane authors with none of the stereotypical author quirks.’ Am I right?
ALAN: You are right.
ALAN: I am sane. Honest. My mother had me tested.
SHELLEY: *more laughter*
ALAN: I may write about characters who aren’t quite sane, but that doesn’t mean I am writing about myself. I wrote Chasing Harpo with parts of the book from the point of view of an orangutan. I didn’t anthropomorphize him, just tried to think how an ape thinks, but that doesn’t mean that I think I am an ape. It just means that I have an imagination.
SHELLEY: Speaking of an author’s life, my husband is no doubt my biggest supporter, but at times he finds himself playing second fiddle to my writing. How does your wife handle with the time you use writing and your success?
ALAN: My wife loves what I do. She always does my final edit before a story goes to the publisher. She always has a say on the cover art. She always attends EVERY book signing event that I do. She ALWAYS carries a small box of my books in her car (just in case). She understands my writing process and helps in every way a spouse can help. After almost 38 years, we are a team at most things we do. I will say, she is like a lot of people and occasionally says ‘you should write about this...’ or ‘how about writing a story about that?’ Sometimes I even listen.
SHELLEY: Sounds like you have a good wife and a good mother. What is the most interesting thing about you that readers should know?
ALAN: I am a multi-genre author who never saw a good story that I didn’t want to tell. Either that or I like beer and chocolate, but not necessarily at the same time.
SHELLEY: And there you have it from a fun-loving Indie who was able to quit his day job to pursue a full-time writing career. And it’s proven to have paid off. ALAN BLACK has been ranked daily in the top 100 of his genre by Amazon. To take a sneek peek at chapters of his novels or to make a purchase, please click his Amazon author's page below. For those of you who would love a personalized autographed copy of one of his books, keep a look out for him on my online store.
Steel Walls and Dirt Drops
The Friendship Stones
The Granite Heart
The Heaviest Rock
A Cold Winter
You can also contact Alan through his website or social media outlets below:
(Amazon Author Page) http://amazon.com/author/alanblack1953