Continued from Part I >> Matthew Graybosch: Better Fantasy Through Science
What inspired the name of your series "Starbreaker"?
I stole the name from a song by Judas Priest, from their Sin After Sin album. It sounded suitably badass for a weapon capable of killing demons from outer space - instead of just destroying their avatars.
Like I said in part one of this interview, "Stormbringer" was taken. I'm already too close to writing "Elric on a Harley" for comfort.
What's your typical writing session and environment like?
I'm a lunch break novelist. I bring a laptop to work with me, and drive down the street to a nearby pizza parlor to eat a slice of pizza and belt out a scene. On a good day, I manage between 500 and 1500 words of raw text in about an hour.
I'd love to be able to write at home after work, but I rarely manage it. After a full day as a software developer, my brain shuts down once I come home. I'm more likely to curl up with my wife and read, play video games, or mess around on the net than I am to write.
When I'm writing, I put on headphones and try to find music that suits the scene and character I'm trying to write. My playlist usually includes music by Iron Maiden, Iced Earth, the Blue Oyster Cult, Judas Priest, Queensryche, Bruce Dickinson, Iced Earth, Nightwish, Without Temptation, Delain, Nemesea, Blind Guardian, The Worshyp, The Protomen, Savatage, Black Sabbath, Therion, Joe Satriani, Megadeth, Dream Theater, Coheed and Cambria, Ayreon, Symphony X, Nobuo Uematsu, and Shoji Meguro.
I tend to turn off wifi when writing. I don't think much of Jonathan Franzen's fiction, but I suspect he might be right about the difficulty of writing good fiction while jacked in.
Tell me about influences, if any:
I'd have to be especially arrogant to claim complete originality, free of any influences. However, when you ask any novelist to name their influences, you impose upon them a nigh-irresistible temptation to claim a part in the literary traditions of the authors they most admire, while omitting any mention of authors they despise.
I'd love to claim that I draw upon European Romanticism and the daring SF and fantasy for which such authors as Michael Moorcock, Roger Zelazny, Stephen Brust, Robert Heinlein, C. J. Cherryh, C. S. Friedman, and M. John Harrison are justly famous. However, I might not have proved as successful in escaping the shadows of Tolkien, Donaldson, Jordan, and Goodkind as I hoped.
An accurate account of the influences on my work is a task better left to critics, and not to novelists seeking to promote their own work.
What is the most unexpected reaction you have had to your writing?
My writing is how I've met every woman with whom I've been intimately involved, including my wife of nine years, who I courted for four. Catherine and I met on a Yahoo! forum for aspiring fantasy writers, and started out by reading each other's work. It's a long story, and perhaps beyond the scope of this interview.
Do you have any regrets pertaining to your writing?
I sometimes suspect I picked the wrong trade for a day job. Software development gave me valuable technical skills, as well as experience I used while writing Starbreaker, but it's a bad trade for writers. The demands on one's time and intellect often leave little time or energy for writing, even when I avoided working in Silicon Valley and in start-ups in favor of taking jobs involving government contracts which should only require a forty hour workweek.
Aside from that, I have no regrets. I needed to do something with my life, and writing gives me a sense of purpose. It allows me to indulge all of my nasty little control-freak tendencies without actually hurting anybody.
What plans do you have for future work?
Without Bloodshed, the first Starbreaker novel, comes out in about a month or so. Curiosity Quills Press is currently doing a new cover. I'm working on The Blackened Phoenix, as well as a short piece called "Tattoo Vampire". For Christmas, I've started kicking around some ideas for a story called "Cardigans" in which we'll see a young Morgan Stormrider knitting. I'm thinking of expanding a novelette, Steadfast, into a full-length NA science fantasy novel starring Naomi Bradleigh called Silent Clarion. I also have to plot and eventually write the last two main-sequence Starbreaker books: Proscribed Construct and A Tyranny of Demons.
After that - let's just say that chronicling the life and crimes of Imaginos could be a lifetime's work. I could write a Michener-style epic about Nationfall, the social/political/economic collapse that sets the stage for the rise of the society in which Starbreaker is set. I can do with Starbreaker what Tolkien did with Middle-Earth, only I cheat by taking our world and screwing around with history.
What is the best advice you want to share with aspiring authors?
This first bit should be obvious, but for the love of all the demons ever venerated by humankind, READ. Read your chosen genre. Get acquainted with its tropes and cliches. Figure out what readers expect, so you can screw with them if you want to. Once you're done reading within your genre, read outside it. You might find ideas and elements you can import into your chosen genre, and exposure to different styles and voices will help you develop a richer style of your own.
Half of what you hear about building an author platform is arrant nonsense, but I can't tell you which half. I've had people tell me Google+ is a waste of time, and that I should use Facebook and Twitter instead. I ignore them, because I've tried Twitter and Facebook. Twitter is the men's room wall of the internet. Facebook is how the Daleks will justify our extermination. Google+ is where I found my audience, which is currently about 18,000 followers. Maybe a tenth of them will bother to buy my book, but nobody builds an empire overnight.
Some people will tell you that fanfic is a good way to develop your technique, but I don't agree with them. I think working with an existing setting and existing characters makes it harder for writers to learn how to develop settings and characters of their own. Instead, I recommend the pastiche. Instead of taking Kirk and Spock as is, and working around them, use these characters as templates for new characters of your own creation if you lack the confidence to start from scratch.
I'd suggest learning a bit about computer programming. You don't have to do it for a living, and I lack sufficient sadism to suggest that aspiring writers take on software development as a day job. It's thankless work, and frequently makes writing unnecessarily difficult. However, learning to code requires learning logic, which serves writers as well as it does mathematicians, scientists, and programmers.
Be ruthless in pursuit of your art. Defy everybody who opposes you, and never give them time to discourage you. The converse is also true: acknowledge and treasure everybody who has ever supported you. If you're lucky enough to have a lover or spouse who's willing to help you, don't screw up that relationship.
How do you promote your work both on and off the internet?
I've focused the vast majority of my promotional efforts online, especially on Google+. I got my publishing deal by posting bits and pieces as I wrote them. Afterward, I'd talk about the plot as I worked on Without Bloodshed. I'd also post dialogue stripped of narrative context using hashtags like #ShitMyCharactersSay.
Since I'm a metalhead, and music is incredibly important to my writing, I also make a habit of posting YouTube videos of songs that helped me develop some aspect Starbreaker, and discuss why these songs matter to me.
I worked with artist Harvey Bunda of Gunship Revolution, commissioning portraits of several of my major characters. I use this character art in posts about my work and characters.
I help promote other independent writers and musicians, recommending their books and music. Sometimes they ask, and sometimes I come across them, check them out for myself, and decide they're worth mentioning.
I also comment on current events, especially if they apply to the Starbreaker setting for some reason. For example, when Google Glass was first announced, I linked it to Witness Protocol, a technology in the Starbreaker setting that allows people equipped with implanted computers and the appropriate software to record everything they see and hear.
What are your favorite writing tools?
My laptop runs CrunchBang Linux, and I tend to write my drafts in plain text files formatted with a markup language called Markdown, which I can convert to HTML and other formats using freely available tools like pandoc. When I'm ready to submit a piece for editing and publication, I use LibreOffice, which can cope with Microsoft Word's formats and includes "track changes" functionality.
I also run a dict server on my laptop, which allows me to get definitions and synonyms by typing a command into a shell prompt, such as "dict bazooka". Because I write my drafts in plain text, I can use any text editor I choose, even heavy duty programmers' editors like vim and emacs. I currently favor an app called PyRoom, an open source clone of Hog Bay Software's WriteRoom app for Mac and iOS. It's a full-screen plain text editor, which allows me to focus on my writing without distraction.
Because I run a Unix-based OS, I can use the OS itself to organize my work. I have a documents directory, just like you Windows and Mac users. In it, there's a "starbreaker" directory. In that "starbreaker" directory I have directories for each story using the Starbreaker setting. For novels like Without Bloodshed, the directory consists of a file containing the title named "00.title.md" (.md for Markdown files); a "scenebreak" text file consisting of a blank line, a line with three asterisks, and another blank line; and a directory for each chapter, named so that the OS orders it for me: "01.theunforgiven", "02.norefugebutaudacity", etc. In each directory, I have another "00.title.md" for the chapter number and title. I also have a file for each scene whose name is based on the order in which the scene occurs, and the viewpoint character's name, such as "01.morganstormrider.md", "02.naomibradleigh.md", etc.
I can then put it all together using a small shell script written so I can use it to convert any story I write into a single file for conversion to standard formats. It uses the "cat" (concatenate) command. If I want word counts for scenes, chapters, or the entire story, I can use the "wc" (word count) command. If I need to do a find, I use "grep". If I need to do a story-wide find/replace affecting more than one file, then I use "sed".
I started using Linux in 1999, after my first computer (an secondhand IBM PS/ValuePoint running PC-DOS 6, if anybody cares) died by my hand. I was trying to swap out the hard drive when my cat bit my toes to get attention. This startled me, and I ruined the computer by driving my screwdriver straight through the main board. I had to build a new one, I didn't want to keep running DOS and writing, I didn't want to pay a hundred bucks for a copy of Windows 98, and I couldn't afford a Mac. So I bought a copy of Linux on CD (Red Hat 5.2, if anybody cares), installed it, and alternated between writing and tinkering.
Since my day job involves software development on Windows, I trust Microsoft's offerings as far as I can throw them. Macbooks are nice, and I used one from 2006 until 2012, but overpriced for the hardware you get inside the pretty case. And if George R. R. Martin can keep using WordStar 4 on DOS, why shouldn't I use Linux?
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I think you and your readers are thoroughly sick of me by now, but you might also be interested in interviewing some other independent authors whose work I enjoy and recommend: Michael Shean (the Wonderland sequence), Lynda Williams (the Okal Rel saga), K. H. Koehler (the Nick Engelbrecht series), Charity Bradford (author of The Magic Wakes and Stellar Cloud), and Michael Reeves-McMillan (author of Realmgolds).
However, if I might beg your indulgence a bit longer, I'd like to mention that while Without Bloodshed is not yet available, I do have a story entitled "The Milgram Battery" available in the Curiosity Quills Primetime charity anthology. Five bucks gets you twenty short pieces of weird fiction, and ten percent goes to reputable no-kill animal shelters across the United States.
How to find Matthew Graybosch online...
- Author Website
- Starbreaker series Website
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Matthew Graybosch on Google+
- Twitter @MGraybosch
You can also try conjuring me, but the last person to try squiggled a line that should have been straight while drawing his summoning circle. The poor schmuck ended up as a chew toy for the Hounds of Tindalos. So it goes.