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L.T. Suzuki

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Steve Umstead Interview
4/18/2011 8:45:39 PM
Author Steve Umstead discusses his debut novel and the writing life!
LTS: If you’re a fan of great science fiction, today’s guest blogger will prove to be a fascinating read! I’d like to introduce you to sci-fi author Steve Umstead. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Steve. Where do you call home and what do you like to do when you’re not writing?

SU: I live in a little township in New Jersey called Cinnaminson, right across the Delaware River from Philadelphia (I've always said New Jersey isn't really a state; North Jersey is a suburb of New York, South Jersey is a suburb of Philadelphia, which explains why when I introduce myself as from NJ, people always say, "you don't sound like you're from New Joisey", and I have to say, "not that part." We don't have our own TV stations or sports teams, unless you count the New Jersey Devils (even the Nets are leaving). The Giants and Jets, who play in NJ, claim NY as their home.) Anyway, enough insecurity about my little state; back to the question at hand.
I own an online travel company, and that takes up a lot of my 'regular' day - owning a business is never a true 9 to 5 proposition. However, I've always said I could be digging ditches, and working at home in that particular industry has its benefits. Such as being able to see my kids when they get home from school, and take them on some nice vacations - so travel is a big part of not-writing time, as are my boys. I have two, 10 and 13, and they are absolutely incredible. My older is a certified genius - no really, he's a card-carrying junior member of Mensa - and has just started writing his own stories. My younger is a stud athlete and ladies' man, and this time of year it's 4-5 nights per week of baseball and soccer. They keep me busy, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. Oh, and I'm married... Ha ha, kidding! My wife of 17 years is my best friend and co-owns the company, so we're able to travel a lot together.

LTS: Even though you’ve had a decade-long career in the travel industry, writing has been a life long dream for you. When did you decide to take the leap?

SU: Yes, most certainly a lifelong dream ever since reading All The President's Men as a 7 year old sneaking into my mother's dressing room! I've tinkered with stories ever since high school, gave a novel a shot here and there, but never followed through. I wrote some mean chapter ones, I have to say! But then went back and edited them over and over, losing sight of the goal, and dropped it. That was until that magic little month of November rolled around and I found NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, 50k words in 30 days) and decided to jump in and DO it this time. The strategy was to write, keep writing, don't stop writing, until the end, a solid 30 days. NO editing, NO going back - just write. Even if the chapter you work on is a steaming pile of horse manure, write it and move on; go back and fix it when it's done. That turned out to be a heckuva motivation, and exactly what I needed. In 26 days (I had a business trip on the 27th of November, and when business trips involve beaches and swim up bars, I knew I needed to finish before I left) I had written around 64,000 words. Set it aside in December, went back in January and edited the heck out of it, and self-published Gabriel's Redemption on February 2nd at 66,000 words.

LTS: Your debut novel, ‘Gabriel’s Redemption’ has been receiving wonderful reviews. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Evan Gabriel?

SU: Thank you, thank you! I'm still a bit in awe of the entire situation, that my story is out there, people are reading it, and enjoying it enough to leave a review and tell others. Very exciting... The story itself didn't come from anything in particular, it really grew on its own out of an opening scene idea I've had in my head for years (Chapter One of the novel as it exists now). I made a general outline before November (NO writing is allowed prior to NaNoWriMo, but outlining is OK) knowing what that first scene would be, and developed it from there. It's all about a man who has his career, his life, unfairly taken away, and is offered a chance to redeem himself, even if this new mission isn't all it seems. He's an everyday soldier with a fierce determination but a jaded outlook on life.

LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open ‘Gabriel’s Redemption’?

SU: Once it was completed, I discovered that the novel actually crossed several genre lines. I had intended it to be a science fiction action story, but it turned into a science fiction-thriller-adventure-military-political intrigue piece. Did that make sense? I think it has something to appeal to many different types of readers; one of the best reviews it received was from a romance reader who thoroughly enjoyed it. I believe it's a good mix of science fiction (easy reading, near-future type; what I like to call 'realistic science fiction'), action (without overly-exaggerated A-Team types of explosions!), intrigue (with some interesting back-office maneuvering), all the while throwing in a few surprises and twists.

LTS: Why are you drawn to this particular genre?

SU: Ah, it all goes back to the year 1977, when I was seven years old (with a little math you can now figure out that I'm over-the-hill and picking up speed) and saw Star Wars. Just...jaw-dropping, especially for someone my age who was very much into reading at that time. Three years later, I watched The Empire Strikes Back at least a dozen times. It's just the combination of the fun technology and visual effects, along with the great heroic stories, that were told back in my youth, that really cemented my love with science fiction. As I got older, into teens and twenties, I shifted a bit more into technothrillers, Tom Clancy and such, but I never gave up on good old science fiction. And once it was time to write? A no brainer.

LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?

SU: Well, a blunt answer - no. Not that I don't want to share, it's that I have no experience in trying to find an agent or publisher. I honestly never even considered it. I've owned my own business for close to ten years; I had started a small business out of college, unrelated to today's business, and after a few years went to work for someone else, as I had gotten married and we were planning kids. At that time, it made financial sense, but I always knew owning the business was in my blood. I feel the same way about self-publishing, as it has truly never been a better time to be a writer (I say that a lot!)

LTS: What made you decide on taking the self-publishing route and what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?

SU: Nice segue! By self-publishing, I am in charge of 100% of my work, my marketing, my sale price, my outlets, my cover art, and so on. With the advent of e-readers and their acceptance over the past year or two, I knew that's the way I wanted to go. I used to dream of seeing my book on the shelves in the bookstore, and had some small regrets that it didn't happen, but each time I walk into a Barnes & Noble now, I go over to the Nook display and load my book on it. So there you go...I'm on the shelves.
As for the greatest lesson? That writing the book was the EASY part. Just as I am in charge of the entire process myself is an advantage, it's also a disadvantage. There's no one to go to for help or advice (except fellow writers of course!) or have someone else handle some part of the publishing or marketing process.

LTS: I recently read a comment from an author seeking traditional publication. He was upset with self-published authors calling themselves ‘indie authors’, stating that we have no right to put ourselves in the same, esteemed category of indie filmmakers and indie musicians. What are your thoughts on this subject?

SU: You know, it's a shame there's this flame war going on on some fronts between 'traditional' authors and 'indie' authors. Seriously, aren't we all trying to accomplish the same thing, getting our work into the hands of readers? Who cares how it gets there? Who cares what we're called? You can call me anything you like - self-published, indie, non-traditional, newbie, rookie. Doesn't bother me a bit - just as long as the second part of what I'm called says "author." I do understand why people frown on self-published; there are some (many) books out there that never saw the top of an editor's desk, and never should have been published. A downside to the Kindle era we live in is that anyone can publish anything. However the market will sort that out, and the better books will work their way to the top while bad ones fade away. As for 'esteemed' - in any profession, there will be good indies and bad indies. And even traditional publishing lets stinkers through (when I read Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, I couldn't stop laughing - and don't forget, Snooki is a traditionally published author).
I could go on and on about the advantages of self-publishing (time to market, restrictions, royalty rates, flexibility, length of sale window, etc.) but that would be another interview entirely.

LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?

SU: That sort of goes back to the NaNoWriMo section earlier. That 30 days (or 26 as it turned out) were fantastic for discipline. Every night at 9PM, I put the kids to bed and went into the dining room with my laptop and a couple of glasses of red wine or a Guinness or two, and wrote. And every night, I churned out around 2,000 words. Could I do that again? Absolutely, I think it was an excellent way to write, non-stop. However now that I'm into more of the marketing and networking phase of the publishing cycle, I find myself tweeting, blogging, etc. more than writing! So as it turns out, I'm much less disciplined now than I was a few months ago. However, now that my taxes are done (a huge weight off my shoulders!) I'm going to be getting back into the writing mode on a daily basis.

LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.

SU: For Gabriel's Redemption, as I had mentioned before, the overall story grew out of that first chapter with the introduction of the main character and what he was about to face. But for that story, I had a fairly detailed outline in place - a list of chapters, and a sentence or two telling the scene of that chapter. That way, for NaNoWriMo, each night I knew what I needed to write. Now in Book 2, I'm doing a little more pantsing. I've got an overall plot, but nothing detailed for steps, and I'm letting the characters and settings determine where each chapter is heading. It's a little more fun, more organic, and I think it will lead to a more enjoyable read, but it's not helping my writing discipline!

LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?

SU: Hmmm...before writing, I guess what I do is 'clear the inbox', meaning get everything I need/needed to do during the day off my plate. That way I can sit down and fully get into the story (shut off email, Twitter, Facebook, phone) and disappear. As for during the writing, I'm a night writer, so invariably I'll have a cabernet or stout nearby. Writer's fuel, I call it.

LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?

SU: Yes, yes, no doubt I've hit the wall on several occasions. During NaNoWriMo, there simply wasn't time to get blocked, so I wrote around it. If there was a scene that wasn't working, no matter how hard I tried, I skipped it and moved on. I found on some occasions that scene could be left out entirely based on what I wrote later, or I could go back and write it now that I had written out what comes next. It was a matter of getting words on paper, whether they were chapters or "crapters" (my kids love it) didn't matter, as long as the story progressed, and I'd go back and fix the crapters once I completed the overall story.

LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?

SU: I've read a lot in the technothriller and science fiction genres over the past couple of decades, but it's funny. When I shop for new books, I look for stories that fit what I like, as opposed to authors. I have author's names in the back of my head that I DON'T like, but rarely do I look for an author's next work specifically. Three exceptions to this, one from a while back, and two from now. Tom Clancy's early work (before he essentially gave up writing, and now farms out his name) was masterful. The entire Jack Ryan series, and one of my all-time favorites Red Storm Rising, really inspired me to become a writer, to try to put together such detailed, entertaining stories with rich characters and multiple plot lines. Recently, in the science fiction genre, David Weber and his Honor Harrington series really blew me away with his mix of future technologies and political maneuvering, and John Scalzi with the Old Man's War series showed how well a story and characters can be crafted around a scientific skeleton; plus Scalzi is a master of incorporating appropriate humor and irony.

LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?

SU: Wow, deep question! I had never thought about an 'effect' of my writing; I'm just thrilled I was able to tell a story and that people are enjoying reading it. But now that you make me think on this would have to be my influence on my children. Both of my boys, my 10 year old athlete and my 13 year old scholar, are voracious readers, something I've tried to instill in them since they day they were born (I think it's the most important thing we can teach or instill in kids). Now that I sat down and wrote a novel, and it's published, and they can see it "on the shelf" in our local bookstore, both have shown interest in doing their own writing. My older son is about 10,000 words into a novella he's putting together that involves multiple universes and travel between them (can't want to see that one!) and my younger son started a story about a boy archer framed for kidnapping a princess. Plus, I just found out yesterday that he won for his 5th grade class D.A.R.E. writing contest, and is in the running for the overall school contest for a story he wrote about underage drinking. When I sit back and think about that, I couldn't be more proud, and I guess I did have a little to do with that...

LTS: I think you had everything to do with that! So, what are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?

SU: I'm reading In Memory of Greed from Al Boudreau, a fellow self-published author I met a couple of months back on Twitter. Just to rave a bit about Twitter, I'm still amazed at the community of supportive, friendly, creative, professional authors I've met on there. Even though I've never spoken to any of them, nor met them in person (yet), I feel like even at my age I've fallen into a whole new group of great friends. Al wrote a thriller that sounds right up my alley, and he's been so supportive of other authors, so I was very excited to put it at the top of my TBR list, and have just jumped in. Very enjoyable read so far!

LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from Sci-Fi into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to ‘Gabriel’s Redemption’ in the near future?

SU: Next five years? Five months ago I'd never have imagined being where I am right now. Years? That takes some serious planning! I do have a one-year outline, and it involves not just one sequel, but two. I had originally written Gabriel's Redemption as a standalone, with perhaps a tickle at the back of my mind of the possibility of a trilogy (science fiction lends itself well to multi-part series). When I finished the story, I felt the characters and the settings I had created had definite possibilities of continuing on, so I 'formally announced' that a second and third book would be forthcoming. I am currently around 30-40% into the writing of Book Two, titled Gabriel's Return (dealing with the main character's return to the scene of his original mission that led to his dishonorable discharge). Projected publishing date is June (maybe late May if I get my writing schedule more disciplined!). After that, Book Three, tentatively titled Gabriel's Revenge, will deal with significant changes in the main character's life and his struggle to right some wrongs, and will hopefully have a release date of November or December. It's a fun cast of characters and some interesting places and conflicts, so I'm really enjoying writing the stories!

LTS: Thank you so much for doing this interview and sharing in your insight, writerly wisdom and of course, your wonderful debut novel, Steve. I will definitely be adding ‘Gabriel’s Redemption’ to my must-read list! In the meantime, I’ll catch you on Twitter during #pubwrite!
For more information about Steve Umstead and his novels, check out:
Follow Steve on Twitter: .SteveUmstead
Where to buy the book: The ebook format is available through all the majors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders/Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords

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• Publishing in the Digital Age - Monday, July 13, 2009
• Writing Tips for the Novice Novelist - Tuesday, July 07, 2009
• Flog the Blog - Tuesday, June 30, 2009
• Do's & Don't of a TV interview - Saturday, June 27, 2009
• Mortality & Writing - Friday, June 26, 2009
• The Art of Editing 101 - Tuesday, June 23, 2009
• How To Write When Suffering from Bad Memory Retention - Saturday, June 20, 2009
• Finding Inspiration from Others - Thursday, June 18, 2009
• To Blog or Twitter... - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

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