Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Stephen England Interview
3/10/2012 9:45:05 PM
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Author Stephen England discusses his novels and the writing life!
LTS: Today’s feature author is the talented Stephen England, the author of Sword of Neamha and Pandora’s Grave. What made me select this particular writer to interview? Well, I’ve been following Stephen on Twitter for a while now and I’ve had a chance to read an excerpt from one of his novels.
He is a truly skilled storyteller, but what I admire about Stephen is that he is rather outspoken, saying what many authors only dare think. He’s been very vocal about those who garner peer reviews that can only be described as misleading tit-for-tat 5-star reviews, those who pad their actual sales number to push them artificially high on the bookseller’s ranking list, and so on. It’s also interesting to note that I stand behind most everything Stephen says in a bid to serve the best interest of the book buying public. So, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Stephen England!
I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Stephen.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
SE: A lot of things—I don’t fit the profile of the reclusive, antisocial writer. Whether it is spending time at the local pistol range or singing the old Cole Porter standards in front of an audience, I enjoy being around people. Observing them—listening to how people talk, watching how they interact. I’ve been a keen student of human nature for years, and you have to put yourself out there to do that. But my stories wouldn’t be the same without it.
LTS: You have been writing for over 10 years. Is it wrong to assume that becoming a published author has been a life long dream?
SE: Lifelong? Perhaps not quite that long, but I am only 22, so it might as well be.
LTS: Your debut novel, Sword of Neamha is a sweeping epic tale of love and treachery set almost 300 years before Christ. Your latest release, Pandora’s Grave is a modern day thriller, the debut of your Shadow Warriors series. What was the inspiration behind these very different stories?
SE: I like to say that Sword was the product of nine months of writers’ block. At 18, I had written(and thrown away) five separate manuscripts of the Shadow Warriors series. I had to take a break, before restarting the novel that became Pandora’s Grave. Turn my energies elsewhere. For me, that didn’t mean I couldn’t keep writing.
I’ve always loved historical fiction and the Celts. Taken together with research from a team of archaeologists I’d come into contact with, I spun those passions into an ancient tale of tribal conflict and one man’s fight for survival. Sword of Neamha was a very cathartic manuscript for me—and after publishing it in 2009, I returned to writing the Shadow Warriors with renewed energy.
LTS: Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist in each novel and what makes Cadwalador stand apart from Harry Nichols? Are there any similarities in their traits?
SE: At a first glance, one might think that they are almost polar opposites as characters. Cadwalador is the reluctant warrior, a young man of simple desires, yet a man fated to come of age during a time in which his Gallic tribe is being ripped apart by civil war and a struggle for succession. Harry Nichols is the consummate professional, a CIA paramilitary for whom death has become a way of life. Cadwalador is an honest man above all else, a man for whom loyalty is worth more than life itself. For Harry Nichols, deceit is part of his job description—his only loyalties those he owes to his team, his country, and his God. Yet they are both deeply principled characters in their own way, men, who though heavily flawed, fit the classic hero mold in the sense that they are prepared to sacrifice everything for what they believe in.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open one of your novels?
SE: Adventure. Action. Thrills. And, at their core, deeply emotional, character-driven stories. Character development is very important to me, and not just the protagonist. I present the reader with an entertaining cast of characters and bring them into the story. I want my readers to be there, in the heart of the action. To smell the gunpowder, to sense the grief, the loss. These are anything but your typical Die-Hard action stories. This is the real thing, as close as fiction can get it.
LTS: That’s great! No matter how thrilling or action-packed the story is, if the readers do not feel a connection with the characters because they are poorly developed, there’s a good chance they won’t finish reading the story. They need to care about the characters. Now, the road to publication is difficult at the best of times. I’ve seen the quality of your stories and I was wondering what made you decide to self-publish your novels, rather than go the traditional publishing route?
SE: A variety of factors, most importantly time. I don’t have years of my life to wait on an agent to take a fancy to my novel when I could be out there selling and finding an audience on my own. Additionally, while I can carry a plot for 400+ pages, the idea of writing a query letter always struck me as particularly unappetizing. . .
LTS: I hear ya! I’ve had two agents in the past and it was a rather disheartening experience! Do you have any advice you can share to the aspiring author considering becoming an indie author?
SE: Write the very best book that’s in you. Then throw it away and write a better one. Become your own toughest critic—because only then will you be ready to publish. Indie authors owe it to themselves not to perpetuate the notion of the shoddy self-published novel. The system of “peer reviewing” that has sprung up in the indie community only serves to shelter poor writers, providing them with an echo chamber of unwarranted praise. It’s not helping anyone, least of all the poor schmuck who’s been led to believe he’s bestseller quality.
LTS: Very true! So what was the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
SE: Most important? That’s a difficult one—there’s been many. Perhaps that there are as many paths to success as there are ways to write a good novel. There will always be the gurus insisting that they have found the silver bullet—that if you’ll only follow their advice to the letter, you’ll be an overnight success. There is no silver bullet and no such thing as overnight success. The indie community is obsessed with finding something “repeatable”. There are only two things that are repeatable: the ability to write a good novel and the willpower to shed the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears to bring it to the notice of your audience.
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?
SE: I’m probably not as disciplined as I should be, but a lot of my progress is made away from the computer, mulling over the story in my head until it’s finally ready to put down. I’ve never been a huge fan of multiple drafts. Typically, by the time the first draft is done, I’m ready to edit. I go over it a few times to fix any plot holes and do as much line editing as I can, then send it out to my beta readers.
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.
SE: Very organic. I like to joke that I’m a tourist in my own novel. I know the destination (the climactic point of the novel), but I don’t know the road there. It’s very much a journey of discovery, a journey I take with my characters. My motto? WWPD—What Would the Protagonist Do. As long as I’m true to the characters I’ve created, everything goes swimmingly.
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?
SE: Rituals? I don’t know if I necessarily have any—I often do listen to music when I write, the type depending upon the mood of what I’m trying to create. As I said earlier, most of my work on the novel is done away from the computer, while performing other day-to-day tasks.
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?
SE: I read. I am often surprised by my fellow authors when I hear them say that they read very little fiction. For me, it is a way to expose myself to new ideas, to keep my own style from becoming stale. TV shows can be helpful as well—television writers work from a different set of rules and can sometimes show you a way to get through a problem that you might not have thought of. Shows like 24 and the BBC’s Spooks are personal favorites.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
SE: That’s a challenge—I’ve been reading ever since I was five. I’ve read a lot of really good authors in that time. I would say Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy have been two of the most influential authors upon my own style. Cussler’s Treasure was an inspiration in deciding to write a thriller, and Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October helped mature my understanding of the genre.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
SE: My number one rule of writing: respect thy reader. You have to remember that your audience is among the most intelligent on the face of the earth: they’re reading for entertainment. So write for them. There’s a tendency to aim for the lowest common denominator, but that’s an error and will come across as condescension to most of your audience. As I told an author within the last month, you don’t have to beat your readers over the head to make your point. They’re smart. They get it. Subtlety works.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
SE: John Betcher’s thriller The 19th Element. I met John early on in my Twitter network, but I didn’t have the opportunity (read: time) to delve into his work till recently. Stylistically, The 19th Element is written in an unusual mix of first-person/third-person, but it works quite well. I’m enjoying the read.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out into other genres? Can your fans expect sequels to Sword of Neamha and Pandora’s Grave in the near future?
SE: Sword was a stand-alone story, never intended to be anything more. I am currently working on a new thriller entitled Day of Reckoning, the direct sequel to Pandora’s Grave and Book #2 of the Shadow Warriors. Without giving too much away, Pandora’s Grave ends in a rather startling revelation. . .that leads into the next book. Within hours of the opening of Day of Reckoning, a team of ex-Spetsnaz Russian mercenaries carry out a contract hit on CIA Director David Lay, with multiple bombings in suburban Virginia. As threat levels go red and the President prepares to fly back from an economic summit in Europe, there are no answers. Just the question: who ordered the hit?
Only one thing is clear. The Agency has never operated on American soil. All that’s about to change.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your novels and in sharing your writing experiences, Stephen! I’ll catch you on Twitter!
SE: Thanks for having me on, Lorna. Great talking with you!
For more information about Stephen and his novels, check out:
Follow Stephen on Twitter: .stephenmengland
Where to buy the book: On the Kindle: http://amzn.to/yR0h0h
For the Nook: http://bit.ly/rwnYqI
On Amazon in paperback: http://amzn.to/AmThra
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