Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Kim Aleksander Interview
4/7/2012 10:54:47 PM
Debut author Kim Aleksander discusses his new Techno-Thriller and the writing life!
LTS: If you are a fan of great thrillers, then you’ll enjoy meeting today’s featured author, Kim Aleksander, author of False Positives. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Kim. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
KA: I’ve got two sons. Shall I stop there? Probably not, as I work too. Being a dad is a busy life. Thankfully, we’ve managed to find ourselves in a jungle in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Here we can have a lot of separation—or at least be selective in our separation—with the outside world once we’re home. I believe this is great for the imagination. My five-year-old has an incredible imagination. He is interested in everything. We’re often living out some fantasy of his, and this can keep us very entertained. Remember, we live in a world where elephants walking down the road are commonplace, so he tends to kick it up a notch. He’s also started to pick up one of my obsessive habits, which is reading. And that’s a wonderful world. At the end of the day, if I’m not writing, I’m reading or playing.
LTS: You’ve had a long career in computer technology, holding a Masters degree in Information Systems Management from the University of Liverpool. When did fiction writing come into your life?
KA: I picked up computers as a means to an end: to make a living. I was a natural at it, so things just fell into place. I never really pictured myself writing for a living until I’d already had several “real” jobs, but alas, picturing and being are quite different things. Fiction reading has pretty much always been there, though I didn’t start having a voracious appetite for books until I was in my twenties. Fiction writing has been a part of my life, as I assume it has for most others who’ve gone to school. I think I went from thinking I was very clever and great to realizing that I wasn’t really all that good pretty early on. I mean when the day comes that you say to yourself, “I’m going to write a novel!” it can be very humbling. Then you compare yourself some favorite author of yours, and it gets downright distressing. This doesn’t mean I didn’t write; it just means that I threw everything out. This went on for years until something magical happened: I somehow didn’t suck anymore! I cannot pin-point when that happened, but I know it was while reading a book and I thought to myself, “I can write better than that!” I think I was slower than many to come to that realization.
LTS: I’ve had a chance to read an excerpt from your debut novel, False Positives and I can see why you’re receiving great praise for your writing skills! What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Marnie McCloud?
KA: That’s a very nice complement; thank you. False Positives was born from the seed of an idea: that if a super-computer were to read the Bible, what would be the output? Of course things morphed a bit from there, and this computer became a tool used for counterterrorism by the U.S. Government. Toss in a computer virus and some folks with questionable moral fibre and we have a real problem on our hands. This is Marnie’s problem. Her journey is one that takes her toward a better understanding the problems associated with terrorism and counterterrorism. She learns different perspectives through people she meets along the way, which helps to shape her own “typical American” perspectives quite a bit. In the end, she learns that things are both more complicated and yet a lot simpler than they seem to be on the surface.
LTS: How much has your knowledge/experience in computer technology play into this novel?
KA: One of my goals when writing False Positives was to focus on plausibility. There are a lot of books out there that tend to gloss over technology or portray it in a manner that simply isn’t realistic. That’s okay when we are talking science fiction, but when you know how something works, you kind of want it to work that way in the story too. In real life, computers are pretty stupid. They don’t—they can’t—think like we do (yet). But they can process a ton of information, and they do this very fast. It’s a theory of mine that people are just as “buggy” if not more than machines can ever be, as we’ve created them. So a theme within FP is that if the wrong person got behind a powerful machine, that person’s abilities and/or flaws would be magnified, allowing them to wreak far more havoc than they could do on their own.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open False Positives?
KA: I think the first thing people might realize is that this isn’t just a nerdy book for geeks about computers. While technology does play a role, False Positives is about some very interesting people facing some very serious problems. But they’re human, and the way they deal with things is unique right down to each character. There are a lot of things that divide us in the world, and this becomes more visible as the world becomes more flat. Things that happen on the other side of the world do have an effect on our daily lives. It’s how we are able to get along with one another that really counts. Of course, this is all wrapped in a tidy, little thriller package that keeps you wondering what will happen next and if our heroine will survive. Marnie is literally running for her life as she tries to save the world. It will make you think, and it’s a pretty good yarn regardless of what side of whatever fence you may stand.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. What made you decide to go the indie route and self-publish your novel?
KA: Truth be told, my route to the indie world was through hundreds of rejection letters from literary agents. While some may rant that these folks are the evil gatekeepers of the publishing industry, I think the ones that I’ve actually spoken to are some pretty smart cookies. They know the market, and the thriller market—as they uninmously told me—is incredibly hard to break into. Rather than throw my toys out of the pram, I began to research self-publishing. I did this for two reasons mainly. One, I desperately wanted to move on to my next book, and I couldn’t do this if I knew it was sitting somewhere that no one could read it. Two, one agent (yes, out of hundreds) gave me some very encouraging words. He said, “You have done too much right here not to succeed… I will look for your name in the lists!”
So in a way, self-publishing was kind of a self-confirmation for me. While I’ve not “broken into” the thriller market with a best-seller, I have received some very positive reviews for False Positives. That alone feeds the “artist needing affirmation” in me. I’m now working on my second novel, so at least I feel that I’m on the right track.
LTS: Would you recommend this mode of publication to others? Why?
KA: Before the Kindle, which begat the indie revolution, self-publishing had a stigma attached to it. Today, I think this is a bit different, but there are quite a few things that indie authors discover—and are often surprised by—as they enter the fray. When one becomes a self-published writer, they also must become “self-everything else.” There is a lot of work that comes after writing, and a big chunk of that is editing. Traditionally published authors have the benefits of professional editing services at their disposal. I cannot stress enough the importance of having both a well written and well edited book. Taking the indie route should not automatically equate to sub-par work, but often—as can be confirmed when you read some—it does.
Indie writers are also self-marketers. Even the best indie novel will suffer from the onset compared to traditionally published works. This is because it does not have an established and powerful marketing machine behind it. “The only marketing machine behind the self-published author is the author” has become a mantra for me. This is a very important fact to realize so that you’re not traumatized when your book does not become an overnight success.
There are many pros and cons for and against self-publishing. Go Google it, there are many perspectives; however, my recommendation (since you asked) for anyone thinking of self-publishing for the first time would be to try the traditional publishing route first. I still feel that the best chance for getting noticed and possibly becoming the next break-through writer is down this path. While others may quibble about contracts, time-to-publish, royalties, etc. and others may cite some rare exceptions, I don’t believe indie publishing has the marketing mechanisms to expose the new writer to the masses as does the traditional publishing industry. That may change, and Amazon’s KDP Select is compelling; but right now, I still don’t see it.
The fact is that there is no guarantee that a traditionally published book will be a best-seller. Few are. The most important lesson to learn is that book one is just the beginning in the life of a writer. Regardless of the publishing route taken, more books will come. When your name becomes popular among readers, and you’re selling up a storm; that’s when you can begin to be more choosey with what you decide to do. For now, it may well be that you take the road that’s available to you. Just keep writing!
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.
KA: It’s a combination of both really. For example, False Positives has three fairly significant plot lines. Each was originally written by the seat of the pants. When I finally read the book from a reader’s perspective, I felt the story structure needed work. The over-arching plot was releveant throughout each, but story lines followed one after the other, so I re-wrote things to interleave two of the sub-plots into the main storyline. I felt that while this might have been more challenging for the reader, with multiple things to juggle in their mind, it really helped the pace of the book moving in a forward direction.
Outlining the story structure from the beginning doesn’t really work for me, unless it’s a very loose outline. The main reason for this is because when I begin writing, my characters often begin to define the plot all on their own. I know that sounds weird, but when they get going, start talking to eachother, and start reacting to their surroundings and situations, that’s just how it kinda happens. False Positives had a very different ending before my characters got a hold of it, and I think it’s a better ending because of that.
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?
KA: If you could call it a ritual, mine would be making time to write. And when I say that, I mean eliminating all distractions. With computers, it’s so easy to get distracted. There’s email coming in, FaceBook, Twitter, etc. I turn everything off when writing, and that includes the kids, the wife--everything. There’s the famous story of Samuel Taylor Coleridge getting interrupted in the middle of writing Kubla Khan. He never finished it. With the amount of distractions we have in our lives today, I imagine there are millions of unfinished Kubla Khans out there, or at least a lot stories that may have been significantly different had the author been able to keep their train of thought. I try to avoid that as much as possible through the ritual of eliminating distraction.
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?
KA: In a way, I think everyone writes even when they’re not actually putting words onto paper. Throughout the day—often at odd times—I find myself thinking about a particular story or how something relates to it. Sometimes I’ll jot notes down, and these ideas may eventually get into my work. The hard part is translating what’s in the brain into the written word.
It’s weird how the brain works, but I think the first key to avoiding writer’s block is knowing what you want to write and then—and this sounds dumb, I know—just writing. The second key is to be prepared to trash what you’ve written. I think there’s a falacy that what goes from the brain to the page must be perfect, and the fear that it won’t be actually prevents people from writing. My advice: understand your fears and just get on with it. Expect it to not be perfect. If it is perfect, great! If not, fix it, and/or write more. I find that the more I write, the better things are at first go-round. Better, not perfect. For me, nothing is ever perfect, but the moral of the story is that the more one writes, the better one gets. And that’s the best one can do, isn’t it?
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
KA: I think this is the question asked most by interviewers, and I hate repeating myself for fear of boring anyone reading this, so let me try to answer it differently. I don’t have a favorite author. There are just too many to pin one as my favorite; however, I have to give credit to Clive Cussler. It was the adventure that first got me hooked. And it was the escape. Plus if one pays attention, there are things to be learned. He is the one who turned me from a casual reader into someone who devours books for entertainment. His writing has an uncanny ability to allow me to suspend my disbelief and simply enjoy the ride regardless of how far-fetched that ride may seem. But he’s not the only one; there are many, many others. One interesting fact about Cussler, however, is how he became a writer. His wife worked at nights. So after he put the kids to bed, he began writing in his idle time. The story of how a Mr. Mom from Orange County became a best-selling author is an inspiration beyond the stories he tells, and that is something that can have a significant influence on anyone considering becoming a writer. It has on me, at least.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
KA: I am currently thoroughly enjoying Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins. It was a gift from my brother. I finally picked it up off my bookshelf during a day-long power outage—paper is the only thing that tends to work after a few hours. The first sentence read, “It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute.” After that, I could not put it down. It’s a very entertaining book.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from Techno-Thrillers into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to False Positives in the near future?
KA: My plan, all things considered and knowing that life often throws curve-balls, is to produce one damn good novel a year. I’m already behind, as it’s April and I write slowly. But that’s the plan. My next book will not be a sequel to FP, but Marnie & Co. may return after a hiatus or when the next world crisis rears it’s head. At present, my work in progress is more of a “cerebral” thriller where dreams come into play. I can’t say too much about it other than it has similarities to the TV show, Awake, as well as the films, Inception and Source Code. It’s hard to say if I’ll “branch out”—so to speak—into other genres. I’m pretty comfortable in the realm of commercial fiction, and I don’t see sparkly vampires in my future. Even if/when I decide to write the historical fiction novel I’ve been pondering for years, it’s hard for me not to imagine having it wrapped in some form of mystery or suspense. But who knows? Literary fiction? It could happen. In other words, stay tuned!
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time from your hectic schedule to share in your writing experiences and to discuss your novel, Kim!
KA: Thank you very much for having me, Lorna. I appreciate your support of the indie movement through your blog and with interviews like this. I’d like to take a moment here to remind everyone that while all authors live and die by reviews, indie authors need all the help they can get. Reader reveiws are the most powerful marketing machine around. Thanks to all of you out there supporting your indie authors.
For more information about Kim Aleksander and his novel, check out:
Follow Kim on Twitter: http://twitter.com/KimAleksander.
False Positives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FalsePositives.
Connect on GoodReads:
Where to buy the book:
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/yXgWar
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/uzwuef
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