Bringing you yet another lost post, an author interview – this time with a sci-fi thriller author, Graham Storrs. His novel Timesplash was re-released by Momentum, a digital imprint of Pan Macmillion Australia.
Q. Tell us a bit about your science fiction thriller novel Timesplash?
For nearly a decade, jumping back in time wasn’t taken seriously by mainstream science. In fact, it started out as something underground, edgy and cool. The ultimate extreme sport. Then Sniper took it all too far and people started dying. Scarred by their experiences in the time travelling party scene, Jay and Sandra are thrown together in what becomes the biggest manhunt in history: the search for Sniper, Sandra’s ex-boyfriend and a would-be mass murderer.
The novel is set in the near future and it is a fast-paced techno-thriller. I’ve tried to fill it with great characters, a sprinkling of romance, and a high-adrenaline story – all the things I like in a book. I’ve also created what jaded readers of time travel stories might be a bit sceptical about – a new and intriguing take on time travel. In the end, though, Timesplash is a very human tale about finding bravery through fear, and never giving up.
Q. What inspires you to write science fiction?
I love ideas, I love science and technology, and I love thinking about how they will affect us. I suspect most science fiction starts with the writer saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” Then they start thinking about what that would mean for ordinary people caught up in whatever big change they see coming. I read a lot of popular science books and magazines and try to keep up with current developments across dozens of fields. The wonder and excitement I feel as we peel away the layers to reveal the underlying truths about the world, definitely fires my imagination and keeps me constantly inspired.
Q. Do you plan to release more sci-fic thrillers with the same characters? Or is each of your stories a stand-alone novel?
You know, I wrote Timesplash as a stand-alone novel. As soon as it was first published, readers started asking when they could buy the sequel and my story was always that there was no sequel planned. Then this deal with Pan Macmillan came up and they too asked me for a sequel. So I sat down with a pencil and paper for nearly a week, brainstorming and sketching ideas, drawing mind maps and exploring possibilities and, to my amazement, I found a great idea for a second book. I truly hope I wouldn’t have said yes to the publisher if I hadn’t found a really good premise for book 2 but, fortunately, I don’t have to worry about that.
I wrote the second Timesplash book across the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 – I’ve only just finished the editing process with the publisher, even though it is due for release on July 1. It is called True Path and, like all good sequels, takes everything to the next level.
Q. You first self-published Timesplash, and later chose to publish it with Macmillion’s digital imprint Momentum. What was the reason for this switch?
I’ve never really wanted to self-publish. I don’t like the mechanics of book production and the hard slog of marketing a book. I’d much rather someone else did that. I published Timesplash with a New York small press in 2010 and it was a dismal failure. I was pretty upset about it and swore off all small publishers, got myself an agent, and targetted only the big-name publishers. Meanwhile, I got my rights to Timesplash back and self-published it because, well, I thought it had had its chance at the big time yet I didn’t want to leave it on my hard disk never to be read again. So I put it out there and was astonished that it started selling. In fact, it sold very well indeed. So well, that my agent started using the sales numbers to impress publishers. When Momentum read the book, they just loved it and we had a deal signed within weeks.
Q. How was your self-publishing experience?
I don’t think I’m temperamentally suited to selling – and that’s what self-publishing comes down to. Writing the book is the enjoyable part (even editing it can be fun, I’ve discovered, with the right editor), production (getting the layout right for the various self-publishing platforms and getting a cover design, etc.) is a pain in the neck but it doesn’t take too long. Then you get the book up on Amazon and the other retail sites and the real misery starts – selling, and more selling, and then more selling.
It’s true that, even if you’re commercially published these days, you have to do some of your own selling, but at least it’s not all on your own shoulders, at least someone else is sharing the burden.
So the experience was very mixed. I like all the control I have as a self-publisher (I’m still self-publishing short stories and collections) and, for a control freak, it’s hard to hand that off to a publisher – especially when your whole career as a writer depends on it! And the success was fantastic. Watching the stats from Amazon (obsessively watching, I should say) and seeing 400 books a day being bought is a wonderful feeling. Yet, in the end, I would much rather live without all that stress. I want to write, I don’t want to be a publisher or a marketer.
Q. What is your writing process? Do you do an outline first?
First comes the idea, the premise for the book. I work hard on making sure the idea is right, that it is strong enough to carry a whole, book-length story, that it is saying something I feel is important or worth people’s time and energy to engage with, and that it is going to support the involvement and development of strong, active characters as they work through their individual stories. I have ideas all the time, but ideas good enough to spend six months or a year exploring in detail as I write a novel are much more rare.
Then I do outlines, I do character biographies, I do some detailed world-building, work out histories (often future histories!) and I think a lot! It’s not the detailed kind of outlining that you see in some writing texts, or that a tool like Scrivener is there to support. It might only amount to a few pages of text in the end. Its main purpose is to get me started in the right direction and to convince me that there is enough material for a good book.
Then I start writing and all kinds of magic happens, new ideas start weaving their way through the Big Idea, characters take on depth and interest I hadn’t expected, and the plot elements start to become more elaborate and densely interconnected. I have no idea how this happens or how I could get all this richness on paper without actually writing the book, but I’ve written enough books now to feel confident that the magic will happen and that I can trust it.
Even so, I have a great many books I’ve begun like this and still, usually at the twenty-thousand-word mark, have set aside because they weren’t going well, or weren’t maintaining my interest.
Q. Who is your favorite author?
I don’t have one. There are loads of writers I admire and plenty I know I will enjoy whatever they’ve written, but there isn’t anyone I could point to and say, “She or he is my favourite.” In science fiction there are writers like Ursula K. le Guinn, Ray Bradbury, Greg Egan, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, J. G. Ballard, James Blish, Brian Aldiss, Sherri Tepper, Alastair Reynolds, Kurt Vonnegut, C.J. Cherryh, and many others. Outside of sci-fi are Daphne du Maurier, Aldous Huxley, Michael Frayn, Graham Greene, Margaret Atwood, Anton Chekov, William Shakespeare, J.D. Salinger, Robert Goddard, Edna O’Brien, and stacks more.
Q. Any advice for new writers?
No, I haven’t. All new writers are different, start from different places, are going different places, and are working in different fields in different ways in different media. I can’t imagine any advice that would be useful to such a heterogeneous group. People tell writers to persist and to perfect their craft and so on, but that’s like telling a pole vaulter to keep vaulting and to use a long pole – so obvious, it’s useless.
The only thing I might say to a budding writer who wants to be published – or to anybody, wanting to succeed at anything involving selling products to large numbers of people – is that it’s harder to succeed if you do it alone. Writers don’t always get this. They think writing is a solitary pastime. Well, it is, but publishing is not. Publishing is a vastly collaborative effort that not only depends on teams of people working together but on wide networks of affiliated people talking to one another, meeting at conventions, mentioning things that help each other along, and generally supporting and encouraging one another. I’m introverted to the point of being troglodytic, but I have to admit that any success I’ve had is directly traceable to the efforts I’ve made to socialise with fellow writing professionals.
And, with that in mind, I’m always happy to hear from new people.
Sabine’s Note: Since this interview was originally posted in July 2013, Graham’s second novel True Path has also been released. Also, here is a link to an interview Graham did with me on The Demon Mages.