Continuing my series of interviews with fellow writers – this time I’m talking with Fredric Shernoff, whose Amazon author page is here. Like yours truly, he began his writing career with sci fi and Batman… definitely a couple of inspirational subjects!
As I’ve gotten my e-publishing career underway, I’ve met people who’ve gotten into writing fairly recently, while others have been at it since they were first able to pick up a pencil. What’s your background?
I wrote my first story (a sci-fi short) in second grade. It became a big deal and was presented at a school board meeting as an example of what children should be encouraged to do. Unfortunately, many teachers didn’t take the hint and my creative writing was discouraged more and more each year after that.
I wrote Batman fan fiction in a notebook while I was away at overnight camp and a short story for an assignment in 11th grade English but that was it. This year, I had some free time and decided to try to write something to satisfy myself and all the family and friends who had been on my case about it for years. That became Atlantic Island. During the writing process I researched self-publishing on Amazon. That’s how I learned about Hugh Howey and Wool and the fan fiction that was starting to pop up around it. I took a brief break from Atlantic Island and wrote a Silo story called Angels of the Earth. At that point I decided I’d found my calling and I was in this for good.
Now that we’ve met you… how about introducing us to your favorite character, out of all the fictional people you’ve brought to life? Did he or she pop into your head, carrying the story along with them, or did you have the story first and create the character to make the story happen?
I have many favorites for different reasons, but I will say that Sam Lucas, the mayor in Atlantic Island, was my favorite to write. He’s a man who was born in to a challenging life but overcame it in a big way. Through those early struggles and the impossible circumstances of the book, Mayor Lucas remains steady, focused and a good man. Of course, things don’t often go well for genuinely good people in stories.
Do you have an in-house beta reader? A spouse, parent, best friend? Is it tough for you to find people to read and help shape your story?
I relied mostly on family and a few fans I picked up through my fan fiction. It’s become easier to get feedback as I’ve become more established.
Stephen King has a lot of writer protagonists, while John Grisham writes about lawyers. Are many of your characters a reflection of you, or of people you know? Do you stick “close to home” with your stories, or venture as far out into the universe as you can get?
The characters in my stories are all different types of people from all walks of life, but my protagonists are often extensions of myself. I do believe that it’s challenging for a person to get into the headspace of someone very different than himself (or herself). Theo (Atlantic Island) is the idealized version of me in high school. He’s lost and confused like I was at that time, but events conspired to drag out of him the person he always had the potential to be. On the flipside, Uriel (Angels of the Earth) is the hopeless romantic I was at a point in my life, but seen through the critical lens of someone who looks back on those years and says, “what was I thinking?” I had one “true love” obsession during my teenage years and that provided framework for the story, but I also pined after and dated other girls throughout that time. I also eventually moved on. Uriel has his one girl and that’s never going to change for him.
Do you have a favorite theme, or favorite kind of dilemma to throw your characters into, or would you rather blaze new ground with each new story?
I’d much rather explore new situations. I keep my focus on the characters and I love to figure out how they will get themselves out of a new predicament. My current project is a time travel novel and that provides so much room for unexpected dilemmas. My concept of the time stream is just littered with pitfalls and traps and my protagonist keeps meddling with the past even though he’s constantly trying to avoid doing just that.
Many of the Silo Saga entries, and much of the original fiction inspired by Hugh Howey’s Wool novels, are multi-part stories, prompting readers to keep buying each new entry. For the people reading this who are most familiar (and comfortable) with reading a complete work – how would you encourage them to buy a piece at a time, with the promise that more will follow?
I’m not the most experienced with multi-part stories, but I think if the pricing makes sense and the first part really hooks the reader, it can be a great way to go.
Be honest: did you have any clue what fanfiction was before Hugh Howey started talking about it? If you did, had you read any fanfic, or written any yourself?
I knew what it was but I hadn’t read too much. I like alternative takes on famous comic book characters (currently loving DC’s Injustice story) and I enjoyed the Wicked series which was based on Wizard of Oz. I’ve learned since that there are so many different types of fan-fiction and that the Internet is full of some great work just waiting to be discovered.
A lot of the people who’ll read this are fanfiction writers themselves, but they’ve only been able to publish their work not-for-profit, at Live Journal, AO3, or Fanfiction.net (all of which can be an excellent training ground, and a great way to gather feedback on your stories). Since you publish at Amazon, what’s the advantage for you as a writer, and how would you encourage other good writers to consider taking the leap to Kindle publication? (Aside from the money, since none of us has been raking in any serious cash just yet.)
I hope that publishing through Amazon gives a little credibility, though the work still has to deliver on its promise or people will demand a refund. The best thing about it (though still a major challenge) is that Amazon’s system rewards success. You have to scratch and claw your way into the spotlight but once that happens Amazon will often help move an author the next rung or two up the ladder.
Here’s a typical interview question: what’s your usual “I’m putting on my Writer hat now” scenario? Early morning or late evening? A long stretch of uninterrupted time, or a few minutes grabbed here and there? A quiet room? Music playing?
Depends on the book or the scene. I write sad scenes at night, in the dark, with mood music playing. Action or fun scenes I write any time of day and usually I prefer to be in Barnes and Noble or Starbucks, out among the people.
Go ahead: ramble! About writing, meeting other writers, the publication experience.
I’ve been a published author for about half a year. It’s been one of the most exciting, confusing, educational times of my life. I’ve met great people who do so much to help one another succeed. Fan fiction writing as part of Kindle Worlds connected me with people at Amazon who have been supportive and encouraging. I’ve become a better writer throughout this process and I’m able to write faster than before while still (I hope) preserving quality. The biggest challenge, which probably exists no matter where you publish, is to take a very big, macro view of your success. I have had days where I sold over thirty books with no effort on my part to advertise, and thought that I should probably clear my schedule for the meetings with publishers, agents and interviewers that would surely follow. Then I had days where I sold absolutely nothing and thought, “I’m completely done in this industry.” Those days are outliers and if there’s one thing to remember in this business it’s this: do not base anything on the performance of outliers!