Chatting with Will Swardstrom

Back with another author spotlight, featuring the authors of the Silo Saga fanfic – as well as a wide spectrum of original work! This time: Will Swardstrom, whose Ant Apocalypse is climbing the Kindle charts. You can find his author page right here.

ddeb5659574f0ad8986c6c_L__V380005273_SX200_While I’ve been getting 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?

Well, I was born at a very early age…

Okay, seriously…I’ve loved writing for a long time and have always had dreams of being an author. After college I worked over six years at the local newspaper. I definitely was able to improve my writing chops during the time, but writing thousands of words each day about school boards, tax laws, high school football, and many other topics really takes it out of you. Coming home in the evening and writing more was really daunting. It wasn’t until after I went back to school to become a teacher that I was even in the position to have time to devote to writing. Once I’d gotten my bearings as a teacher, I was able to spend time each day last year writing a book, my debut novel, Dead Sleep.

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?

My favorite character? Wow…to some it may seem a bit of a cop-out because it’s my fan-fiction story, but Mary, the protagonist (antagonist?) from The Veil is probably my favorite. The story may be set in Hugh Howey’s world, but Mary and all her faults are entirely my own. I knew I wanted to write a WOOL story after I’d seen WJ Davies have Hugh’s blessing on The Runner. But, the story stewed in my mind for a while until my novel was done. That really gave Mary a chance to develop before I put her on paper.

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?

My first beta readers are some of my fellow teachers, who just so happen to be English teachers. There are three fellow teachers that I really relied on for my first book. In fact, I had tried to go with some other friends of mine that I knew loved books, but when it came down to actually getting feedback from them, it was like pulling teeth, but I work with some great people at my school and they were fantastic. Then, since I’ve gotten into the LOOW (League of Original Woolwriters), I’ve been able to use some of them for beta readers as well. It hasn’t been tough so far, but I may be the exception to the rule.

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?

So far, my main protagonists have been Jackson Ellis (Dead Sleep) who is a newspaper reporter, Rick Waters (Ant Apocalypse) who is a teacher, and Mary Welcher, a resident of the silo. So, yeah…I have followed King’s lead on that. I think once I get more comfortable in my writing, I probably will venture further out.

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 would really like to explore new ground and new ideas with each of my stories. Some major questions I’ve explored are: What does it really mean to be human? (Dead Sleep), How far would you go to protect your family? (Ant Apocalypse), and Are there mistakes that are unforgivable? (The Veil). Certainly there are more themes and questions I ask and readers may even be more aware of them than I am.

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?

Well, my work, The Veil, is a stand-alone piece. But, as I was finishing it, I had some fantastic (I hope) ideas for a sequel. Does the story stand on its own? It sure does and that’s what I intended. But…is there a place I can go in a sequel? Oh yeah.

I think, ultimately, authors need to make sure the story works by itself. Readers can deal with cliffhangers, but tell a story in the process. For me, as I’m writing my two sequels to The Veil, I plan on having a cliffhanger of sorts at the end of Part 2, but the main story I’m telling in that book will be finished at the end, leaving another complete story to be told in Part 3.

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?

OK…I knew very little about fanfiction. I had a high school student a couple of years ago that liked to write Harry Potter and Naruto fanfiction and she took a lot of flak from her classmates for it. Then, when I found out 50 Shades of Gray was originally Twilight fanfic, I really had a bad viewpoint of it. It took reading WJ Davies’ The Runner and then Greatfall by Jason Gurley before I could really embrace it.

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 really am not familiar with a lot of fanfiction sites, but I would say that being able to say, “I’m a published author through Amazon,” goes a long way when I’m talking to family and friends. I have made so many great friends in the process as well. Just like Hugh Howey says, writers don’t need to be antagonistic towards each other, we can cooperate. Luckily, I stumbled into a great group of writers that I can bounce ideas off and gain support along the way. It isn’t just publishing on Kindle, but it is finding other authors that you can trust along the way. If that comes through a fanfiction site, great.

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?

Whenever I have time, but it is usually about 9 or 10 p.m. when my daughter has gone to bed and I have a few moments to myself. There are so many distractions that I have a hard time focusing on writing until after my family is in bed.

Actually, my favorite place to write so far is the dining room table at my in-laws’ home. I don’t know why – it just is.

Go ahead: ramble!  About writing, meeting other writers, the publication experience.

Wow. This has been an amazing journey. I published my first short story on Amazon in late May and now have four works in total for sale. I have a lot of things I want to do and finding time to write and read is the biggest thing.

The most important thing I learned was to just keep writing. It wasn’t something anybody told me – you really have to learn for yourself (so why are you listening to me?) but when I was writing Dead Sleep, I took three weeks off to help my wife with something at school. Starting back up was hard, but I knew if I didn’t I’d regret it forever.

Get out there and write!

If you’d like to follow me on my journey, I’m on Twitter — @wswardstrom and my blog is willswardstrom.wordpress.com and my Facebook page is www.facebook.com/wswardstrom.

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