Chatting with David Adams

One of my goals for this blog is to publish an ongoing series of interviews with fellow writers, introducing you to a group of talented people you might not otherwise have the chance to meet and get to know.  You’re welcome to comment, ask questions, make requests, whatever!

First up: David Adams, whose Amazon author page is right over here.

809_900As 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?

Hello, I’m David Adams, author of the Lacuna series, the Insufficient Wool-fanfiction series and the Kobolds series, and I hope that the beginning my answer is identical to the one everyone reading this will eventually give.

I started with fanfiction.

More specifically, with Star Trek fanfiction written as part of Starbase 118’s UFOP group, one of the longest running Star Trek play-by-email groups around. The group, along with its monthly writing challenges, gave me a lot of the feedback, criticism, experience and inspiration to write my own things. I took what I liked about Star Trek, removed what I didn’t like (where are all the Chinese people?), and I wrote Lacuna.

I’ve been writing all kinds of things, though, going back further than that. I’ve been writing stories since I don’t even remember when. As soon as I could. But that’s where it all started, really. Combine that with an adolescence wildly misspent playing Dungeons & Dragons and every video game under the sun, and you have me.

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?

“So I see you have many beautiful children,” she says, “tell me, which one is your favourite?”

Oh God.

The answer to that question is that, well, my favourite changes depending on my mood, what I’m writing at the moment, what I haven’t touched in a while, and so many other factors and variables that giving a consistent answer is… difficult. But here goes.

At the moment, my favourite character is probably Ren, from Ren of Atikala. Next month it might be Turner from Insufficient, then back to Captain Liao for a spell.

How I make characters, though, is strange. Some come into the world with everything they need; backstories, personalities, favourite colours, etc. Others need time to grow. I find it depends a lot on the perspective used. Third person tends to be more about the world and the things in it, while first person is more about a character’s personal journey. Of course, Insufficient breaks that rule pretty hard, but that’s what rules are there for; to be broken. Assuming, of course, you know the rule exists in the first place and why you’re breaking it.

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?

Yes I do, my long time mate Shane Michael Murray, author of the frankly awesome The Orc of Many Questions. He’s living in Japan now, but that doesn’t stop me throwing books at him non-stop. Somehow he keeps up.

Poor bastard.

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?

Often characters are the anti-me. I’m male, but I have exactly one male protagonist. Either way, everyone I write tends to be warriors, fighters, military personnel. Strong characters. I’m a civilian. I cry during romance films. Jeez.

Magnet, aka Mike Williams, is probably the closest to me. I wanted to be a fighter pilot when I was a kid, and his goof-ball, self-deprecating, ‘fiction is stranger than life’ attitude is remarkably similar to my own. I’d like to think I’m prettier than he is, but how he looks on the outside is probably indicative of how I see myself, so eh.

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?

My modus operandi regarding writing is to try to create likable, relatable, interesting characters and then do horrible things to them.

When I die and go to Hell, I’ll be punished by being a character in one of my own novels.

That said, I’ve noticed with a hint of uncomfortable realisation that I tend to focus on matters of sex and reproduction a fair amount. Magnet debates marrying his girlfriend, Liao gets pregnant, Ren shuns her people’s ruthlessly pragmatic ‘organised reproduction’ and Turner is one of only a dozen or so females inside a Silo. It’s rarely the focus of the story (Turner being an exception), but it’s certainly present.

Not sure what that says about me (probably that I got started in fanfiction… hyuk, hyuk, hyuk) but there you go. Now you all know my dark secret.

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 make an implicit promise at the end of the story that the series is going somewhere.

Liao gets pregnant at the end of Lacuna and James is missing in action. Insufficient ends with Turner and the other females hiding out with their supporters in the depths of their Silo. Ren of Atikala ends with Ren being betrayed and turned over to an evil dragon. These things (I hope!) tell the reader that, no, things are not done yet. We’re just starting. The best is yet to come.

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?

As outlined above, yeah. For all my life. Star Trek is the birthplace of fanfiction — and the smutty kind, too. I grew up around slashfic of all kinds, to the point I just kind of consider it normal.

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.)

Our biggest advantage is our biggest disadvantage. The expectation of quality.

If someone sees a story for sale on Amazon, there’s certain expectations that the story will be good. It’ll be a decent length, relatively free of typos and errors, and will be entertaining. This is good: it reassures people that the couple of bucks they’re going to spent will be worth it, and that they’ll be entertained. If not, there’s Amazon’s no-questions-asked refunds policy and that dreaded, ego-crushing 1-star button.

The only problem with that, of course, is that your story has to be good. It has to be professionally edited and well formatted, it has to be compatible with a wide range of devices and readers, and it has to be priced competitively. It has to have a super professional cover. It should have a print edition available. Etc.

If someone doesn’t like your Fanfiction.net story, they’ll stop reading and that’s it. If someone doesn’t like your paid, Amazon story, well… they’re more likely to leave bad reviews, or seek a refund, which is essentially a “bad review”. There are lots of reasons for returns, but when you see them for yourself, that’s just how they’re seen.

But that desire for quality pushes you. It makes you a better writer. Getting a 1-star hurts, it does, but I read all my negative reviews. I read them far more often and with more care than I do my 5-stars, which I read once, smile, and move on. I learn what people didn’t like. What made them dislike the story, and I fix it; either in a new edition of the same story (rarely), or in a sequel (more commonly). I learn. I adapt. I grow.

When you’re charging for a service you have to make it good. It’s the best motivator for quality I have; making sure that what I write is good enough to sell.

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?

Long stretches, either in bed with my laptop or in my office on my Mac. I need to be away from distractions and I need to be warm, fed and caffeinated. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just the nature of it.

Don’t rush if the words aren’t coming out. Let them come at their own pace. A late book will eventually be good, but a rushed book will be bad forever.

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

Oh God, what a journey.

I’ve been living off my book royalties for a year now. It’s not quite sustainable; I saved up a bit of cash to do so, and it’s now clear that it’s time I went back and got myself a real job. But what a year.

I met Hugh Howey in person when he was on the Gold Coast earlier this year, and it was a blast. I loved it. If he comes back, I’m definitely getting him pizza like we planned. 😀

The e-publishing scene is just beginning. Just beginning. We’re on the precipice of something really great here, and now’s the time to get publishing.

Technically it was a couple of years ago, but never mind that. Now’s as good a time as any.

Go. Write. Publish. Enjoy. Life’s too short and too awesome to be spent kicking yourself because you never got to tell that story that you always wanted to tell.

You know the one.

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