Hey, welcome back!
We've got another wonderful interview today!
Ryan Southwick, an accomplished sci-fi author, has decided that he can spend some time with us. So let's jump right in! (And read to the end because there's a goodie down there!)
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
12 years ago, I was reading an urban fantasy novel filled with grammatical errors and cliches. The thought suddenly struck me that if this person was able to publish, I could do it, too. I’d had an idea kicking around in my head for over a decade, so I decided to finally put it on paper. As you can already guess, I discovered that the craft of writing is MUCH harder than I originally thought, but I stuck with it, learned the hard lessons, and am very happy with the quality and content of my work today.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I have more creative energy in the morning, so that’s when most of my writing happens. Back when I was also floating a day job, I would wake up at 4:30 or 5 am just to get in a few solid hours of undisturbed writing before anyone woke up and I had to get ready for work. My schedule is easier these days. I recently retired, so I can spend as much of the morning as I want writing. It’s wonderful. =]
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Video games and hiking are my two favorite non-writing activities (writing is definitely at the top). I love open-world games like Skyrim (especially Skyrim!), shooters in general, and have recently become a fan of survival games like Valheim and Conan Exiles. We live on the California coast and have some great hiking trails overlooking the water, so I frequently walk those to keep active and refreshed. My brother also lives in the eastern Sierras amidst gorgeous views and a stone’s throw from Yosemite. I try to visit him often.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
Gosh… Including novellas (>40k words), I’m up to 10 books now, and furiously working to finish number 11.
Choosing a favorite is difficult, but if I had to, it’s probably one of my lesser-known works, Zima: Origins. It’s a prequel novella to The Z-Tech Chronicles about one of the rougher and most conflicted characters in the series, and her life immediately following her emancipation from the organization that had essentially kept her as a slave and conditioned her to be a killing machine. The book itself takes place in one of the most culturally rich parts of San Francisco, the Mission District, where I spent many hours enjoying the artwork that covers entire alleys, the fantastic taquerias, Mexican bakeries, gourmet ice cream, and of course the famous Mission Dolores Park and its colorful denizens. In an attempt to discover what “normal” is, Zima attaches herself to a Hispanic family who have no idea what they’ve signed up for. The protagonist, Emilio, is a late teen who became ensnared in a gang and can’t see a way out. It’s a heartwarming tale of lost ways, found family, the trials of adolescence, and the power of simply caring for one another. And it has action, of course. It wouldn’t be a Zima book without adrenalin-pumping action.
Do you like to create books for adults?
Absolutely. The shelves are full of young adult books chronicling endless teenage trials and first experiences. Our challenges don’t subside as we age, they simply change form, are more complex, and, in many ways, have much more impact on the world around us. I got tired of the blushing protagonist who trembled at the idea of holding hands with someone else, let alone (gasp) kissing! Writing adult fiction with adult protagonists allows me to push past that stuff and get to the next-level challenges, including more focus on plot and action. Not that my books don’t focus on relationships, because they do, and probably always will. =]
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Energize! I’m often on the edge of my seat when I’m writing, so engaged in the story (and curious about what’s going to happen next) that I look at the clock and realize I’ve missed two meals. Writing is my passion and my escape. Even the editing process is invigorating. My biggest problem is that I often get sucked right back into the story and forget that I’m supposed to be making it better.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
The biggest trap is knowing when to publish. Market fluctuations and times of year aside, the Kindle store is full of what should be first and second drafts because many new authors (and some not-so-new ones) think the manuscript they toiled over for years is “good enough” and doesn’t need an editor, or they don’t find good beta readers and proofreaders to make sure there aren’t any overt problems. While some very experienced authors with the right combination of talents may be able to pull this off, they’re the exception, not the rule. Get an editor. No, you won’t make that money back on your first book (sorry if this is the first time you’re hearing this, but better to set your expectations now), but their feedback is critical to your reputation as a new author, and if nothing else, a show of respect to readers who will invest in reading your book. Make their time worth it by giving them a polished novel.
The flip side of that is authors who never publish. Some enjoy the process of writing and don’t want to publish. No judgements here; do what makes you happy. But there are those who keep talking about publishing but are afraid to because they don’t think their work is good enough, or they want to save it for the “perfect” moment when they have a Big 5 publisher in their pocket and can retire on the royalties (see my note above, sorry to say).
2 hard truths:
· “Perfect is the enemy of done.” Your manuscript must be polished, but it will never be perfect, so at some point you will have to simply accept it as “good enough” and move on
· There is no ideal moment to publish, nor are you likely to score a Big 5 publisher with your first book. Do some research, swallow your insecurities, and get it out there. The best way to master something is to do it, fail, then keep trying until you get it right
So if you’re holding onto that manuscript but your betas are telling you it’s good enough (you are using betas, right?) then take a chance and let the world see it. Letting go is the only way to get the feedback you need to improve on your next attempt.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
That’s a tough one! Putting anything out for the world to see takes some degree of ego. Selling your book means having the confidence to say, “Hey, this is good stuff! You should read it!” which is difficult to do if you’re taking the ultra-humble approach (extreme humility is also tiring, but that’s different topic). But too big of an ego can make people unreceptive to feedback and/or come off as a jerk. Both of those are recipes for disaster. So as with most things, ego in moderation is probably the right answer, with extremes on either side being detrimental.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to write the story that I would want to read. I enjoy a variety of genres (science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, and as stated above, relationships) so my stories tend to cross boundaries. I’m at peace with the fact that this means I will probably never be a bestselling author, but I hope those who do read my books will still find it a smooth, enjoyable experience.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Sure. The example that comes to mind is Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Spade was the original hard-boiled detective, an incredibly reserved protagonist who focused on the facts, and that same attitude came out superbly in Hammett’s writing. Does everyone enjoy that writing style? Probably not, but Maltese Falcon shows that a fiction novel doesn’t have to be passion-infused to be successful.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Scrivener, hands-down. I spent… well, much longer than I should have in the beginning researching writing tools. I’d avoided Scrivener despite recommendations because at the time it was a Mac-only product, and I was a Windows guy. So I picked another popular tool, learned to master it, and then of course they went out of business, and the version my manuscripts were on didn’t run on newer versions of Windows. I grudgingly pulled the trigger on Scrivener, and let me tell you, I’ve never looked back. All of my books are on Scrivener and all future ones will be, too. It’s a one-stop shop from idea generation to characters and plot to compiling finished manuscripts. It also has a huge support community. As an author, it’s the best $50 I’ve ever spent.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Best Intentions by J Dark. It’s pure urban fantasy except for the protagonist, Fern, who is very down-to-earth about her strengths and limitations. Heading to a dangerous part of town where Orcs might tear her apart? Hire a troll bodyguard, duh! In a fight and knows she’s outclassed? Get the heck out of there, hire even bigger guns, and try again from a more advantageous position. In so many of the urban fantasies I’ve read, the protagonist is unreasonably pig-headed and willingly throws herself into situations that she has no business surviving. Fern is a refreshing take on how someone might realistically (and rationally) overcome those difficult scenarios. And her name is absolutely the best.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Thankfully, not many. I tend to finish the books I start all the way through publishing, and keep only as many going simultaneously as necessary to keep me busy while my other manuscripts are in the hands of editors or betas. As of right now, I have 3 books in line at the publisher (One Man’s Trash plus the last 2 books in The Z-Tech Chronicles). I’m almost done with New Denver, the second book in the Timeless Keeper dystopian series, and three-quarters done with Enigma, the first book of a new science fiction series, the Lost Colonies. I do have 2 other books that I got 1-2 chapters into and decided I wasn’t excited about, but those are the only exceptions so far that will likely never make it to the great halls of Amazon.
What does literary success look like to you?
Since I’m not targeting popular genres, it can’t be sales, so it’s really about the quality of the few reviews I get rather than the quantity. If those few who choose to read them feel emotionally invested and enjoy the story, then I’ve done my job.
What do you have coming next?
Lots of good stuff!
· Oct 25, 2022 - One Man’s Trash (A Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy Story)
· Q1 2023 – Angels Adrift (The Z-Tech Chronicles Book 5)
· Q1 2023 – New Denver (Timeless Keeper Saga Book 2)
· Q2 2023 – Angels Strike (The Z-Tech Chronicles Book 6) and series finale!
· H2 2023 – Enigma (Lost Colonies Book 1)
Here are all the places readers can stalk me:
Facebook Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ryansunbreakablegods
Amazon Author Page: https://amazon.com/author/ryansouthwick
BONUS! Excerpt from holtondome!
“You can put my bags anywhere,” Fi said to Seg. Then to Jen, “Would you help me unpack while your brother fetches clean clothes?”
Seg and Jen shared a confused look.
“Miss?” Jen said.
“He’s had a rough day, and I imagine he’d like to freshen up. The shower in this room should work as well as his own.”
“It does, Miss Fi,” Seg said. “But it will only take me a minute to go use mine.”
“Why? If you’re going to be living here, you may as well use this shower.”
Jen snapped her mouth shut with a click. “Miss Fi… we will, of course, do everything within reason to make you feel comfortable during your stay in Holtondome. But holding my brother against his will as a… a concubine is, well…”
Fi laughed softly. “I haven’t heard that word in a while. As for holding your brother hostage… I have no power over him, so he may do as he will. But I haven’t heard him object.”
“Because he hasn’t had a chance to!”
Fi’s heavenly blue eyes turned to Seg. “Do you object?”
Her tone was so bored—so certain he wouldn’t object—that Seg had to laugh.
Jen’s mouth worked soundlessly, then closed with another click. “I see. Miss Fi, Seg is my younger brother, and… forgive me for saying, but he doesn’t always think things through. For instance, he may not have considered how sleeping in the same room with an honored guest—who he’s known for all of ten minutes—might affect his marriage prospects.”
Seg knew what Fi was going to ask him before she uttered a sound.
“Have you considered how staying with me will affect your marriage prospects?”
“I have.” With only one working eye, his marriage prospects were already abysmal, which Jen well knew. A scandal like this could hardly make his prospects worse.
Oblivious to Jen’s dagger-stare, Fi swung her large suitcase onto a bed and opened it, revealing an array of women’s garments, then began arranging the piles into a dresser drawer with precision.
Jen’s scowl lasted only until she realized she wasn’t going to win the argument from either side. She sighed and walked stiffly to the bed.
“May I hang these dresses for you, Miss Fi?”
“In the right half of the closet, please, facing left. Your brother can have the other half.” She looked at Seg. “I’d like it if yours faced right.”
“Whatever you say,” Seg said, not caring if they faced right, left, or were piled at the foot of his bed. “Back in a minute.”
He closed the door behind him with a smile.
Life in Holtondome had just become much more interesting.