Welcome to The Book Commentary, Stefan. To begin, we would like to know more about your writing journey. When did you start writing and how did you discover that you were cut for writing?
I always wanted to write. Well, not exactly always, but ever since I came across an illustrated book of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a kid, the printed word fueled my imagination. In high school and university, I breezed through essay and writing assignments, puzzled why some of my classmates struggled. Books, of course, particularly science fiction, got my formative ideas factory churning. I figured if others could write short stories and novels, so could I. It did not look that hard. Hah!
I first turned my hand to writing short stories. I yearned for the day when people would walk past a bookstore and see my books on display. Vanity? Perhaps, but the fire burning deep within me that urged me to write also compelled me to share the products of my imagination. Regrettably, just making my way in the world after college, I could not indulge my passion. I had to find a way to live and support myself. Hence my IT career, but that fire never went out, although I did allow it to die down a few times, frustrated at not being able to find a publisher or agent. Publishing is a savage game, as I came to learn, and publishers are not keen to publish my books just because I wanted to see them in bookstores. When I said enough to my IT career, I devoted myself full-time – well, almost full-time – to writing and helping other authors navigate through the writing and publishing quicksand.
What inspired the Shadow Gods Saga and what has been the most life-altering or most challenging part of writing the saga?
With several short stories behind me, still in college, I turned my hand to writing a space opera novel. I am glad that piece of work will never see the light of day, but the process has taught me a lot about the mechanics of professional writing. I am still learning new things about that. When I started my first IT job, I began writing what has subsequently been published as With Shadow and Thunder. That was the easy part. Finding a publisher and agent brought the sharp reality of publishing pitfalls into hard focus. In the end, I turned to several e-book publishers and eventual self-publishing.
There is no single event or idea that triggered that novel. I guess it was an amalgam of accumulated information gleaned from reading other books, combined with something that finally bubbled to the surface into a format I felt I could use. What I wanted to write about was science fiction not set on Earth. There were, and are, enough of those around. I set out to create a completely new universe of worlds, political systems, and people who struggled to survive pretty much the way we cope with life. I also sought to create a main character who had something extra about him – the power of Death in his hand. With the book done, there was so much more to tell, I followed it up with Through the Valley of Shadow. By then, the universe I created had expanded enormously, and I simply had to write how my principal character came to have the power of Death, which evolved into the first book in the series, In the Shadow of Death.
The Shadow Gods Saga was an evolution and expansion of complexity as I matured as a writer and my horizons broadened with life’s experiences. What challenged me was making sure my principal character also matured as life’s trials challenged his beliefs and behavior, rather than have him portrayed as just another shoot ’em up hero.
Is there a relationship between your writing and your career in Information Technology? How would you establish that link?
My writing has not been influenced by my career in IT. Writing for me is very much an emotional, soul-searching experience, while the writing I did during my career was ordered and technical. However, my IT career greatly influenced how I approached writing. It gave me a framework of discipline, planning, and organization. When I was a computer programmer, a program would not work unless every step was defined in a process flowchart first and properly coded. That planning and organizing carried through my years as a systems analyst and program manager and I employed those skills in planning my novels.
Many authors told me they approach writing with an idea, sit down, and let it rip. That might work for some, but having read a few such efforts, cringing at the end result, I never could just sit down and bang away at the keyboard – with one proviso. I have managed to write some of my short stories in one or two sessions. However, I always approach my novels in a systematic way: a brief outline, research, plot, develop characters, and follow up with a detailed outline before I put down a word into the novel, although I have been sorely tempted at times to start pounding away before all the plot threads have been tightly woven together. With a detailed outline, am I confident the novel would not have any holes through which the reader could slip through. I must say, though, during the writing process, some of my characters take me in unexpected directions and say some surprising things, but I relish those moments, as they make the book more alive.
Can you talk about the process? How do you come up with ideas for your books and what sets your characters apart from other novels in your genre?
I spent many years on my Shadow Gods Saga books, having been initially influenced by science fiction authors like Larry Niven, Keith Laumer, Roger Zelazny, and others. For a while, that had been a sufficiently satisfying outlet for me, but a moment came when I realized that to gain attention from a traditional publisher or agent, I stood a better chance writing a contemporary novel. My book, Cry of Eagles, was that effort, which has now turned into a collection of seven books. During this period, I returned briefly to my Shadow Gods Saga to write Guardians of Shadow, perhaps my last book in the series. We shall see. I also produced Lifeliners, something that evolved from one of my short stories.
Like many authors, I have more ideas than books I have written. Getting an idea is easy, as there is lots of source material to draw upon: my life’s experiences, history, current events, other fiction and non-fiction books, politics … a wealth of things. The difficult part comes in picking a random idea – and one can strike by simply watching a TV program – and developing it into a possible book. I had hopes for several such ideas, but when I picked at them, most never worked out. My IT discipline, I guess.
I would not say that my principal character in the Shadow Gods Saga is unique. However, he does have a unique attribute, combined with a somewhat irreverent attitude. I cannot claim to have invented someone completely new, not after thousands of books out there. I can say, though, he is entertaining. Well, at least I hope he is. With my contemporary novels, I have set out to create compelling, believable, real-life characters who have to deal with whatever is thrown at them. That is about as best as any author can hope to achieve. Only readers who buy my books can tell me if I have succeeded.
What are you currently reading?
Right now, I am reviewing a techno-thriller from Readers’ Favorite in the Dan Brown and Stephen Coonts genre. For readers who love non-stop action with a lot of military jargon will find this book fascinating. There is enough characterization to fill the spaces between the action scenes, but the author does not spend too much time on them, which is fair enough for this type of novel. Personally, these days, I like books with more character depth. Perhaps that is why I wrote Autumn Leaves. However, there was a period when I devoured military-type action books.
Right now, though, I am immersed in outlining my next novel, which involved a lot of research, character, and plot development. I am almost done, and I cannot wait to get stuck into writing the book.
Which author has been most influential in your writing journey?
Ah, that is one question no author should be asked to answer, as there has not been one single author who shaped my writing, but I guess it is a fair question. In my green years, like many others, I went through the old masters: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Niven. They invariably influenced my writing in some respects, especially my short stories. However, when I began reading authors such as C.S. Forester, Mary Stewart, Michener … you get the idea, the writing style of those authors came to influence me greatly. Perhaps the way they wrote was how my own writing had begun to evolve.
If there is one outstanding writer who made me pause, I would say Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills gave me a lot of material for reflection. She is not the only one, of course, but her poetic, lyrical style plucked at my imagination and heartstrings. In the end, I had to find my own ‘voice’ and shape it to fit my characters.
What has been the most fulfilling part of being an author?
Sooner or later, every writer comes to the realization that writing is a very personal and lonely thing. There are hours, days, months spent working on a novel, editing, rewriting, and polishing. When the thing is finally done, I am heartily sick and tired of the damned thing, glad to have it published, looking forward to some relaxing time off – until an idea strikes and I am off again.
Why do authors put up with it? For me, it is a fire burning deep inside that cannot be quenched. A drive that pushes me to create, explore, to share with others what goes on in my mind. There was a period when I wanted to douse that fire, believing that writing was not for me, but I was bitten by the drive to create. There is no cure and I don’t want to be cured. What keeps me going is the sheer joy of creation. When the words flow faster than I can write them down when everything clicks and my characters and I are in perfect accord, that feeling makes up for all the frustrations when I stumble into that mental pothole or speed bump and the words just won’t come. When a book is done, I nod with satisfaction and hope that readers out there will also gain a measure of enjoyment and satisfaction being immersed in the world I created.
If you were asked to sell your book, what would be the one thing you think readers will love about your writing?
My my, you want an answer where to find the Holy Grail!
I am a fairly hard reviewer, and I expect authors to give their best to readers. Sadly, the self-publishing industry has given many writers an easy outlet to post some really awful books, which has, with some justification, tarnished self-publishing in the eyes of agents and traditional publishers. It is easy to understand how this happened. Many writers do not understand the English language and its grammar nuances to properly construct a plot, narrative, or dialogue. I sometimes wonder how these people graduated high school.
Getting back to your question, I would like to think readers will like my books because I give them believable stories populated with engaging characters, and I make them think. Some might not like that, but that’s the break.