The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Worlds of Michael D’Ambrosio

Author Questions:

  1. (2) Do all authors have to be grammar Nazis? Some writers assume that it’s the editor’s job to fix grammar, spelling, etc. Unfortunately, part of being a professional writer means knowing how to write in the first place. If you turn in a project with 1000 mistakes, the editor may catch 950 of them. That means 50 errors still exist in your work. If you only have 50 mistakes, then the odds are that the editor may catch all of them. Editors are human, too, so they will miss some errors. The goals is to put out a project that is as close to perfect as one can get. So, to answer your question, I believe a good writer needs to be attentive to the details for any errors to the point where he/she must believe their work is perfect before the editing even occurs. This also frees the editor’s focus toward other details like using the optimum vocabulary words or providing the best description of something. Grammar and spelling should be considered the basic fundamentals of writing. If you don’t have them, you should hone those skills or walk away from the idea of writing at a professional level.
  2. What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special? Science-fiction, dating back to the great writers who opened the door for us (Asimov, Clarke, etc.), gave us a view of the future. Some of their topics came to be much sooner than others. Some things were close but not quite right. A few turned out to be exactly what it was meant to be – fiction. The challenge today for writing in this field is to give the reader an idea what the future could hold for us. Obviously no one knows for sure until we get there, but as writers, we want to give a reader something to think about. Maybe it’s something exciting or even something downright scary. Many people think of making first contact with aliens as something that will be fun. Exciting, yes, but probably not fun. Things to consider are where that places us on the food chain and how do we not get infected by an alien virus due to uncontrolled interaction that could wipe out the human race. How does our social interaction change or affect a new environment or species? Science fiction writers have the opportunity to present scenarios both positive and negative and, with their own imagination, teach us how we might cope. What makes this genre special is that writers have different backgrounds, particularly in the technical area, and can present ideas and assumptions to us based on their knowledge and intuition.
  3. How important is research to you when writing a book? The amount of research required depends on the genre. If you are writing science-fiction, then your story has to have a degree of credibility to it. For instance, being outside a spaceship without protective gear is a quick way to die. We saw in Guardians of the Galaxy where Peter Quill leaves the escape pod to rescue Gamora. The scene is accurate that it is cold in space but it is significantly colder than portrayed. These kinds of details in a novel or script stand out as implausible to anyone knowledgeable on the subject. This also leads a reader or viewer to understand that it’s more fantasy than science fiction so take it for what it’s worth. Readers and viewers tend to be escapists. They want to get away to a new world. If they can’t believe what they read, then they may not feel like it’s an escape after all. Other genres, like romance, usually don’t require any research unless the scenes take place in an uncommon or specific location, like the Oval Office or in a regional locale that requires a certain amount of knowledge like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It’s up to the writer to determine how much he/she needs to know for their story.
  4. When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer? In the early nineties, I worked as an applications/field engineer in the nuclear industry and was required to write technical instructions for new products I designed. The instructions had to be written so a first grader could understand them and very specific. One day, during a deployment with the Air National Guard, I complained about the lack of creative sci-fi stories and movies during that time frame. A friend suggested that I should write my own stories if I don’t like what others are writing. That’s when I decided to go for it. Since then, I’ve been knee-deep in writing.
  5. What inspires you to write? I think emotion is what drives me. I have to feel strongly about something (character or plot) to write about it. If I imagine a scene with certain circumstances that strike an emotional cord, I quickly expand on it to build a plot in my mind. Once I have a plot, then I expand to the general story outline. I try to use my characters in roles that twist their emotions to a point where it impacts or impedes their objective. Then I want them to find a logical way to work through it and succeed. In real life, we are dealt some crappy hands and must find ways to overcome them. When my readers finish a story, I want them to feel something. Hate a character; love a character, whatever. Just feel or learn something and hopefully be inspired when it’s over. The more emotion, the better.
  6. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day? When I “get in the zone”, I can write forever. Sometimes a scene doesn’t have the impact I want it to and I have to scrap it. Usually, I imagine a scene as part of a movie and I’m an extra character in it. If I’m not impressed with the characters and their actions, that’s my clue that it’s not working. I do strive to keep my stories between 70,000 and 80,000 words so I don’t lose the momentum of the story.
  7. Do you think writers have a normal life like others? It depends on the writer. I think most of us understand that we need to interact publicly to promote ourselves and our work. Some writers feel they can accomplish that through social media or through the publisher. The writers I know from conventions are very outgoing and enjoy public interaction. We’ve met at tables in a bar to discuss our experiences in marketing and venues only to be surrounded by fans who are anxious to hear our conversations. It’s flattering to us that people think enough of us that way.
  8. Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever the idea takes you? I think most writers will agree that we start off with an idea or plan for the story. As we develop our characters, they tend to take over and things go ‘their’ way. When you inadvertently give a character a certain trait, it can inherently change the direction of the story in a hurry. Suddenly, it opens other avenues for the plot to follow.
  9. What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion? I believe the character arc of the protagonist and antagonist is the key to a successful story. Readers want to know what happens to the two from the beginning to the end. How does their character change and what do they learn? How does the protagonist succeed versus how does the antagonist fail?
  10. What is your take on the importance of a good cover and title? Imagine this: you go into a book store, looking for a book. No particular book is in mind, so you’re just browsing. On the shelves, you see the spine with the title and author’s name. You might pass hundreds of titles until one catches your eye. Why does it catch your eye? Now you’re interested enough to take it off the shelf and peruse it. You see the cover: it either disappoints or peaks your interest. Next, you turn to the back of the book to get an idea of the story and main character. At this point, you’re sold or resume your search. I’ve heard many readers complain that the cover had nothing to do with the story and they felt cheated. So, from a marketing standpoint, the cover and title are very important. I actually had my publisher change the cover of Space Frontiers: The Eye of Icarus to from something abstract to something more relevant to the story. I was never keen on the original cover and it reflected in sales. At conventions, fans often picked up the second, third or fourth book in the series and asked if they needed the first book to read the others. As soon as we switched to the new cover, sales spiked and the remaining three books in the series began selling as well.
  11. Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers? Yes, be patient and work hard. The key to being successful in the book business is to build a fan base. This doesn’t happen overnight but if your first book is well done, then you’ll have no trouble starting. You won’t get rich off of books either, so be prepared to invest a lot of time and money into marketing yourself and your books.
  12. Tell us about your writing style; how it is different than others? There are two aspects of my writing that I’m sure make my style distinct. First, I like continuous action. There’s nothing worse than reading a story and you go through several pages of ‘filler’, that’s boring stuff with no obvious purpose. It becomes a good stopping point for the reader, but may also become the last time the reader picks it up. If it’s fast paced and enjoyable, a reader will have a hard time putting it down. The second aspect is my dialogue. Since I write screenplays as well as novels, I tend to go a little heavier on dialogue than other writers. I offset that with the first aspect – lots of action and fast pacing.
  13. Do your novels carry a message? In simple terms, I’d say ‘Adapt and Overcome’ with a focus on survival against long odds. I like to inspire readers to understand the social interaction between different types of characters, seeing the obvious conflict and how it can be worked out. I also want a reader to feel like he/she can overcome anything, after reading any of my stories, if they think it through and don’t give up. When they read through some of the predicaments my characters go through, I’m sure they feel like things aren’t so bad in their world.
  14. Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy. How true is that? Don’t base your opinion on the TV show ‘Castle’. Many years ago, there were few authors brave enough to type a 150,000 word story on a Smith-Corona typewriter. The number of books available to readers was limited and the authors were well known. Because of the limited competition, writers could make a good living off of a writing career. With today’s business model, modern technology and the incredible number of people writing, there isn’t a lot to be made for anyone in the business. It’s more a case of can you make enough to sustain a career in writing. My feeling is that by marketing your book or adapted script to the film industry, you stand the best chance of making a leap to a sustaining career in writing. I’m sure there’s an exception out there somewhere but most of us won’t be the next Stephen King or Anne Rice. I’m sure that even they aren’t seeing the proceeds they were used to in earlier years as well.
  15. Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers? I believe all of my novels are intriguing but regarding something new – Queen of Pain which is the sequel to Princess Pain has a lot to entertain. Lead character Marina leaves one heck of a body count in Princess Pain before softening up and becoming more social. In the soon to be released Queen of Pain, many are wondering if and why Marina goes back to her violent tendencies and how many will die this time around. I’m currently writing a new series beginning with Space Truckers, a futuristic action/sci-fi story based on a script I recently wrote. This one is entertaining as it’s based around a love triangle of a mercenary, his ex-wife (CEO) and her employee, a female Captain of a freighter. Throw in some angry militant aliens and it gets very exciting. I expect this to be available around fall of 2018.
  16. Do you have a day job other than being a writer? Do you like it? I work as a nuclear controls technician at a nuclear generating station. Prior to that, I was an applications/nuclear field engineer. These career fields help fuel the science part of my novels. Working in a nuclear plant is much like being on a space ship because of the design for containment of breeches of service water or reactor coolant. There are hatches everywhere and it’s often a lonely place in many areas. I do enjoy it because it’s a challenge and feeds my creativity. When you imagine the energy inside a reactor vessel and what it’s capable of, you can come up with all kinds of story lines. I do appreciate having the opportunity to have a good paying job to supplement my writing. I don’t think I would write, knowing if it doesn’t sell, I lose the house. It’s like working with a gun to your head. I write best when I’m relaxed with no pressure.
  17. How do you see writing – as a hobby or a passion? It’s definitely a passion. Every day you are building onto what you’ve already done. When times are slow, you have to maintain the enthusiasm to keep writing. I believe that the passion is what fuels a writer’s desire to create a compelling story. If I had to write something, a homework assignment for instance, it won’t have the same impact as something I’m writing out of desire. I tend to view a hobby as something to amuse one’s self. If you are writing as a hobby, it’s not likely that your heart will be into marketing it and winning fans.
  18. Is it true that anyone can be a writer? I don’t believe so. Anyone can write a story but to be a writer, you have to know how to tell a story. Writing is a skill just like welding, accounting, auto racing, etc. Can anyone do these things I mentioned? Yes, but are they pros at them? Everyone has a talent but you have to develop what you are good at.
  19. People believe that being a published author is glamorous. Is that true? Not necessarily. There are some readers who understand what is involved in writing a book and have a deep appreciation for it, resulting in admiration. Others look at it from a materialistic standpoint. Did you arrive in a limo at an event? Do you wear expensive clothes? Are your inner circle of friends A-listers? Most writers are normal people who wear their pants like everyone else. They aren’t movie stars so glamor isn’t likely to be part of our experiences.
  20. Do you like traveling or do you prefer to stay indoors? I love traveling and meeting new people. Social interaction is so important for writing new characters. It’s fun to watch how people react to each other under different circumstances. It’s also important to take in new sites, regardless of what they are. We, as writers, must always improve our ability to build characters from real world experiences if we expect to succeed.
  21. Did any of your books ever get rejected by publishers? My Space Frontiers: The Eye of Icarus was rejected by a big publisher because they didn’t see a market for it. I signed with a small press and it’s been a big seller for us. Sometimes publishers don’t always see what the public does. That’s where a writers’ knowledge of the field comes in. I knew my novels would do well because of what sells at conventions so I didn’t let the rejection affect me in the least.
  22. Do you enjoy book signing? I always enjoy opportunities to meet people. Book signings are fun but you have to know your venue. Book store signings are tough to sell books unless you are a well-known name in the area. It’s like doing cold calls in marketing. You are trying to capture the attention of someone who is likely in a hurry to look at your novel when they know nothing about you. I’ve done signings at ice cream shops, bars and other unusual places and did well because it was different than the stores product and people were curious. I’ve also done speaking events and followed that up with a signing. That, too, has worked well.
  23. Have you ever marketed your own books? I’d better be marketing them. A writer can’t expect the publisher to do everything. You should supplement what they are doing and build on anything they have. Some new writers believed that once they got published, they could sit back and write the next novel and wait for the big checks. The more books you write, the workload increases exponentially. I market my books through my website, through appearances and literature at conventions, and just meeting people in general. I always tell people, success is 90 percent perception and 10 percent reality and reality translates into royalties.
  24. What is your motivation for writing more? Having a story to tell. My motivation was in the way I laid out each of my series. The Fractured Time Trilogy started with modern day characters and what we know today. Space Frontiers was based on the son of the lead character, Billy Brock, in Fractured Time. Princess Pain was based on Marina, the daughter of Will Saris, Billy’s son. At some point, Space Truckers will intersect with The Pain Series but that’s further down the line. Each series ended with a ‘what if’ or ‘what’s next’. Each series could have ended there if I chose but I knew there was more that I had to tell.
  25. Are you friends with many writers? Oh, yes. I really enjoy the comradery among writers on the road. We often view ourselves as entertainers and do things to make people remember us. It’s also nice to share experiences about the business, events and lessons learned. Fans seem to enjoy seeing writers get together and share stories.
  26. What does the word ‘retirement’ mean to you? Do writers ever retire? I don’t think we can. Whether it’s writing a short story, a news item, a new novel or a script, I don’t think a writer can ever really stop writing. It doesn’t mean a writer doesn’t slow down or limit what they do. However, George R.R. Martin seems to have quite a bit of gas in the tank for his age. Between writing and producing Game of Thrones and to the extent of his details, I have faith that I can write for a long time.
  27. How did you celebrate the publishing of your first book? Ironically, I didn’t. All I could think about was the work ahead of me: the marketing, advertising, appearances, and opportunities. I had a lot to learn and a short time to do it. And then, I had to write the next book.
  28. Which book would you want adapted to the silver screen? I could pick any one over the others. They are all different in their own way. There is interest from the film industry in all the scripts I’ve adapted from the books, as well. When a script sells in Hollywood, companies tend to look and see what other material the writer has to ‘strike while the iron’s hot’. When my first novel, Fractured Time, came out in 2001, I received a call from Centropolis Pictures’ VP of Development. They were interested in buying the rights to the story. I was so excited! We were all set to meet and iron out a deal. Unfortunately, September 11th happened and they changed their mind. That’s what inspired me to learn to write my own scripts and market them.
  29. Can you tell us about your current projects? Currently, I’m working on a new novel, Space Truckers. It’s a sci-fi/futuristic action story from my script of the same title. This Spring, Queen of Pain, the sequel to Princess Pain should be released from AZ Publishing out of Phoenix, Az. This Pain Series has a heck of a body count and lots of action. Lead character Marina has one heck of a mean streak in her and takes it out on anyone who crosses her. My website at www.fracturedtime.com has the first chapters of my novels as well as updated information on projects and appearances.
  30. Doesn’t it bother you that when books are turned into movies, they are often changed to suit the audience needs? Understanding how and why that happens is why I branched into screenwriting as well as novels. That being the case, I can write my novels in a way that they can be adapted without altering the primary story. I’ve been lucky to have met a number of individuals in the film industry who took the time to teach me the variables involved in the decision–making process.
  31. Do you attend literary lunches or events? I’ve been a guest panelist at over a hundred literary and comicon conventions across the country. I’ve spoken at the Library of Congress twice now. I’ve done several speaking events for reading and writing groups, schools and libraries. I really enjoy getting out and meeting people. Once they meet me, they are anxious to read my books and talk about my scripts. I list my appearances, both past and future on my website at www.fracturedtime.com.