Twenty Questions for Twenty Authors: Rebekka Leber

This series is my excuse to satisfy my curiosity about what makes writers tick. The hope is that by exploring how writers got to their craft, how they interact with books and their process, I might learn a little more about my own.

It’s high time we had another installment in this series. The seventh author who’s kindly volunteered to talk with me about reading and writing is the illustrious Rebekka Leber, Inkshares author and host of the Drinkshares: Last Call podcast. Rebekka’s book Proxy is currently funding on Inkshares, so make sure you head on over and get yourself a copy while you can.

About Rebekka Leber

Fledgling writer, social studies teacher, feminist, socialist, nerd, quirkiness enthusiast, and 1/4 of the podcast Drinkshares: Last Call.

On Reading

  1. What are you currently reading?

The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. I found the first book, excellently entitled “Just One Damn thing After Another” this weekend, and I would like to know where they have been hiding this series from me? It’s about a group of Time Traveling historians, which is like my secret-not-so-secret dream job (aside from being the historical and cultural liaison for earth on the first interdimensional/intergalactic ambassadorial space mission).

2. Ereader or Traditional?

Trick question- where am I reading? I read every night before bed, and I don’t like messing up my eyes with the backlight of a device, so I always have a stack of books handy on my bed stand. I buy a lot of series on ereader at first though because there is nothing better than finishing a book I like and being able to download the next installment without having to peel myself out of my reading nest where I have coiled myself in a pile of blankets and pillows and cats on my big circle chair. (My cat, Rigby, really appreciates not being disturbed from his twelve hour nap. Plus, who wants to put on pants to buy books anymore? Pants are the tool of the oppressor.) I mix it up. I buy cheap books from BookBub often, but I also love going to the library and used books stores.

3. What is your favorite book?

Hands down, Fool by Christopher Moore. Both it, and the sequel the Serpent of Venice are crossover fiction of several Shakespeare plays. I’ve read Fool three times. Moore is my writing hero. I adore his style of mixing irreverent humor with history, fantasy, and classic lit. One of my favorite ideas in writing is taking old stories or history, and bending them in new ways. Moore is a master at that. Plus, Fool is full of dirty, hilarious jokes that make me laugh so hard I blew snot once.

4. Why do you think reading is important?

Okay, I’m going to answer from a teacher perspective and not a writing perspective on this one: Reading is important for the same reason I encourage my students to write by hand. When you handwrite, you activate more areas of your brain than when you type or text. That’s why I make my students hand write their notes (plus, I’m also a monster!). The more synapses you can get to fire- the motoskills required to move your hand and make the shapes, retrieving the memory of the letters and the words, reading what you have written and are copying- make the material more retainable. That’s learning. If you just take a picture and read the words later, it doesn’t work. That’s memorization. Reading is the same way- when you watch TV or movies, you get the same satisfying escape, but you don’t process as much information. That’s why people who read are better problem solvers than people who don’t. Writing by hand and reading literally make your brain better, stronger, faster.
5. What is the one book (other than your own) that you would recommend to others?

I tell anyone who will sit still long enough to read The Night Circus. That is the book I wish mine could strive to be. Much of the way Erin Morgenstern writes is similar to my own style, which is probably part of the reason I loved the book so much. The story is told through multiple perspectives in nonlinear order, so the entire story is one unwinding, woven fabric of multiple stories that come together in the end. And, the feels in that book! It’s a roller coaster of elated joy straight into traumatic emotional damage, and I adored it!

 

On Writing

  1. What made you want to become a writer? 2. Why do you write?

Both of these questions have the same answer- because I love stories. No matter the medium- books, graphic novels, movies, television, audio drama- you name it, I love a good story that I can escape into and get lost. The natural evolution of that was creating my own. I was always a very creative, artistic kid. There were stories in my head, and I had to get them out.

3. What was the first thing you wrote?

The first thing I ever wrote was in 4th grade, and it was awful. It was part of an assignment to write a short story which the teacher helped us make into bound books with folders. It was about two rival princesses fighting for control of the kingdom when they are forced to merge. The evil princess kidnaps and abandons the good princess in the woods to die, but the good princess is helped by a talking bear who helps her save the kingdom. And then, a surprise to no one, the bear is a cursed prince and they live happily ever after.

 

Word of advice- don’t read stuff you wrote as a kid unless you really, really want to feel good about your ability as a writer today. Just… yikes. It was that bad.

 

The first thing I ever wrote to share were fanfictions. Writing fanfiction actually taught me a great lessons in my strengths as a writer. My favorite fanfiction I wrote was a crossover between Buffy and Supernatural where the only reason Buffy went to heaven and Dean went to hell was because the Angels had to keep them apart to prevent a prophecy that would ruin the Angels plans. I got so many compliments on my ability to capture character voice, and I loved the challenge of weaving the two stories together through the similarities. Those are two strengths in my writing I learned from starting with fanfiction.

 

4. Which writers inspire you?

I have my favorites of course, but they all have the same qualities, so rather than list the names, I think it is more helpful to list what qualities in writers inspire me. A) Not just creating a story, but an entire universe in which that story lives; B) Making me laugh and cry in the same book; C) Torturing the characters to the point where I am begging for them to catch a break, and bleeding from my heart with empathy, and still throwing more at them to make it impossible for me to figure out what is going to happen next; D) Unveiling a story in layers, or separate pieces I have to put together, so it is always like solving a mystery; and E) Blending genres to the point it’s impossible to categorize, because that is what makes truly interesting stories interesting to me- multifaceted dimensions.

 

5. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants writer?

I’m a plantser.  I have to plan the bones, or I am lost. I need to figure out the plot points and beats of the story structure, and then I can pants the rest. My best stuff comes organically, but I have to have the bones to create limitations for the scenes. I write non-linearly as ideas come (whether I am going to use them or not), and I organize the points non-chronologically. I put a scene in when the reader needs to know the information- not when it works in the sequence of events. It seems disjointed at first, but as the story wraps up it gives the reader those AHA! Moments, and I love those too much to deny anyone that pleasure. But, I have to make sure that I know the goal I have to accomplish by the time I hit the plot point or the beat, and I make my scenes work up to that.

 

6. What are you currently writing?

My current primary labor of love is called Proxy, and it is currently funding through pre-order on Inkshares.com.. If I had to categorize it, I guess you could call it snarky Historical Urban Fantasy. It takes place throughout time because many characters are immortal. The idea for Proxy was inspired by my World Religions class freshman year of college, and a discussion about Hinduism. As a western kid, raised Christian beginning to lean decidedly Atheist, I was fascinated by reincarnation in the Eastern world religions. During a discussion about the inception and destruction of the universe by the gods of the Trimurti, I was struck by the idea that all of existence is created and destroyed over and over, infinitely. If that was the case, did that mean all the souls that would exist in that universe, the ones that would cycle around repeatedly, come into existence when Brahma created each universe and die out when it was destroyed by Shiva? And, if that case was the case, did Brahma factor in overpopulation when he built his stunning little ant farm? What would happen if he didn’t even fathom it? If the number of human beings- thanks to evolution, technology, and modern medicine- began to outgrow the number of available souls, would people be born without souls? What would people be like without souls?

That eventually evolved into a history of the world where the ancient gods were actually highly evolved beings, and souls were parasites that were the reason human beings die. The ancient gods, or Primes, were humans that adapted harness the energy of the soul, and that gave them immortalities and abilities. With those abilities, they created the religions of the world to keep control of the mortal humans. Then, it all fell apart. The story starts in 2012 with a spunky, alcoholic woman named Max who discovers that she is one of these evolved people.

 

7. Why this particular genre?

I have always gravitated towards speculative fiction. As a history and education student I had to read soooooo much non-fiction. Speculative fiction was like a cure for balancing out the boring. I know many people who say they won’t read or watch anything that isn’t “real”. That’s bleak, man. The real world is the worst. That’s the scary stuff I want to run away screaming from! So, I don’t like reading stuff that’s too “real”. I need some element of the magical or the fantastic or the scientific because this is my way of escaping adulting.

 

8. From where do you glean ideas for your writing?

I write the adventures I want to go on, so it’s kind of selfishly motivated. I get weird, random ideas all the time. I have no idea where my brain cooks up these things. They come to me in dreams, in the shower, while I am driving… which explains why a lot of my characters have names based on streets. I don’t have a good answer for this- I just have a really vivid, problematically over active imagination.

 

9. What advice would you give a fledgling writer just starting on the path to building their own novel?

  1. Find a community where you feel comfortable, and do it right now! Make it your first priority! Writing is insular, because it all comes from your own head. Make friends (a.k.a connections- you’ll need those later) and get as much feedback and help brainstorming as you can.
  2. Throw every idea you have at the wall and see what sticks. Write everything you think of, and never throw stuff away (that’s why Google Drive is my best friend!). I cannibalize from myself all the time.
  3. Stay humble in the end. It’s the readers you answer too, and they will make or break you.

 

10. A new writer is suffering with writer’s block. What advice would you give them to break through?

  1. Research has always helped me. If I can’t write a scene, it’s probably because I don’t have enough context for what I am writing about. Build a well of information, and when you run dry, you’ll have something to tap.
  2. Storyboards saved Proxy from the Recycle Bin on multiple occasions. Another problem I have when I can’t write is that I can’t “see” the story. One day, I say down, and make a 7 point character arc with colored note cards for all my important characters. Once I had written the scenes that were all their important plot points, I found all the holes I needed to fill and realized which characters needed complete story arcs and which ones didn’t. I wish I would have done with from the beginning. It would have saved me a couple of years, I’d bet.
  3. Prompts have never helped me- I always have too specific a problem when I am blocked, and prompts never fit my story. They are great for new idea generation, but when I am good and stuck, they are useless. One really weird thing that does work is random word association, or more fun, modernist poetry. I either write down all the words I can think of or ideas I need to express for the scene until something clicks, or I just write strings of nonsense words- whatever pops into my mind and form them into lines of poetry. One night I had a particularly wicked block, and after writing about ten minutes of writing nonsense poetry, I cranked out twenty pages. Modernist poetry creative writing exercise- trust me, google it!

 

On your Book

1. Tell the readers about what makes your book unique.

At face value, Proxy isn’t that unique of a concept. A woman is special, people make her use her special. Not exactly the cusp of originality here. But, what I think makes it work and feel unique are the characters. They are people that remind you of people you know- good people, bad people, annoying people, toxic people, funny people, people people. The groups in the story have strong bonds. The women drive the story, and have distinct purposes and personalities.

My book does have controversial ideas though, and that will ruffle people’s feathers. It asks a lot of questions about human rights, religion’s lasting impact on society, and what is right versus what is necessary. I would like to say I did it tactfully, but I’ve met me. Hopefully, what is unique about this story is that it is a nerdy fantasy story than makes you think about what you believe, maybe even squirm about it?

 

2. What do you love about your protagonist? What do you hate about them?

Sometimes, the characters do stuff that makes you want to punch them, especially Max Lucas. Other times, you just want to buy her a drink and give her a hug. She’ll take the drink, and pass on the hug. But, I feel like she is the most genuine character I have ever written. She is destructively flawed, mind you. But, she owns it. Like me, she is bold and speaks her mind, and acts when she knows what needs to be done. Unlike me, it usually works out for her (unless you’re talking about those times it didn’t), and for that I am kind of envious. She is funnier than me too. That’s not cool. I’m funny, dammit!

 

3. Who would you want to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of your book?

When I saw Jena Malone portray Joanna Mason, I knew she would be a great Max. But, any actress that could pull off playing a Joanna Mason/Jessica Jones/Kenzi Malikov type character, they would make a fantastic Max.

 

4. Are you planning on continuing the story with a sequel and/or series?

I think Proxy needs to be a stand alone. I do see the possibility of being able to pull off stories from others characters and times in the book, and create a “Clockwork Century” by Cherie Priest kind of series where each book is a different character, but I think any story that comes before or after the events in Proxy has to be told through new sets of eyes.

 

5. Is there anything else you want readers to know?

SOOO MUCH! But, I struggle with giving away too much and not giving enough away. Max starts the story, but she is not the only protagonist. Many stories come together to reveal the whole in Proxy. Just like in real life, and in history especially, to know the whole truth you have to observe every angle, perspective, and voice. This starts as a story about a woman who as special, but it certainly does not end that way.

 

Here’s a summary of what happens in Proxy:

Max Lucas only ever worried about one thing- how she was going to score her next bottle. She’s not proud, but it’s the only thing that ever gets the voices to shut up.

When a horrific murder lifts the veil on her mysterious ancestry, she finally learns the reason why she can hear the thoughts of an entire city and why she can move objects with her mind. She’s a Preternatural.

Now, the ancient Preternaturals who once ruled the world as gods need her help to keep safe the most precious of human resources: the human soul. The entirety of human history has been written on the back of a conflict between the Preternaturals and the Vapids, an enemy that could upset the natural balance by profiting from the removal of human souls. Max will learn that hard way that the version of history you read about in textbooks is always written by the winners,  and until now, that has been the side she’s chosen.
To protect the human soul, Max agrees to become the only weapon that can fight against the Vapids. But, right now…she just needs a goddamn drink.

 

Cover

Excerpt of Proxy
A shrill repetitive beep tore Max from a very lucid dream starring Dean Winchester, set in the back of his Impala. Another perfectly good dream, needlessly ruined by the fact she had neglected to switch off the alarm before passing out, face down, on top of her sheets. She groped blindly for the button to silence the insufferable machine. Unable to locate the clock, and completely incapable of removing her face from within the pillow where it was firmly implanted, Max resorted to other means to end the obnoxious beeping.
With a flick of her dangling wrist, the alarm clock lifted off the red milk crate nightstand, smashing against the opposite wall into a dozen fragments. The noise ceased as the shattered plastic parts collected in a mess on the floor below, but sun was creeping in between the split in the curtains. Even through her eyelids it was bright enough to give her a headache. Max moved only to slide under the sheets, drawing them over her head, creating a warm, soft hangover cocoon. Within seconds she was drifting back, imagining hazel-green eyes, black leather, and a bad ass smirk that said, “Yeah, I got freckles—they’re fucking adorable. Wanna fight about it?”
“What hell was that?” Ridley’s voice came muffled from the other end of the apartment.

“Did you hear that crash?”
She sighed heavily, fighting in vain to hold their image in her mind. “No…”
“It sounded like something fell.”
“Weird…” she mumbled from the recesses of her lumpy pillow.
Ridley rolled his eyes. “C’mon, get up and eat something.”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
“Have some coffee at least.”
“Can’t you see I’m sleeping?”
Yanking away the protective sheath, he tossed the sheets to the floor, evoking a noise that could only be described as the moan of a dying pterodactyl, followed by a desperate flail to shield her body from the light that landed her on the floor.
“I could have been naked!” she cried, hanging her body on the edge of the bed like she was clinging to it for dear life.
“Yeah, like naked Max would be something new for me? Get up, or I am opening the curtains.”
“You are officially King of the Asshats.”
“Then, as your King, I demand that you get your drunk ass out of bed.”
“I think I have vertigo,” she whined, climbing to sit on the end of her bed, dropping her head into her hands.
“Look, enough dicking around, Max. Your shenanigans kept me up past three this morning, and I have rounds in…” Ridley peered at his watch, “thirty-two minutes. I am not leaving until I know you have something in your system besides alcohol.”
Unsteadily, Max rose and drug her feet to the dresser where she pulled out a hooded sweatshirt, and tugged it over her pajamas. Ridley switched on the light illuminating the room.
“C’mon, Ridley,” she groaned. “That was completely unnecessary.”
“Get moving, Lush.”
Squinting her eyes, she exited the bedroom with Ridley on her heels. The apartment was unpleasantly bright. With an errant motion of her hand, the blinds and curtains closed. Nauseas from what little movement it had taken to get from the bedroom to the kitchen, she collapsed her head onto the counter.
“Here,” Ridley said handing her a TARDIS mug full of freshly made coffee, “Drink this.”
Through some unexplained mystery of physics she managed to lift her massive feeling head. Grasping the square, blue mug with both hands, she took long inhales of the hearty smelling steam to jumpstart her much resistant body. Fighting the urge to yawn, she set the mug down on the counter and opened her new box of cereal. After the effort required to pry refrigerator door from the vacuum seal, she stood there, blinking, trying to remember why she had opened the door in the first place.
“Milk,” Ridley spoke.
“Right…” she nodded. “Milk,” and, located it as if for the first five seconds it had been invisible.
Once she had successfully navigated pouring a bowl of cereal she managed her way to the couch. Ridley followed behind with the roll of paper towels, cleaning up the splotches of displaced milk that landed on the floor.
“Have you seen the remote?” Max asked.
“Look under the coffee table,” he said from behind the couch where she had climbed over the back, unlike any normal human being, spilling a bit on the floor behind her. “That is the last place I saw it.”
Under past issues of magazines and sketches on scraps of paper, she found the remote exactly where Ridley had predicted. It was underneath a doodle she had sketched few nights ago, but had angrily abandoned in lieu of her wine glass when she intercepted an argument over finances from the couple downstairs. Ridley could lecture her until kingdom come about the dangers of alcohol abuse, but he was not the living emotional lightning rod. She depressed the red circle at the top of the remote, and the screen snapped on with a static zap. Leaning back into the couch, she spooned a huge bite of Cini-Mini Crunch into her mouth. As she chewed, she cruised through the channels trying to find something acceptable to watch.

“Max,” Ridley called from the kitchen.
Her eyes did not break from the television, nor did she respond.She was too engrossed in the looping images of carnage sprawled across the screen- there had been a train accident in New Jersey.
Memories rolled through Max’s head like a forgotten old movie— mangled bodies, sparking wires, fire, and the faceless man with an infinity tattoo on his forearm who had pulled her from the flames. The sounds of buckling metal and horrified screams were vivid in her mind. For a second, she could almost again smell the mix of smoke and melting plastic.
It was strange to Max what memories the mind held onto in traumatic experiences. Oddly, newsreels of fresh carnage and tragedy always recalled Shel Silverstein. His books had always been her favorite as a child, and Where the Sidewalk Ends had been the book her mother reading to her when their train car broke from the tracks and splayed its content across the countryside. She could still feel the lurching of her stomach from the inertia of the crashing cars, and then banging around the cabin as the car toppled, rolling partially down the hill.
Dropping the spoon into the cereal bowl with a plop and a clatter, her fingers found their way to where her head had banged against the ceiling, knocking her unconscious for the rest of the tumultuous ride. When she had finally regained consciousness, the pain in her chest was excruciating and she was being carried away from the wreck by a man who was not her father. Her face was pressed against his chest as he ran away from the flaming mess of blood and metal. A scarf wrapped around his head to protect his lungs from the searing smoke prevented her from seeing his face. But, his ripped sleeve exposed the tattoo just below the elbow crease on his left arm. Being five years old at the time, she recalled thinking that it was the number eight.
“Max?” Ridley touched her shoulder.
Unconsciously, she jumped, splashing milk across her lap. The color had bleached from her face, and the glimmer of held back tears lined the bottom of her bloodshot eyes.
“Sorry. You forgot this on the counter.”
Ridley held out her forgotten coffee, gingerly placing it side table. Max growled, and walked to the bathroom closing the door behind her in his face. She grabbed a towel, wiping the milk from the front of her clothes as Ridley spoke through the door.
“Maybe we should go visit them this weekend?” Ridley suggested, voice muffled by the wooden door.

“You can’t visit the dead, Ridley, you can only throw cheap flowers on forgotten graves.”
“But-”
The door swung open at a fierce speed.
“I thought you had to work? Have a good day. Don’t kill anybody,” she said flatly, hoping her would take the hint.
Ridley half-heartedly smiled, and  nodded before slipping out of the reflection of the mirror, then she heard the heavy slam of the door.
Throwing the towel at the shower, it made a thick, wet smack against the stained tile before plopping into the tub. The motion triggered acrobatics in her stomach. She placed both hands on the edges of the porcelain sink, and vomited a little into the basin. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and looked up to face her own reflection.
Thin, stringy strands of her brunette hair clung to her face and fell in tangles to the sides. Her skin was pale, translucent almost, but covered with rosy blotches, and deep violet crescents that weighed down her eyes. She whipped her shirt over her head to expose her chest. An ugly, malformed aberration marred her skin just under her clavicle. The scar rose up from her skin in a pattern like deformed lace. She ran her fingertips over the place where a scalding hot, broken luggage bar had impaled her. The Infinity Man had removed it while she was still unconscious, and plugged the gushing wound with his own ripped sleeve.
Gabe and Diana Lucas had told their daughter they were going to visit her grandparents, but even at five she knew something was amiss. She had racked her brain a thousand times, trying to justify why they were on that train, and the only, yet seemingly ridiculous answer she had come up with was that they were running. The anxiety in her mother’s voice, the forceful way in which her father had rushed them out of their Chicago apartment– they were both terrified of something.
He can’t really expect me to believe he’s working late again? Does he think I am an idiot?
What? These pants fit last week. I absolutely hate my body. I’m disgusting.
Next time he pulls that “You’re not my father” crap, I’m going to knock the smirk of his face.
She hated her neighbors, and she hated their incessant, superficial problems.
“I need booze.”
There was nothing that made her feel guiltier than stealing money from Ridley, but she did not really have a choice. She had to finish this painting today, and get it posted on her Artsy account. She could pay him back when she sold it. And, she would. For all her abrasive, alcoholic failings, Max was one hell of an artist. She even kind of had a following—she would sell a painting within days of posting it, for hundreds of dollars. Once, she even broke a thousand with a particularly large piece she had been commissioned to paint. The problem was most of the money went right into her liver, and within a couple weeks she was stressing to finish another piece to pay the bills and buy her quiet juice.
Do not forget to set the DVR tonight.
Shit! Did she say 12:30 or 1:30 for lunch tomorrow?
The voices of passerbys on the street were loud and plentiful, but at least they were mellower and more streamline than the cohabiters of her apartment building. Thoughts like these were fleeting. They were calm and easy to dismiss as quickly as they came
Milk, laundry detergent, condoms …
When the hell did they raise the price of stamps?
She liked these passive thoughts–they were peaceful. They were not riddled with emotion like so many others that penetrated her head. They did not pain her to process, they did not excite her senses, in fact they barely fazed her. She imagined this was the closest she would ever have to normal. These silly thoughts that came and went like a gentle breeze– in, out, gone forever.
Oh my god, look at that dress! I wonder if it comes in a size ten?
Is this 13th or 14th street?
I’m starving. God, a hot dog sounds-
A wicked, inhuman scream rent her mind silencing all the other voices surrounding her. She was stricken with a wrenching pain in her chest near her heart. She had never been infiltrated by such a searing raw emotion. It reeked of terror and torment. Amid the throngs of moving people, she fell to the cold concrete splitting the crowd like a busted melon. Onlookers froze in shock, gawking as she writhed in torture on the ground. She held her head so tight her nails embedded in her scalp. The last image she registered was of an older, gray haired man leaning down and yelling to the crowd to call 911.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Crowdfunding your Novel

I keep having the same conversation over and over again with other authors on the Inkshares platform. “Crowdfunding is impossible,” they say. “No,” says the new me, “it’s science. Science is never impossible.”  “I don’t know anyone,” they reply. “I bet you know more than you think,” I say.  Then I go into my favorite illustration on the nature of crowdfunding.

But since I’ve been having the conversation so very often, I thought it was best to distill all my advice into a blog post. That way I can just toss a link at the person I’m talking to instead of wearing out my fingers typing the same thing over and over again. But first, a little background on how I arrived at my current theories on crowdfunding a book.

I, like the myriads of other authors out there, had decided to self-publish because I wanted to get my book out there. I figured I could make it big because I was good at writing, and quality will out, right? Over the summer of 2015 I polished my first novel, Shadow of the Owl, worked on a cover, and even hired a freelance editor to make sure all the plot holes were taped up and the spelling wasn’t atrocious. At the end of that summer, I had planned to self-publish via the KDP Select program, since I was hearing so many great things about authors making their $1000 a month self-publishing their work.

And then a Nerdist article came across my Facebook feed about a contest they were running with a company called Inkshares.  They were looking for the next great science fiction or fantasy novel, and were going to publish the top five books in the contest. It seemed like a sign from above. Here I had an already edited novel — sure it was a little cliche, and I had come up with the original premise back when I was 12 — surely quality will out and I will be a shoe in for a novel contest.  WRONG. Because entering this contest I failed to realize that it wasn’t about writing, it was about crowdfunding, and I had no skills in this area. My brief foray into public relations had taught me I was excellent at writing and horrible at pitching. That’s why I had become a blogger, so I wouldn’t have to deal with cold-pitching individuals about topics, I could receive the pitches and write my little articles about them.

But it was Nerdist, and the chance to get a publishing deal, so after watching the standings for a day or two, I entered. Blind. Without any understanding of what it takes to win a popularity contest. And I hit the wall of failure hard. I think my book finished top ten, but most likely not. I think by the time the funding ended on that book I had maybe 80 of the 1000 orders I needed to get it published with Inkshares, so I tossed it up on Amazon, as I had originally intended, having spent almost $1700 on it, and called it a day.

Since that first contest in 2015 I have entered three Inkshares contests and won one. That win though was collaborative effort of fifteen authors coming together to share the burden of crowdfunding. I have also successfully crowdfunded a novel through the light publishing channel at Inkshares. I still have two projects that I am waiting to finish before I crowdfund them.

Basically, TL;DR: I have experienced the entire spectrum of experiences that Inkshares has to offer, and from those experiences I have learned a particular perspective on crowdfunding that I think is both healthy and helpful to others.

With that background explained, let’s get to the guide.

Step One: Map Your Network

So many writers do what I did, see a crowdfunding publisher like Inkshares and jump in immediately, head first, sometimes face first as was my case. They launch their campaign without knowing what resources they have to back it up. Because like I said, crowdfunding is science, and we’re writers — all about the art. But in order to succeed as an indie author you have to develop some business skills, and fast. The first of those is you need to know who your potential customer base is.

Ricardo Henriquez, author of The Catcher’s Trap, created a great series of infographics on this topic. The first step for crowdfunding anything is to research who you know. So start with a spreadsheet and name everyone you can think of. EVERYONE.  Remember this is science, but it’s not comfortable science by any means. You need to know who you are connected to, and the only way to do this is to list them all out.

So you open up Excel and type out the names of everyone you know. Then next to their names you note down how close these people are to you. This translates to how likely they are to buy your book, so in the next column note down how much money you think you could reasonably ask them for. On Inkshares people order copies of your book at either the $10 ebook level or the $20 print copy level. Knowing who you can ask for which level is important.

Okay now you have your map, and you’re exceedingly uncomfortable knowing you’re quantifying all the people you’ve made relationships with.  That’s fine.  At this point it’s time to move on to step two.

Step Two: Do the Math

Crowdfunding is all about numbers. I’m going to use Inkshares as my case study because I know their terms and have a decent amount of experience with them, but you can apply this all to any number of crowdfunding platforms.  So to successfully get a base-level bare bones publishing contract (what I call a discount on self-publishing) at Inkshares, you have to get 250 copies preordered of your book. For a full publishing contract, you need to get 750 copies (as of the date of this article. Keep in mind this company is currently revamping their business model, but still these numbers are good for now).

So looking at your list of contacts, how many are there?  Do you have 100? 200? 1000? As Ricardo says, you are going to need a potential supporter base that is about 30% larger than your actual crowdfunding goal, but you have to know how many people you have before you know what that goal is. Why?  Because there’s no reason to start a campaign if you don’t know you will succeed. That’s the science part of this. If your list of potential supporter is has 25 people on it, can you reasonably expect to get 250 orders? Only if each of those people is willing to drop $200 on buying 10 print copies of your book. It’s possible, I suppose, but not likely. Also, with that sort of backing you come up against the trouble of an imaginary audience, but I’ll get to that later.

If you have a list of backers that is hovering around the 300 range, then you would be fine running a base-level discount on self-publishing (they call it Quill on Inkshares) campaign and feel reasonably sure of success. If you have about 1500 people on that list, chances are you would be able to sustain a full publishing campaign and successfully fund your book.

Okay. You’ve done your research, mapped your network. You’ve done the math and know which campaign to shoot for. Already you are incredibly informed about the promotion part of your book business, and are leaps ahead of many of the hundreds of authors out there trying to get their books funded. Now it’s time to plan.

Step Three: Plan your Strategy

Now it’s time to plan how you will turn your potential supporters into actual supporters. The research you’ve done has told you which sort of campaign to shoot for, be it basic or full.  Next you need to identify when you are running your campaign, and for how long. Is this book something you are entering in a publishing contest at Inkshares or is this a campaign you are launching on your own timing?  A contest campaign will run completely differently than a standalone one, because contests are all about the number of people that order your book, not the number of orders.

For a contest campaign, you are going to need to get about 300 to 400 people on board if you want to get the number one spot, and 200 to 300 if you want to get number two, 175 to 250 for the third place spot. Each contest has its own rhythm and ecosystem, but since we know crowdfunding is science, we are armed with the knowledge to know if we can succeed. This is a good place to check back with your network map. Do you have enough active friends (those close enough to you to order a book immediately when asked) do place in the top three of the contest? Be honest and if your answer is no, then move on. Spend your energy elsewhere.  There’s no reason to pound against a brick wall if you don’t have the right chisel.

A quick note if you’re still running your contest campaign: If you run during a contest you’re going to want to gather a group of your most vocal supporters and have them order the book day one. If you can get to 1/3 of your goal in the first 24 hours that will be a strong enough show of force that you might start getting orders just from being at the top of the standings. So here is where you prime your support network ahead of time, reaching out a few days before the contest and letting them know you will be asking for their $10 order in the near future. Get your yeses and note them down (new spreadsheet time), and note down the no’s too because these are the people you’re going to have to convince.  I also highly suggest running the campaign length as the same length of the contest rather than longer. The added “all or nothing” pressure to the shorter length will be a boon to getting people on board fast and helping you achieve your publishing goal before the clock strikes twelve.

And when I say reach out, I don’t mean in group posts on social media. We have all been trained by Facebook and Twitter to ignore the noise, so contact everyone personally. Emails, Direct Messages, Telephone calls, Dropping in to chat in person — this is how you will get your yeses. If someone ignores you when you personally contact them, chances are they aren’t actually on your support network.

Now you have a list of who has said “yes, I will order your book.” This is not a list of who will order your book, but of those people who have at least connected with the concept of ordering. How many do you have?  If it’s 30% of your supporter list or more, good job, your going when the campaign launches will be easier. If you have less than 10% yes rate despite all your hundreds of personal attempts to reach out, perhaps you don’t have as large a support network as you thought. Time to rethink the choice to crowdfund, because you will have a tough road ahead if the people you thought were your supporters won’t commit to supporting.

Yes, you read that right. I’ve told you twice now that if you don’t have enough numbers you shouldn’t crowdfund your book. Why? Because there is already an avenue for getting a book published without an established social network — we call it self-publishing and it’s working for thousands of writers already. Save yourself the stress. If the research is telling you that the support isn’t there for a campaign, listen to it.

Here’s the secret I recently learned: You are the brand they are backing, not the book. People are supporting you because they like you. The book doesn’t exist yet, and it’s only important to you (unless you already have a reader base, in which case your supporter network is probably large enough to sustain a campaign). But you exist, you are concrete and real and valued by your network. They are backing you when they contribute to your campaign. That’s why things like Kickstarter launch parties exist. To celebrate you, the campaign owner.

And that brings me to the last step, actually getting your orders.

 

Step Four: Sell Your Tickets

This is my tried-and-true method for getting preorders for a crowdfunded book, and it came to me as I was listening to other successful authors talk about how they did it, particularly G. Derek Adams, author of one of my favorite books of all time, Asteroid Made of Dragons (this shouldn’t be a surprise as I just wrote that glowing review). I imagine myself as a concert promoter.

A concert promoter doesn’t ask for people to love the concert. Their job is to sell tickets to the event, $10 a pop. They have to fill seats, and if they don’t sell enough tickets the band won’t be able to rent the venue they want and they’ll have to go play elsewhere. The band will still play, but not at the big shiny arena with the amazing sound system and the 100,000 seats.  The band really wants to play there, and it’s up to you to help get them the venue.

But no one has heard the band play before. They’re good, you know they’re good, but the people in town don’t know them. This concert will rock their world, you know it, but in order for it to happen you’re gonna have to put butts in seats. You have to sell your tickets. So you put an ad in the paper, no sales. You put up fliers, no sales. Why? Because the people in town don’t know the band, aren’t familiar with their music.

But you’re from this town, you know people there, and so you go knocking on doors and now you’re selling tickets. People like you and believe you when you say the band is great. And $10 isn’t that big a deal. Even if they can’t go when the concert rolls around, at least they know they helped you keep your job.

And what about the no’s? When someone says “no, I don’t want to go to that concert,” does the concert promoter feel crushed? Nope.  Not a bit, they just go on to the next person they know and ask their help. Sometimes people just don’t have the money, or don’t see the vision of what you’re trying to do. It’s all good.  You move on to the next house.

With this analogy, you separate the writer you from the promoter you, and in doing so you create a persona that protects your fragile artistic ego.  Asking someone to buy a ticket to an event has no emotional stigma to it, whereas asking someone to buy this work you’ve spend 400 hours on, it hurts when they say no.

Anytime I hear a writer complain about how hard it is to crowdfund, I tell them to put butts in seats. The supporters will love the book later, but that’s a year away. Right now they are there to support you, so let them. Don’t make them prove they love the music first, sell them the ticket and let them discover that for themselves when the concert comes around. You never hear of a concert promoter pulling out their phone and playing a song and asking the person they are trying to sell to “Do you love this song? only buy my ticket if you love this song.” You’ll never fill a venue if you force everyone who wants to support you as a person so also proclaim their love for your band. Sell your tickets, then let the supporter decide if they like the music once the venue is booked.

 

A Warning: Don’t Build an Empty Audience

I know I just got telling you that you need to put butts in seats, but in that analogy you never saw me tell you to go out and ask 10 of your friends to buy 20 tickets. On paper that strategy will get the venue paid for, but when the concert comes around you have 10 people coming instead of 200.

Sometimes we put on our crowdfunding hat and forget the writer hat completely. We kick it into the corner and it collects dust and spider corpses. Hopefully you are an author that wants to make writing your career. As such you’re going to need to have a reader base, fans that love your work. I get that this sounds completely contradictory from my previous admonition, but it really isn’t.

If you get 1000 to back your book, that’s 1000 potential readers, 1000 people who might fall in love with your world and your characters and leave you harsh reviews on Amazon when their favorite character dies. That’s 1000 tickets to the show friends. But if through coupons or promotions or other means you manage to get 100 friends to help you publish your book, that’s only 100 people to fall in love. That’s a significantly smaller reader base. In doing everything possible to crowdfund your book, you shot your author self in the foot later on.

Separating yourself into a promoter and a writer is a good thing. Filling the venue with empty seats will only hurt your sales in the long run. No one is going to be there to read your book, to leave reviews, to spread the word about how that ninja hobbit fell in love with the ogre pirate in act three. This is a big deal, and again, that’s why I say if you don’t have enough actual people to support your campaign, don’t do it. You’d be better off as a writer putting up your book on CreateSpace or IngramSpark and selling what copies you can to your actual support system. Imaginary people don’t fill seats, and they don’t buy books. 

 

Summary

A successful book crowdfunding campaign requires self-reflection. You first need to know now many people will support you before you can plan to hit a crowdfunding goal on a site like Inkshares. Once you have that knowledge, it’s essential to put a strategy in place based on the sort of campaign you’re running: contest or standard, light publishing or full contract. Before you go live, reach out to your potential supporters and get a commitment from them to help. Then when you go live, divorce your promoter self from your writer self, and sell tickets to the event without making your supporters prove they love the book first.  In the end though, while publishing is important, there are other venues for your band to play in, and if you fill the seats with imaginary people, you won’t have a fan base there to support the rest of your writing career.

Book Review: It’s All Fun and Games

its-all-fun-and-games-bookDave Barrett is a winner. He won the Nerdist Inkshares contest, sure, but more than that, he wrote a book that wins the hearts and minds of anyone who reads it. It’s All Fun and Games is the story of Allison, a normal girl dragged kicking and screaming into the world of Live Action Role Play. When a weekend of pretend fun becomes all too real, Allison and her friends will learn what they are really made of.

I like to call these sorts of books romps. It’s a YA novel, sure, but it’s so fast-paced and action-packed you don’t get any real time to learn more than the basics about your characters because they are too busy doing things. Those things in this case are fighting goblins and bandits, learning skills from the characters they are slowly starting to become, and figuring out that the way out is the way through.

I enjoyed this book. It was fun, pun intended, easy to read, and surprising in many ways — the greatest of which was the cliffhanger ending.  I only realized that the action was going to continue to ramp right up to the end when I looked down at my Kindle and saw there was only 7% left in the book but the characters were still busy adventuring. The most interesting bit I found was actually about Chuck, the group’s sneaky little rogue, who slides furthest into his character persona and uses those newfound instincts to help his party win the day. For the rest we don’t get much time to learn about them, and I felt a little hungry for more character by the end of the novel, especially in contrast to Chuck.

I recommend It’s All Fun and Games for anyone a fan of the Fantasy genre, YA readers who are looking for an exciting adventure, and those who are looking for a quick read while traveling.

Book Review: Asteroid Made of Dragons

Asteroid-Made-of-DragonsWith a title like Asteroid Made of Dragons, and a cover with a big ol’ eyeball staring me in the face, I just wasn’t sure what I was in for when I picked up this book. What I encountered was some of the richest figurative language in a fantasy book I’ve ever encountered, rich, complex characters at the peak of their development, and a storyline that veered left on me whenever I thought I knew I had it pinned.

Shortly put, this book is delightful on every level.

Throughout the tale I was reminded of Anthony’s Xanth series, particularly in the strange cast of characters you’re presented with. Only where Anthony falls flat on relatable characters and deep storytelling, Adams soars. It’s incredibly difficult to talk about what I liked best about the plot of this book without giving anything away, but suffice it to say story elements that seem to have been building from before this book (it is the last of a trilogy) were used expertly in this culmative title.

I did find myself wishing I had started at the beginning of the trilogy as I read this book, because there are moments where I feel elements were spoiled from the other two books. However now that I am going back and reading the first book, I sort of feel like I am getting a prequel story to the one I already know, and that is satisfying all on its own.

If you love fantasy, buy this book. If you love science fiction, buy this book. If you love treasure hunting and archaeology of lost civilizations, buy this book. If you love framed narratives, buy this book. If you love books, buy this book.

It should be no surprise if you’ve read thusfar to hear that this is now one of my top five favorite books of all time.

Twenty Questions for Twenty Authors: Alisa King

This series is my excuse to satisfy my curiosity about what makes writers tick. The hope is that by exploring how writers got to their craft, how they interact with books and their process, I might learn a little more about my own.

It’s been a while since I got the opportunity to interview a fellow writer, and I hope to make up for the absence with an extra treat. Alisa King is an science fiction writer currently working on a video game novel entitled Are You Sure You Want To Quit?, a wild romp about a game filled with dragons and adventure. She is currently sitting in the top three of the Nerdist Video Games contest, which you can find hosted on Inkshares.

First though, before we get to the questions, here’s a little about Alisa:

About Alisa King

My name is Alisa King, I am a 4th year graduate student currently pursuing a microbiology PhD, and I am a HUGE gamer girl. I am also half-Japanese and half-African American. Ever since I was a young lady I loved playing video games and would crush my friends in Super Smash Bros. as Yoshi (I still do). And yes, I also love to write stories, mainly dealing with the fantasy realm.

On Reading

  1. What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading a bunch of graphic novels/comics indlucing Monstress, Saga, Descenders..the list goes on. I plan on starting Fire Bringer when I have free time.

2. Ereader or Traditional?

Have to go with Traditional!

3. What is your favorite book?

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

4. Why do you think reading is important?

Books in general are not only a great educational tool but a wonderful way to expand your mind. I also think that reading keeps the creative juices flowing while at the same time providing a mental exercise. There’s nothing like finding a comfortable spot outside or curling up on the couch with a good book.

5. What is the one book (other than your own) that you would recommend to others?

I’d definitely recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

On Writing

  1. What made you want to become a writer?

My father was my biggest inspiration and supporter of writing (although I ended up going to grad school for Microbiology). He’s published two books already (Cho Kokujin and Medusa’s Freshman Year) and he’s currently working on another project. I think that by assigning me book reports outside of class, my father introduced me to literature and writing.

2. Why do you write?

I write because I enjoy it, first of all, and because I am allowed to showcase myself through writing. As an author, I can create my own universe and have the freedom to do whatever I want.

3. What was the first thing you wrote?

The first thing I wrote was a story called Rocket Dog, which I wrote back in elementary school. It was about a dog from outer space who befriends a little boy and together, they fight crime.

4. Which writers inspire you?

J.K. Rowling and Toni Morrison

5. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants writer?

I’d say I’m a hybrid where I plan out most of my story, but write as I catch the flow.

6. What are you currently writing?

I am currently writing Are You Sure You Want to Quit? (AYSYWTQ?), which is a story of a gamer girl enveloped in a dragon-themed video game.

7. Why this particular genre?

I am a huge gamer so writing a video games themed book hits close to my heart.

8. From where do you glean ideas for your writing?

My ideas come from a mix of shows I’ve seen, my guinea pigs surprisingly, and the graphic novels I’ve been reading.

9. What advice would you give a fledgling writer just starting on the path to building their own novel?

Be patient, get yourself out there, and surround yourself with people who share your ambitions.

10. A new writer is suffering with writer’s block. What advice would you give them to break through?

I found that relaxing activities such as taking a walk or showering help tremendously. Basically, activities that refresh your mind and take your mind off of writing for a moment are the best.

On Your Book

  1. Tell the readers about what makes your book unique.

AYSYWTQ? is unique in that the main protagonist is a gamer girl, which you don’t see much of.

2. What do you love about your protagonist? What do you hate about them?

I love how Maggie (protagonist) is strong and independent, but also a huge gamer. I wish she wasn’t so stubborn sometimes and would treat her mother with more respect!

3. Who would you want to play your protagonist in the movie adaptation of your book?

Oh man. I thought about this the other day and felt that Brenda Song would be perfect as Maggie. Brenda has that nerdy yet kickass vibe which I really love and admire. And she’s also Asian-American, which helps. For a grown-up version of Maggie (*hint hint* in the sequel), I’d love for Lucy Liu to play Maggie.

4. Are you planning on continuing the story with a sequel and/or series?

At this point yes

5. Is there anything else you want readers to know?

If you love dragons and video gaming as much as I do, then you’ll definitely enjoy this book!

AYSYWTQ_final_cover

Excerpt from Are You Sure You Want to Quit?:

There he was. Standing there. Eyes glowing, shoulders hunched, wide-toothed grin, as if the blasted thing was mocking me. Everything I had done up to this point hit me like a freight train at that very moment. Was I ready for this? Hell no. But here I was, face-to-face, with Amasarok, the final boss of Scales of Time: The Land of the Scorched. Here we go…

My first instinct was toscan the environment in which the battle was to take place. A huge pit of lava hissed menacingly from the far end of the enormous cave (a fire dragon WOULD live here I guess), but otherwise silence filled the vast cave where Amasarok resided. I turned the camera to the left only to find jagged, black rocks jutting out from the ground. Could I possibly lead Amasarok into a pointy doom? Unlikely. Amasarok might have been a giant, fire-breathing dragon with killer instincts, but not dumb enough to die by rock.

Disappointed, I panned to the right side of the cave only to find the same rocks decorating the landscape. Since I had not overstepped that imaginary line that triggers enemy encounters, Amasarok remained near the back of the cave. At that point, I knew that I couldn’t rely on the cave to help me defeat Amasarok. After all, this was his domain.

I took a long, deep breath, wiped my sweaty hands on the sides of my legs, and pushed my bangs out of the way. The Trident watermelon flavor from the piece of gum in my mouth was non-existent at this point, but I kept chewing as if this gum was going to fuel me in battle. Slowly, I tilted the joystick forward and watched my burly level 70 dwarf mage traverse the obsidian cave. With a final check of my equipment and a weak “You can do this Maggie,” I pushed the joystick all the way and felt the roar of the dragon bleed through the speakers.

Amasarok moved effortlessly through the cave as his eyes locked on to my mage, who was named Ganko (“hard-headed” in Japanese), and I died a little inside. I glanced up at the top of the screen and saw a ridiculously long health bar – at that point I knew this battle was going to be brutal. Amasarok made the first move and swept his giant claw in my direction, but with a simple push of the square button I (I mean Ganko) dodged with ease. However, the dragon came back with his other claw and knocked the dwarf right on his back. Ouch. My health bar decreased 15%, but I did not let that deflate me.

A quick note about the end of DHM’s funding campaign

Six days from now Deus Hex Machina will end funding. I haven’t written much about the book on here, mostly because I’ve been so busy with the actual book itself, but the end is nigh. I sit here looking at the finish line, seeing the conclusion of a successful funding campaign, and smiling. I smile because this will be the first book I will have published through a legitimate publisher. I won’t have to scramble to do all the self-publishing work myself, I won’t have to dream about getting into bookstores– because I’ll be able to contact them and let them know it’s in their catalog right now.

Deus Hex Machina is a special project, and I’m not the only one who says so. Last month it was selected to be part of the Sword & Laser imprint at Inkshares, which means that I will have my book published under the name of one of the most popular speculative fiction podcasts online today. It’s a huge honor, and no matter what happens, I know that this book will be printed with quality and style.

I’m rambling. I said this would be quick, but there’s just so many thoughts pinging around my brain. For those who preorder before June 17th, I have provided access to the complete first draft — Currently all nine completed chapters are available as a special thank you. If you like uncut gems and getting the inside scoop on stories before they are out, this option might be for you.

Six days and this will all be done. What’s next? I’ll give you a hint.

 

What happens when you run out of things to say?

Today has been a little rough on me. Not in the country song verbiage, where the trucks leave and the dogs cheat and the wives break down on the side of the road. No, I’ve just run up against a general lack of interest in my funding campaign for Deus Hex Machina, and that resulted in a rather deep depression that didn’t leave me until a few hours ago.

This being the start of a new year, I have been endeavoring to write every day. For the most part, I’ve been working on the draft of DHM, and it’s gone along swimmingly. (If you’re interested in that book, you should read the first chapter here.) Tonight though, I was down in the dumps, and I’m still weighed down with that feeling of uselessness, so I don’t think I’d do Isidore any sort of justice if I forced myself to blather on.

Instead I thought I might take this opportunity to write a blog post. The trouble with writing a blog post without a topic is that it tends to ramble, especially when you run out of things to say. This same can be true for fiction. Sometimes you run out of words, run out of plot, and are stuck holding the proverbial bag wondering what to write next.

I guess you could call this writer’s block, although I’m quickly realizing there is no such thing. When I can’t write, it usually means I need to think about a problem, or there is something in my life that is keeping me from writing, as is the case tonight.  In both situations my solution is the same: Consume media from outside your genre.  Sometimes we just need to be inspired. We need to get excited about something. As writers we spend so much time in our worlds and in our niches that we forget that complexity can be found anywhere. We forget that we can learn from history, or movies, or TV shows or books written about completely foreign subjects. All of these things can provide the needed inspiration that will help you over your story writing obstacles.  Or in my case, it will help you remember what you’re working towards.

I watched a movie tonight where all the characters were real, all the characters were authentic, all the characters were strange, and they all made sense. I want to create characters like this. I want people who act true to their natures, true to their flaws, even when those flaws will cost them dearly. This is what I learned watching a pulp action movie instead of forcing myself to write science fiction, and I think my science fiction will be better for it.

Now to figure out the problem of nobody wanting to read said science fiction. I’m definitely going to have to go outside my genre for the answer to this obstacle.

Deus Hex Machina: Interview with Timble Ada

As some of you know, I am writing a cyberpunk novel. While it may seem strange to be talking about a science fiction project on a fantasy blog, I remind you that I firmly believe science fiction is merely a subsection of a larger fantasy genre, since it imagines worlds that don’t exists. While fantasy looks to the past, science fiction looks to the future.

Speaking of the future, I have got a special treat for you today. In researching Deus Hex Machina, I stumbled on the work of noted perceptual computing expert Timble Ada. Dr. Ada graciously agreed to talk to me about the future of the Internet, how we as humans should really be interacting with technology, and when a cyberpunk future might become our reality.

I always start off with this question: What are you currently reading?
I do not have as much leisure time as I would like, so I haven’t had the chance to connect with many works of fiction of late. The last thing I read of a published nature was J.M. Mendal’s paper on the perceptual computer, but I must admit that it is something I reference often so one might better ask ‘what am I constantly reading?’
Speaking of your work, what exactly is perceptual computing?
Without getting too technical, perceptual computing is based on Zadeh’s theory of computing with words — that we can create technology that can make judgements on its own with only natural language as its computing structure. With this sort of technology, people will be able to talk with a computer and using the syntax of regular speech create functions and computations that will result in both a language response and a data output.
Imagine a computer that understands your language, that you can interact with by just talking to it, and that relates its information in an understandable way. Imagine interacting with a computer with gestures and touch, and not merely the user interface level, but within the computing itself. Prototyping a new car just by drawing the model in the air. Asking a computer to create a program for you in order to scan the Internet for books by your favorite authors. The applications for such a technology are exciting. It’s a brave new world, Ms. Orneck.

Do you see virtual reality as a step toward this more personal computer interaction?
I definitely see virtual reality as a step in the right direction, but I am less interested in the concept of interactive interfaces as I am in the notion that our computers themselves could interact with us. I do think that in order to fully integrate with a perceptual computer we will have to create new ways to interface with them. I am just not certain that virtual reality is a proper analog for that.

When will these science fiction dreams of ours — the completely immersive Internet, technology that links our brains directly into the computer, flying cars — really happen?
I can’t speak about the concept of flying automobiles as I’m a computer scientist, but I can tell you that we are closer than you might think. Intel has recently released a Per-C SDK, which will allow programmers to develop for a perceptual computing system. Video game developers are building virtual reality interfaces into their game systems. We already carry incredibly small computers around with us in our pockets wherever we go. Is it really too much to assume that in a few short years those phones might just be chips that connect to our brains via a neural uplink?
In my own work, I am striving to create a new way for people to connect to technology. While we are no where near the point where I can talk about my project, I think from what you tell me about your novel that you have the right idea about what our future would look like. Not sure about the Church of Technology though. That sounds a bit bizarre.

Do you agree with Elon Musk when he warns about the dangers of artificial intelligence?
Honestly no and I think he is missing the point. I believe that if you build a computer system that has the ability to learn from people, that any such future artificial life would have an understanding of morality on a level we cannot comprehend. Imagine having all of human history held inside your brain. All the wars, the struggles, the constant battles for dominance. A perceptual computing system would be able to cull through such data and make proper judgements about the futility of war, and then output more humane data. I truly believe that any artificial intelligence that we create will be made from the best of mankind, and much like the Asimov’s laws of robotics, will only have our best interest at heart.
Fundamentally though, Mr. Musk and I come from very different worlds. He is a man of profit, I am a man of science. Any future developments that he makes will have a price tag on them. I envision a world where access to technology is a human right, like air and water and is neither taxed nor gated based on how much wealth you have. I suppose you could say I am the Tesla to his Edison. But obviously I’ve tangented here, so I’ll leave it at that.

Thank you so much Dr. Ada for taking time out of your busy work schedule to talk with me! I’m so honored!

Inkshares Review: Dax Harrison

12241358_998757730183751_677454016536824773_nYesterday a bevvy of fellow Inkshares writers banded together to help promote our books and the service that hosts them. Dubbed by the illustrious Cara Weston, the inaugural Review-a-thon drew more than 170 reviews to currently funding projects on Inkshares.

During the Review-a-thon I got the opportunity to review a book I instantly fell in love with: Dax Harrison. This rolicking space opera is written by the incredibly talented Tony Valdez. Here’s a little bit about the book:

Commander Dax Harrison. Hero of the Alliance. Legendary soldier for the space age. …Schmuck.

A decade ago, Dax made his claim to fame in a decisive battle against the Carteagans, a ruthless alien race which waged war on humanity as we spread out into space. Dax cunningly destroyed the Carteagan’s greatest warship, signaling a turning point in the war and leading to humanity’s eventual victory.

Or so we’ve been told.

Ten years on, we join Dax as the anniversary of the ceasefire approaches. While career-wise he has faded into obscurity, the legend of Commander Harrison has grown immensely in the public eye through pulp stories and media based on exceedingly embellished versions of his exploits. Dax has not-so-humbly allowed himself to enjoy a bit of that fame (and a few royalty checks) while coasting into retirement on cushy assignments. But as he counts the days until he can disappear on a beach somewhere, naturally, fate has other plans.

A dangerous shadow from the past puts a wrench in Dax’s easygoing existence, and he is forced to finally live up to his legend, whether he likes it or not.

Dax is aided in his adventure by an unorthodox but trusty crew. Good thing, because he’ll need all the help he can get! To name a few: a bad-ass female 2nd in command, an enthusiastic fanboy cadet, a mechanical whiz kid, a crotchety old doctor and more!

This book is just as good as it sounds, so what follows is my review of Dax Harrison.  If you are at all a fan of science fiction, you really need to preorder this book.  It’s in its last week of funding, so make sure you jump on this quickly!

To prove how much I like this book, here’s my review of Dax Harrison by Tony Valdez:

Humorous space opera at its finest, Dax Harrison tells the story of a washed up former hero that gets pulled back into saving the universe just months before his much-longed-for retirement.

The four chapters I read gave me a brief glimpse into a vibrant-yet-grounded world that feels incredibly authentic, despite being set in the far future.  There’s something incredibly believable about Dax and his merchandise empire built around his likeness.  He’s treated the way we treat our sports stars, throwing endorsement deals at them and making movies about them.  Only in this case Dax is known for saving the galaxy.

The third chapter is a little incongruous as its just a series of out of context notes which I assume are from the larger story.  I feel that in this case I’m getting spoiled on story beats in the writer’s attempt to share with us some of his best writing — and in a story I care about, like this one, I would rather come across these gems in context and not be spoiled.

Dax Harrison reads like a combination of Firefly, Captain America, and the Stainless Steel Rat.  It’s funny, irreverent, and incredibly fast-paced.  Anyone who loves humor, science-fiction, and relatable characters really should preorder this book because it gives you all of these in spades.

 

The Shadow of the Owl virtual book tour has begun!

This week Shadow of the Owl hosted by Worldwind Book Tours has begun!!  Follow the tour throughout the week:

Nov 30th
Reeses Reviews _– Spotlight
Karen Banes Blog – Interview

Dec 1st
Cheshire Cat Looking Glass – Excerpt
RoloPolo Book Blog – Excerpt
The Serious Reader – Review

Dec 2nd
Archeolibrarianologist_ – Spotlight
Author Reader Book Corner – Spotlight
Dark Phantom Reviews – Review

Dec 3rd
Literary Musing – Spotlight

Dec 4th
Lindsey & Jane Views & Reviews_ – Excerpt

Dec 5th
Brooke Blogs_ – Excerpt

Dec 6th
JE Thomas – Interview

Dec 7th
My Crazy Bookish Life – Spotlight

Dec 8th
Nadaness in Motion – Excerpt
Louise Wise – Excerpt