Welcome to the Fiction Reboot! Today we are featuring the first of several guest posts by Sharon Bayliss, a science fiction and fantasy author (and one-time manager of the social media accounts for Curiosity Quills Press). Today we are interviewing her about her debut novel, The Charge–and in the near future, look for her take of query writing! ______________________________
AUTHOR BIO: An avid daydreamer, Sharon Bayliss has lived in magical version of Austin, Texas for her entire life. So, using a fantastical, alternate history Texas as a setting for her debut novel The Charge, was just “writing what she knows”. To her, nothing goes better with barbecue and live music than robots and superhuman royalty. As a child, Sharon lived on a 6 ½ acre patch of land with cows for neighbors. She enjoyed playing in mud, collecting frogs, and was so certain that there was a ghost in her closet that her mother admits that she half-expected to really find one there. She began writing her first novel at the age of fifteen (handwritten in a spiral marked ‘private’). A proud Austinite, Sharon never saw much sense in moving anywhere else and got her degree in social work from the University of Texas at Austin. As an author and social worker, she has devoted her life to making the lives of real people better and the lives of fictional people much, much worse. In addition to her official credentials, she is also an expert in fictional Texas history and make-believe neuroscience. Sharon’s debut novel, THE CHARGE, will be published by Curiosity Quills Press on 3/2/13. This new adult science fiction novel is set in an alternate timeline where a dictator took over the Republic of Texas in the 1830s and built his own empire in the West. THE CHARGE was a quarter-finalist for the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and won a Publishers Weekly Review:
A solid cast of well-developed characters, including a “super-tall” royal Texan family, stars in this thrill ride of a novel teetering between sci-fi adventure and alternate historical epic. Set in a time after the fall of the evil Texas Empire at the hands of the United States government, average Joe Warren King discovers that his geeky loner little brother has been kidnapped, and his mother inexplicably urges him to flee to Canada. Instead, Warren travels to California, a former Texas Empire territory, where he comically tries his hand at sleuthing to track down his genius brother, Isaac, who seems to have been actively testing their DNA for a mysterious “blue chromosome.” Warren soon learns that the people who abducted his brother are after him too, and it is all tied to the blue chromosome and his sudden realization that his body is giving off a powerful electrical charge that he can’t explain. At a measured pace, the engrossing history of this parallel world is revealed, along with the politics and legends that accompany the now extinct royal Texan Wildes family — a beautiful, physically homogenous, and abnormally tall clan believed to have preternatural abilities, and perhaps a connection to Warren himself. Easily shifting between characters’ perspectives, and relentless in its action, well-placed humor, and suspense, this manuscript is a delight.
1. I have always identified with the Asimov quote: “I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I’d die.” Does this describe you? Could you say a bit about your early writing experiences? Your favorite work?
I agree completely. Although I think Asimov may be being a little melodramatic. 🙂 At some points in my writing career I considered giving up, but published or not, the idea of not writing was ridiculous. Once I accepted that fact, I stopped worrying about whether or not to give up.
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first novel length work at fifteen. No one can say I’m an overnight success. 🙂
It’s not very intellectual of me, but at the end of the day, the Harry Potter series is my favorite work. Of all the books I’ve read, those are the ones that I enjoyed the most. I also want to give credit to 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid’s Tale. I read those in high school and have been interested in dystopians and alternate worlds ever since.
2. I find that my own history is incredibly valuable as inspiration (sink holes and orange water play a part in my Witchwood series) Can you tell us about how experience factors into fiction—even future fiction?
Oh, it’s so important. Even if you’re writing about a world completely different from your own, you have to pull bits and pieces from your own life. In a lot of ways The Charge is self-indulgent. I’ve always lived in Texas and I’ve always had an active imagination. So a novel set in a Texas intermixed with science fiction and fantasy elements is really just a romp into my own imagination.
3. You have called yourself “an expert in fictional Texas history and make-believe neuroscience.” As the author of a series that also explores alternate worlds, I am interested in your take on the value of research for the purpose of world building. How do you go about it?
If you’re working with real world history and concepts, research is critical. However, in my opinion, it’s not as important as character building and plot development. I actually completed my research after I wrote the book. I started with the story and the characters, with just a general sense of the history behind it. After I was almost submission ready, I began an intensive study of Texas and U.S. history and then went back through to add and correct the necessary details. If you want to write commercial fiction, as opposed to primarily intellectual work, it has to be about the characters first and foremost and not just a way to show off your alternate history theories.
4. Your website says that you have devoted your life to “making the lives of real people better and the lives of fictional people much, much worse.” Could you tell us about what made you want to write about these people in particular (the extraordinarily tall and preternaturally gifted royalty of the former evil Texan Empire)?
That’s a tough question. I’m not sure why. Perhaps there is some complicated psychological reason. Or perhaps I just find tall, smart men attractive. 🙂 I created the idea of the Wilde family many, many years ago, and they’ve proved to be excellent subjects. Their story has been in my head so long, it has become complex and developed. I’ve always wanted to find a way to put them into a novel.
5. I know you often have sample chapters of your work online. I do this, too, as it seems a good way to market stories. Can you speak about this—about not giving too much away but still attracting a tech-connected audience? Any other thoughts on marketing strategies?
Well, I’ve had chapter one online for a long time, and I recently posted a short excerpt from a later chapter as part of my worldbuilding blogfest, but I don’t post too much of the story online. I think posting some kind of sample, usually the beginning of the book, is important. I always read the first page of a book before I decide to buy. For me, voice and writing style is more important than almost anything else, and I assume other readers feel similar. However, I don’t think there is much value in posting much more than that. My publisher actually has rules about how much of your story you can post for free online. You don’t want to post so much that you venture into a gray area as to whether or not your work has been previously published.
6. Every writer has a different writing strategy—or so I tell my novel-writing students. How do you approach the writing process? Revision? Writers’ block?
I do what my muse tells me to do. 🙂 Usually I write in short intensive spates where I barely sleep and can hardly think about anything else for a week or two. I get most of my work done in these times, and in between, I don’t write at all. I dread revision, but like exercise and vegetables, I know it’s good for me and I’ll feel better once I’ve done it. So, my strategy is to put editing off for a long time and then finally do it grudgingly. Okay, maybe that’s not a “strategy”, but that’s what I do. I’m not a write-every-day type and resting my brain is part of my process, so I’m not bothered too much by writer’s block. If I need to stop, I just stop. But now that I have sequels to write and deadlines, I expect my “style” to cause more problems. Ask me again in a year. 🙂
7. As the mentor for a university writing club, I often preach to my students about the value of workshopping. Could you say a bit about your own responsive readers and mentors? Your approach to criticism? Beta readers?
I’ve been lucky to have great critique partners and beta readers. You have to seek them out, and you have to return the favor, but it’s absolutely critical to ask for honest feedback and then actually listen to what they have to say and make changes. When I was younger, I had trouble accepting criticism. But now that I’m more comfortable with myself my writing is better because I’m not reduced to a shriveling ball by negative feedback. At least not as often, I think it’s always going to be tough to hear criticism, even if I become a best-seller.
8. Do you have advice for new writers on “breaking in” to the publishing world? What is it like to be an indie author?
Yes. My advice is, it sucks. 🙂 Okay, that’s not advice. My advice is, you have to be prepared to work very hard for a long time with little reward. But if you’re okay with doing that, then you’ll be fine. I really do believe that anyone with a reasonable amount of talent can get published eventually if they keep working at it.
9. Who do you consider your inspiration? (Literary or otherwise?)
My husband. Fortunately, he’s way too kind and stable to make for an interesting book character. But he makes me want to be my best self, which for me includes meeting my goal to become a published writer.
10. Finally, are there any forums, books, blogs or other sites and services you would recommend to new writers?
No matter what where you go to learn and connect, just go somewhere. Start a blog, read blogs, enter blogfests, enter contests, join groups, connect with other writers. There is so much out there, so don’t be an island. Get out there and get involved.
- http://www.critique.org/ – I found my first beta readers here.
- http://agentqueryconnect.com/ – I got some excellent, albeit occasionally painful, query critique here.
- http://www.querytracker.net/ – A great resource when I began to query. They also have an excellent blog.
- http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents – A fantastic blog whether you decide to go the agent route or not. And if you do go the agent route, you’re the first to hear about new agents seeking submissions.
- Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass (http://amzn.com/158297263X)
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne (http://amzn.com/0060545690)