Welcome to the three hundred and eighty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science-fiction / fantasy author Paul Fox. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Paul. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Paul: I think I’ve always had an interest in telling stories and writing them down. When I was nine, a local radio station sponsored a story writing contest which I entered and my story won the top prize which included being read on the air–pretty heady stuff for a nine-year-old. However, I had, and still have, a love affair with science which for many years pushed aside the desire to write stories until it resurfaced while I was studying chemistry at the university. I actually began a novel at that time, but abandoned it because of an increasing workload. Then, after many years of technical jobs I got a renewed interest in writing, took some classes, joined a writers’ organization, attended conferences and have this past year published two books.
Growing up, I lived for a time in Japan and on Guam, and I lived in Texas for many years. However, I now live and write in the Portland, Oregon area where I have lived for about 19 years.
Morgen: I’ve had so many authors say they had an interest in writing when they were young but life took over – I know that feeling. What genre do you generally write?
Paul: My first love is Science Fiction but I also enjoy good fantasy. I also like reading and writing poetry. I occasional toy with the idea of writing mysteries and historical fiction, but I’ve made no really serious efforts in those directions.
Morgen: I’ve had agents telling me they want more crime and historical so they’re clearly very popular genres. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Paul: I have two books published. The first is a collection of poems, “Seasons of the Mind, 2nd Edition,” written using the pen-name, Wayne Howard, and it’s available as a paperback from Amazon.com or as a PDF download from Lulu.com. The second is a fantasy novella, “Sea-Change”, which is currently available in eBook formats from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble Nook and iTunes, and as a paperback from Amazon.com and Lulu.com. “Sea-Change”, was written under my own name, P. W. Fox.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Paul: I like to view rejections as a potential learning experience. I was encouraged to self-publish “Sea-Change” as an eBook by a publisher’s rejection that said “The story is interesting but too short.” My favourite rejection was a short story rejected by the editor of a fantasy and science-fiction magazine with the refreshingly honest comment, “Your story just didn’t grab me.” I took another look at the story and decided that it didn’t grab me either.
Morgen: It is useful when you get feedback as you then know where to start changing, if indeed it really does need changing. It’s great when we get reader feedback too. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Paul: No I don’t have an agent. I have, however, spoken with a number of published authors with whom agents have been helpful in advancing their careers. The problem these days, of course, is that it’s difficult for new authors to get an agent to take them on unless they already have an offer from a publisher.
Morgen: And it’s well-known, certainly in England, that it’s easier to connect with a publisher than an agent but I do think most agents are worth their commission. Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Paul: My novella, “Sea-Change” is being marketed as an eBook because it is short, about 17,000 words, which is too long for most magazines, especially from a new, basically unknown writer; and too short for traditional publishers. This book is also available in paperback as a print-on-demand book. I’m afraid that because of rather limited financial resources I had to be involved in just about every step of the process: book and cover design, pre-publication formatting, distribution and marketing. I had the same degree of involvement with the publication of my poetry collection, “Seasons of the Mind, 2nd Edition”, but without the necessity of formatting for the conversion to the eBook formats MOBI and EPUB.
Morgen: I’ve done everything start to finish with my eBooks so no apology needed Paul. Even authors with top publishers are heavily involved in the marketing of their books. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Paul: Well Morgen, I am the marketing department. I maintain a website, www.pwfox.com, do the social media things, email notifications to people on my contact list, etc. I’m trying to establish P. W. Fox as a brand for fantasy and science fiction. I gave my poetry writing alter-ego, Wayne Howard, his own page on the site, and I hawk his poetry on the site’s home page. I would like to say here, that blogs like this one of yours are very helpful to those of us who are just coming up, in getting the word out about ourselves and our writing.
Morgen: Oh, thank you very much. My blog wouldn’t be what it is without my guests so thanks right back to you. You say you were involved in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Paul: Yes, I am, for better or worse, the one responsible for the titles and the covers. When you are self-publishing on a very limited budget, all the jobs fall to you, whether you’re a seasoned professional in that area or not.
Morgen: Indeed, and for me, that was part of the fun. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Paul: I’m currently working on a science fiction novel, which I expect to finish this year. If I get good feedback from my novella, “Sea-Change”, I’ll be developing an outline for a novel length sequel. Wayne Howard, my other self, is working on a children’s story and a book that will be a rather curious mixture of prose and poetry with a working title “The Last Wizard: a Metaphysical Journey.”
Morgen: I love that; having two people doing two different things and it must help you maintain an interest in them both. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Paul: I usually start with an idea and then outline the plot in very broad terms, although I find that as I’m writing, the plot often takes me in directions that were not in the original broad outline.
Morgen: Isn’t that great. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Paul: I’m not sure I have a particular method for creating characters. The main character in “Sea-Change” was suggested by a picture, and the plot was developed to get the character to the scene depicted in the picture and to carry the action forward to a logically satisfying conclusion. At other times I started with a plot idea and then constructed a character that I thought would make the story work as an entertaining narrative. To make the characters believable, I develop back-story for them and catalogue things such as likes and dislikes as well as habits, both good and bad. When these things can be worked into the flow of the narrative, it makes the character seem more “real.”
Morgen: You write poetry, do you write any non-fiction or short stories?
Paul: I’m guilty on all three counts. I spent a couple of years writing and posting regular articles on green business issues for Examiner.com as the Portland Green Business Examiner, and I do write the occasional short story–I have one currently in the works. As for poetry, I just let Wayne handle that.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Paul: I’m a compulsive editor and tend to try to edit as I go. I know that this often gets in the way of the creative process and so try to resist the urge to do this, but it’s a constant struggle. I have observed that the more I write the more fluid the process becomes, and the fewer edits are actually required.
Morgen: It’s practice, isn’t it, like playing the piano. Do you have to do much research?
Paul: Most sci-fi has to intersect the real world when it comes to physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Since most of us are not universal experts, research is very important into those areas where we have little or no knowledge so that the story has plausibility. Even in fantasy, where the whole universe may be a figment of the author’s imagination, research into things like human customs, psychology and anthropology can lend an aura of reality to the story because it will then strike a familiar chord with the reader either consciously or subconsciously.
Morgen: And if you don’t get your facts right, someone will tell you. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Paul: I’m most comfortable with third person. I’ve written one short story in first person. I only recently became aware of second person narratives. It is definitely an interesting point of view, but I’m not sure it would work for me. At any rate, I haven’t tried it—yet.
Morgen: I love it (and it has its own page on this blog) but it’s an acquired taste that doesn’t suit many, especially for longer works. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Paul: Yes! Thankfully!
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Paul: My favourite part of the writing life is working on the plot and characters and watching the story unfold as you write. My least favourite aspect is marketing the works after they’re finished, but this interview has been a blast.
Morgen: Oh good, thanks very much. I agree with you that the creation is my favourite. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Paul: Be persistent. Build your networks, both personal and professional.
Morgen: Absolutely. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Paul: I do some freelance editing work.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Paul: I enjoy hiking and camping and I play the recorder.
Morgen: Oh wow. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Paul: I am a member of a number of writing groups on LinkedIn.com, and I’ve found them to be quite helpful, especially with marketing ideas.
Morgen: Ah, that’s probably how we ‘met’. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Paul: Even though eBooks are on the rise, there will always be a place for print. In the future writers will be called on to do much more than just write to get their works out. This is already the case for many of us.
Morgen: Indeed it is. I’ve only had one or two authors say their publishers do all their marketing but then they’re still active on Twitter, Facebook etc. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Paul: I would like to thank you for having me appear on your blog. It provides a really great opportunity for new writers like me to be exposed to a wider audience.
Morgen: You’re very welcome. Thank you for wanting to be involved. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Paul: Yes, Morgen, do you ever have time to get any sleep?
Morgen: <laughs> It would be nice if we didn’t have to. I’d certainly get more writing done. I do have a little more sleep now I’ve given up the day job but still less than I used to before I started this blog. Of course I have a choice but I enjoy it too much. Thank you, Paul.
I then invited Paul to include an extract of his writing and this is from Sea-Change…
Agatha, when her husband was once again occupied with his work, timidly came over to Seldon. “Please, young sir, would you let me bind your hair in a braid, as I used to do for my son. You remind me so of him and my fingers yearn to remember him too.”
Seldon looked into the woman’s eyes and saw the emptiness and the sorrow. “Very well,” he said.
The woman took his hair in her hands and tried to run her fingers through it. The hair was just as long as it had been before the transformation spell and it was now hopelessly tangled and matted, but the woman was not deterred. She produced a basin of water and rinsed Seldon’s mangled mop. After the rinsing she applied some of the olive oil she had for cooking and then brought out a sturdy comb and gingerly combed out the tangles. Only then did she begin weaving the hair into a single braid. When she had finished, he looked around to thank her, but the woman turned her head away and with her eyes filling with tears, she quickly left.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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