Welcome to the one hundred and ninety-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with sci-fi fantasy writer Sarah Baethge. 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, Sarah. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Sarah: People were always telling me I have a great imagination and should write a book, so when I was trapped at home; recovering from a car wreck a couple years ago I figured I had the time and it may be fun.
Morgen: Ouch. But I have a feeling writing is fun so good out of bad. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Sarah: I write sci-fi / fantasy because that is what I typically like to read. I have considered trying some police or detective stories but I don’t have any real (non-TV show) knowledge of such things, and my stories always end up sprouting something supernatural.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Morgen: I like silly. You’re one step ahead of me. I’ve put seven things up but only on Smashwords so far (as their guide was 70+ pages) but am planning on getting on Amazon in the next few days (bit behind with NaNoWriMo, hey ho). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Sarah: I’ve filled out a few search engine new page forms and written two blogs now I’m trying to get interviewed, but I haven’t really done much of anything. I’ve spent no money and done nothing that isn’t free.
Morgen: Me too. 🙂 It sounds like you have a great start though, and know what you’re doing. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Sarah: Other than silly grade school awards I don’t think I’ve won any awards for my writing. I’d like an award or two, because such a thing attracts a larger audience to your work.
Morgen: It’s certainly good for the CV and it’s really all about getting your name, and writing, out there. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Sarah: I don’t use a pseudonym, because I am who I am. I have no reason to hide my name and it’s uncommon enough potential readers should have no problem remembering it.
Morgen: That’s the thing about a distinctive name, more difficult if you were Sarah Smith for sure. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Sarah: I don’t have an agent. Such a person may be important if I didn’t have the time or will to advertise myself, but I have a great dad and stepmother who are willing to provide for me and give me a place to stay as I write.
Morgen: A supportive family is great. 🙂 You mentioned that your books are available as eBooks, what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Sarah: Yes my books are ebooks. I like the near-total control that it leaves me with to format words myself, and to choose / draw my own cover art. I love my kindle because it allows me access to an entire library of my favourite books and what I am currently writing without taking up any more space than a paperback.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. I think I’m a bit of a control freak (my brother would be nodding here; he’s older but probably doesn’t feel like it sometimes) so love the fact that I can do whatever I like, guided by a great editor. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Sarah: It’s still not quite published, currently being formatted so they can pick where to put it, but when Bewildering Stories publishes it, my short (or possibly the beginning of) story ‘Fixing Time’ will be at http://www.bewilderingstories.com. Being accepted, or even someone saying they like my story is always a thrill.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. My eBooks have only been live a couple of weeks but already I’ve had some wonderful (and constructive) feedback. Again, unlike traditional publishing, digital can make everything happen so quickly. I love technology. 🙂 On the downside, have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Sarah: I’ve had a few rejections with my short stories, I put the name of who rejected it on a file in that story’s folder so I know not to try it with them again, then look up the next place to send it and get it out of my hands before I lose the nerve. I never sent ‘The Speed of Darkness’ out to publishers because I enjoyed writing it when I was doing so, and after reading it once more when I pulled it out of my abandoned story pile, I didn’t want to be asked to change it.
Morgen: 🙂 I feel like that with some of mine. I write a lot of dark stuff which I know won’t suit many places, so ideal for eBooks. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Sarah: ‘Meant to be’ a time travel / alien invasion novel that if I stick to the notes I’ve made, should be at least twice as long as ‘The Speed of Darkness.’
Morgen: It’ll be interesting, I’m sure, to see how closely you do stick once the flow (and characters) takes over. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day?
Sarah: I try to write every day but truthfully don’t more than 3 or 4 days a week. Random things like answering interview questions distract me.
Morgen: Oops. 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Sarah: Sure it can happen. At times the thought of opening the dreaded files in the story folder I’m working on can chase me away from my computer. My solution is to stick that folder inside of an abandoned story folder, erase all traces of it off my kindle, and just pretend it doesn’t exist until I get a new idea. When I pull it out of said folder some months (or in the case of ‘The Speed of Darkness’ 2-3 years) the writing’s a lot less threatening and far easier to shine into something I can let the world see. My short stories occur to me usually because of this type of writer’s block. It’s just a quick flash of a single idea, with very little background and almost no notes.
Morgen: That’s what often works the best with me. I plotted the first novel as it was the biggest thing over 3,000 words and soon realised that I’d be best leaving it to the characters to do with as they wished – it wasn’t a million miles away but some parts surprised me. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Sarah: When I watch or read something I like, or even hear an interesting expression or phrase; I tend to juggle it around with whatever other amusing ideas I have in my head at the time. Eventually, it may leave me with the jumbled together theme of a story that I enjoy. What causes inspiration? Everything. You just can’t be looking for it.
Morgen: You mentioned notes, do you generally plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sarah: For longer stories I write out more detailed notes, so I won’t forget the ideas I’ve had before I begin writing that part of the book. For shorter stories I have little more than a sentence (if even that much) for each scene I plan to do. For any of it, if I suddenly have an idea for something that fits in right where I’m writing; I just kind of let it flow. It’s much easier to erase something unneeded later, than to force any absent inspiration.
Morgen: It is, much better than padding. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Sarah: I try to make the characters into who I think would be needed to carry out the story idea that I have. Often though, I find my favourite character starting to pick up my way of thinking or my mannerisms. I pick names I think sound right, but I don’t have much of a problem changing their names as I did with Eric Omlup a character in ‘The Speed of Darkness’ because his name was Sam; I thought that was too close to my character Samuel Parker in ‘Breaking Away.’
Morgen: I keep wanting to call all my characters Elliot. 🙂 Do you write any poetry? If so, what would you say is the difference between a piece of prose and a prose poem?
Sarah: My book ‘The Speed of Darkness’ has a few short poems that are all four lines of the same form. Prose is more official looking if you want to write an entire story, but poetry gives you more freedom to express a thought or feeling that wasn’t really comprised of words.
Morgen: You mentioned earlier that you write short stories, apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Sarah: Short stories are really no different than novels, but unless you write in a nearly uncomfortably shortened / speeded up time frame, you leave readers and publishers ready for something more. My one short story that came to an end which satisfied me as needing nothing more is now doing its rounds with different publishers.
Morgen: Ooh great, good luck with that. 🙂 Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Sarah: My Dad.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sarah: I try to make editing notes on my kindle because my actual file on the computer becomes more enjoyable if I manage to stay away from it for a while.
Morgen: A good way to avoid writer’s block for some people. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Sarah: I do enough research to satisfy myself with the particular topic.
Morgen: What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Sarah: If I am thinking something that interests me for a moment, I’m sure to start a story folder on my computer for it. If the idea stays in my mind, starts to form characters and actual events, I put all of that in the story folder. The next time I’m looking for something to write, the story folder that I like the best is chosen, and moved to my desktop. Now I try listing all characters, order the scene ideas I already have, add in what more I think is needed, until I have the framework for the entire story (this is read over and reworked a billion times as I write). Now I try to make myself write at least one scene every day until it’s complete enough for editing. This complete copy gets set to read-only and I go through and make changes to a copy. Every so often, I go through and update the ‘read-only’ so it as the changes that I think it should. I repeat this process until I can get through the ‘read-only’ without suggesting any changes.
Morgen: I’m sort of the same. I go through a draft three or four times until I feel it’s ready to go to my editor. It’s good that you go away from it then come back as if it’s a new piece, easier to fool the brain into not seeing incorrect words as correct ones. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Sarah: I like using my computer.
Morgen: Me too, although I tend to edit on paper. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Sarah: I am sitting at my desk, with little noise other that my cockatiel screeching at me.
Morgen: <laughs> What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Sarah: I like both first and third, and do have a story idea where it would almost fit to use second for a scene or two, yet I can never stay focused on that entire story long enough for it to come to anything. It has one of the most complete sets of notes in my abandoned story file with even a couple of chapters written, so I’m sure it will eventually get written.
Morgen: Let’s hope so (as I love second person). Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Sarah: If written well these can be a nice addition to the story, you might even call my ending to ‘The Speed of Darkness’ an epilogue, but I never really made a conscious decision to write one.
Morgen: As it fits the relevant piece. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Sarah: My wonderful folder of half finished / abandoned stories may hold a piece or two that never will escape its fate, but with any luck I’ll become a much beloved, well known author so when I die someone else will log on to my computer and publish what I got frustrated and deemed crap as ‘The Wonderful, Secret Works of Sarah Baethge.’
Morgen: In the distant future, hopefully. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Sarah: I love the free time it’s left me with, yet curse it when I get bored.
Morgen: Bored? What does that mean? Oh yes, I vaguely remember the notion from my teens. 🙂 If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Sarah: That having the guts to stick with it and not try for a normal job has strangely won me respect with some people.
Morgen: Because they know how hard it is? What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sarah: Give it a try. Even if it’s only an hour a day, if you’ve a story to tell, tell it. How else will I ever be able to read it?
Morgen: 🙂 What do you like to read?
Sarah: I like modern fantasy and science fiction. For certain I will read the next book by Stephen King and Robin Hobb.
Morgen: I was a BIG Stephen King fan in my teens, then mellowed to crime. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Sarah: That question just made my mind go blank~
Morgen: Oh dear, sorry about that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sarah: I like to read, play video games or watch movies.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Morgen: Ah yes, I’ve spotted them on Twitter. I should look them up. Sound similar to http://youwriteon.com and http://authonomy.com. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Sarah: I’m in the USA and I’m sure there’s a hindrance.
Morgen: Hopefully not so much now we have the beloved internet. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Sarah: Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook – look for 22niel Google+ – look for Sarah Baethge or 米机 生苛
Morgen: Oh yes, I spotted your (Japanese) symbols… beautiful. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Sarah: My google page is linked to it all: http://profiles.google.com/u/0/doUreallyWant2see
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sarah: More strange ideas.
Morgen: If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Sarah: I’m pretty happy where I am… would changing bad times in the past take that away? I’m not really sure I’d risk it.
Morgen: I think you’re right. Is there a question you’d like to ask me? 🙂
Sarah: Have you read my book? If so did you like it? If not, what would you change?
Morgen: I’m sorry, I haven’t. I shamefully admit that I don’t read enough and have hundreds (literally) of paperbacks in my ‘to be read’ pile. If anyone reading this had read it (or plans to) please do let Sarah know… and / or add in this post’s comments. Thank you, and thank you Sarah.
I then invited Sarah to include an extract of her writing:
‘Now, this is curious,’ wolf Eric thought as he slowed down to see three men standing under a light in the early morning park. As he watched them, he was careful to stay in the shadows, out of their sight. It seemed as if two of them were carefully circling the third one who looked ready to pass out.
Eric nearly felt the canine urge to protect this third man, because as the little man looked from one to the other at his companions he appeared terrified. This fellow’s companions, however, were not acting in all that threatening a way. One wore rubber gloves and held a flashlight. Even though it was nearly redundant under the bright street-light that hung cheerily over them, he seemed intent on shining his flash-light directly at the poor, cowering, tired-looking third man.
“Nigel,” said the one holding the light, “you aren’t getting away from us this time. Now, somehow word of your running has been somehow gotten hold of by the other freaks. It seems you’re something of a celebrity. Brought hope of rebellion to the whole little zoo, you have.”
Sarah Baethge has always been a fan of reading, but never seriously considered becoming an author until a car wreck on the drive back to college from home one weekend left her in a coma for some six months. She began writing stories out of boredom when faced with the prospect of not being permitted to go to school or work on her own. Eventually, only getting feedback on her writing from friends and family wasn’t enough. Because the ease and cheapness of publishing the internet provides is relatively anonymous, she figured there was no reason not to see if the general public found her work to be as good as her father claimed it was.
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.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
Alternatively, if you’d like a free Q&A-only interview, I now have http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com on which I’ve rerun the original interviews posted here then posted new interviews which I then reblog here. These interviews are Q&A only, so I don’t add in my comments but they do get exposure on both sites.
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