Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today? I’m doing fantastic, or as great as I can be with kids! Anyone with kids knows what I mean. I am definitely looking forward to school. I am also in the process of putting out three anthologies. But that is enough about me!
Let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting! Yes, as you know, I’ve been bitten by the interview bug! I have the Warrior Weekend Series and the ‘SciFy Shenanigans’ interviews. I’ll send out the interview form to any author that fits those niche categories. If you know anyone you want me to interview, contact me through my blog and I’ll give it a shot! I love giving everyone a chance to get personal with the names behind the books they love, so here goes nothing!
I wanted to help you get to know these wordsmiths, so I created a template for the authors to talk about their latest book and their creative process. They’ll be able to pitch the other stuff too, of course, but many authors have deep backlists. It’s hard to get into the weeds with those prolific literary giants, so I took a weed whacker to the mess. Here are the final results! The questions are in no particular order, so grab your seat while your minion makes your popcorn and enjoy the ride!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages……
First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I am a Missouri native who first started writing when I was a little kid, then kept up the hobby when I went to West Point. After getting out of the Army back in 2003, I moved to KS to pursue my doctorate in history from Kansas State University. I’ve always been a sci-fi fan from way back—I remember my parents bringing home Star Trek II on laserdisc (yes, I’m that old) and watching it several times.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
That I maintain my youthful vigor by bathing in the blood of…wait, wait, this is going on the internet.
In all seriousness, I think most folks would be surprised to know I dabble in reading contemporary romance. Not an avid reader, mind you, but I do try to read some work done by independent authors like Celia Kennedy or more traditional publishing items like Harlequin.
I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books, then you also enjoy reading them. What other genres do you enjoy, and how have they affected your writing?
I’ll read almost anything once, so this is pretty broad brush stroke. However, old favorites are non-fiction history (see doctoral self-flagellation), dystopian / post-apocalyptic adventure, and military sci-fi.
All of these find a way into my writing, either through homages or easter eggs I’ll slip into things. For instance, I’ll occasionally name space vessels after modern authors or fictional places.
Who are your biggest writing influences?
I’ve had people make (very flattering) comparisons between myself and David Weber, David Drake, and John Ringo. I would say that some of my biggest influences were the authors who wrote the old Robotech novels under the pseudonym Jack McKinney. I’d also be remiss if I did not give a nod to Pat Frank, the author of Alas, Babylon—but we’ll get to that in a second.
Who are your favorite authors and books?
Alas, Babylon—Pat Frank. Terribly dated at this point (the main character has lost a recent election based on his opinion regarding Brown v. Board) but the central lessons about people and survival still hold up.
Red Storm Rising—Tom Clancy. This was the first full-scale, force on force military thriller I remember reading—and I literally read the covers off the hard copy when my parents got it.
When Worlds Collide / After Worlds Collide—Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. So these were the books that first introduced me to the concept of rogue planetary bodies. Lucifer’s Hammer followed shortly thereafter, but I keep a pair of dime-store copies of these right next to my writing desk.
The Girl With the Silver Eyes—Willo Davis Roberts. Medical maladies gone wrong? Mental powers? Yeah, I’m not going to lie—I spent an inordinate amount of 4th and 5th grade testing to see if I’d suddenly gotten telekinesis based on this book. What’s funny is that I apparently read a historical romance written by Ms. Roberts when I was younger and never put the two names together.
Bridge to Teribithia—Katherine Paterson. I can’t say for sure that this is the first book that ever made me cry as a child. I can say; however, it’s the first one I remember. Mind scarring, “Wait, what?!” trauma there.
The Big E—Edward P. Stafford. Still one of my favorite historical works. Follows the U.S.S. Enterprise (CV-6) from conception to destruction. Makes you wonder how in the heck William Halsey could not raise sufficient funds to save her from the scrapyard.
The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861—David M. Potter. Chilling in the fact it shows how Americans went from tense disagreement to shooting at one another in a little over a decade. Highly recommend for anyone who wants to understand how civil wars in general and ours in particular are rarely based on a single event.
Dies the Fire—S.M. Stirling. In the snap of a finger, modern society is tossed back to the equivalent of medieval technology. Bonus points: Fundamental physical properties have changed so there’s no quick fix to climb back out. If you want a book that will make you look around and say, “So, what do I have in this house I can carry out of here if it came to that?”, read this one.
This Kind of War—T.R. Fehrenbach. Although it’s a history of the Korean War, I have always considered this book to be a cautionary tale regarding unpreparedness and hubris. If you want to understand why we’re still dealing with some distant peninsula sixty-plus years later, this is a good place to start.
How did that love of reading lead you deep into the trenches of the writer’s life?
So I started trying to write stories beginning when I was a young kid (think grade school). I think this was an outgrowth of having stories end in ways that I didn’t necessarily enjoy or find fulfilling. However, wanting to be as authentic as possible, I was known to “borrow” the family atlas and be found on the floor trying to measure the range from Point A to Point B to make sure what I was suggesting was feasible.
What is your preferred writing style? Do you have a favorite point of view; first person, third person, etc.? Feel free to answer as both a reader and as an author!
I’m a third person omniscient author. That is, I tend to follow a group of characters, but will break into what I have heard others call “Clancy view” when a battle is going on. I have done first person, but I find that to be somewhat limiting given the scale of stories I want to tell.
When did you get serious about your writing as a career, instead of writing as a hobby?
I’d say I’m still somewhere between the hobby and full career stage due to the aforementioned academic requirements. I do hope to look up someday and be doing this for a living, but I think that’s quite a ways down the road.
Don’t get me wrong–I know several authors who are taking the big leap of saying, “I’m doing this full time now.” I wish I could say I had that level of faith in myself, but I realize quite frankly that if one or two things changed in the indie market, it would be almost impossible to support oneself. Even with what could be considered a favorable market, I don’t think people realize what a career entails.
To me, being a full-time writer means that if a person found out they had cancer tomorrow, they’d have enough in the bank to fight through treatments and keep themselves afloat. When survey after survey puts the median author income (after eliminating outliers) at around $25-30,000, I think it’ll be a while before I quit the day job.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured?
I usually try to knock out 4-5 hours during the week, then another 16-20 hours on the weekend. I will freely admit that I’ve been lazing about some after completing the dissertation / preparing for the defense, but one of the things I plan to do in the new year is get much more regimented about knocking out a certain number of words a day.
Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day?
Not yet, but I plan on starting to aim for a small goal of around 1500 words a day.
What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer the sound of silence?
I listen to a lot of soundtracks and other music. When I’m doing space battles, there’s a lot of Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, and various other space opera stuff. For the alternate history, I try a lot of Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and Jo Blankenburg. For heavy metal it’s a rotation of Sabaton, Metallica, Megadeth, and Evanescence.
Okay, time for another random question. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think landed you on the government watch list for?
When I was a cadet, I used to order pretty heavily from Paladin Press. (This being back in the dark ages where computers were wonders and “the internet” was something you entered IP numbers for in a lot of cases.) One time I had The Poor Man’s James Bond and The Ultimate Sniper both show up in my mailbox. My roommate took one look at the package, looked at me, and said (slight paraphrase) “JY, I don’t want to know, but I want to make sure you understand I’m going to tell them I always thought you were off when they come to ask.”
What is your current novel? Can you tell us a little bit about the premise?
So I’m currently working on editing To Slip the Surly Bonds, an anthology for Chris Kennedy Publishing. It’s a collection of short stories all dealing with aerial alternative history, i.e., taking a point in aviation military history and asking “what if.” We’ve got several folks fans of the genre will recognize, from Sarah Hoyt (2018 Dragon Award Winner for Alternate History), and Taylor Anderson (author of the best-selling Destroyermen series). If you like aerial combat of any era, there’s something that will tickle your fancy.
As for me, I continue to work on my next Usurper’s War novel, Against the Tide Imperial. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s alternate history where I killed Adolf Hitler in November 1940 before he could order the attack on the Soviet Union. As it’s an RAF bomb that killed him, Germany stays west and knocks Great Britain out of the war. The first novel, Acts of War, was a #1 seller in alternate history and has over a 4-star rating if folks want to check it out.
Where did you find the inspiration for Aries Red Sky, your most recent sci-fi novel?
The long-term inspiration was I’ve always been a fan of grittier sci-fi. One of the big things I’ve always thought most sci-fi gets wrong is human nature. In a lot of series, humanity is one big, happy snuggle bunch once we reach the stars. Maybe it’s my pessimistic nature, but that’s historically inaccurate. We have, more or less, been the same jerks to one another for the past 50,000 years as we are now. So, the Vergassy Universe is an extension of that, with the payoff that readers know (thanks to An Unproven Concept) that aliens are coming at the end of this tunnel.
The short-term inspiration was that one of the recurring critiques of An Unproven Concept was that I constantly referred to past events that were rather important to that book’s plot but were not elaborated on. This was certainly fair, so I originally intended to do a single novel to clear things up. Well, much like a land war in Asia, this has taken on a life of its own.
The characters from Aries’ Red Sky are sent into a gladiatorial deathmatch. Who wins?
If it’s with melee weapons, probably a Spartan. More than likely, Agneron Acheros, as he is basically a shark on two legs.
What was your favorite part of writing Aries Red Sky?
Taking characters and relationships that I had established in An Unproven Concept and walking them back fifteen years.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from Aries’ Red Sky?
I usually try to avoid “casting” folks, as I don’t want to influence the reader too much. But I will say that Idris Elba as Nathan Waldron, President of the Spartan Republic, works for me.
When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are, or do you let them develop as you go? The age-old plotter versus pantser, character edition.
As with plot, I’m a hybrid. I do try to have a general outline and plan where things are going, but I’m open to plot bunnies taking me a bit far afield provided it’s in the same general direction as the main storyline. Do
How did writing Aries Red Sky differ from your previous novels?
I was a little bit older and wiser about writing as a process. Plus it was the first one I did without the specter of a dissertation hanging over me. Finally, a lot of the things that were going to happen were also “foretold” in An Unproven Concept.
If Aries Red Sky had a theme song, what would it be?
Interestingly enough, Aries’ Red Sky does have some music set in it. My audiobook narrator, Jennifer Jill Arraya, is also an accomplished opera singer / musician, and did some pieces. In addition, there’s also an arrangement done by Dan the Bard out of St. Louis. Eventually, I’ll get all of these set on a CD.
Aries’ Red Sky is full of many amazingly talented characters, and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?
So, I would say Vice Admiral Min Ji Lee of the Spartan Navy is my favorite character. She’s very much a thorn in the Terran Confederation’s side, even as a secondary. My editor liked some of the killer lines Lee was able to deliver throughout.
And to bring us home, what advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Fall 7 times, get up 8. This is going to be a rough journey, but try not to lose hope.
Finally, where can readers and future stalkers find you?
I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about James Young, then follow the rabbit trail to their den of insanity! If they don’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
->As usual, all images came from Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen grabs taken by JR Handley for use under the Fair Use Doctrine.