SciFy Shenanigans: Raven Oak

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Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today?  I’m doing amazing, busy taking care of my wife as she recovers from her concussion post-accident.  Sorry I didn’t post my blog yesterday, but I was exhausted and just forgot. I’m getting back on the writing horse and if I can swing a measly 15k words this month I’ll call it a win!  One final note before we delve deep into the forest of Raven Oak’s writing interview, I’ll be attending RavenCon at the end of the month.  If you’re there, look for the fat guy that looks like Santa shaved his beard!

 

Now, let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting!  Yes, I’ve gotten bit by the interview bug!  That being said – here is the next installment of SciFy Friday!  I put my weed whacker to work and found Raven Oak!  Now grab your popcorn and enjoy the ride!

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages,……

 

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First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I’m a bestselling science fiction and fantasy author best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 EPIC Awards & Ozma Awards Finalist) and Class-M Exile. I’ve got several short stories in anthologies like Untethered: A Magic iPhone Anthology and Magic Unveiled. I spent most of my K-12 education doodling stories and 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet. When I’m not writing, I’m gaming, indulging in cartography, or staring at the ocean. I’m also a former public school teacher and live in the Seattle area with my husband (he works for Bungie) and our three kitties who enjoy lounging across my keyboard when I’m working. Like right now. G93he-wjew.

 

Well hopefully your editing guru can help translate the cat’s writing back into English!  Until then, you’ll just have to persevere! What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I was a music composition & theory major in college before I changed majors to English/education. And just to throw another topic into the mix, my Master’s is in computers. I also had my first graphic design job at fifteen, so I have a varied background in many different fields outside of writing.

 

I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books you also enjoy reading them.  What other genres do you enjoy reading, and how have they affected your writing?

I read most widely in speculative fiction, which influenced me the most growing up. The idea of what-if and why made my brain buzz. I didn’t like that the adults around me couldn’t answer those “big life” questions such as “Why are we here?” and “What if magic used to exist?” Okay, maybe that last one isn’t such a big life question, but still—my childhood self wanted to know! SF/F not only allowed me but it encouraged me to think outside the box and ask every question I could think of.

Outside of spec-fic, I read a lot of mystery and mythology. I read some general or popular fiction, but not a ton. Too cliché and ham-fisted for me. Mystery on the other hand encourages my inquisitive nature, much like speculative fiction does. One of my stories in Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays entitled “Ol’ St. Nick” is a closed-room mystery in space involving a mobster Santa. I enjoy taking the structure of whodunits and tossing it into a science fiction or fantasy setting. Lots of fun. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of Santa as a mobster?

 

Who are your biggest writing influences?

Definitely Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Melanie Rawn, and Anne Bishop. They write so succinctly and with such flair. They could write a phone book, and I’d buy it.

 

Who are your favorite authors and books?

My favorites include those names above—specifically American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, the Kingkiller Chronicle by Rothfuss, the Dragon Prince series by Melanie Rawn, and the Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop.

 

What is your preferred writing style?

Whatever style tells the story best. Yes, authors all have their own styles, but inside of those styles, voices and such shift depending upon the story one is telling. If I’m writing humorous space opera, my style is slightly different than when I’m writing epic or general fantasy.

 

How did figuring out what your preferred writing style was?

Discovering what my style was meant writing and writing and writing some more until I discovered it.

 

When did you get serious about your writing?

At sixteen. No, really. I wrote a 300 page novel in 6th grade, but that was for fun. When I was in high school, I began attending professional writing conferences and was involved in a critique group full of published and not-published adults who also wrote SF/F. I’ve known since I was very young that I wanted to be a writer. The only way to do that was to be serious about it, so I did. But a lot of what I wrote in high school was immature drivel, so I didn’t really begin writing as an adult for publication until about my late twenties.

 

What is your current novel?  Tell us a little bit about the premise?

I’m currently rewriting and revising Amaskan’s War, Book II in the Boahim Series. Book I, Amaskan’s Blood, came out in 2015. The best comparison I’ve ever received was from another author who said it was like “if George R. R. Martin wrote [Disney’s] Tangled,” which is an apt description for this fantasy novel. The main character (Adelei) is an Amaskan, a sort of holy assassin who protects the Little Dozen Kingdoms and its people. She’s a typical cocky 19-year-old who’s sent into the hands of the Amaskans’ worst enemy, her father. Lots of political intrigue, world-building without taking five pages to describe a table leg, and self-discovery.

But being about sci-fi, I’ll give you some tidbits on a space opera of mine called Class-M Exile. The main character, Eerl, is a Tersic (alien race) who studies extinct humans via old Earth videos, specifically westerns. He thinks everyone talks with a bad Texas drawl, so he talks like that too. Then he stumbles into a human and they go off on an adventure that teaches them both that nothing is as it seems. I really wanted to look at prejudice from a different perspective than the typical “humans good, aliens bad” angle. I’ve been told by many that it’s very Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) meets Firefly.

I’m also doing rewrites on the first in a space opera trilogy due out Winter 2017/2018 entitled The Eldest Silence, which is set in the same universe as Class-M Exile. It, too, deals with prejudice in space.

 

The Eldest Silence is part of a series, so where can we expect it to go?

It’s going to be a trilogy and like most things I write, it’ll be humorous with some darkness to it. The main character, Captain Kris Berstenfin, isn’t going to make it out of the war completely unscathed, but she’ll learn who she is and how to love in ways she never imagined.

 

Where did you find the inspiration for Class-M Exile?

When I was in middle school, I met a girl who was the complete antithesis of Texas (where I lived at the time). She was a feminist and liberal (both sins in the Bible belt) but also an atheist who played with tarot cards. She was the child of a single mother, who arrived at school amidst a car full of dogs and cats. Her first day of school, it was like a stampede of afraid kids as they reacted to this girl sporting tons of hair braids, pentacles, and hippie-style clothes. I like to tell people that this was a town where even the Catholics pretended to be Southern Baptists. You were either a church-goin’ Christian, or you were Satan himself. It didn’t take long for them to jump into bullying and harassing her. Ostracizing her. She became one of my best friends and introduced me to the world of science fiction and fantasy. I am the writer I am because of her, and I wanted to tell her story.

 

Your characters from Class-M Exile are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins? 

Mel. She’s fiesty.

 

What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence? 

I have mood/setting-based playlists I created in iTunes made up of wordless songs. If it has words, I’ll sing along and not write. I mostly pull from movie or television scores. If I’m writing a sad scene, I’ll plop on my “sad writing” playlist, which is made up songs that evoke a sad emotion in me. Helps me write.

 

What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?

What haven’t I been flagged for? I’ve looked up how to poison someone and how that poison would react in zero-g and with no oxygen, how to fire a revolver and a pistol in an oxygen-less environment, medieval-era feminine hygiene products/methods, how to weave on the large looms of the 1800’s, and the difference between a bottlery and a buttlery.

 

What was your favorite part of writing Class-M Exile?

Eerl’s proclivity for bad American puns and how to get them wrong.

 

Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from Class-M Exile?

I know a lot of authors give this thought, but I haven’t! Eek! Um, Eerl’s a three-legged, multi-eyed, multi-nosed alien who always tells the truth, so I don’t know that it matters too much who plays him. Someone who can fake a bad Texas drawl. I’ve heard Keanu Reeves is hideous at a southern accent so maybe? For Mel, we’d need to go back in time as I’d want a really young Daryl Hannah.

 

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? 

I write full-time, so my entire day is filled with writing activities. I usually write on the current Work-In-Progress in the morning, then revise on another project in the afternoon. After I hit my word counts or page counts, the last thing I work on is promotion/marketing/social media.

 

Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day?

I have a minimum of 1500 words per day in terms of writing. In terms of critiquing works for others or revising works, I tend to aim for two-hour’s work.

 

When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?

A mix of both. Some characters pop into my head completely formed, but sometimes I start writing and they have other ideas about who they are.

 

How did writing Class-M Exile differ from your writing your previous novels? 

I was at a writing workshop with Sci-Fi Grand Master Connie Willis and Chris Barzak, who wanted us to take a real life event and flip it on its head. I took that moment when my friend stepped out of the car and people fled, and turned it into the opening scene of Class-M Exile. The story grew from there, but it’s essentially my thoughts about how everyone is capable and guilty of prejudice. I would hope that people would look a little deeper at themselves and their own misconceptions and prejudices, to learn that we share more in common with “Them” or “Others” than we think. It was the first time I’d had someone I admire as an author encourage me to finish something I’d just started that day. It certainly lit a fire under me to do just that.

 

If Class-M Exile had a theme song what would it be?

Honestly, I can’t think of one particular song that fits the book, but I did listen to the Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves score a lot while writing it.

 

Amaskan’s Blood 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?

Definitely Adelei. Being an Amaskan, she’s trained in multiple forms of combat, but she also carries a belief set that reminds me of Buddhist monks. Because she’s nineteen, she has the flaws of youth while carrying a great weight on her shoulders. Flawed characters are the most well-rounded characters and the best to write. She’s so badass and yet so vulnerable.

 

What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

Find time to write every day. Even if it’s five minutes. Even if it’s via voice recordings on your phone while on the bus. Get in the habit of writing regularly and stick with it.

Also, write for yourself. Tell the stories you want to see in the world, the ones you want to read. If you write on the hopes of striking it rich or playing the market, you won’t be happy. If you’re not happy writing, your readers won’t be happy either.

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I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about Raven Oak then follow the rabbit trail to their warren in the Internet!  If they don’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!

 

Raven Oak’s Social Media Platform:

Website

Facebook Author Page

Twitter

Instagram

Google+

YouTube

Goodreads Author Page

Amazon Author Page

 

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

brown_bess

JR

 

–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen shots taken by JR Handley and used under the Fair Use Doctrine.

–> Some of these interview questions were inspired by my good friend TeacherofYA, and are used with her permission.  If you have kids who love to read, she’s the girl who’ll make the literary introductions!  You should check her out, after a lifetime of reading, your kids will thank you.

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Marine Monday: Kaden Roy

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Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today?  Things are great here, my new novelette No Marine Left Behind will be released on Amazon on the 29th.  I’ll be at RavenCon at the end of April if anyone is going to be around.  Not on any panels, I’ll just be a guest like you.  If you see me around, don’t be afraid to say hi or throw rotten tomatoes or something.

 

So on to our regularly scheduled Marine Monday! Today I was leaked, by our friendly neighborhood LegionLeak source, the official bio of Marine Kaden Roy.  Remember, destroy this message after reading it so the anonymous source can live long enough to continually feed us excellent intelligence!  Without further ado, here is the leaked document!

 

Kayden Roy 1Kaden Roy 2Kaden Roy 3

 

Hopefully you enjoyed this sneak peek into a certain special Marine’s official record.  If you did, stay tuned for next weeks as we anxiously wait for the latest documents smuggled our way!

 

 

Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!

brown_bess

JR

 

 

–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen grabs taken by JR Handley for use under the Fair Use Doctrine.

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Con Learning

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Since I recently mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to attend HonorCon this year, I thought I would throw up a blog about what I learned at RavenCon 2016. I wrote it immediately afterwards, then promptly lost in among my unorganized filing system. I’m now more organized and have a system, so hopefully this won’t happen again. No, this won’t happen again!

 

Since I want to attend again in 2017, obviously I had a great time at the Raven Con. I also learned a lot of useful stuff that I wrote about right after the Con ended. The Con seemed to be geared towards writers, with a ton of useful panels/classes that helped me immensely. They had everything from marketing in ‘The Age of Amazon’ to editing and world building. I took notes like I was back in college again, arm nearly falling off, and now I want to discuss my thoughts.

Unfortunately, with so many electronically inclined nerds in attendance, the hotel Wi-Fi was basically non-existent so I couldn’t write or edit from my DropBox account. Although, come to think of it, I hadn’t set that up yet. (Note to reader: DropBox is an amazing way to securely back up your files!) Moving right along, this conference was invigorating and I was definitely motivated to get back to finishing my novel. Just the kick in the pants I needed and it worked! Maybe I should find another to push me into finishing book three!

Originally my word count goal was 2,000 words a day, however, that isn’t always possible as life inevitably gets in the way. Hey, I am long winded but even I can’t stop adulting full time!! Without further ado, let me get to what I took away from my first conference.

 

SWAG: The bigger sellers, at least the ones who attended the Con, all seemed to think having things for giveaways at events and on your site are was a must. They had things like coffee cups, phone cases and t-shirts which they sold as supplemental income. It gave them prizes for promotional giveaways and generally just looked cool. As for my swag, I had a buddy make a graphic representation of the unit crest from my book and now we are checking on the legalities of using it. The legalities of art rights aren’t my thing, so I’m letting my editor handle that.  However, for anyone who has access to Ye Olde Facebook, I recommend chatting with the authors there.  The Listeners of the Dead Robots Society had some thoughts on the subject, contradictory to what the experts at RavenCon thought.  They basically suggest your money could be better spent with business card, then any extra cash put into spiffy covers and a professional webpage.

 

PRODUCTIVITY: I received some really great advice on increasing productivity and avoiding the dreaded writer’s block. Such advice was especially good for me as I occasionally get suffer from writer’s block. Well, maybe not blockage so much as my mind tends to wander to other stories and I get things mixed up. Then I have to spend time reorienting myself to the correct story so I can move forward. Basically they suggest that you always stop at a point where you know what scene you’re writing next – this keeps you from psyching yourself out. This makes a lot of sense, so I’ve been using it a lot.

 

BUSINESS CARDS: According to the powers that be, these are a must! Several authors asked for mine when I mentioned I was working on my second novel, but I had nothing to give. I wrote my information down on scrap paper, their convention programs and the back of their business cards, but all for naught. None followed through and reached out, likely because the things I wrote on were easily lost. A nice, clean business card could’ve prevented that and netted me valuable contacts and resources for the future. Instead I am left with a missed opportunity, though not a wasted one since I learned from it. I even received a lecture about these missed opportunities to spread the word about the Human Legion Universe. The anonymous author felt that my loss was SOLELY due to my lack of business cards filled with my contact information.  To be fair though, I didn’t follow through either, which I should’ve done and will do going forward.

 

EDITING: One of the biggest suggestions I came away with was not to edit mid-paragraph. Rather, they suggested waiting until the end of the novel before I went back and edited it. The presumption they were operating off of was that it was a waste of time since you don’t yet know what is important. When you fleshed out the more critical plot points, then you could more accurately target the errors. Also, fine tuning is a tedious process which will slow your word count. What I call ‘the machine gun method,’ where you use the time honored tradition of the ‘spray and pray.’ This is where you ‘spray’ the words on paper and ‘pray’ that the well of red ink dries before your editor is through with your story!!  If you want a good blog, written BY an editor for advice on such topic, click here and follow the link.

 

BOOK BLURBS: Some of the authors suggested making friends with some of the YouTube Book Bloggers to review your stuff. This would help you receive some initial critiques, allowing you to improve your text and raise visibility. This works because it spreads the word to your target audience, though you run the risk from bad reviews so send them final drafts that have been edited! Basically, anyone who has a voice that reaches your target audience should be approached about helping you.  Finding some way where you could help them in return wouldn’t hurt either!

 

INTERNET PRESENCE: According to just about every singe panelist at the convention, this was a must for life in today’s society. The experts in attendance recommended a focus on your blog on one or two topics/themes. This would help you practice your writing chops AND avoid doing the “Buy My Books” route favored by too many. Instead it was suggested that you provide other content to get readers in your door – while providing links to your books. One way of getting traffic to your blog is to write a list of interview questions for bigger authors and mail it to them. You would be asking them to respond so you could post on your blog. The benefit was that you get the association in a Google search, so a Stephen King interview means that your name and his could come up together in a Goggle Search. The benefit to the other author is that they get an open forum to control the narrative, while you receive some exposure. The mechanics of HOW you make sure to link the two isn’t my specialty, luckily I have ‘people’ to handle that aspect of things!!!  Another suggestion was to run contest on your blog where the prize is to have a secondary character in the book, named after you or you get to name some piece of equipment. Basically, fan involvement and connections. The fans get to be redshirt characters and participate in the creative process.  I’m unsure, and it wasn’t mentioned, of the legal considerations of using real people as characters in your novel and it is something I want to look into.  The people SAY they’re okay with things but you want to cover your backside for posterities sake.

 

WRITING GROUPS: The consensus was these groups are a mixed bag. They can be helpful, but you need to be wary of any groups which are more interested in ‘talking’ about being writers than actually ‘writing.’ Further, you can sometimes start to run into trouble as you get more serious about your writing since you might offend those for whom it is a hobby. Basically, if you are interested in pursuing writing as a career, join a group of like minded folk. If, however, writing is merely a private pleasure you should find a group with similar intent so that you can best meet each others needs. One thing they seemed to agree upon was that internet groups were not recommended. It was mostly about the lack of accountability in the way the groups were managed, but it is possible you could find an internet group that actually served its intended purpose, invalidating their cautionary tales. Like I said, they just felt that meeting in real time gives people more accountability for their actions.  While not a writing group, per say, I HAVE found the other WordPress bloggers to be encouraging so that might be an option.  Author Kim Chance has a blog where others can connect to find themselves critique partners which could be a route for you to consider.

 

HISTORICAL MINING: Finally, the various panels of authors felt that you should never forget that you shouldn’t forget to pull ideas for the future out of a shared knowledge of the past. Patterns repeat and can be adapted for futuristic space sagas. This is where my historian training could be a huge asset!! That, and my ability to research. While they didn’t cover this in relation to fantasy, or if they did I missed the panel as I focused on science fiction, the past could also serve as inspiration. If you doubt me, look up this wee phenomenon known as Game of Thrones! 😛

 

I know that this isn’t exactly profound, or even something that isn’t already known, I still figured I’d share it because it refreshed my own memories of the experience of attending RavenCon 2016! If you have any thoughts on these topics, feel free to comment below…. I look forward to hearing from you!

HonorCon 2016

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I was hoping to attend HonorCon this year… lots of good panels for the budding military science fiction writer, but it was sold out.

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Probably for the best, I hadn’t realize it would be $150 a head!!  My only Con experience was RavenCon and that was a more reasonable $50 a person to attend.  Naturally I assumed all Cons were about that cost.

Maybe 2017 will be my year!! 🙂  And who knows, maybe my first royalties can pay for the cost to attend!!!  Either way, I WILL be attending RavenCon again in 2017, it was too fun not too!

 

–> Authors Note:  The computer screen grab image was taken by J.R. Handley and is owned by him.  Anyone wishing to use them may do so, provided proper citation is used.

–> The RavenCon logo belongs solely to that fine organization, which I highly recommend you check out!  And if you are attending in 2017, shoot me a line and we can meet for liquid refreshments!  I have linked to their site above, so go take a gander at it!