It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so it’s time to get back in the habit, am I right?
NV: I start with making character outlines. I learned this from the Sci-Fi author Lenea Sinclair. Basically, it’s writing half a page or so on each character, their background and quirky things about them so that I as an author understand them better. What do they like to drink? What is their favorite food, what was their childhood like? How did they get to where they are now? These are all questions that are important and that the reader may or may not see, but say once you designate what the character’s favorite cocktail is, it’s most likely going to make an appearance in the book. As for an outline for the entire book, it’s usually one page with boxes and arrows and it’s intentionally vague. For me, the story often writes itself and changes from day to day so it’s impossible to outline it from the beginning. The characters often do kooky things that I would have never predicted when first sitting down to write.
SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?
NV: I love to match scenes with music. My quirkiest habit is blasting music while I write. It helps me lose myself in what I’m doing. I also talk to myself or do gestures while I write in order to accurately put into words what the characters are doing.
SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?
NV: It depends on the story. For the Thomas Riley series, I’m inspired by my past and by things I love. Hayao Miyazaki, Star Wars, Firefly, Indiana Jones, maybe my experiences with my friends. It’s a more light hearted look at life full of adventure and action which are all things I gravitated toward as a kid. For other stories it’s different. I look to darker things, I let those things envelop me. For instance, I have a “demon” that lives with me. I named him Bartleby Green. He’s kind of a personification of Murphy’s Law, or bad karma. He’s the thing that makes something bad happen even when you’ve had a terrible string of events occur. He’s the one that drives you crazy by making those things happen in your life that you just ask, “Why me? I didn’t deserve that.” So I wrote a story about him called Bedeviled that appeared in the Dreams of Steam II anthology. So if I ever had a muse, it would be Bartleby.
SJ: bonus question – If your muse had a physical manifestation, what would he or she look like and how would she or he act? Is it a sexy superhero version of Callisto? A sharp-tongued rogue? A reptilian alien? Do they have a catch phrase?
NV: Oh, Bartleby is a demon through and through. I never know what he looks like because he’s invisible but I think I have a representation of him on my closet door. The door is a sliding one and is wood. The pattern in the wood looks freakishly like something sinister complete with big eyes, a big mouth and an emaciated body. I really should attach a picture for this blog as it’s really weird. When I noticed it, I just felt like it was Bartleby finally showing himself, like he was proudly displaying himself in my bedroom.
SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?
NV: I wish I had a specific favorite. Of course right at this moment, my second steampunk novel, Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom, that just came out is my favorite but I really don’t play favorites. I like all my stories for different reasons. They’re all exploratory and they all have different pieces of me in them. It’s funny because I feel like the reader could get a pretty good cross section of what I’m like from my stories.
SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?
NV: I love steampunk. It’s what got me published and I really love every aspect of it. I love the gadgets, the characters, the adventure the endless possibilities but if I had to only write once genre ever again, it would be horror. Horror is how I learned to love reading and stories. It’s what I’ve gravitated toward my entire life.
SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?
NV: I don’t really pay attention to negative clichés and things like that much. I just don’t have time for it. If I can ignore it, I will. My biggest frustration as a writer is that life so easily gets in the way of writing. The daily grind can destroy your hopes, dreams and your will to write without you even knowing it. Keeping your electricity on or feeding your family takes priority and if you’re not careful, it can sap your energy to write even in your meager off time.
SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?
NV: It would have to be the Thomas Riley books. For one, the other stories are too scary and perilous to live in. Of course who wouldn’t want to live in a limitless steampunk world full of bold memorable people that travel by airships? If I had to stick a loved one in a book, I’d probably put my wife, Elizabeth in the first book that I ever wrote called Fallon that I have not shopped yet. She’s bad ass and goth in that Underworld way that I think she’d do really well in a story like that.
SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?
NV: Sure, I think people like Nicholas Sparks have a recipe. He sort of writes the same book over and over again. And he makes a ton of money while doing what he loves from his own secret ingredients of thirteen herbs and spices. Kudos for him for providing for his family while doing something fun. Is that for me? Well, maybe one day. But now I’m too sporatic. I like too many things to just do one thing. I want to write steampunk and horror and the classic American novel and science fiction and… well it could go on and on. I guess the best way to answer this is to say I don’t have a recipe of any kind but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if the opportunity came along.
SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?
NV: It’s so incredibly hard to actually make money writing. There’s nothing easy about it and don’t do it to strictly make money. I’d have to say you have a better chance at becoming a genuine rock star than you do writing books. But if that need to tell your story burns your soul and is the first thing you think of when you wake up… then write like there’s no tomorrow.
SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.
NV: I’ll stick with steampunk on this one. Like I said before, Steampunk has endless possibilities. It’s fun, dangerous, exciting and it comes with an entire subculture that has homemade gadgets, guns and people dressed really well. You can make steampunk whatever you want it to be and I think it speaks to the inner explorer that’s in all of us. I also have to mention that the steampunk scene around the entire country is 99% some of the greatest people you could ever meet. Where else can you say that? Literally, I think there’s something about the entire culture that just attracts open minded, intelligent and generally fun people.
SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?
NV: That’s a great and scary question. I’d love to know. I guess I’d hope to say that they might think I’m a decent writer with some pretty cool stories. If they’ve met me, I hope my passion and excitement rubbed off on them and helped them discover a few new worlds.
SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!
NV: Like I said earlier, my second steampunk adventure novel, Thomas Riley and The Maelstrom, just came out last Tuesday on ZOVA Books. It’s the second installment of my steampunk series and it continues to follow Thomas Riley and Cynthia Basset on a darker voyage into a steampunk world where their arch enemy has developed a new weapon, a giant airship that can control the weather. It has victorian era “snipers” new diabolical gadgets and even a paranormal aspect that was first mentioned in the first book. If you think you’d like a Victorian Indiana Jones with gadgets and Sky Pirates, then this is the book for you.
I’d like to thank you for the thoughtful questions and the opportunity to be on your blog today!
Get signed copies here: http://thomasriley.bigcartel.com/