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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sci-fi and Fantasy and How to Blend Them: Author Interiew with Christine Amsden

If you like science fiction, you’re in for a treat today. My interview today is with Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember (but not in a sci-fi way of back in the womb). Christine writes primarily about people and it is in this way that she strives to make science fiction and fantasy meaningful for everyone.

Let’s start with the first book you released in 2007 called Touch of Fate. What inspired you to write it?
Touch of Fate was a story I came up with in my mid twenties while I took an online course on writing the mystery novel. Before that, I had been writing and rewriting for many, many years, often the same story over and over again (a science fantasy series that remains alive only on my hard drive). I finally took a good hard look at over fifteen years of writing, noting that I had nothing to show for it, and made myself a promise: Come what may, I would finish this book. And I did

Have you always been a fan of sci-fi and fantasy?
I have always, always, always been in love with sci-fi and fantasy. I've been writing since I was 7 or 8, and my very first story involved Cabbage Patch Dolls going to Mars. Even before I could read, I would make up stories about my picture books, and there was usually magic involved somehow.

I grew up watching Star Trek The Next Generation, and reread The Chronicles of Narnia almost as many times as I reread Harry Potter as an adult. (I know, I'm showing my age! I was in college when I first heard about Harry Potter.)

What do you like most about sci-fi and fantasy?
What I love about these genres is the whimsy and make-believe of it. I know there's an almost religious divide between some sci-fi fans and some fantasy fans. It has actually made promoting myself as an author difficult, because some books fall in one niche, and some in the other. For me, they're all part of the same imaginative umbrella I call speculative fiction...the genre that asks: What if?

Do you do any specific research for writing in this genre to make it believable?
Research depends entirely on the book. For Touch of Fate, I called the St. Louis PD and asked some basic questions about how homicide investigations worked. Most of the rest of it came from my own experiences. I know the city and county of St. Louis, having lived there until I went to college. I did case a parking garage at the hospital where my mom worked to help envision the murder that took place there.
How long did it take you to write your first book?
Ah, the how long did it take to write a book question! I never know how to answer this. When I work on a project, it's like an old-fashioned dance where we meet and then retreat. I may end up dancing with other partners (other projects) for a while, then come back to the first. This pattern was particularly pronounced when I wrote Touch of Fate. (I am developing more focus now.) Touch of Fate took years. Or maybe months, if you cut away all the time I spent dancing with someone else.

How many rewrites did you do prior to sending it out to publishers?
As far as rewrites, I did three or four major rewrites (not including minor revisions and editing runs). I no longer have a clear memory of that. I do self edit prior to sending my books off for publication. My publisher then hires editors before putting the book out in the world -- there was one content edit and two copy edits.
Once you wrote the book how did you go about looking for a publisher and or agent? How did you get involved with Twilight Times Books?
I didn't know what I was doing and got lucky. (How's that for honesty? :) ) Seriously, it's a rat race out there. I had a hundred people telling me to do this, or do that, or send it here, or send it there. Some people said to get an agent first, others said agents wouldn't talk to me without a publishing contract in hand.

I decided to query both at the same time and see what happened. I ended up using Predators and Editors to help me find reputable publishing houses, and queried a couple of bigger ones before I noticed Twilight Times. They're newer and smaller, but what struck me was that they seemed to be interested in those cross-genre works that aren't easily labeled. Touch of Fate is such a book. So I took a chance, and it paid off.
I see that between the first book and your new release you were a featured writer in How I Wrote My First Book: the story behind the story which was also released by Twilight Books. What was that process like?
There were guidelines and a word count, although the guidelines weren't strict and the word count wasn't a limiting factor for me. Actually, it ended up being pretty fun, once I got started. I wrote my article in just a few days, and thought getting started was tough, once I found an opening, the rest just spilled out. It's a pretty honest article, which I think is the best thing about it.

Your first book received an Honorable Mention in the 2011 Eric Hoffer Award for Legacy Fiction. Did you search out potential contests/awards to submit to?
I didn't enter any contests the year it came out, and I should have. By the time I realized it, the deadlines had passed. The only reason I entered Touch of Fate in the 2011 Eric Hoffer Awards was that I was looking into contests for The Immortality Virus, putting together a comprehensive list of possibilities (along with entry deadlines) so that I would not make the mistake again. I noticed the legacy fiction category, and thought, "What the heck?" (Somewhat ironically, The Immortality Virus did not win in the 2012 Eric Hoffer Awards, though it did win 2 others, and was a finalist in a third.)

Do you have tips for others in doing this and what to expect? 
#1 tip: Don't wait three years to send your book off to a legacy book contest! I made a lot of mistakes when it came to Touch of Fate. When people ask how the book did, I usually say, "It was a learning experience." It was. The Immortality Virus did much better, and I have high hopes that my new series will do better still. But with Touch of Fate, I didn't get it, and though I read some articles on marketing books, I was either reading the wrong ones or I wasn't applying them correctly.

How did winning an award help in book sales?
Awards are nice. They make you feel good about yourself, and then you get to say, "I'm an award-winning author." I don't know if they directly impact sales or not, especially since it can take a year or more from the release date to get the results, but indirectly, they are a help. I have a feeling the awards I won for The Immortality Virus will have an impact on the sales of my new urban fantasy series coming out next year.

Your next book, The Immortality Virus was released last year. Was that book easier or harder to write?
I wouldn't say it was easier to write, but having finished a book, I felt more confident writing it. I also think it's a better book, so I would say I learned things from the first experience that made the second more successful.

Did you have an advance contract for the book?
I did not have an advance contract for the book -- Twilight Times doesn't work that way. They do give preferential consideration to their published authors, but we have to finish the book, then send it along.

Now you are venturing into writing a series called Cassie Scot: Normal Detective. How far along in the process are you? I am working on a rough draft for the fourth (and final) volume in the series. I am hoping (knock on wood) to have the book finished (submitted) by the end of the year, although even if I miss my self-imposed deadline, the books will pretty much be coming out back to back.

Book one is tentatively coming out in February 2013, and book two (already contracted) is tentatively coming out in July 2013. I don't have a firm date for the third book, but the manuscript is in, and I expect it to be released at the end of 2013.

Is this book in a different style than your previous books?
This is a different style. For one thing, it's first person, and I've let my narrator (Cassie) have her voice. Each book has a mystery (something they have in common with the other two), but the series itself is primarily a coming of age story. Cassie Scot is the ungifted daughter of powerful sorcerers who has to come to terms with this fact, and learn that she is a capable woman in her own right.

A romance also spans the series. I did have a minor romance in Touch of Fate, but looking back, I think I was holding back too much. I've learned a lot since then, and read a lot, and I am particularly proud of the twists and turns the romance takes over the course of the series. I'm not into stories that artificially keep two people apart because it's inconvenient for them to get together yet -- I provide some darn good reasons for Cassie and Evan to be apart. 

What has frustrated you the most in the publishing process?
Selling books! I didn't get it when I published Touch of Fate. I really didn't. I sold it to the publisher, so that's it, then? Right? Wrong! Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, and I have to convince the public to give mine a chance. It has been quite a journey, let me tell you.

What have you found the most rewarding – outside of seeing your book in print?
Seeing it in print isn't the prize. Having people read it is. I think it was last year when I finally realized what I wanted from my writing career. I don't need fame, or money, or even to be a best-selling author. There's as much luck as anything else going into those things, anyway. All I want is for people to read and like my books. There's nothing better.

What surprised you the most about the publishing process?
The amount of work involved.

What is the best advice you’ve received on writing? Or what is the best advice you could give other aspiring authors from your experience?
I don't know that any specific piece of advice stands out in my mind. Then again, the advice I would give others never really applied to me. My advice: Writers write. For me, I've always written, so it seems so obvious, but over the years I have talked to countless people who dream about writing a book someday, but never sit down to do it!

If you want to be a writer, then just like with anything else, you have to make it a priority. It's hard work, and for the first part (which takes years and years), you have to be internally motivated. 

To get you more interested in reading Christine's books, here's a link to an excerpt from her new book,  Cassie Scot: Normal Detective.Just click here to start reading.

And here's a link to her website for more on her books and her writing. 

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