You have a background as a PhD in electrical engineering. How did you make the jump from a highly analytical field to a more creative side of writing fiction?
I had taken a few classes on short story writing before seriously turning to writing fiction with my first book, Regarding Ducks and Universes. That one took five years to write. Part of the reason it took so long was that I had to learn how to do it -- like you say, Chris, to make the jump from my analytical self to my creative self.
That's not to say that engineering is not creative as well, it very much is, just that I had to learn to ignore that invisible hand that would tap me on the shoulder and point out things like Doesn't Felix (my protagonist in the book) ever need to go to the bathroom? Science is real life, but with fiction you can fudge a bit, like in a play where you set the stage with a few pieces of furniture and leave the rest to the audience's imagination.
What made you decide to start your novel?
As I was finishing up my engineering Ph.D, I came down with a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome that prevented me from working full time. Writing lets me control my hours, so it seemed like the right time to go for it. Plus I was full of ideas for stories!
How many rewrites do you do? Who helped you with the editing? I always do many editing passes on my books, too many to keep track of. I like that feeling you get with each pass that the book is nearing where it needs to be. Something I have learned in working with publishers is how important developmental and copy editors are. Beta readers, too, are invaluable in pointing out plot or character issues that you may have missed because you as the writer are too close to the story.
Have other books been started and stopped along the way?
And I've always finished any books I've started -- three now, counting the sequel to The Far Time Incident, which is in the late editing stage and ready to go to my editor.
How did you go about trying to find a publisher?
I queried agents while polishing the manuscript of Regarding Ducks and Universes and also entered the book in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. The book made it into the Top 100 in ABNA and received a nice review from a Publisher’s Weekly reviewer, who called it “A witty and light ‘what if’ novel stuffed with an amusing and eclectic cast of characters.”
Even with that endorsement and though the book got positive feedback from agents, it was “a bit too experimental” and “not what we’re looking for at this time” in the end. When I received a publishing offer from Amazon’s new imprint AmazonEncore (which publishes original, out of print, and self-published works) I jumped at the chance. The novel came out in trade paperback and Kindle formats in 2011. For my series starter that just came out last month, The Far Time Incident, I signed a contract with Amazon's Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint, 47North.
Your book, Regarding Ducks and Universes, is termed as a cozy sci-fi. I’ve heard of cozy mysteries, but what makes for a cozy sci-fi?
Hmm, cozy sci-fi... the opposite of dark, gritty, post-apocalyptic sci-fi? When you write a novel you're with it a long time, a year, two, or more, so for me it was important that I was working on something I enjoyed, with characters I looked forward to spending time with.
I love your “Ducks” cover. How much input did you have in its design?
I played a small role in choosing the cover -- the publisher presented me with three choices, and we went back and forth a bit with which was the best. I think it came out great in the end.
How do you write? Do you do an outline first?
I start with a couple of ideas and a sense of the main characters, but not a detailed outline. For me it seems to work best to let the story work itself out as I write, which is also when the secondary characters make their entrance in the book. I think it would be a faster process if I could outline the whole thing in advance, but I like to say I don't know what the book will be about until I finish writing it!
What type of publicity has worked best for you in generating sales?
I like to list giveaways on Goodreads to help spread the word about the books. It's very hard to say if there is a direct correlation between social media involvement and book sales. Maybe if you're very social-savvy, it does, but I am not.
What do you know now about writing/publishing now, you wished you had known sooner?
To continue what I was saying in the previous question, that it's okay to ease into social media. When Regarding Ducks and Universes came out, I jumped into having a website, a blog, setting up an account on Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Now I've incorporated my blog into my website and only post when I have something to say, not because it's recommended that you post once a week or once a day or whatever. I would stay stick to the sites that you are comfortable with and enjoy being on. My blog updates stream to Goodreads and Facebook, and you can find me on Twitter on a daily basis.
What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing that you would like to pass along?
Writing is just like any other job -- you get up in the morning and you do it. There is a quote from Neil Gaiman on writing that sums it up: “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It's that easy, and that hard.”
If you would like to learn more about Neve and her writing, here are some links to get you started