Sunday, June 27, 2010

Author Interview - Walter Knight

Recently Apex Reviews reviewed Walter Knight's AMERICA'S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION - BOOK 2: REENLISTMENT. The reviewer was also gracious enough to interview Walter about his humorous military science-fiction series...

Interview with Apex Reviews
RE: America’s Galactic Foreign Legion

APEX: Walter, thanks for joining us for this interview. We’re looking forward to sharing more about your book and efforts with our readers.

WK: Thank you, I appreciate it.

APEX: What was the inspiration for this quite imaginative military fantasy thriller?

WK: I wanted a vehicle for my humor. I love science fiction, my favorite authors being Harry Turtledove, L. Ron Hubbard, and Piers Anthony. Combine that with my passion for military history and casino gambling, and America’s Galactic Foreign Legion was born.

APEX: Is Joey based on someone you know or have known in real life?

WK: Joey R. Czerinski is of course a work of fiction. Nobody could be that cool. I suppose I can identify with the compulsive gambling part. Gambling is not a problem unless you lose. I give Joey a lot of flaws, and he is not all that honest of a person. But, like most heroes, he did not start out trying to be a hero. Joey just wanted to survive the day, and not be killed by loan sharks or spider-like aliens. Promotions and the responsibility of command wear on Joey, but he has a lot of other flawed legionnaires to help him out. My intent was to be humorous, and that starts with interesting characters.

APEX: What inspired you to feature such a creative menagerie of characters - including talking ATMs?

WK: The beauty of writing a military science fiction parody is that you can get away with writing a lot of absurd stuff. My psychotic talking ATM will do anything to meet its Foreign Legion recruitment quota, including pressure tactics, changing identifications, calling the police on potential recruits, signing bonuses, and lowering standards.

The most fun I had with characters was the aliens. My aliens change as they come into contact with American culture and Joey R. Czerinski. It is funny stuff for my aliens to become addicted to Starbucks coffee, bet on sports events, abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, get in bar fights, eat fast food at McDonald’s, wear Nike sportswear, watch American TV, join the Legion, and shop at WalMart. I was very proud when later in the series when my aliens rioted, rushing the front doors at WalMart on Black Friday. It’s a fine American tradition, and the aliens become more American every day.

APEX: What kinds of responses have you gotten to the book so far?

WK: The most common response is that America’s Galactic Foreign Legion made them laugh out loud. If a book can do that, you’ve got your money’s worth. I have been pleasantly surprised at the wide range of response of readers. A friend who hates lawyers thought it was hilarious when Joey dropped a rock from space on a lawyer’s house to get even. Another reader was amused when an alien secret police general tried to disguise himself as the Director of Social and Health Services to avoid being shot for war crimes. Another said he was a librarian, even though we wore a Nazi type uniform that gave him away. My favorite part was when legionnaires try to hide a nuke in a dumpster, and a spider bum objects, threatening to call the aliens’ Habitat Protection Agency. Later the legionnaires sell the nuke, accepting a check. There is some discussion about whether aliens can be trusted to not bounce a check in a war zone. It’s absurd, as I said before. These are examples for the first book, AGFL - Feeling Lucky. The second book is only just now out.

The only poor response I got was the alien human sex scene (yuk). It was quick (only one page) and not graphic. I was trying to be funny. Humor can be a difficult thing.

APEX: Please share more with us about your publisher Penumbra Publishing.

WK: Penumbra Publishing is a small but honest publisher. The thing that impressed me about Penumbra during the query process was that when they answered, they did not respond with the usual form letter. Instead, before committing to AGFL, Penumbra did a free quick edit for content and grammar. WOW. In an age where a first time author is lucky to even get an answer from a publisher, that is quite a response. I understand Penumbra is busier now, and might not be so free with their time, but I was impressed.

Patricia Morrison is a talented editor, and she cleans up my grammar and sentence structure. I am truly amazed at the final product. She can be kind of tough. Patricia thought my alien lawyer wearing glasses and carrying a brief case to be absurd and unrealistic. I agreed. When she realized I was not writing serious drama, she found AGFL amusing, and Penumbra committed to a three year project. Nobody had ever queried with a dozen books at one time before. It took me two years to write that many books. After my first query rejection, I just kept writing until my large body of work could no longer be ignored.

APEX: Reenlistment is actually the second installment in the America’s Galactic Foreign Legion series. Please share more with our readers about Book 1, Feeling Lucky.

WK: America’s Galactic Foreign Legion - Feeling Lucky is the first of a thirteen-book humorous science fiction series. It starts our with Corporal Czerinski and a handful of inexperienced legionnaires sent out to fight the aliens on a distant colony. Some will steal anything that is not nailed down. Others want fun, travel, and adventure. Joey just wants to survive, get rich, and get even. He shoots and bombs the ATM several times, but it just won’t die.

APEX: What are your long term writing / publishing aspirations?

WK: America’s Galactic Foreign Legion will be a three year project. The thirteen books are already written. Book 3, AGFL - Silent Invasion, is being edited as I speak. These books will be coming out every few months. I do not know if I will write a book 14, but I have started page 1.

APEX: In addition to being an author, you’re also a traveler. Please share more with our readers about your pursuits.

WK: I love cross country road trips and exploring casinos. Fortunately there is no shortage of roads and casinos in our great country. I love to explore ghosts towns. My favorite ghost town is Belmont, Nevada, located in the exact geographic center of Nevada. It is the only ghost town I have ever seen that has a domed courthouse.

APEX: How can our readers learn more about you and your ongoing efforts?

WK: I am continuously posting sample chapters and updates for just-published books on my website: Check out the alien and the chapter about “The Frunk.”

APEX: How can readers contact you directly?

WK: My website has my E-mail address on it: I also like to frequent writer blogs, such as W.M. Morrell’s Musings From Down Under.

APEX: Any final thoughts you would like to share?

WK: I hate it when science fiction novels portray a future America that has failed. I also do not like it when authors try to beat me over the head with their politics. I tried to create a future where America conquers the galaxy. I tried to make it funny. Humor can be a difficult thing. I truly believe that if humanity is to ever cross the Galaxy, it will be in American starships. Is that politically incorrect? I think world famous science fiction author Piers Anthony was most accurate when he graciously described America’s Galactic Foreign Legion in the January 2010 issue of his online newsletter, “It’s wild, improbable, but great adventure.” I had a lot of fun writing the series, and hope readers have fun reading America’s Galactic Foreign Legion.

APEX: Thanks again, Walter, and best of continued success in all your endeavors!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Unpardonable Sin - Boring Your Readers

There are many writing sins a fiction author can commit, but one of the most heinous is boring the reader.

We must assume no author does that intentionally, because the result is losing the reader’s attention. And with so many other activities vying for the reader’s time, no author wants to build into his story a good excuse for the reader to stop reading and never return to finish it.


Consider any author trying to get published. Who’s the first reader of his story (besides a couple friends or family members who will say, “Oh yeah, loved reading your story,” even though they may never have bothered to start it)? Who? An agent. An acquisitions editor. A first-reader going through a slush pile. Anybody who can say either, “This book is great, I think we need to publish it,” or “Ho-hum, another wannabe writer bites the dust.”

Now, let’s say an author does manage to get published (or self-published), even though his story lacks sparkle. What’s going to happen? Readers who read a dull story will kill the book’s sales potential – and possibly the future of other books written by the author.


Because everyone – critic, reviewer, and book consumer – is a reader. And one thing readers do is remember authors. They actively seek out additional books from those authors who thrill and delight them. And if they really like what they’ve read, they’ll recommend the author and his books to anyone who will listen. But those same readers will actively avoid books by authors who fail to deliver a good story, and will tell everyone who will listen to do likewise. That kind of bad recommendation can convince other readers who haven’t bought the book yet not to, thus killing the chance for additional sales, and sales of future books the author may write. What author in his right mind wants that?

Let’s assume the typical author is in his right mind and doesn’t want his book to end up being labeled as boring. What constitutes boring, and how can it be remedied? Here are a few of the main indicators:

POOR PACING. A story that drags along at a snails pace, with little happening to break the doldrums, becomes a chore to read – a chore that many readers will happily forego. Even if the story starts out well, if it has a ‘sagging middle’ or a ‘flat ending,’ it’s got a problem. There are many ways to fix problematic pacing. The best overall idea is to follow the ARC of the story with minor ups and downs – action followed by a short relief passage to lull the reader into a false sense of security, followed by a scene with even more danger or suspense. The overall arc of the story should build from the beginning, with the major premise or conflict presented at the ‘last possible moment’ in the story where it makes sense. Too much back-story up front will spoil the lead-in. The drama should heighten as the story progresses, with a major ‘black moment’ toward the end, where things look most dire. The final conflict should be appropriately difficult, so that the outcome is not clear. Then the resolution and conclusion should wrap up all loose ends quickly, with a nice summary or moral that satisfies the story’s needs as well as the reader’s.

POORLY APPLIED VOICE/STYLE. The author’s writing style may be tongue-in-cheek and take a long, meandering while to get to any point. This is not the best style for a suspense or action thriller – or for many books at all. In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, most readers don’t have the time or patience to indulge a self-centered writer who’s in love with his own words and refuses to edit out convoluted sentence structure or every unnecessarily detailed nuance of arriving at a conclusion. As a courtesy to the reader, the author should get to the point in a reasonable amount of time, and make the journey toward that point amusing, suspenseful, or otherwise enjoyable for the reader.

INFO-DUMPING. Info-dumping can disguise itself in many forms. The most common and popular are:

1) Pages and pages of narrative exposition detailing the background information of the story or characters that the author simply must tell the reader. This is the unskilled or lazy writer’s way of getting all that background stuff out of the way, so that he can then get on with the story.

2) “As you know, Bob,” or detailing story specifics in dialog between two characters, so that the reader can ‘overhear’ the information and become privy to it. Of particular concern is when one character summarizes information for another character – especially information the other character already knows.

3) Story intrusions where the author stops the story to narrate to the reader an important bit of background information about the story line, history, or some character trait or past exploit. Much better is to weave this information seamlessly into the story at appropriate intervals when the information would logically come up in the story. There are many others, some seemingly well-disguised and hard to pinpoint, but these are some of the most common.

HO-HUM CHAPTER OR SCENE ENDINGS. Having your character fall asleep, happy and content, may seem like a good way to end a chapter, but what it actually does is give the reader a stopping point to put the story aside. A much better approach is to end the scene or chapter with a ‘cliffhanger’ that will make the reader want to keep on reading to find out what happens next. A ‘cliffhanger’ puts characters in an untenable position, like facing the villain holding a gun on them, or a speeding car out of control, approaching – a cliff! Will the characters in the car find some way to stop it, or manage to jump out just in time, before the car goes over the edge and crashes in a fiery ball at the bottom of the ravine below? The reader will have to go on to the next chapter to find out! Even if a story does not have scene after scene of breathtaking action, ‘cliffhangers’ can be built in using emotional drama. Like when Suzy’s mother tells her during morning coffee all the minor details of her day yesterday, then – oh, by the way, she happened to see Suzy’s husband with another woman at a restaurant. The unexpected revelation will certainly surprise Suzy and, if the author has laid the groundwork properly in the scene, will surprise the reader too. Ending the chapter there will nearly guarantee the reader will continue reading the next chapter. Result? Not boring.

If you’re having trouble deciding whether your story is boring, the best thing to do is have an impartial reader (not a friend or family member) read it. Here’s where a writing friend or critique group comes in handy. Honest feedback is essential, especially when you aren’t sure how your story stands. It’s better to get more than one person to read your story or a passage you think may be problematic. If the consensus is that it lacks something, your next task is to figure out what and how to fix it. Armed with some basics about what to look for, you’ll be better prepared to fix it properly.

This may sound like a lot of work, but if writing were easy, everyone would be doing it. Wait ... practically everyone is doing it – so it’s even more important for you to write well, to write exceptionally, to stand out from the pack so your story sparkles and tantalizes ... screams to potential readers, “Read me! You won’t be sorry, you’ll be thrilled and entertained, and you’ll love every minute you spend between my covers!”

And that, writing friends, is not boring! It’s getting you closer to your goal of being a successful author.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Author Gary Bolick Book Signing Events

Gary Bolick, author of Angel's Oracle, will appear at the following book signing events...

BOOK SIGNING - Saturday, June 26, 2010, 11:00am EST. Edward McKay Used Books, 115 Oakwood Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27103

BOOK SIGNING - Saturday, July 17, 2010, 2:00pm EST. Barnhill's wine shop, 811 Burke Street, Winston-Salem, NC, 27101

Gary will be on hand to sign copies of his gritty, mystical 1959 historical novel of racial unrest and the healing power of love. If you'll be in the Winston-Salem area on either of these dates, be sure to drop by and say hello!