Author Interviews : JB Rockwell and Serengeti

JB Rockwell (an authorly type) and writes speculative fiction—sci-fi and fantasy, mostly, though dabbled in a bit of horror.

I’m an IT weenie by circumstance and a  wannabee Indiana Jones type by training (check out that curve ball life threw me!) with dreams of chucking it all and writing full time. Check my website on my latest book releases: SerengetiDark and Stars.

When and why did you start writing?

I first started writing seriously around 5 or 6 years ago. I’ve been an avid reader pretty much my entire life and after years of reading, I decided it was time to step up and challenge myself by trying to write a book. Luckily, I was naïve and had no idea what I was getting into (writing is hard and publishing is harder-er) and actually pushed through that first one, started another, etc., etc., etc., and now…here I am! Not the most traditional route to publication (heck, I don’t even have an English degree) but I’ve always been good at training for something and then going off and doing something completely different.

What inspires your writing?

Sheesh—everything. Seriously. The books I read, the movies I watch, my cats, a random duck—you name it, if it’s out there and I can see it, hear it, feel it, smell it, or dream it, it’ll somehow end up working its way into a story I write. That’s one reason I like speculative fiction: there are literally no limits, so you can take anything and everything around you and twist it and shape it into something that fits your story.

How would you define creativity?

Daydreaming on steroids. Basically, the ability to imagine something new and unique and different and then act on it—take that abstract idea and turn it into art, or music, a book, whatever. Creativity is coloring outside of the lines, then drawing in more lines and coloring outside those, then grabbing up the crayons, watercolors, oil paints and 5 or 10 sticks of charcoal all at once and telling the painting octopus to have at it.

Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?

Not really—I’m not much into rituals. I work full time so I only really have time to write on the weekends, so I just carve out what time I can and start pounding away at the keys.

If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?

‘This is going to take a whole lot longer than you think.’ As I said earlier, I was completely naïve when I started writing. I didn’t really understand how publishing and querying and the whole agent thing worked. I also didn’t realize just how many authors are out there and that the vast majority of them are writing truly phenomenal books.  In some ways, that was good because it kept me going (basically, I learned things in bits and pieces so I never got completely overwhelmed and threw in the towel) but I wish I had taken a little more time up front to research and learn the industry before diving right in and flailing about.

What do you believe make for great writing?

So many things. Obviously, an engaging storyline and a plot that flows along with peaks and valleys of conflict and resolution. Engaging writing, which itself comes in many forms. I like realistic dialogue and funny circumstances. I like beautiful prose that has a rhythm to match a storyline, and punchy, staccato sentences that leave you on the edge of your seat. My favorite writing has some of all of this, but not every novel needs to include every one of these elements. Overall, the idea of ‘great writing’ is completely subjective. Some people like flowery prose, and some don’t. People who read romance don’t tend to like military thrillers. But if you write well (good, clean text with a distinct rhythm and style) and have an interesting story, you’ll find someone out there who loves it. Probably several someones. Just remember there will also be people who hate it. Love and hate are universal, after all.

Which writers have influenced your writing?

Uhhh…too many to name them all? Seriously, I think every book by every author I’ve ever read has influenced my writing in some way. In some cases, it’s a matter of ‘don’t write like that—EVER!’ and in others it’s more like ‘oh man, this is awesome, I really want to write something as amazing as this.’ Two favorites I mention frequently (and whose works have had a direct influence on Serengeti and Dark and Stars) are C.J. Cherryh and Neal Asher. No one writes broken, conflicted characters like C.J. Cherryh and Neal Asher has done some amazing things with AI portrayal. I’m also a massive admirer of Elizabeth Bear, Jen Williams and V.E. Schwab, and am fortunate enough to be part of an amazing writing group called the Inkbots (a mix of writers at all different phases of our careers) who are pumping out fantastic and fantastical stories on a daily basis. I love it all and have learned a ton from reading the works of others.

How do you measure success as a writer?

That’s a toughie because, like most writers, I always feel like I’m not very successful. Or at least, not as successful as I want to be. There are the obvious measures (short story and book publications, book sales, etc.) and those are important—can’t get to be a professional, full time writer unless you bring home enough bacon to fry up in the pan—but for me, reviews are the best measure. Every positive review is a good pick-me-up to bolster an often sagging ego. Negative reviews are hard but even the negative reviews often have something positive to say that helps you lift your chin a bit. So, I guess you could say that reader feedback is my best measure of success. The best days are the ones where you open your email and find a fan has taken the time to drop you a few lines to tell you how much they liked one of your stories. I think some fans are afraid to reach out to writers, but—believe me—we love hearing from fans. Just, ya know, keep it clean. Non-stalkery and such…

Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Not really. I’ve lost interest in something I started and never finished it. I’ve been disappointed that I couldn’t quite translate an idea I had into words. I’ve even gone back and completely re-written entire books because my style changed and that older work didn’t fit where I was at any more but I can honestly say there isn’t anything I’ve finished that I hated. So, either I’m lucky or I have bad taste.

What’s your biggest fear as a writer?

That I’ll run out of book ideas. Most writers I know have a whole queue of book ideas stored up in their brains clamoring for attention, but I’m more of a ‘one at a time’ kinda girl. This means I have a mini panic attack every time I finish a book because I have no idea what I’m going to write next. But then I’ll start daydreaming and writing short stories and before you know it one of those short stories turns into a book. I think I’ve done that four times now, by the way. Taken  a perfectly good short story and built it out into a book. I think that’s my version of outlining (which I’ve never been good at). If I can figure my way through a short story I can usually hang some more characters and plot points off of it and slow but surely it expand it into a novel.

What traits do you feel make a great writer?

Patience (because everything about writing and publishing take a long time), thick skin (some people will love your writing, others won’t), the ability to take criticism (constructive criticism, especially from other writers, is the best way to grow), and a willingness to embrace the writer community. That last part is critical because the network you establish provides beta reading reviews, and marketing support. Advice and outreach and all sorts of other help that, when you first start out, you don’t even realize you need. Writing can be very lonely in many ways—after all, it’s just you sitting in front of a computer tapping away at keys—but the writer community gives you access to a whole host of like-minded people to interact with and learn from. Some of my best lessons came from other writers and now that I’m a little wiser (a little—I’ve still got some wisdoming up to do) and a little more established, I’m having the best time giving back to that same community that helped me get where I am.

Describe your latest book to our readers

So, my most recent book is called Dark and StarsStars, and is a sequel to my sci-fi novel, Serengeti. In a nutshell, Serengeti tells the story of a sentient AI warship (Serengeti) who’s wrecked in battle and then abandoned in the middle of nowhere with her cryogenically frozen crew trapped inside her. So, it starts out with big space battles and then drifts into more of a Robinson Crusoe story about Serengeti trying to save her crew and (hopefully) herself. Dark and Stars picks up right where Serengeti leaves off and tells the story of what happens after Serengeti and her crew are rescued. I don’t want to give too much away, but considering fifty-three years have passed, things are a wee bit different than she remembers. And not in a good way.

What would you like readers to take away from your writing?

That it’s awesome??!!! All kidding aside, I think that’s what every writer wants—for the reader to truly love and appreciate their writing and the story behind it. For me, my writing is all about the characters. Yes, there are big space battles and things blow up, but it’s the tension and closeness and depth of emotion between the main characters that’s the heart of the real story. So, I want readers to feel all the feels—laugh a little, cry a little, really get to know my characters and love them like I do.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Plenty. But then, so does every writer. That’s my first tip: everyone has advice and opinions but there is no one way to write, and no single path or hard and fast set if rules that guarantee success. As a writer you need to pick and choose what makes sense for you and look for trends and common themes but don’t try to follow every piece of advice that’s handed out. That way lies madness. Also, be patient. As I noted before, publishing is a slow business so expect lots of querying and waiting, and more querying and more waiting before you sell that first book or that first short story, land that literary agent you’ve been pining for or whatever it is you’re currently targeting as your next big success. Last piece of advice I’ll give is something I mentioned earlier: get involved in the writing community. All those other writers out there are your competition, but they’re also your best asset. Network with them, learn from them, and give back whenever you can. Writers are amazing people so don’t short yourself by being a wallflower.

Can you give our audience a writing prompt to help get them writing?

Footprints in golden sand cast in shadow by the setting sun as the wind slowly scours them away.

What’s next for you?

Good question. Dark and Stars literally just came out, so that was my next big thing. I’ve always got some project or other on-going, and right now I’ve got a manuscript in progress that is outside the Serengeti universe that I’m having a lot of fun writing. I also have a couple of completed manuscripts that are looking for homes so when the time’s right, I’ll be working with my agent to shop those to publishers. And I’ve got a few short stories going on the side. So, I guess next is…everything? I like keeping busy, after all…


Serengeti

By J.B Rockwell

It was supposed to be an easy job: find the Dark Star Revolution Starships, destroy them, and go home. But a booby-trapped vessel decimates the Meridian Alliance fleet, leaving —a Valkyrie class warship with a sentient AI brain—on her own; wrecked and abandoned in an empty expanse of space.

On the edge of total failure, Serengeti thinks only of her crew. She herds the survivors into a lifeboat, intending to sling them into space. But the escape pod sticks in her belly, locking the cryogenically frozen crew inside.

Then a scavenger ship arrives to pick Serengeti’s bones clean.

Her engines dead, her guns long silenced, Serengeti and her last two robots must find a way to fight the scavengers off and save the crew trapped inside her.

 

 

About the Author

Scott Mullins is a freelance writer and digital content manager. When he’s not finding ways to distract himself from writing his novel he writes killer copy for companies all over the world. Connect with Scott on Twitter @ScottMullins86 or LinkedIn. He’s always looking to connect with other writers.