I’m a full-time writer and music journalist based in Europe, more exactly in Romania, where I live with my wife and our gorgeous Bichon puppy, Jazzie. In addition to writing novels, I run the jazz-themed website The Music and Myth, where I review records and gigs and post interviews with musicians like Sofia Rei, Al Di Meola, Terri Lyne Carrington and Patricia Barber.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
That’s actually surprisingly difficult to answer. I always knew I’d love to be a writer, but I just wasn’t in the position of envisioning that such a thing could ever be possible. Up until a few years ago, I had no knowledge of the concept of self-publishing. My decision to quit my job in IT support and dedicate my energy to crafting a book was more of a leap of faith than a methodically planned venture. I was already halfway into Mindguard, wondering how I was going to convince a literary agent to represent an unknown Romanian penman who’d never even travelled to an English-speaking country when I discovered that there was actually such a thing as self-publishing your work.
My journey to becoming a writer was guided mostly by the fact that there was really nothing else I felt like I wanted to do. I was completely miserable for a great part of my youth because I felt completely purposeless. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me once I graduated. I couldn’t think of any profession to which I’d want to dedicate my entire life. I’m a passionate person and can’t conceive an entire lifetime spent doing something you’re not passionate about.
Then, one day, I just realised what had been in front of me the whole time. I just hadn’t been conditioned by society to think along these lines. Telling someone you want to become an author is like saying you want to be a superhero and it’s likely to elicit the same reaction. However, I’d had a lifelong love for books and stories of all kinds and it made sense that I’d someday want to craft my own.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, fascinated with the art of make-believe. I used to skip school so I could stay home and read which, in hindsight, did a lot more for my career than those chemistry classes would have. I used to read Dean Koontz’s novels when I was a teenager and his characters were often writers. I loved the way he depicted their lives and could always identify with their psychology.
During my postgrad years, I discovered how much I enjoyed writing essays and wished I could just do that for a living. Then, one day, everything fell into place. I quit my job when I was still young enough to start over in case this writing thing fell through. I think I still am, though I definitely don’t want to ever do anything else with my life.
Tell us about your book, and the story behind writing it
So far, I’ve published three books, all part of the planned 5-book series. Mindguard is the first and it’s the novel I’ve been dreaming of writing my entire life. It’s got bits and pieces of things I’d been wanting to put on paper for years but the actual core concept was developed sometime in 2012.
My wife was dealing with a particularly difficult time at work and she was sad a lot. I remember wishing there was some way I could position myself between her mind and what was making her unhappy, so I could take all those emotions upon myself instead of just trying in vain to cheer her up. That’s when I came up with the notion of a Mindguard and the character of Sheldon Ayers appeared in my mind almost instantly.
I tailored the whole universe to fit this character by imagining what kind of world would have to exist to justify the existence of such a profession as well as the psychology of such a person. I’ve always been fascinated with people’s minds and motivations. Then, I added different layers until it became this incredibly complex story with various characters and narrative threads and I realized that I could develop it into a series.
What’s the biggest challenge about being a writer?
For me, personally, the most difficult challenge has been adapting to the pace of the self-publishing industry. I don’t “write to market”, though it would make far more financial sense. I think I do the exact opposite of that.
I write the stories that I would love to read and those stories are intricate and unorthodox and they just take a phenomenally long time to outline and write. The self-publishing industry pretty much dictates that you need to publish as often as possible, so my greatest challenge was teaching myself how to write these books at a faster pace without compromising the quality of my stories.
It’s been very difficult but I think I’ve finally passed the hurdle this year. I already finished the first draft of my fourth book (which is twice as long as novels should be if you want to publish often and make lots of money) and now I’m starting the final book in the series while also working on a side-project. I’m hoping that by the end of the year I will have published three books.
Do you have a specific writing space?
Absolutely! It’s an integral part of my whole creative “ritual”. As I mentioned before, I do this full time. I work out of my home-office, where I spend the greatest part of my day.
Ever since I was old enough to realize I couldn’t just spend my whole life reading and listening to music, I wanted my own office. When my wife and I moved in together I immediately set up a home office, even though I was still employed at my old workplace. I hung a big map of the world on one of the walls, just like I’d always imagined I would and I filled the room with all sorts of things that inspire me and give me energy. But the world map is the centrepiece.
Sometimes, when I get tired or feel disillusioned with my work, I keep staring at it, remembering all the wonderful trips my wife and I took together and imagining all the beautiful places we have yet to see. Writing and travelling are very closely connected in my mind. They are both life-enhancing activities. We love travelling and some of my best ideas came during our trips to various places. I got the complete outline for the series finale one evening while staring at the faraway cruise ships from the platform in Piazza IX Aprile in Taormina, Sicily, which is my absolute favourite place in the world.
What’s your number one piece of writing advice?
Don’t overthink it and don’t get caught up in your own hype!
That was a big mistake I made while writing Mindguard. Instead of keeping the focus on my writing career, I was obsessing over just this one book, treating it like the holy grail of writing, like it was the only book I’d ever get to write. It slowed me down to a complete halt at one point and made it very difficult to finish the story because I was unwilling to take any risks.
I got over that only when I took a few steps back from the book and focused on my career as a whole, on where I wanted to be in the future and where I wanted to take my work after finishing Mindguard. I had to look beyond the book I was working on.
I think it’s probably a pretty common rookie mistake to think of the book you’re working on at any given moment (especially if it’s your first) as the meaning of life, the universe and everything. You get trapped within the infinite narrative possibilities of this one story and become unwilling to commit to just one path for fear that nothing you’ll ultimately produce could live up to your “vision”. That’s horseshit!
You have to go beyond that “vision” and actually commit to a narrative direction. The story doesn’t exist if it’s only in your head. It becomes trapped and you become trapped. So I started looking at each book as its own narrative entity instead of the sum of all creative possibilities.
What books do you currently have on your bedside table?
I’m currently reading the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, which I hadn’t gotten around to yet. Right now I’m in the middle of Green Mars and I love it. The whole series is fantastic. I enjoy complex stories with multiple POVs. I’m also simultaneously re-reading One Trillion Dollars by German writer Andreas Eschbach. I read it a few years ago and loved it, so I thought I’d give it another spin to refresh my memory.
Who have been your biggest writing influences and why?
My greatest influence by far is Frank Herbert. “Dune” is my all-time favourite novel and I credit Herbert with really changing the way I viewed storytelling. The complexity of his worlds is something to which I aspire. I love the way he used certain techniques to expand his worldbuilding, like forcing the reader’s imagination to fill in some well-placed gaps, creating the illusion of even greater depth.
I read the book during a difficult time in my life and it just gave me renewed hope. I always thought that if I managed to bring out these feelings in a reader I will have reached the pinnacle of my profession.
Another great influence was Dean Koontz, just for the flow of his prose. He has a splendid way with words which is all the more impressive given his immense creative output. Though the quality of his actual plotlines has greatly deteriorated throughout the years, in my opinion, the way he strings words together is simply beautiful. I’ve also been influenced by reading about his life. He seems so content with his personal life that’s practically comprised of three things: his wife, his dog and his writing. When I think of what I want my life as a writer to look like, I think of Dean Koontz.
How do you market your writing?
Right now I’m focused more on teaching myself to publish at an increased pace rather than I am actually marketing the books. The greatest marketing tool you have as an author is your own writing, so it’s my goal to finish this series as quickly as I can and start another one, so I can market them in parallel. From time to time, I run promos through services such as Bookbub and author-run promotions, just so that I can keep the books in the charts and get as many eyes on them as possible. Towards that end, I’ve also made Mindguard free for the foreseeable future, as a starting point into the series.
Lastly, something fun. What’s something our readers might not know about you?
The first book I’ve ever put out was a collection of poetry in the German language, which I published through a literary circle I was part of as a teenager. I was just eighteen years old when it came out. I called it Das Ende der Kindheit (or Childhood’s End) after one of my favourite sci-fi novels. It had a run of about 1500 copies. If you ever manage to get your hands on one and are willing to travel to Romania, I will sign it and then take you out to a nice dinner and an expensive bottle of wine, because you are clearly my biggest fan.
By Andrei Cherascu
Called out of semi-retirement, the telepath and Mindguard Sheldon Ayers is tasked with protecting an information package located inside the mind of a young woman who claims the knowledge she holds is vital to the future of mankind. Sheldon and his team must help her cross the most dangerous territory in the man-inhabited universe: the Djago Desert.
Hunted by the Enforcement Unit, the all-powerful Military arm of the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin, Sheldon’s team must fight to keep the Carrier alive and guard the integrity of her mind. But nobody suspects that Sheldon also has a dark secret, and it could end up changing the fate of the mission.