Friday, April 2, 2010

Author Interview: Joseph L. Selby

Okay Ladies and Gentlemen! It’s time for the first writer interview! Let’s welcome Joseph L. Selby to the stage!

*the crowd goes wild*

Before we begin, I would like to tell those of you who don’t know, I am interviewing authors about their day jobs or their writing habits. You don’t have to be published to qualify, and you can use a pseudonym for your day job if you want to. So if you would like to participate, just email me at: writer (dot) elizabethpoole (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know.

Today I am interviewing a talented writer with great taste in TV series. I found him through his user pic, of all things, that proclaimed himself to be a “Browncoat” a Firefly reference. Since Firefly is awesome, I looked up his website, which was clean and efficient. I also follow his live journal. If you would like to follow his livejournal and you don’t have an LJ account, you can just create an account. I did! I am lucky enough to be beta reading his novel WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING and I am enjoying the book immensely.

Here is his website:

And here is his livejournal:

Welcome Joseph, please tell us a little about yourself:

My name is Joseph L. Selby, I write primarily fantasy (contemporary, classic, and epic), but have a few other out-of-genre projects as well. I have degrees in English (creative writing) and theatre (playwriting) and wrote a 10-minute play that got some attention at the college level. I then went on to do freelance work for Wizards of the Coast and Kenzer & Co. writing D&D adventures, and have finally come to mass-market fiction. I am soliciting representation for my first two novels (unrelated to one another), but am otherwise unpublished.

1. Why did you decide to become a writer?

I was writing long before I made the decision to do so. That moment where I thought about life and said, "This is what I want to do" came in grade school when my religion teacher, Brother Stephen, wrote a book (EAGLES AND ANGELS, DRAGONS AND DEVILS) of religious parables. I wanted to do that. I wanted to take the worlds I was creating and put them in a book and have people read them and they would be excited and love me. Of course, there were plenty of other things I also wanted to do, as is typical for that age. But here I am regardless.

2. What is your writing environment like now?

I've tried writing at places like Borders and Barnes & Noble and I just don't get anything done. I most certainly don't get anything at home. Wife, cats, movies, video games, high-speed internet, there's just too many distractions. So I go out in public where the distractions become a type of white noise. I either write at a diner or on the commuter train to/from work. This allows me a minimum of two hours of writing time five days a week. I clock in many more than that.

3. What is your ideal writing environment like?

If I were writing full time, I would buy a commuter rail pass, get on the train, ride somewhere, get on a different train, ride somewhere else, eat lunch, and make my way home. I'd get to explore a new suburb of Boston (all the way down to Providence, RI) and get a good four hours of dedicated writing time every day.

4. Do you write with music? Why or why not?

5. How do you find time to write in between the other demands on your time—kids, family, job, etc?

See commuter rail above. :) Before I started working in Boston, and I still drove to work, it was a constant give and take between me and my wife to find time for writing while keeping time for us. I tried setting boundaries, but they always eroded and it was a huge source of friction. Now the train fixes all that. The train doesn't get any faster than it is and I can't afford to drive down to the city. So bam, two hours of time for writing.

6. What are your comfort books? Those books you can read again and again, that foster and rekindle your desire to write?

Anything by Lois McMaster Bujold. I have read CORDELIA'S HONOR a ridiculous number of times since I bought it. She's a fantastically written strong female character. Put that and Memory together and you have the best stories of the Vorkosigan series.

7. What authors do you find influential?

Lois McMaster Bujold, Tad Williams, Kurt Vonnegut, and Louis Carroll.

8. Do you belong to a critique group? Writing organization? Why or why not?

I belonged to a critique group but it fell apart shortly after I joined. It was a small group. It had four other members. One, Tim, is a good guy but he had too many family commitments. He just couldn't keep up. Another, Peggy, is a forty-something mother who just started writing. She has BOATLOADS of talent. It's ridiculous how much potential there is there. She just needs the self-confidence to risk long-form fiction. Those one-sentence fiction exercises on Twitter have given her a safe place to hide, and I hate it. The third person was an older woman whose name I no longer remember. She was awful. She was the exact opposite of Peggy. There was no unrealized potential there. I never said that two her. I never said anything negative to her. I offered constructive feedback because that's what crit groups do. But she was intimidated by the disparity in writing quality and quit shortly after I joined. Then there was Chuck. Chuck is the guy who formed the group. Chuck is a mini-L Ron Hubbard. He didn't form the group to create a cooperative writing community that could help and support and encourage one another. He wanted fans. And Chuck was published! ...except that it was a Publish America publishing. I was the only one in the group that knew how worthless that claim of publication was. Unfortunately, when Chuck and I disagreed (often), Chuck's opinion was seen as more valuable because he was published. You can imagine how that sat with me. Chuck disbanded the group when he was working on a new project and it was particularly dreadful. Chuck can't write women. He can make dependent damsels in distress who fall in love with the heor as soon as she sees him. That's all he can write. Chuck was also a marine, so he tells us. And that new fact proved the downfall of the group. In his new work where the female character was preposterously bad, the remainder of the group (me and Peggy) just couldn't stomach it any more and we both tried to explain to him just how horrible it was. He didn't like this, so he pushed on. And that's when it happened. There was some disparity in military ranking he was referencing. I had presumed the entire time that he had been writing about a guy in the army. Why? Because he kept calling them solders. Over and over, chapter after chapter, he called them soldiers. For those of you who don't know, Airforce = Airmen, Army = Soliders, Navy = Sailors/Seamen, Marines = Marines. He had been writing about a Marine the entire time but calling them soldiers. Now, this is an excusable mistake for a novice author...unless he was actually in the Marines. A Marine will never, EVER, call himself a soldier. He calls himself a Marine. And the fact that Chuck, who claimed to be a marine himself, made this mistake was telling. I pointed this out to him and the group was disbanded. He started a new group with new members so that I could not expose him for the fraud he is. Last I heard, they caught on as well and that group eventually disbanded.

As for whether I want to be part of a new one, I actually would like to, but there are problems. I write fantasy, which the average person doesn't read some I'm unlikely to get people who understand the genre. More importantly, I live in a town of 82,000 people and the availablilty of professional-level (or even professional-possible) writers is hard to come buy. The return isn't really worth the investment. That's too bad. (I still keep up with Peggy and offer encouragement when I can. She could write a publishable book if she'd just try.)

9. Have you ever been to a writing conference? Why or why not? If so, what was your experience like?

I went to ReaderCon a few years ago. It was interesting at times. One panel was so sycophantic that I actually had to leave, but most of them were fun if not informative. It was more for fans of books than prospective writers, so I have not been back (mostly because my current job is very busy that time of year). I keep an eye out for sf/f conferences to see if they're worth the expense.

10. Are you querying? If so, what’s keeping you sane?

I am querying, and getting rejected. Getting ignored is the one I hate the most. You said you'd respond in 6-8 weeks. It has now been 16 weeks. I no longer expect you to respond. Why are you telling me 6-8 if you can't manage 16? Why are you even saying you're going to respond? At least for those people who say they don't respond with rejections, I know my time limit has passed and that opportunity is closed. I keep wondering what's up with these people. Did they get the query? Did it get lost in the shuffle? Come on people, I followed all your rules. You follow them too.

11. What are your favorite kinds of characters to write about?

Strong women. I'm not sure why that is. Most of my main characters end up being men and the majority of my characters are men, but the strong women are always my favorites. Most likely because so few people actually write good strong women. They usually write women that act like men, which is not the same.

12. What are you favorite kinds of characters to read about?

13. Are you an outliner or a seat of the pants writer? Why?

No outlines. I can only see a maximum of seven chatpers ahead except for the actual end (which I will know from the beginning to some degree). If I try to outline, once I get past seven chapters I get bogged down by a lack of data. I have not begun entire projects because I couldn't finish the outline, and that's not acceptable. Not that I ever get to the end the way I had planned (and that's if the end is even what I planned at the beginning, it has been known to change when the story takes an unexpected turn). I outline when I see the next few chapters and all I do there is add a new page with the chapter number and write down my idea. I flesh it out when I get to that chapter.

14. Would you like to be a bestseller or have a smaller, more manageable following?

Best seller. :) Not just best seller. I want my name referenced by media who don't actually know the genre and just use the name they hear all the time even if it's not the best example for the subject on which they're speaking (*cough* Gaiman *cough).

15. Do you have a writing "process?" What is it, if so?

Don't suck. ;) I have a story idea. This might be a beginning and an end. It may just be the end. It may be an interesting premise of something that gets overdone that I have turned on the ear. I then come up with a title. I can't write without a title. I then begin writing.

16. What is the single best writing advice you have ever received/come across?

Baring psychological or physical reasons preventing you from writing, there's no such thing as writer's block. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to continue forward, it means you've made a mistake. Your subconscious is refusing to let your conscious continue until the error is fixed. Work backword and find where you messed up. Fix it, and you'll find you're able to continue writing. (I believe that came from Vonnegut, but I can't remember for certain.)

17. Any fears about becoming published?

Performing so badly that I'm not published a second time.

18. Where do you get your ideas from? (*grin* sorry guys, I had to include that)

All over. My most recent manuscript I finished, a friend was visiting and we were driving around New England. We were trying to hit all the states in one day (which we could have done, but we got tired in Connecticut and skipped Rhode Island and Maine). He was telling me about the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and the changes they made to divination to make it less of a game breaker. Specifically, prophecies weren't working any more. My first thought was, "Huh, must suck for the prophets." And that's when the idea sparked. Imagine a world where prophecy was so readily accessable and commonly accepte that you had proffesional prophets. Now imagine what would happen if all of them lost the ability to prophesy. And hence, WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HRIING was born.

19. What is your biggest pet peeve in your genre?

Wizards. Wizards have become the instrument in which nerds who couldn't get the girls and were picked last for games at recess make themselves feel good about themselves. They live vicariously through their wizards and allow their wizards to do the most ridicusulous things in the world so they can feel just as powerful. I've grown to hate wizards. I'm not against magic in stories, but I so rarely use it because it's just reached an epic level of lameness. I'm also tired of dragons, vampires, and werewolves, as they've all been overdone.

20. What is your biggest pet peeve in books in general?

Stop trying to make ebooks conform to a printed book model. It won't save you. Adapt to your environment or go out of business.

21. What is the biggest writing issue you’ve had to date, and how did you fix it? (writer’s block, crappy first draft, realized the main character sucks, etc)

Finishing my stories. This happened a lot. I had trouble finding writing time and when I did, I wasn't finishing my work. So at the beginning of 2009, I said I was going to write a novel. If I did not finish by the end of the year, I was done. I would give up trying to write for publication forever. I finished my 110,000-word manuscript in September.

22. Do you like books about writing? If so, which books would you recommend and why?

Nope. There are some blogs I like that I find education, but books tend to be wrong, repetitive, or condescending. Blogs let me hunt for the information I need while skipping the stuff I already know.

23. And lastly, if you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would it be?

The complete works of Geoffrey Chaucer, anotated, with his works in the original middle English.

Well, that’s all we have time for today folks! Stay tune for more interviews and helpful stuff from your host, Elizabeth Poole.

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