Guest Author Interview with Stephen Christiansen

Thank you so much to author, Stephen Christiansen, for taking the time to answer some questions for us. We appreciate it, and we know that your readers will as well!

1. What inspired you to write this book?

Answer: I had a co-worker who loved Sci Fi as well as I do. When I told him that I was thinking about writing a Sci Fi book we started tossing about a few suggestions. However, I didn’t want to just write a straight forward storyline. Instead I wanted to add enough twists and turns to toss the reader for a loop. With the inspiration of current world affairs, an inspiration Star Trek movie (I’ll let the reader figure out which one), and a few chapters from my fantasy series, “Harbinger” fell into place.

2. Can you tell me about the book?

Answer: The story takes place in the not so distant future. The dying world has become a dystopia and is plagued by global warming, weather disasters, riots, and corporate greed. To help answer the threat of extinction, a program was set up to send scientists out to help Terraform planets for colonization. In this book, eight scientists were sent out to one such planet. Nothing was supposed to go wrong. Everything did.

3. What is your writing process like?

Answer: First, I come up with a fluid plot, always keeping in mind that it might change later. I find that when the characters are introduced and fleshed out that they end up writing a lot of the story which sometimes changes the plot for the better. Next, I break the story into several parts and then further break those down into chapters. When I have about half of the chapters plotted out that are needed to finish the book, I start working on the characters. As the characters develop and grow, they react to the situations in each chapter. This helps fill out the rest of the book.

I usually write during the evenings after work. I close the door to my study and surround myself with models and scratch pieces of paper with my ideas on them. This gives me solitude I need with my inspiration and my notes. This usually allows me get a good quota of words in a day.

4. What did you learn when writing the book?

Answer: This book was interesting because I had to look up a lot of different real science and military research that needed to be added into the story. I learned a lot about rail guns and lasers and space battle. I read a great deal about what space does to a person’s body and about gravitational wells. I can’t say much more without giving away some of the book.

5. What surprised you the most?

Answer: What surprised me was how the book ended. I had expected one ending but ended up with a totally different one that led to the next book, a book that wasn’t even considered. Now, I’m excited to get started on the second book that will have all the reveals that the first one didn’t have.

6. What does the title mean?

Answer: Although “Harbinger” is the name of the ship where our story begins, it also has a different connotation. Something bad is going to happen in the next book and the first book acts as a warning of things to come.

7. Was the character inspired by a real person? If so, who?

Answer: One of the female characters, Denise, a fan favorite of the story, was based off of an actress named Denise Crosby who starred in Star Trek Next Generation. I always enjoyed the character she played and wanted to establish a similar character, one who was tough and no nonsense and professional at what she did. I believe I was able to capture that essence and give the character the strength that she needed.

8. What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

Answer: I can neither confirm nor deny the fact that any of the characters live through the book nor can I divulge any information that might give away the answers in the second book. However, I can tell you this: not everything is what it seems. Be ready for some surprises in the second book.

9. What advice do you have for writers?

Answer: There are three things that I tell writers. First is to read. Read good books. Read bad books. Read to understand how stories are told. Reading gives insights on how to write well and how not to write. Reading gives inspiration of new ideas and how to communicate them. Second is to live. Get off the phone. Go explore the mountains, the beach, and forest. Get your heart broken. Fall in love. When one lives a life, then it’s easier to write about the event and feelings and emotions that go along with it. When one experiences events then there’s inspiration to share those events with others. Third is to write. Write daily. Set some time aside to write. I’ve lost count of how many people that I’ve met who want to write a book, but haven’t even started. It’s alright to write poorly at first, that’s what editing is about. But if one doesn’t even put something down then the book won’t get finished. The book will not write itself. Go…write.

10. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Answer: Writing always energizes me. It thrills me as it draws me into the scene. It’s like watching a movie and all I have to do is type what I see and how I feel. I hope I never get to the point where it exhausts me and makes me feel like it’s a job or a burden but rather a joy that I want to share with others. Please read my books. They brought me joy while writing them. I hope they bring you joy while reading them.

11. What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Answer: One common trap is self doubt. The questions of “what if the book is awful?” or “what if no one likes it?” or “what if no one gets me?” “or “what if I fail?” creep into just about every author that I’ve met. Failure is part of success. It’s alright to fail. Failure just tells you how to do it better. Don’t consider it failure, consider it a learning lesson and move on. True failure is not even starting in the first place.

12. What is your writing Kryptonite?

Answer: I have more problems writing dialogue than anything else. I’m able to get into the heart of each character, but when it comes time to expressing these thoughts and emotions verbally I find that I am lacking.

13. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Answer: I have at times considered it, yes. I thought that it might be fun to branch out into areas that were a bit more extreme or intense than what I usually write. By taking on a pseudonym I could do this without anyone knowing who I was and not be embarrassed by someone I knew end up reading it. But then I always decide against it. I consider that if I put out something that I don’t want to put my name on it, then it’s not worth putting out. I want to be proud of what I’ve written; I want my friends and family to be proud of me. So no, no pseudonym’s for me.

14. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

Answer: I do my best to be original, even if it means that fewer readers “get me”. My writing style is a little quirky, sometimes it jumps around a bit, but it always comes back to where I want to take the reader.

15. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Answer: I have a several series that will all tie in together. Some can be read as standalone while others leave off as cliff hangers. Each series can be read on their own. However, all will tie together somehow.

16. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Answer: I’m currently working on one and am 70k words into it. This is book 15 of 17 of my dark elf “Orbbelgguren Series”. I intend to finish this within a couple of months. There’s one more, a modern day spy thriller named “The Eden Protocol” that I only have 1 chapter written and then have stopped. I’ve hit a writer’s block here and will get back to it when I figure out how to move forward. Meanwhile, the next book that I’m going to write is the part two of the “Apocalypse” series, the sequel to “Harbinger”.

17. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Answer: For the most part I just jump right in and start writing. I need to get the ideas out of my head before they disappear. Then, when I come to a scene that needs research, I stop my writing and start surfing the web. When I find several answers that all seem to point in one direction, even if it changes my plot, I go with it and change my story to fit the research.

18. How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

Answer: Currently I have a full time job that pays the bills. I only write after work, in the evenings. I hope to retire from my full time job and devote more time to writing soon.

19. How many hours a day do you write?

Answer: I typically sit in front of the computer with a desire to write for about two to three hours a day. How much actual writing I do depends on many factors. But on a good day, usually while out camping, I can spend most of a weekend writing.

20. What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)

Answer: Most of my characters are adult. They have lived through many experiences in life which give them the skills needed to face the challenges that arrive. They also have the maturity to face the more adult situations that come about.

21. What did you edit out of this book?

Answer: I had taken out of “Harbinger” the one thing that would have made the entire book make sense. I took out the explanation of the government conspiracy. I felt that this needed to be explored more which is why it is going to be revealed in the second book.

22. How do you select the names of your characters?

Answer: It depends on the character and what series I’m writing. Usually I’ll try to find a name that fits the situation. For example, in my dark elf series there is a dark elf guard who is going to be killed off. I’ve found the dark elf words that end up translating as “red shirt.” Other times I’ll try to find a word that describes the individual or a characteristic trait that I admire about the character and who that character reminds me of. “Medri” is the dark elf name of a necromancer as medri means “death bringer”. In “Harbinger” the character Denise is named after Denise Crosby while Eric is named after one of my friends that I’ve known for many years.

23. If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

Answer: I’ve always wanted to be an astronomer. I’ve had a love of space and stars ever since I was young. I can still remember the first time I looked through a telescope and saw Saturn and a few of its moons. Still, to this day, I check out everything I can about new findings and theories about our universe.

24. What was your hardest scene to write?

Answer: The hardest scene that I had to write was the first scene in “Lost Souls” where my daughter went missing. It took several days to write that chapter and every day that I wrote it was another day that I had to relive the experience of not know what had happened.

25. What is your favorite childhood book?

Answer: I remember ready “Lord Valentine’s Castle” by Robert Silverberg when I was in junior high school. I was the first one to check it out of the library and not only finished it in a short amount of time, but immediately checked it out again to read it a second time. This book helped plunge me deeper into realm of Fantasy and continues to be an inspiration from time to time.

26. How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Answer: Since my books are over 100k words each and I write approximately 1k per night or more, it can take over 3 months just to write the book, then another to edit it. However, as my writing skills have improved and as each series progresses, the books continue to be larger and larger. The last book I wrote was at 150k words taking me almost 5 months to write and over a month and a half to edit.

27. Do you believe in writer’s block?

Answer: Yes, and no. Yes, I have experienced writer’s block, but no, I don’t let it stop me from writing. Sometimes I just need a short break. Other times I move on to another chapter. Nothing keeps me down for long.

28. What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

Answer: I think if I did longhand with all of my books I would get writer’s cramp in a very short amount of time. I use the computer instead. Most of what I’m working on is on the cloud so I can access it anywhere. When I’m done I download it and do my edits on one computer so I have everything I need when I upload it to the publishing company.

29. When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

Answer: I think it was the sixth grade (please don’t ask me what year that was, that will date me more than I wish). We had to each do a short story based on ideas that were passed out to us. Mine was about the appliances coming to life and attacking me. I had to write why this was the case and what happened next. After the short story came back with, not only an “A” but with the comment of “You have a very imaginative mind” written on it, I decided that I wanted to write more. It wouldn’t be for many more years later before my first book was published.

30. How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Answer: For me, it’s not too difficult at all. There are a lot of ideas that float around in my head as I picture the novel coming together. I let each scene play out in my mind as if it were a movie. Then, when I get home, I can’t wait to put these scenes down for the reader to enjoy.

31. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

Answer: I have a goal of about 1k words a day. Some days are easier than others and I can knock out 2 to 3k words a day, but I still try my best to make my quota of 1k.

32. Do you set a plot or prefer going wherever an idea takes you?

Answer: I start with a flowing plot, knowing that it might change as I go along. Usually I have a start, middle, and an end that I have in mind, but these only take up about half the story. I let a lot of the other half of the story take me where it wants to go and sometimes it will change the whole plot of the novel.

33. Do you read much and, if so, who are your favorite authors?

Answer: I used to read a lot more before I started writing. Now that I’m writing, I find that I have less time to read, which is a shame because there are a lot of books that I would love to read. My all time favorite author is Poe. Others include Stephen King, Robert Silverberg, and R.A. Salvatore. I think when people read my stories they will be able to find a little bit of influence from each author.

34. What is the most important thing about a book in your opinion?

Answer: I think the most important thing about a book is the way it can relate to a reader. Perhaps it’s the characters or the event or the place, but whatever it is, if there is something that is relatable then everything else will fall into place.

35. How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?

Answer: Well, I must admit that I would feel crushed. But I would remember that this happens to a great number of authors, including famous ones. Patience and quality work will always prevail. It might sting for awhile, but it wouldn’t stop me from creating another and another until I get the results that I’m looking for, a line that goes out the store and around the block.

36. Do you recall the first ever book/novel you read?

Answer: I don’t recall the name of the first book that I sought out to read, but I do remember that it was a collection of old mythological tales from around the world. The first novel whose title I can remember is “Lord Valentine’s Castle” by Silverberg.

37. How much of yourself do you put into your books?

Answer: I put a great deal of myself into my books. Every character is some aspect of me. I also put in a lot of my experiences and travels. I’ve often said, “if you want to get to know me, read my books.”

38. Who are your books mostly dedicated to?

Answer: Each book does have a dedication to a different person. Most of them are dedicated to my family, some are friends, and others are inspirational individuals that have either influenced the novel or me. My “Lost Souls” is dedicated to Stephen King.

39. Who is the most supportive of your writing in your family?

Answer: That would be my daughter. She’s always excited to hear about my latest book and gets thrilled each time I tell her that I’ve sold another one. She also keeps asking when I’m going to write another book that has her as the main star again.

40. Writers are often believed to have a Muse, your thoughts on that?

Answer: I work best when I have a Muse, not a mythological one, but a physical individual who I can talk to. I’ve had several over the course of my writing career. Each has just been the right person that I can chat with while typing. Somehow it splits my attention which in turn sharpens it. At the same time there’s an inspiration. Perhaps having another person to talk to during the process helps chase away writer’s block, but whatever it is, having another there always helps with my writing.

41. Another misconception is that all writers are independently wealthy, how true is that?

Answer: Let me laugh out loud at that one. Most writers are struggling artists with only a few becoming wealthy. For me, writing can’t be for the money, it has to be the sharing of my story to others. While it would be wonderful to become independently wealthy through my writings, the truth is that if all I did was focus on an income then I wouldn’t enjoy the time and storytelling. My advice is to write what you want to read, share it with others, and if you get any wealth out of it then that is the frosting. The story you tell should be its own worth, its own wealth.

42. Is it true that authors write word-perfect first drafts?

Answer: If that were true then there would be no need for spell-check or editors or beta readers. I salute the errors that, after several edits, I can still find in my published and “final” draft. All I can say is edit, edit, edit, get an editor, get some beta readers, and edit again.

43. Did any of your books get rejected by publishers?

Answer: Since I’m an Indi-author, and always have been, I’ve never had any rejections fro publishers because I haven’t submitted to any. However, for those that are feeling the sting of rejection, just remember that Rollins had been rejected several times and King said that when the nail that was holding his rejection letters started to bend, he replaced it with a spike.

44. What is your view on co-authoring books; have you done any?

Answer: I once read a co-authoring series call “War of the Spider Queen.” I loved the concept that each author was able to write one book of the series and I was able to see the different writing styles of each one. In the same way I would love to read a co-authored book. I’ve already reached out to two authors, each with a proposal that we co-author a book, each with our individual characters to do a cross-over. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ll keep my fans informed.

45. Is writing book series more challenging?

Answer: For me writing a book series is actually easier. I’m more of an epic writer and find it more difficult to write a shorter story. My novel “Harbinger” was supposed to only be 1 book, now it’s two. My Star Wars fan fiction book was only supposed to be 1, but now it’s 3. The only challenging part of a series is keeping everyone and everything straight. That’s why I had to create another book for my dark elf series that has a list of everyone ever mentioned.

46. Does it get frustrating if you are unable to recall an idea you had in your mind some time earlier?

Answer: Oh my goodness, yes, that is so frustrating. When I get a great idea in my head, of course the one moment that I walk away from my writing, I try to play it over and over in my head to keep it fresh. Sometimes it works, many times it doesn’t. This is why I had to buy a small journal that I carry around with me.

47. Have you ever destroyed any of your drafts?

Answer: I remember doing that once. I must have had about half of my book written when I lost the draft. My heart sank and I think I cried for a couple of days. I was so disheartened that I didn’t want to start up again. Yet, eventually I did and after I re-wrote it, it came out better than the original.

48. Can you tell us about your current projects?

Answer: My current project is the 15th book of my dark elf series. It is called “Children of the Spider”. There is a new danger that threatens to destroy everything that ever has been. I can’t go into detail without giving a spoiler from another book, but the stakes are higher than the ever have been before for our dark elf heroes. The Spider Queen’s true goal is now being set into motion and we will see this over the next couple of books.

49. Had any of your literary teachers ever tell you growing up that you were going to become a published writer one day?

Answer: No, none of them thought that I might become a published writer, a scientist or astronomer, but not an author.

50. Were your parents reading enthusiasts who gave you a push to be a reader as a kid?

Answer: Quite the contrary. My father didn’t want his son to be a book worm. He discouraged any form or reading and the books I did read I had to hide.

51. Do you enjoy discussing upcoming ideas with your partner? If yes, how much do you value their inputs?

Answer: I love sharing my upcoming ideas with my wife. She listens and nods and is excited for me, but has only read one of my books so far. She does give some ideas and I do my best to listen.

52. Have you ever turned a dream or a nightmare into a written piece?

Answer: Not a sleeping dream or nightmare no. However, I did do a written piece about a waking nightmare. This is the nightmare that all parents dread, the disappearance of a child. We had all gone out on vacation, across Washington, through Oregon, and into California before heading over to Virginia City Nevada. On our way out of town, we stopped by the old graveyard. Time seemed to have gotten away from us and when we turned around, our daughter was gone. My wife and I spent a good deal of time running up and down the graveyard looking for our daughter. It was absolutely the more horrifying thing I had ever felt. Fortunately she had found a family with a kid her age and she followed them down a service road to more of the cemetery that we didn’t know existed. My book “Lost Souls” explores this experience and adds a bit of a “Stephen King” twist to it.

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