Blogomites, it is my pleasure to have as a guest today Erik Wecks, author of the Pax Imperium novels and frequent contributor to GeekDad and LitReactor to share his wisdom on being a full-time writer, father, and self-publishing cognoscente.
First things first: tell us about you, why you write, and if it you regard writing generally to be a symptom of genius or insanity.
Ha! Definitely insanity. Think about it, we spend all day in our heads imagining and pretending in worlds where we can make things just the way we want them. Worse, we are at our best when torturing the people we created in those worlds. Is it any wonder many writers struggle to deal with the reality? Seriously though, I have definitely come to be a more introverted person since taking up writing. I’m content with that, but it has been an interesting change. I think I would now describe myself as an outgoing introvert. In the past, I would have thought of myself as an extrovert.
You have several novels and stories set in the PAX Imperium universe. That name is so intriguing! The layers of conflict within the title and the dichotomy between something that is peaceful and something that is imperious and has absolute dominion is juicy. Can you share what your vision for PAX is, why you’ve created it, and what kinds of stories readers can expect to find set there?
I’m glad you like the name. The Pax really developed from the old historian in me. At one time, I was on my way toward a Ph.D. in European history. I didn’t finish. This was back in the late nineties when things like the Balkan war and Kosovo were hot topics for discussion. One of the things I learned from a mentor was that dictators aren’t always a bad thing. In a multi-ethnic empire, they have a way of sitting on conflict and keeping it from erupting into violence. In European history, the greatest empire was the Holy Roman Empire, which did a lot to keep conflict to a low simmer in Europe for hundreds of years, at least until the thirty years war in the seventeenth century. The Pax developed when I had the idea of taking the HRE and transporting it to a space opera universe.
That said, I try to keep the politics in my books to a minimum. So far I’ve managed to avoid long-winded speeches about trade embargoes and boring diplomatic discussions in throne rooms. It’s a concern for me. I don’t want to read about Padme sitting around a throne room talking to people, and I assume my audience doesn’t either. In my story, you don’t even meet the Empress. I’d rather have you out there looking at the universe from the point of view of people within it, some of them important and some of them just average people trying to get by while it all falls apart around them. My tagline as an author is “character-rich science fiction for your Kindle with ‘splosions—lots of explosions.” I try to stick to that and leave out all the other boring bits.
In my series of novels the Pax is definitely falling apart. Even an empire can only keep certain tensions on simmer for so long. There are four novels planned, Aetna Adrift is written and available, On the Far Bank of the Rubicon will come out later this winter or early in the spring. Currently, I am in the midst of writing the first of three big wars, one of which will take place in each book.
You and I had a couple exchanges regarding your novel Aetna Adrift’s main character, Jack Halloway, being a womanizing antihero type. One of the things that’s been so interesting in regard to your decision to write this type of character, who some readers have mentioned was hard to connect with because of his somewhat negative ideas on femininity in general, is that you are actually quite an advocate for women’s social and economic parity. Tell us more about why you chose to create this character and what kind of message you hope readers take from your novels.
Yeah, I knew that there was a risk that what I wrote would be misunderstood. I’m OK with that, as long as the reviewer doesn’t get personal. When they start conflating Jack’s views with my own, it gets under the skin. Also, when they assume that I wasn’t being thoughtful in my choices and think that I just wrote things this way because I didn’t know better, that bothers me. It shows the reviewer hasn’t read anything that I wrote for GeekDad, where I have sometimes been called a feminist dad. Its a label, I will take, although I prefer humanist dad. I don’t like the idea of equating a strong belief in parity with the feminine. I think its a tactical error in that it forever lets men off the hook from having to do their part to advocate for parity.
As far as Jack goes, I guess I would start by saying, I like to write about broken people because I can relate to them. I think we’re all imperfect, and I like putting that human imperfection into my stories. In Aetna Adrift, I wanted to write a story in which a misogynist grows up a little, and I wanted to make that character realistic. I didn’t want him to have some sort of instant awakening which makes him better all at once, although there are moments which propel him forward. I wanted him to start by letting one woman past his defenses.
I think I was only partly successful. One of the things I don’t like is that it feels too much like romantic love is what changes Jack, and I am not a big fan of the “woman’s sexuality will save a man” narrative. In my head, it’s friendship which changes Jack, but I am not sure the came through clearly enough for my tastes. In Aetna Adrift, Jack finds himself looking at a woman as a partner and a person, instead of as a resource to be tapped in some way. To be fair to Jack, at the start of the book, he views everyone as a resource to be used. That’s his journey, so it isn’t just women, but he certainly reserves a special kind of disregard for women when the book begins.
I don’t think he’s healthy by the end of the book either. If you listen to him carefully, you can see that he’s still tends to see women as a means to an end. Jack still has some big blind spots when it comes to relationships in general and intimate relationships in particular. Those will come back to haunt him in book two in a big way. They will also take him a few more steps down the road, but that will take years. I don’t think you get over misogyny overnight. I think looking at how do you help a misogynist grow up is an important question, particularly for men who are strong advocates for parity.
You’re heavily ensconced in the parenting culture and have written numerous articles for GeekDad and LitReactor, an online writer’s water cooler. As a parent of three daughters, how do you make time to do all this writing?
Two years ago I decided that I was never going to write unless I took the leap and started in full time. So writing is my job. I’ve always been a pretty self-motivated person. I try to write every day. Some days are better than others. I don’t enjoy having someone looking over my shoulder and cracking the whip. I do that enough on my own, thank you very much.
My wife works outside the home. I play the stay at home dad, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I enjoy raising my three daughters too much to give it up. I incorporate them into my writing as much as I can. I need to write a story for my seven year old yet, but my fourteen year old reads almost everything. She is one of my first line editors. She’s pretty good at saying, “That sucks dad.” It helps to hear it from someone you know cares.
In the last month, I have been really excited to introduce my kids to Pathfinder (a Dungeons-and-Dragons-like game), which I see as a cooperative storytelling game. I started writing a YA-style adventure for them, and it has become a real joy to create simply for the enjoyment of my family. We play together each Friday night.
What is your writing process? Are you a dedicated everyday writer, or catch-as-catch can? Do you have any special rituals or activities you do that help you prepare to write?
As I said, I try to write every day. As far as rituals, I do have an interesting one. I have found that I write best without the internet available. I get too easily distracted messing with the music on Spotify or checking out how many people followed me on Twitter today. So I have my wife take the cable modem to work with her every day… I know it sounds ridiculous but it works. No internet=No distractions. It does make me a little slow at answering emails, however.
Can you give us some insight on why you chose to go the indie publishing route, and what you’d do the same and differently if you were going to start again at the beginning of your writing career?
For me being an indie has been purely a business decision. There is a much better opportunity to earn a small sustainable income as an indie than there is in the traditional world. In traditional world you either hit the lottery or make peanuts. I don’t need to win the lottery. What I need is an income for my kids. I think the ebook ecosystem, and particularly Amazon, offers me a much better opportunity to earn that income. If the day comes that I am popular enough to command respect from one of the big six, I will listen, but only if I can truly negotiate on some of the more onerous parts of their contracts. Frankly, I don’t expect that to happen, and I am content with that. I just want to make a modest living and bring a modest group of people real enjoyment from my work.
What’s next on your writing agenda? Any new releases on the near horizon?
As I said, I have a novel coming out later this winter, On the Far Bank of the Rubicon. I also have a short story or two in the works and a novella is rumbling around in my head. The novella is cathartic in nature, and I don’t know if I am in the emotional place to tackle it right now, but I am thinking about it enough to know that it will come out someday. I also have a non-fiction project, I am cowriting with a couple of experts in the field on managing your HOA well. It’s called Getting Beyond Paint Chips. It should be out in a few months.
It seems as if you’re heavily involved in organizing local writing conferences around your ‘hood near Vancouver/Portland. What are your thoughts in general for other authors when it comes to attending writing conferences. Are they worth it? If so, why; and if not, why not?
I think you can always learn something at a conference, but take everything you hear with a huge grain of salt. Much of the advice is just plain bad, so you have to sift through and find the truth for yourself. Also, don’t use attending conferences as an excuse never to put your stuff out in front of an audience. Sometimes I think writers cling to the traditional publishing model simply because getting rejected means they never have to find out if an audience will like their work. Don’t be that writer! With ebook publishing, you don’t have an excuse any longer. Put your stuff out there and find your audience. If it’s well edited and interesting, you will find readers.
Anything else you want to mention or elaborate on?
Hmmm… nothing comes to mind, except to tell readers that if they join my friends list, they will often get first crack at reading what I write. Last week I gave them all a copy of my short story “He Dug the Grave Himself,” and right now if you sign up, you get a free copy of my Pax novella Brody: Hope Unconquered. You can find a sign up in the upper right corner of my website, www.erikwecks.com
Erik is a full time writer and blogger living in Vancouver, Washington. He writes both non-fiction and fiction and blogs at http://www.erikwecks.com. He enjoys writing on a wide range of topics. When not waxing poetic on various aspects of fiscal responsibility, he tends toward the geeky.
In the moments he is not poised over the keyboard, he loves to spend time with his family. He is married to an angel, Jaylene, who has taught him more than anyone else about true mercy and compassion. They are the parents of three wonderful girls. As a group they like swimming at the local pool, gardening, reading aloud, playing piano, and beating each other soundly at whatever table top game is handy.
Thank you so much for being here, Erik, and sharing your wide-scale industry knowledge and writerly wisdom. I am particularly inspired by your description of rolling your writing into your family life, and I look forward to reading Aetna Adrift, as well as the release of On the Far Bank of the Rubicon.