Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Interview with Author Heath D. Alberts

Heath and Wanda Alberts
 Rockton, Illinois

Good morning, Heath.  Welcome to Vision and Verse, the Place of Art and Authors.  It's a pleasure to have you here with us.  Tell us, what have you written?
Terminal Beginning” (2010)                                           
Guerrilla Business” (2012)
"The Battery Man " (2013)
"Last Rights" (2013)
"Deeper " (2014)
"Photographic Memory" (2014)
Contributor To: "Secret Rockford" (2014)
Coming In Late 2014: “Not On The List

Wow! You've been a busy boy!  What is your favorite genre to write?
I find that no matter what I write, humor always finds itself finagling its way in. All of my works to date have been in differing genres. This was semi-intentional. As I am what I consider to be a ‘budding’ author, I like to challenge myself, and see what happens. As such, I’ve written works that can easily be classified as Contemporary Christian, Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction, Business, Adventure, Mystery, Historical, and – currently – a Fantasy/Humor work. I also challenged myself, with my two novellas, to write in first-person – something I’m obscenely uncomfortable with.

Favorite food.
Lasagna. Though, I’ll eat pretty much anything. I grew up in a blue-collar household. I had no idea that we didn’t have much money, because Mom always seemed to make things that were enjoyable to eat. As I’ve grown older, I’m more in awe of what she – quite literally – brought to the table, with regard to her cooking with what was at hand.

Tea or coffee?
Coffee, but with lots of ‘add-ons’. As a card-carrying member of ‘The Sandwich Generation’, caffeinated soda is more my speed. I’ll either die early from the artificial sweeteners, or live I’ll forever due to all of the other things found therein.

Pizza or ice cream?
Pizza - though, just barely. I’m a sucker for ice cream.

Me, too.  Pizza and ice cream is the celebratory meal around here, right peeps? Where would you like to visit?
Having visited nearly all 50 states (I spent a lot of my capricious youth – and little pay - on cheap road trips), Japan is next on the horizon. My wife and I have always wanted to go. We fell in love with the place, from afar, and can’t wait to arrive at the real deal. We’re in love with the history, the culture, the animé – all of it.

Favorite musical artist?
I’m a musical anomaly. I’ve spent more money on music than any person I know (I’m not bragging - it, too, is a ‘sickness’, though one I’ve quelled more, in recent years). I have more than 140,000+ MP3’s, and the music runs the gamut from Classical to Indie. I’ll listen to pretty much anything, besides modern Pop, Rap, Metal, and Hard Rock. Favorite bands include Fountains Of Wayne, Neko Case, Josh Ritter, Jimmy Eat World, and ELO.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I used to, but not anymore. I used to listen to Classical or Ethereal (New Age) stuff, but my mind tends to focus on it, and it just won’t permit me to write as I would like. So I had to nix it.

What makes you laugh?
Usually? Me. I grew up as the ‘fat outcast’, so funny became a necessity. I always look for a humorous spin on pretty much every situation that presents itself. I still enjoy making my friends and parents laugh, as they often decry the humor for its overt edginess. What they might not realize is that I’m doing it for myself - they’re just innocent, collateral humor damage. There’s some irony in there, somewhere.

That being said, I love witty sarcasm (M*A*S*H still blows me away.)

Favorite work of art or sculpture?
I’m an admirer of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts, as well as the sculpture of Oskar Hansen. As to art, my tastes tend to focus on subject matter and presentation, rather than specific painters.

Wow, we at Vision and verse are big fans of Albrecht Durer!  We did a Wednesday Art Post on him on July 23 here.  It is in the archives if you want to take a look at it. He does not get the attention he deserves.  Back to the interview, how old were you when you started writing?
I was young – maybe five? I used typewriters whenever I came across them in people’s homes. My handwriting has always been God-awful (I received straight A’s in grade school, but always failed handwriting. The nuns hated me. Threats involving Jesus, and my immortal soul were made.) When I was nine or ten, I asked for a typewriter of my own for Christmas. In high school, my teachers sent my work in to the National High School Writer on their own, when I refused to submit it. I didn’t think it was noteworthy, and certainly not good enough to be published.

I never found out until it was published. I quickly forgave them. It made me realize that I just might be good at something, and I needed that during that low point in my life.

Describe your perfect evening:
I’m pretty low-key. I’d say a nice dinner with my wife (who I am head-over-heels mental for, and I can’t imagine a day without), followed by a starlit walk – possibly in Savannah, Georgia’s squares.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Dreams, mostly. I tend to dream Hollywood-blockbuster style: deep scripts and plots, tons of characters and extras, and vivid sets. I swear, if my mind worked that hard when I was awake, it might explode. My dreams also tend to be vivid, and have dynamite story plots in them. I only wish I remembered more of them when it counted. I think my brain enjoys teasing me. Perhaps it’s revenge for all of that Riesling…

What do you do when you get a writer's block?
 I sleep on it, usually coming back to the work the following day. I NEVER outline a book. I have a general idea of what I want to write, and I sort of let it develop on its own. It’s probably the world’s worst way to go, but it’s worked out amazingly well for me. Then again, this may be why no one’s yet heard of me.

Who is your favorite author?
David Mitchell, at the moment.

Best book you’ve ever read?
‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. That book fundamentally changed me. I had just finished Thomas Stanley’s ‘The Millionaire Next Door’. Reading the two so closely together caused an epiphany.

I would like to state, for the record, that I can’t condone Rand’s opinions about adulterous behavior, nor her overt atheism. Those things, we’re 100% divergent on.

Last book you read?
 The Ways Of The Dead’ by Neely Tucker. I’ve been corresponding with him about it. He’s an amazing guy, and I’m thankful for his taking the time to converse with a nobody like me. Expect big things from that man.

What would you do for a living if you weren’t a writer?
Actually, I have a day job. I am the Operations Manager of a large contract manufacturing firm, though I play it down. That keeps me out of hot water.

My wife, myself, and our business partner - independent filmmaker Dave Block, of Block Films - also own and run Digital Ninjas Media, Inc. It’s a turn-key, a-la carté media business serving the needs of cottage and small businesses. Our goal is to offer large-scale solutions for small-scale businesses, while empowering them to help themselves. We’ve developed about ten FB groups – each with a differing goal – that we allow anyone to subscribe to, to assist in furthering their own dreams and goals.

I did obtain a real estate salesperson’s license, just before we flipped our first house. I wanted to be educated, but never wanted to pursue it as a career, once I learned how the business of real estate worked.

Had I had the money to continue on with college, I probably would have pursued a degree in residential or commercial architecture. As it was, I had heavily groomed myself for the manufacturing sector, and the choice that I made to pursue the line of work that I now do I don’t entirely regret. I saw a great business forming, and I hopped on board early one. It’s allowed me to experience growing a business from nothing, to a well-known name in local industry.

Who is the one person who has influenced your personal life the most and why?
That’s hard. I had a rough childhood, both at home and at school, and tended to be an inquisitive kid. My personal life is as robust as it is, due to my willingness to delve into things I found interesting. As such, many individuals contributed to making me the Swiss-Army-Knife whole that I am today. And I’m grateful to every one of them, whether their contribution was large or small.

If you could sit down and have a conversation with ONE person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be and why?
Niokla Tesla. The man was truly something beyond the here and now. To have a conversation with a man whose mind was so far ahead of its time would just blow me away.

Alive, I’d say Gene Kranz. I’ll let you Google him. The man is a testament to the can-do spirit. I actually have an inscribed photograph of him, hanging next to my bed, with the phrase, “Failure is NOT an option!” I wake up to it every day.

What advice would you give someone who aspired to be a writer?
Learn to type by – well - typing. It gets better, over time.

Avoid first-person. Start with third-person omniscient, and work your way from there.

Your first work will probably be awful: get over it.

Keep writing: Blog, write short stories, poems, haiku – anything. Just keep writing.

Learn to edit yourself. You’ll probably never be a pro, but learning basic editing skills will be a HUGE benefit to your writing.

Adverbs are not your friend. You can use them, sure, but ALWAYS be on the lookout for a way to re-craft a sentence without them.

Avoid repetition. Find new ways to say the same or similar things. It keeps the work interesting and fresh to the reader.

What are your interests, besides writing?
I’m an avid bibliophile. I read like crazy. I also collect rare, first, signed, and limited, first-edition hardcovers. My collection has grown to include some rare gems: dedication copies, numbered and lettered copies, etc. The highlights of the collection include a fully-inscribed gift book from Helen Keller to a friend, a dedication copy from Nancy Kress to her long-time editor, a book inscribed, doodled, and colored-in by John Updike to his Pastor and his wife – including a deck of playing cards that he sent with it, a pristine first edition of Neal Stephenson’s master work, “Snow Crash”, as well as a number of hand-illustrated, one-of-a-kind gift books from the illustrators to friends and family.

The standing collection in our home – both mine, and my wife’s, may be viewed at (http://www.heathnwanda.com/books2.htm).

It’s a sickness. And, with the advent of the digital book, one I fear many in the coming years will miss out on. To me, books are works of art. They are not only readable, they are visual, tactile, and olfactory. In summation: I probably need to see a shrink about my overt love for the things.

P.S. – The above website is NOT an example of those we write for our clients. It is, sadly, what I used to use to keep my raw HTML coding skills sharp. I cite the adage: “If you want great plumbing, don’t marry a plumber.” It will be immediately clear that updating that dinosaur of a site is not, thus far, high enough on my priority list.

What has surprised you the most, in your writing career?
Amazingly, I find that my writing caters to a lot of different sorts of readers, with regard to age, sex, and genre alike. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an e-mail or message that said something akin to, “I don’t normally read this sort of thing, but…” where they are kind enough to go on, and let me know that they actually enjoyed the work. It’s one thing to please your intended audience. It’s quite another to please a reader, in general. That – to me – is about the highest compliment that I can receive.

Also, my brother swears that he feels me writing myself into certain characters. Which is sort of true. What makes it significant, however, is that the ones that I intend to do so with, are not those which he singles out. I guess it’s all about perception.

Do you have some links for us to follow you?

Any new book stuff you want to mention?
As I mentioned above, I’m currently crafting a work that’s humor-driven. I am a die-hard Terry Pratchett fan, and I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman since the early ‘The Sandman’ days. I have always wanted to write a book that uses their major works as inspiration, but takes things in an entirely different direction. Until now, I’ve never felt as though I could do it justice.

The work is entitled, ‘Not On The List’. It’s set in the modern-day, and begins with Death showing up to visit his trusty private detectives. Someone is dead, but he isn’t responsible. Needless to say, this is a bit of a burr under his saddle. The detectives set out to find the culprit, and wander through the world of the Unseen – an entire society of beings, Gods, demi-Gods, legends, mythical creatures, embodied concepts, and a number of other odds and ends who exist all around us. We’re just too thick to perceive them.

The work takes them on an interactive journey all over the globe, with characters popping in and out of their lives as they seek their ultimate end.

That description doesn’t really do justice to the scope of the work, but it gives you a general idea of the end I’m aiming for. I also intend to make this a serial work – something that I’ve been hesitant to do. I’ve had call for sequel’s from rabid fans (and Lord knows, that makes me giddy), but I just haven’t written anything that I wanted to further expound upon. My past works have been written to stand on their own.

Part of the problem may be my inherent need to deviate from ‘perfect ending syndrome’. If you’re expecting the ‘expected’ endings from me, then you might want to do yourself a favor and steer clear now.

Anything else?
Yes – actually. One last thing: as a relative unknown, I’m willing to put my ‘money where my mouth is’, to use an old cliché. As such, I always offer anyone a free, .PDF copy (sorry – no hardcopies, or .EPUB’s) of any of my works: just the one, though. My thought is that a ‘try before you buy’ bent, as an indie author, works better than trying to entice folks into buying something they’re wholly unfamiliar with. So far? It’s worked very well.

So, if you’re reading this, feel free to drop me an e-mail, at heath@digitalninjasmedia.com, with the header, “Free Book” in the subject line. Then, in the body, just let me know which one you’d care to take a stab at. Fair warning: ‘Last Rights’ is highly philosophical, but also quite dark and, at times, graphic. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Guest Blogger Matt Carter Talks About the Creative Process

Hello dear readers, Matt Carter of the team of F.J.R. Titchenell & Matt Carter here today promoting the release of our book The Prospero Chronicles: Splinters. It’s got monsters and small towns and scares and teenagers fighting the forces of darkness, so a little something for everyone you might say (though no kittens, which might turn some readers off, but given the nature of the story I imagine you’ll be glad that’s the case).

My illustrious host Carol Ann Kauffman has invited me here to talk about, well, pretty much anything I want today. Giving me carte blanche to talk about anything is a dangerous prospect as my mind is a cluttered, oft creepy place full of cobwebs and shiny things and scary clowns hanging from the rafters looking to drop down upon careless passersby, so I think I’ll just go for one of her suggested topics instead and talk today about my take on the creative process!

It all starts with an idea.

I know, terribly original, but I’m an idea guy, so this is my usual launching point. It could be something as simple as “today, I think I’ll do a scifi story” or as elaborate as “today I’m going to write a story about a mistyped cell phone button that unleashes an apocalypse of flesh-eating smartphones”, but it always starts in some place like that. Usually, since I’ve already got a story in the works, these ideas don’t really go anywhere, or go in my massive pile of “stories I’d love to write eventually”, but in the event I’ve got nothing going on or nothing in said pile is looking great or I don’t have a new idea and something from the pile looks awesome, the idea moves to the next stage of the creative process: development.

It’s at this point that I just kind of sit on the idea thinking about what kind of story I can pull out of it. I like to look at similar stories that other people have done and try to figure out how to do something new with it, which usually involves having to tap into that never-endless pool of crazy in the back of my mind to try to do something really weird with it. From there I try to think of a few really cool scenes I’d love to see in a story like this, be they powerful or just over the top and awesome. I figure out where they have to go, and then start to work on the connective tissue that will hold them together. Then I work on the connective tissue that holds that connective tissue together into an outline, and usually find a pretty good story out of it from there.

And usually around this point I start to work on characters, figuring out who I need to make what I want to happen in the story (unless of course the story was based around them in the first place, which is always kinda 50/50 for me).

And I imagine right around this point a lot of you are thinking, “Wow, he really sounds like one of those soulless Hollywood hacks who values spectacle over character, I should read no further!” And in a lot of ways you’d be justified in thinking that, but hold on for just a moment while I do my best to try to win you back.

First off, yeah, I know it sounds a lot like the model that’s become problematic in modern Hollywood, and a lot of that comes from the fact that I was raised on equal parts movies and books and learned a lot about how to tell stories from both of them. I’m a very visual writer, and I really like painting vivid scenes for the readers.

Here’s where I start to break away from the summer blockbuster approach. When I start to figure out just what characters I need for a story, I work on them intensely, trying to figure out who they are, what they want, how to make them believable and real (or unreal as the story would demand), just why they would do what was needed for the story, and how they all fit in together. I won’t have characters do something just because the plot demands them to, I don’t like making characters jump through hoops just to have them jump through hoops, but if I can come up with a believable and in character reason for just why they had to jump through that hoop, then I’m having a good day.

I look at the creative process like putting together a puzzle. Before I get started, I like to know what the big picture is, so I have to look at the picture on the box. Then I like to put together the edges, the framework of the story, before filling in the middle to create the satisfying whole. It’s a fun process, and I hope it makes for some equally fun reads.