Author Interview: Eli Nixon

I asked Eli how he would describe himself as a writer and he replied: I like to make bad things happen to good characters, and I like to do it in places that don’t exist in this world. Sounds like a science fiction writer to me! Please welcome Eli Nixon to No Wasted Ink.

Author Eli NixonWell, my name is Eli Nixon. I live in North Carolina with my wife and five-year-old daughter and a dog and the world’s smallest flock of one chicken (that nobody can seem to find) and a garden that somehow grows rocks and I love all of it. I spent a few years in Costa Rica pretending to learn Spanish while actually learning how to surf. I try to keep things simple, and as a result there’s not a lot to me. My joy comes from the little things I have and, of course, writing.

When and why did you begin writing?

When I was a kid I’d always scribble down these little stories, and I was a ravenous reader, so I think it’s always sort of been there, just waiting for me to acknowledge it. I actually began trying to make money writing as a copywriter for website content. I was working in a call center at the time, hated it, and had a ton of free time, so I started doing that in the evenings. I think it was about a month later that I quit the call center and started writing full time. Not fiction, right, but sales material and product descriptions. But I think that paved the way for getting back into my childhood fantasies of fiction.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I stopped writing copy, ha ha. I think it was when I first self-published a collection of short stories on Amazon (under a pseudonym, of course. Nobody was ever going to know I wrote that). But the first sale of that Kindle book sort of drove it home: I can do this. I’d called myself a writer before that whenever someone asked the ubiquitous “So, what do you do?” but after that I sort of believed it myself. It was slow going, but now I’m working Son of Tesla, the first book in a trilogy about Nikola Tesla returning from another dimension to enslave humanity, and although my ideas haven’t gotten any better, I feel better about referring to myself as a writer.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

It’s a futuristic story about a drug addict in a world where a plague killed all the animals about a decade previously. He goes outside one morning, and there’s a parrot on his front porch. It tells him he’s going to die unless he kills a specific list of people. It’s called Pretty Bird.

What inspired you to write this book?

I walked out my front door one day and thought, what if all the animals were gone, and there was a parrot here telling me I was about to die? That’s essentially it.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’ll admit to being sort of a leech. The writing style of whatever I happen to be reading at the time tends to seep into my writing. I can’t give any specific examples for Pretty Bird, but for a portion of the novel I’m writing now, Son of Tesla, I was reading Kathy Reichs’s Bones to Ashes. Her writing style is often short and punctuated, and some of that got into the middle chapters of Tesla.

Other than that, I’m a sucker for poetic prose, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole, for better or for worse (i.e. “The sun hung over the horizon like a bruised tangerine, limp and cheerless.”). It doesn’t always work, but I like writing it, and I’ll probably stick with it for awhile. So if you’re planning to read my books, sorry in advance.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

For awhile the working title was simply “Parrot.” A lot of the other story elements came about during the writing process, and at some point the phrase “pretty bird” popped into my head. It’s a cheery phrase, and I went with it as a title because it belied the rather dark atmosphere of the story and, along with the cover design, it gave a hint of some plot elements without giving away anything terribly important. I wanted it to be a title (and cover) that you could look at after finishing the story and going “Ah, well that makes sense now.” Whether or not that worked, I can’t say.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Don’t do drugs, ha ha. No, I think if there was a single message, it would be to be careful with technology. The story’s not anti-tech, because I feel that technological advancements are very important to our culture, but just to consider the possibilities of what any given technology can achieve. If it helps sick people, gives a cancer patient more opportunities for treatment, awesome. If it dampens the spirit of a person or population or even an animal, just be aware that it can do that. Don’t stop creating it, but be careful with it. Nuclear technology is probably one of the most important achievements we’ve made the past century, but it’s also mind-numbingly tragic when used as a weapon. I say understand the bad because that’s the only way you can avoid it. That’s one of the big themes in Son of Tesla, too.

I also don’t like anonymity in corporations, but that’s just a small part of the story.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

I think everything is. No, I’ve never been a drug addict in the future who has to kill people because a parrot told him to. But locations, sure. Mannerisms, yes. Descriptions of characters? Absolutely. Some are amalgamations, some I’ll just pull up a photo of someone I know and describe them. If my friends ever knew I was watching the way they stuck out their tongue a little when they were thinking, or sort of scrunched their nose sideways, or put a certain inflection in the way they said “dinner,” I think they’d lynch me in the town square.

A good example of this is Lazarus, a character in Pretty Bird. He has a very distinct way of talking. I got that from a friend I’ve known since elementary school, and he has no idea. Nothing else about Lazarus mirrors this guy, but all of his dialogue comes out the way I think I’d transcribe this friend talking about his day at work. It’s…sneaky, sure, but there’s inspiration all around you if you want to be the asshole that finds it.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Life? Jack Kerouac (not a good thing), Hunter Thompson (arguably a worse thing), and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The first two lived their lives with pure, unrestrained freedom, and while I haven’t necessarily followed the specifics of what they did, I try to live each day with that encompassing sense of moving forward. There’s always something new; life is short, and I don’t want to sit in a rocker on my front porch and watch it drive by.

As for the third, the Sherlock Holmes stories force you to look past the obvious for the subtle details. That’s never a bad habit, writer or not.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Well, Stephen King’s On Writing was a huge inspiration for me to start writing fiction again, but I’ve never met a writer in real life, so I can’t say I’ve had a mentor, per se. I’d say that the books I grew up on as a kid – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Tom Sawyer by the incomparable Twain, and a neverending supply of Stephen King novels filched from my big brother’s room – shaped my fascination with what could be done with the written word. These guys took something that every child learns in school, grammar, spelling, punctuation, they took these tools and they used them to craft stories and characters that can never die. Except the Stephen King ones, where most of the characters seem to die in the first few chapters.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I designed it myself for the dual reason that A) I have a fatal attraction to doing everything myself, and B) I can’t afford a designer or illustrator anyway, so that was just how it had to be. The weird thing is, I made the cover before I knew how the story was going to progress, and some of the random design elements I chose ended up in the story. You never know what’s going to get you there.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Think about the “what if’s.” If you’re writing a sci-fi novel, or a horror novel, or adventure or romance or anything besides literary fiction, chances are what happens to your characters isn’t something that’s ever happened to you. The exception to that may be romance, but I skimmed my wife’s copy of 50 Shade of Grey and I have my doubts, Ms. James.

And when I say the “what if’s,” I mean what could happen? There are opportunities for that every day. If you’re driving to the store for a gallon of milk and you see a stray dog beside the road, hey, what if that dog lives its life running in front of cars to cause accidents because it feeds on death? What if you stopped, brought it home, and suddenly everything you ever wanted started happening to you? It’s about seeing something different in what’s in front of you. So many of my stories have started with that simple question: What if this happened?

Besides that, I’ll just echo King: Read, read, and read. Never stop reading. And don’t start drinking until you’ve written at least 500 words.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, just stick those fingers on a keyboard, close Facebook, and string some words into a sentence. Then string those sentences into a paragraph, then a chapter, and before you know it, those tiny, insignificant words are going to become a book. Maybe the book sucks. That’s okay. Write another one. Each time, it’ll get better.

Book Cover Pretty BirdEli Nixon
Mocksville, North Carolina

Pretty Bird

AMAZON

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

writers-linksWelcome back to another Monday filled with writing related links. There are some interesting ones this week. A comparison of Tolkien’s time in battle during the world war and his descriptions of the battle of five armies in The Hobbit, the benefits of writing longhand and several on general writing techniques. I hope you find the articles to be useful and entertaining.

Some Tips for Aspiring Authors by Carol Browne

7 Fun Facts About Isaac Asimov

A bit on Literary Techniques

9 Things You Need To Know About Review Swaps

3 Secrets of Writing Longhand

The Hobbit: Real life battles that inspired wars of Middle Earth

How are eBook Covers Designed Today?

How to Integrate Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus with MS Word for Free

essay: On the Art of Poetry

See How Easily You Can Track Your Character’s Emotional Arc in a Scene

Book Review: Nine Princes In Amber

Book Name: Nine Princes in Amber
Author: Roger Zelazny
First Published: 1970

Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio, the son of of Polish immigrant. He had a typical childhood and showed an early interest in writing. In 1955 he earned a B.A. in English from Western Reserve University and went on to earn an M.A. in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama from Columbia University in 1959. After graduation, he worked for the Social Security Administration by day and wrote science fiction by night. Zelazny wrote short stories at first, progressed to novellas and finally moved on to novel-length works. In 1969 he quit his day job and became a full time writer. Zelazny was an active member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. He was also a member of the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guild of America (SAGA), a group of heroic fantasy authors from the 1960s, much of their work was published in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords! Anthologies.

Zelazny was married Sharon Steberl in 1964 and later they divorced. Two years later he married Judith Callahan. They had two sons and a daughter. The author died of cancer in 1995, at the age of 58.

While Zelazny is best known for his Chronicles of Amber series, of which Nine Princes in Amber is the first book, he has won 6 Hugo Awards, 3 Nebula Awards, 2 Locus Awards, 2 Seiun Awards, 2 Balrog Awards and 1 Prix Tour-Apollo Award. Many years, Zelazny’s work competed with each other for the same award.

In 2010, Roger Zelazny was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.” -Roger Zelazy from Nine Princes in Amber

Nine Princes in Amber begins when Carl Corey wakes up in a hospital and has no idea how he arrived or even who he is. He is suspicious of the circumstances of his stay and escapes the room, only to learn that he is recovering from a car accident and his hospital care is being paid for by his sister.

When Carl flees the hospital, he goes to his sister’s house, wishing to learn more about his unknown identity. There he is called Corwin and his sister refers to herself as Flora. In Flora’s library, Corwin finds a set of customized Tarot cards, the trumps of the Major Arcana are all replaced with portraits of members of his family. There are nine brothers, including Corwin and four sisters. While at Flora’s house, his younger brother Random contacts him on the phone. When Random arrives, he is being chased by strange humanoid creatures, which are defeated in concert by Corwin, Flora and Random. Corwin realizes that strange forces are at work that have little to do with how he thinks Earth should be.

Random asks Corwin if he is going to return to Amber and offers to “hellride” with him there. As the two brothers travel, Random subtly shifts the world around him using an innate ability that fascinates his elder brother. They arrive in Amber, a place of sublime beauty and order from which the entire universe takes its form.

In Amber they meet with another of their brothers, Julian. They battle and Corwin manages to unhorse Julian from his steed and take him prisoner. Corwin is learning that the nine princes of Amber are all at battle because their father has been missing for centuries and is presumed dead. When one of Corwin’s sisters arrives, fleeing from yet another brother named Eric, Corwin is moved to confess to Deirdre about his amnesia. Deirdre tells Corwin of the Pattern, from where the power of the royal family to manipulate worlds springs from. It is Deirdre’s opinion that if Corwin “walks the pattern” again, it would restore his memory.

Corwin, Random and Deirdre leave Amber and travel to a nearby reflection world called Rebma. It is an underwater city and ruled by their sister Moire. Since Rebma is close to the original Amber, it also contains a near perfect reflection of the Pattern. Moire grants Corwin permission to walk the Pattern because she believes that the three of them will support her in the defeat of Eric, their brother who holds the royal castle in Amber and is amassing a huge army. There is a price: Random must stay behind in Rebma and marry a blind girl named Vialle. Corwin walks the Pattern and his memory is indeed restored. He is a true prince of Amber and remembers a long life of centuries along with the powers which the Pattern give him: the power to walk through “shadow” and to pronounce a curse before dying. Walking the Pattern also grants him the power to project himself through space and he does so, going to the Castle of Amber where he finds a safe location to rest and think about what he has learned.

In the castle, Corwin searches the library and finds another pack of Trumps, tarot like cards that allow him to create shortcuts through “shadow” and travel to other worlds. He now knows how to use them. Corwin is discovered by Eric and they duel. Corwin doesn’t fair well in the battle and he uses the Trumps to escape.

Corwin begins to use the Trumps to contact his siblings. He makes deals with the various princes of Amber, learning who is aligned with whom and gaining an understanding of where he stands in the royal intrigue. His car accident was no accident after all, but part of the intrigue for the throne of Amber. He joins forces with his brother Bleys and together they command a navy to take Amber from Eric. In the end, Corwin and Bleys are not successful. Bleys falls over a cliff and Corwin is captured and thrown in chains. Eric sentences his defeated brother to be imprisoned and his eyes burned out. Eric crowns himself King of the one true world.

Corwin endures years in prison, blind and helpless. Although he is visited by occasional friends, no one can help him due to their fear of King Eric. As time goes by, Corwin’s eyes begin to regenerate and he begins a futile escape attempt with the use of a spoon. It is during this time, that the former keeper of the Pattern, appears out of nowhere. Dworkin Barimen is insane and has been imprisoned for a long time. He explains that he has come to Corwin by drawing a picture on his own dungeon wall, creating a Trump to travel. Corwin asks Dworkin to draw a picture of the Lighthouse of Cabra, a place he considers a safe haven. Once Dworkin completes the drawing, Corwin projects himself out of prison.

Roger Zelazny has been one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors. Nine Princes in Amber was my introduction to his work, but it certainly wasn’t the last book of his that I read. One of the common themes of his writing is that there exists an infinite number of worlds and that every world that can be imagined must exist somewhere. The powerful characters in his books usually have the ability to travel to these different worlds in some manner. The idea that the characters are never sure if they are creating these special places or are simply finding them is the metaphysical question that they ask themselves and never quite answer.

Sometimes his stories are pure fantasy, and others they combine science fiction and fantasy together. Either way, a Zelazny novel was always something unique and wonderful to read. I highly recommend the Chronicles of Amber. The books might be a bit old, but they hold up well and are still an entertaining read.

Nine Princes in Amber Book Cover


The Chronicles of Amber:

The first five novels feature Corwin, Prince of Amber.

1970 Nine Princes in Amber
1972 The Guns of Avalon
1975 Sign of the Unicorn
1976 The Hand of Oberon
1978 The Courts of Chaos

The next five novels feature Merlin, Corwin’s son.

1985 Trumps of Doom – Locus Fantasy Award winner, 1986
1986 Blood of Amber – Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 1987
1987 Sign of Chaos – Locus Fantasy Award nominee, 1988
1989 Knight of Shadows
1991 Prince of Chaos

Zelazny also wrote seven short stories set in Amber. The last five of these stories form one tale set after Prince of Chaos, the final novel.

2005 “A Secret of Amber”
1985 “Prolog to Trumps of Doom”
1994 “The Salesman’s Tale”
1995 “Blue Horse, Dancing Mountains”
1994 “The Shroudling and The Guisel”
1995 “Coming to a Cord”
1996 “Hall of Mirrors”

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

writers-linksNo Wasted Ink proudly presents another Monday filled with articles about the writing process. I hope you enjoy my hand picked list of links! Enjoy.

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What It Really Takes to Be an Artist

21 Women Writers From Before 1500 That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

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Guest Post: How Far Do You Stretch It? by Raymond Bolton

Fantasy Ship

Raymond Bolton is an up and coming Fantasy Writer who has been gracious enough to grant No Wasted Ink an interview about his new book Awakenings. I’ve asked Raymond to return and give us his thoughts on writing in the fantasy genre.

One of the more important tasks of writing fantasy is that of world building, in other words, helping the reader see those elements of the story’s setting that have heretofore existed only in the author’s imagination. Dropping the reader into this world, if properly executed, becomes an immersion process and the reader soon finds himself at home in an unfamiliar universe. When the author fails at this—and there are many ways to fall short—she leaves the reader hovering outside the story, viewing everything as a spectator rather than as a participant.

Recently, I was talking to two individuals who were considering a maiden fantasy project. They were debating about how bizarre they should make their world. They wanted to create fantastic creatures doing unsettling things and speaking in an unearthly manner to the point nothing would remain recognizable. I disagreed with their intended approach.

Clearly, the point of fantasy is to remove the reader from his every day world and transport him to a place he’s never been. Whether the intent of the author is merely to provide an adventure into places unknown, or to provoke questions about the “reality” the reader confronts daily via contrast with this super normal world, the story’s other-worldly setting provides a dreamscape on which to hang the content. And while dreams are part of our everyday existence—the flip side of our waking life—I cautioned against crafting a world so far removed from what the reader is accustomed unless they possessed the story telling mastery of, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

They complained that I was suggesting they stifle the creative process and one of them cited an obscure work where he felt this had been done successfully. In turn, I argued it was probably one of the reasons the work he cited was obscure and suggested they consider how masters of the genre deal with this issue.
Anne McCafferey’s Dragonriders of Pern is a story of knights errant, familiar in most regards except for the fact that her knights ride dragons instead of horses. While J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gollum is far from human, the creature is the embodiment of all human failings and the world he inhabits, while very alien to the one we in which we abide, is nonetheless a land where men go to war and gather in inns to escape the night’s perils. When Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan emerge from the wardrobe into C. S. Lewis’s Narnia, they do step into a land dominated by animals and monsters, but the conflicts are nonetheless familiar. Even when Lewis Carol drops Alice through a rabbit hole into a world so surreal it is best depicted visually in a Disney cartoon, the royalty and other institutions he parodied are at once recognizable.

The question then becomes, for whom do you write? If it is only yourself or perhaps a few others, then discard convention to your heart’s content. If, on the other hand, you want to entice as many as possible into the world you create, then you will have to draw a balance between the unworldly and the familiar.
I am of the opinion that depicting the surreal is best handled by placing it in a recognizable context. The contrast thus created amplifies the difference. Paint the sky green and hang two suns in it, if you will—I do—but rather than labor to point out the incredible, handling the unbelievable as if it were to be expected is subtler and won’t alienate the audience. In fact, if the writer’s primary purpose is to entertain, he should endeavor to make the read as effortless as possible. Many readers balk when they have to work too hard to understand what the author has created.

The masters achieve their goal by relating the other-worldly as an everyday experience. Let the protagonist, rather than the reader, protest any departure from reality, as Richard Mayhew does, in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, when he demands to have his life back, or as Alice does when she argues with the Mad Hatter. After all, the fantastic is less the point of the tale than the context in which the underlying story is set.

Author Raymond BoltonRaymond’s goal is to craft gripping stories about the human condition, whether they are set here or another world. He has written award-winning poetry and four novels. Two are explorations in fantasy: Awakening, an epic, released in January, 2014, and Thought Gazer, an adventure and first volume of a prequel trilogy, which will be released on January 1, 2015. Under its working title, Renunciation, Awakening was one of eight finalists among 950 entries from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Europe and Australia in the Pacific Northwest Writers Associations Literary Contest. Hailed on BookViral.com as “a grand debut… [that] breathes originality into the genre”, Awakening has received almost all five star reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads.

Awakening 4x6-seal-Amazon ThoughtGazer 4x6

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