Tag Archives: science fiction

Author Interview: Stephen Hall

If Matthew Reilly (who writes all those fast-paced adventure novels) and Douglas Adams (who wrote The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) had a love-child… well, that’d be really weird. Not to mention impossible. But if they DID, that love-child might write a little bit like Stephen Hall. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Hello, I’m Stephen Hall. I’m a writer and actor, a father to one daughter, a husband to one woman, and a meal ticket to one Staffordshire Terrier. I have one sister and no parents. For the past four decades or so, I’ve mostly been trying to make people laugh.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve always loved entertaining people, telling stories. I suppose the first professional writing I did was writing my own standup comedy material, which I started performing a week before my 18th birthday.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I was first officially employed as a writer in 1996 – with a contract and everything – when I got a gig writing gags and sketches for the Australian TV sketch comedy show Full Frontal.
FUN FACT: That’s where Eric Bana got his start!

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

I’d love to, Wendy! Symphony Under Siege is a rollicking sci-fi comedy adventure set 512 years in the future. On a Thursday morning. It tells the story of the 5-star luxury space cruise liner the Symphony of the Stars, as it’s raided by desperate space pirates in search of the secret fabulous treasure hidden somewhere on board. This playground for the ultra-rich now becomes a battleground for the two crews, as their two headstrong captains circle ever closer to their fateful showdown.

Did I mention one of the cruise ship’s crew is a serial killer? That’s just one more thing the cruise ship captain (highly-decorated ex-navy Captain Diana Singh) has to contend with.

The story’s fast pace is a product of its serialized beginnings, with chapter after chapter of cliffhangers, daring escapes, twists and turns and there’s-no-way-they-could-have-survived-that! moments…..
Oh, and I’ve tried to put in a lot of gags, too.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’d wanted to write a novel for ages. As my 50th birthday approached, I bit the bullet and vowed to finally DO IT before I turned 51. I told my wife and daughter, then I devised a framework to hold me accountable; releasing one chapter online every week, for 52 weeks. Those 52 mini-deadlines were exactly the motivation I needed to stick to it, and get that first draft done. I’m happy to report I met them all, and the original serialised version of the novel is still online, right here: http://www.thestephenhall.com/novel-chapters/

And I always knew that I’d be self-publishing it. I was confident I could do that part of the process, because I’d done it with my previous (non-fiction) book How To Win Game Shows.

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

When I started writing it, I didn’t have a title in mind; I just trusted that one would present itself to me… Then, as I neared the end of the writing process (and I knew what the story actually was) I came up with a shortlist of three potential titles, and ran a survey! I asked my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to vote for one of the three options, and Symphony Under Siege won hands down. So Symphony Under Siege it was.
And is.

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

I don’t know about a message, as such – this is just a rollicking, escapist adventure. It has virtually nothing to do with life on earth in 2021. There’s nothing in it to remind you
of our global pandemic,
of our seemingly endless lockdowns,
of the continuing harmful – and sadly, successful – spread of misinformation, ignorance, arrogance and fear,
of the continuing global climate emergency or
of all the petty things that divide humanity being exaggerated and incited by The Powers That Be to overwhelm all the beautiful things that unite us.

Not referencing any of that – or even hinting at any of it – in the book is all deliberate on my part… perhaps that’s as much of a message as anything.

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

I wish! No, this is all just invented adventure… probably born of being such a Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Star Trek fan, and all those old Saturday afternoon matinee serials I’ve watched as well.

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

Terry Pratchett, Ursula LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim Winton, and Robert Louis Stevenson are some whose work I really enjoy. I tend to enjoy speculative, imaginative fiction with a sense of humour on the slightly dry side. And Dickens – how could I forget Charles Dickens?! When it comes to serialised novels, Charles Dickens wrote the book.
(In regular monthly instalments, you understand…)

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

Oh, I think Douglas Adams was pretty brilliant, wasn’t he? That mix of wacky, brilliant sci-fi concepts and laugh-out-loud (and very British) comedy gets me every time.

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

The cover was designed by a Venezuelan studio called The Kicke Studio. I found them on Fiverr, after commissioning concept sketches from 5 or 6 other artists. I knew I wanted the image to feature my luxury space cruise liner at the moment just before the pirate attack. Although I’d described the ships’ appearances in the novel, I’d only done a few rough sketches of what I thought they might look like. I hired a number of artists to design the two ships based on my descriptions and sketches, and I instantly fell in love with what The Kicke Studio submitted. I’m really happy with the cover they painted for me, and I look forward to teaming up with them again for the sequel!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

A writer writes. Don’t wait for the muse to strike – just write something, anything! The worst thing you did write is always better than the best thing you didn’t write. Remind yourself what fun writing can be – what fun writing should be!

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

Yes. Thank you for reading this far.


Stephen Hall
Melbourne, Victoria (Australia)

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Symphony Under Siege

Cover Artist: The Kicke Studio

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Welcome back to No Wasted Ink’s top-ten articles about writing with a science fiction and fantasy bent. This week I found many great articles for you to review. Enjoy!


Search Engine Optimization for Novelists

Multiverses in Science Fiction

Guaranteed Success Strategy!

A Checklist for In-Person Book Events

Two Important Points for Writers

The Log-Line: Can You Pitch Your ENTIRE Story in ONE Sentence?

How Can Writers Make Description Evocative?

Writing Neurodivergent Characters in Fantasy

How Much Do I Need To Describe My Character’s Appearance?

The 411 on Writing Retreats

The Planets – Finalist for Elgin Award

The Planets is a 2021 Finalist for the Elgin Award for Best Speculative Poetry Book of the Year.

The Planets: a scifaiku poetry collection is a literary journey through our solar system featuring poems inspired by the nine planets. All the scifaiku and astropoetry is meant to inspire you to seek out and learn more about the history of human’s exploration and the physical characteristics of the these fascinating worlds.

The Elgin voting season is about to close. If you are a voting member of the SFPA, I hope you’ll consider The Planets when you are making your final considerations for the Elgin.

Currently, Wendy Van Camp is composing a new astropoetry scifaiku book called Time and Space. She hopes to have it published in Spring of 2022. Look for it and for The Planets on Amazon.

Author Interview: PJ Manney

When I asked PJ Manney to describe herself as a writer, she said, “I’m a human sponge, and culture and SF geek. Everything is connected and I’ll show you the network.” Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.

PJ Manney wrote the bestselling and P.K. Dick Award nominated novel, (R)EVOLUTION (2015, 47North) in the Phoenix Horizon trilogy with, (ID)ENTITY (2017), and (CON)SCIENCE, (2021). A former chairperson of Humanity+, she authored “Yucky Gets Yummy: How Speculative Fiction Creates Society“​ and “Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy,”​ foundational works on the neuropsychology of empathy and future media. Manney consults and lectures for organizations about the future of technology and humanity. She was a teleplay writer (Hercules–The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, numerous TV pilot scripts) and film executive. Manney has two children, lives with her husband in Southern California and is a dual citizen of the US and New Zealand.

When and why did you begin writing?

My husband and I went to New Zealand in 1993, so he could produce five TV movies based on Hercules. I had just left running one production company and was negotiating to run another. But I didn’t want to be away from my husband for 9 months, so I put the job search on hold and joined him in Auckland. I was so bored doing nothing, I thought I’d write a spec feature length script to pass the days. For thirty years, I had believed the lies told by my teachers who mistrusted my dyslexia, and my producers who believed that production executives didn’t have what it took to be writers. My spec was good enough for me to pitch the executive producer in charge of the new episodic TV series in the works, Hercules—The Legendary Journeys, then Xena: Warrior Princess. We were in New Zealand for seven years and had two children there.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I considered myself a screenwriter after my first sale to Hercules—The Legendary Journeys. I considered myself a novelist after selling (R)EVOLUTION. I considered myself a short story writer after selling “Ours” to the ghost story anthology, December Tales. Even though writing is what makes one a writer, I like a pro sale to feel like I’ve earned the moniker. But that’s just me.

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

(CON)SCIENCE is the third book in the Phoenix Horizon trilogy. Five years ago, bioengineer Peter Bernhardt spearheaded an innovation in nanotechnology that changed the course of evolution. Until everything was taken from him—his research, the people he loved, and finally his life. Uploaded as an artificial intelligence, Peter is alive again thanks to a critical reactivation by fellow AI Carter Potsdam.

But a third sentient computer program, Major Tom, is tearing the United States apart, destroying its leaders and its cities. Major Tom’s mission: rebuild a new America from the ruins and reign as uncontested monarch. Carter knows that only a revolutionary like Peter can reverse the damage to a country set on fire.

Caught in a virtual world between an alleged ally and an enemy, pieces of Peter’s former self remain: the need for vengeance, empathy for the subjugated people of a derelict world, and doubt in everything he’s been led to believe. To rescue what’s left, he’ll need to once again advance the notion of evolution and to expand the meaning of being human—by saving humanity.

What inspired you to write this book?

I love American history, having been an American Studies major in college. I love futurism, where I watch trends in society and culture and figure out the possible futures that may occur. And I love neuroscience. I taught myself neuroscience to imagine the possible brain-computer interface technologies (BCIs) in the novels. They must be good enough, because at least one major BCI company has replicated them. Imagining how a person would change with an implanted BCI, then change again as a digital personality is the best fun ever.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I think my style changes with the story told and the point of view. In the Phoenix Horizon trilogy, it’s close third person in the mind of a scientist, but as the protagonist shifts personality, the writing does, too. “Ours” is a story told by three ghost children as a collective entity. But I have techniques that are consistent story to story, including how I brainstorm, structure and write all over the place, in layers. I call it sedimentary writing, as I lay down the different layer details at different times.

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

My first editor at 47North, Jason Kirk, came up with (R)EVOLUTION. I took the format of parentheses as a starting point, and added one letter more to inside the parenthesis to indicate the number of the book in the series: (R), (ID), (CON). Then I had fun coming up with words that were thematically correct and could exist on their own inside, outside, and separate of the parentheses. Each title has several meanings or thematic references. I think it worked.

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

Change happens. Technology advances. We can’t stop it, nor should we. Technology is morally neutral. What matters are the choices we, as a society, make for its use. And we have a voice in those decisions if we chose to say it.

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

The series protagonist cognates, memorizes and problem-solves through music. My daughter does this. I find her brain so interesting, I created a hero/anti-hero based on it. And several characters are based on or are composites of people I know. I’ve made a lot of parents happy by making their adult children fictional doctors, lawyers and Wolfesque ‘masters of the universe.’

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

Alexander Dumas inspired all three books with The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask respectively. Dumas was a magnificent storyteller, and especially in The Count of Monte Cristo, the political technothriller writer of his time, as the Count uses early 19th Century technologies to foil his enemies.

Mary Shelley is my compass, always pointing the way. From Frankenstein, depicting the OG scientifically-created human, to The Last Man, with its deep contemplation of what makes human beings necessary, she asked the hardest questions as the first science fiction author. We still ask the same questions today.

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

Two writers mentored and helped me over the last several years. Joe Quirk picked me up and dusted me off when I had given up on an early draft of (R)EVOLUTION that was a disaster. He focused on solutions and gave me the best notes a writer could ask for, because they worked. I learned so much from him as a first-time novelist. Cat Rambo came into my life when I needed her most. I had writers block and took Eileen Gunn’s excellent writer’s block class at Clarion West online. At the end, she said we should join Cat Rambo’s daily co-writing group and continue with classes at The Rambo Academy. I did both. They allowed me to finish (CON)SCIENCE and take it to publication, as well as teach me how to write short stories, leading to “Ours.” I’m a lucky writer to have such mentors and friends.

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

I told 47North that I wanted covers that were the 21st Century version of the surreal, psychedelic SFF covers I loved as a child in the 1970s. Jason Kirk and I searched the web for a great artist and found Adam Martinakis. We adore him and his three-dimensional, CGI surrealist style. They speak to the drama and individual conflicts of each book. (R)EVOLUTION depicts the painful emergence of a new kind of human. (ID)ENTITY refers to the fracturing of identity in artificial human intelligences and the different bodies they inhabit. (CON)SCIENCE references how many iterations of a single mind can occur when digital entities exist. The images were perfect.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write. Don’t give up. I imagined the seed of an idea in 1993 that became (R)EVOLUTION, published in 2015. During that time, I wrote for television, ghostwrote for movies, published my first academic journal article, consulted as a futurist, helped run a PTA, reorganized and accelerated STEM classes in our schools, raised two children, cared for six parents, and had my own health crises. I have dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia, as well as late-discovered ADHD. In theory, I should be the last person writing anything. But it turns out that dyslexics are unusually good storytellers, but we’re only learning that now. Against conventional wisdom, I do the thing I was told never to do. You can, too.

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

Don’t be afraid of the future. We are all more resilient and powerful than we think. We can make a better world together, if we want one.


PJ Manney
Orange County, CA

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(CON)SCIENCE


Cover Artist: Adam Martinakis
Publisher: 47North at Amazon Publishing

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Author Interview: Maurice X Alvarez

Author Maurice X Alvarez writes what he loves to read. He tries to make his stories much more fun that the real world. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Hi, there. My name is Maurice, and I live in New Jersey with my wonderful wife, author Ande Li, two great kids, a dog and a parakeet. I grew up in NYC, and still consider myself a New Yorker at heart.
I’m an avid cyclist, finding the activity and the exploring of new places cathartic after a long week of work.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since I was around ten years old. I was fortunate to have family that encouraged my writing, including a cousin whose feedback proved invaluable at that early age.

I’m often asked about “when” I began writing, but seldom “why”. I was inspired by films like Star Wars, The Monster Club and Xanadu. They made me dream things I’d never dreamed before, and opened my mind to the kinds of places I wanted to explore and people to learn more about.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

There’s nothing more convincing than that first time you hold a printed copy of your book in your hands. That was January of 2011 for me. But I’d suspected I was a writer long before that, probably in high school when I found myself writing a number of sequels to a short story I’d written in 8th grade. One of them required me to do some research on travel to Africa and diamond mining. That’s when things got real.

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

“Return to Averia” is the first book of a trilogy called “The Trouble With Thieves”. It falls under portal fiction, a subgenre of sci-fi/fantasy I learned about recently.

It’s a lighthearted story of a thief from a distant world and two young women from Earth who are drawn into the adventure of their lives as they hunt down a borderline sociopath with delusions of grandeur. How’s that for a one-liner?

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration came from a drawing my wife created one day. As I sat there admiring the drawing, a friend happened to peer over my shoulder and mused, “I wonder what the story is behind that!” I’ll never forget those words. He made me realize that I wondered what the story was too! Within a few hours, I had the character names, the epilogue and a basic plot.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’ve heared others refer to my writing style as “seat of my pants”. I know some authors create outlines and have other elaborate methods for their writing. And perhaps some of that goes on in my head, but I definitely don’t engage in anything so formal. My characters lead the way most of the time, and they get themselves in and out of situations, often to my surprise.

Aside from that, I write the way books I have enjoyed are written: easy to read and focused on characters that change and grow from their experiences.

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

Each book in the trilogy contains the name of a planet within that book. “Return to Averia” is actually the second time one of the characters goes to that planet. The backstory of their first trip to Averia became so rich that it evolved into a forthcoming prequel story.

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

That’s a tough one! I would have to say it is to look past small issues and just enjoy life. Like us, the characters each start out with a personal struggle that they bring to their relationships with each other and with others. The adventure in “Return to Averia” begins putting things into perspective for them. And that growth progesses throughout the trilogy.

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

There are so many! Issac Asimov, Larry Niven, Stephen Donaldson, Jack Chalker, Edgar Rice Burroughs… the list goes on. Their characterizations and worldbuilding skills were true inspirations. And with authors like ERB and Doc Smith, it’s more about the whimsical nature of the stories; you can just zip through them, losing yourself completely but without feeling like you’ve read a deep work of literature.

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

The original artwork on which the cover is based was my wife’s doing. There’s a pencil-version of that image which I converted into a 3D graphic for use as the cover. I’ve always been partial to the pulp paperback book covers of the ’60s and ’70, and this was my attempt to mimic their style. Though I did change the title about a year ago when books two and three were released, in order to get a consistent look across the series.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Two things:

Prepare yourself to receive a lot of feedback. Some will be good and some bad; that’s just the way it is. But you will have to learn how to deal with it. Just don’t let it get you down. Read it, ignore it for a day or two and let your chemistry settle down, then read it again and see what you think of it then.

Whether you’re new at it, or it’s old hat, you can always learn something from other writers. This is especially true for us, the self-published. Ours is an ever-evolving world, and it helps to stay on top of the latest trends.

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

Whether it’s my book or someone else’s, have fun reading!


Maurice X. Alvarez
Florham Park, NJ

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Return to Averia

Cover Artist: Ande Li
Publisher: Room 808 Press

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