Sunday, June 9, 2013

interview with J. Aleksandr Wootton

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Welcome all. Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing J. Aleksandr Wootton, author of Her Unwelcome Inheritance.

Hi Mr. Wootton, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hello! Call me Jack. I'm a folklore professor at Lightfoot College and a literature enthusiast. I've been called a bookworm, which makes sense if by 'worm' you mean 'dragon' – I hoard books in shelves and spare rooms and like to sleep surrounded by them, like Smaug on his pile of treasure.
So, what have you written?
Quite a lot! Her Unwelcome Inheritance is the big thing going right now – it's been out since August 2012 and we're due for a sequel shortly.
My recent essay On the Unsuitability of Fairytales for Children has been very popular on DeviantArt and elsewhere (you can Google it easily).
And of course there's my blog,, where I post poetry, short fiction, and various writing scraps.
Where can we buy or see them?
A lot of my writing is available for free through my blog. Her Unwelcome Inheritance can be had on your computer, tablet, or ereader for $3USD in Nook and Kindle formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It's also coming out soon for iBooks, Smashwords and a number of other digital formats – even audio!
The best way to keep up with all that is through my official author page, There you'll always be able to find direct links to buy my books wherever they are sold. Plus, you can sign up for my email list to be notified when I come out with something new.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special?
Petra Godfellow, the protagonist of Her Unwelcome Inheritance, would like to be just your average highschool grad heading off to college – but the exiled Fayborn won't let her.
They believe she's descended from Robin Goodfellow, heiress to the legendary Puck legacy... and if she bows the knee to James Oberon, true-blooded successor to the throne of Faerie, he can use her homage to forge a spell restoring his shattered kingdom.
There's just one catch: if she does, she becomes James Oberon's sworn servant. Forever.
Petra doesn't know any of this, though. She doesn't want to know. And no matter who tries to warn her about it – her aunt, her godfather, her university professor – all she wants is to have a good start to her four years at Lightfoot College.
She's sure there's a more rational explanation for James Oberon's ongoing harassment of her family, convinced that the increasingly... uncanny... abduction attempts her friends have so far defended her from are not as extraordinary as they seem. James Oberon and his right-hand man Wormsworth might be crazy, but they certainly aren't fairies. And neither is she. The very idea is ridiculous, impossible.

What are you working on at the minute?
I've got a number of projects nearly completed, a few of them coming out later in 2013. I expect to release The Eighth Square, sequel to Her Unwelcome Inheritance, before summers' end. Forgetting, a collection of original poetry, is finished and ready for release in the fall. I'm also in the very early planning stages of a nonfiction project for students and their parents, to be called [How To] Go to College at 16: An Unconventional Guide to Coming Out Ahead Despite the American Educational Meltdown.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I decided to try writing my first novel at the ripe old age of 8, and I've been at it ever since.
Why do you write?
A large part of my motivation is to somehow pay tribute to books I've loved reading. While I've never enjoyed writing (or reading) fan fiction, I love clever allusions and new imaginings of great stories – it's like meeting old friends in unexpected places for new adventures. Her Unwelcome Inheritance is thick with references to many of my favorite stories and full of disguised-yet-familiar characters.
The other big reason I write is simply the challenge of spinning out my thoughts onto the page, the nervous thrill of putting them where others can read and react to them. There is nothing quite like having another person thank me for articulating a thought, a feeling, an experience they had had themselves, only they hadn't the time or the patience or the words to express it.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
The realization that if I didn't start, I wouldn't finish; and if I didn't finish, I would never know whether I had made something good and true and worth making; and if I didn't find out whether I could make something good and true and worth making, I would never improve.
And if I never improved, I would never make something good and true and worth making.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Full-time since February 2012. I wrote part-time on various schedules for about fifteen years prior to that.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Mornings, first thing, are best for me. As the day goes on, my to-do lists come crowding around and I find it harder to focus.
Do you write every day, 5 days a week or ...?
Every day. You never know when you'll have a day when the words won't come.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
I try to write one chapter or short section per day – typically two to five pages, or about one to three thousand words. My goal is to visualize one whole scene or argument, see it through to the end, and stop. “Slow and steady wins the race!” said the tortoise to the hare.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I've never enjoyed working on a typewriter. I use a computer (custom-built desktop, with a full-size bamboo keyboard!) for long projects, but I tend to write poetry and notes on mini legal pads. 
Where do your ideas come from?
Someone once told me that a writer is only as good as the writers he reads. That's true for both style and material – great ideas beget more great ideas, or at least more good ones.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
For short projects, or in the very early stages where I don't know where something will go yet, I like to just see where it takes me. For longer projects I use a pretty rigorous outlining method I got from Ian Caldwell, co-author of The Rule of Four. He recommended summarizing your story in about five paragraphs. Then you elaborate on and expand each of those paragraphs into a one-to-three page synopsis. Then you further elaborate each of those pages into an additional three to five pages. This time you include excerpts – scenes, bits of dialogue, specific descriptions – that have occurred to you along the way.
Now you've got a really thorough synopsis, probably between 20 and 50 pages long. Your story and characters are fully described. Along the way you've encountered – and devised solutions for – all of your plot holes and story hiccups. It can take awhile (months even) but with that foundation laid, once you begin actually writing your book develops very quickly.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
The stuff I was writing in high school and early undergraduate was pretty juvenile in terms of plot and character development – my stories tended to be a series of “cool scenes” strung together, with little going on to move the characters around or the story forward.
The big thing for me in the past decade has been theme and motive, the spirit and power behind a good story. Understanding and working with those concepts have also led me to be able to write short fiction and poetry, two genres I couldn't really enter before, as well as given me a much greater appreciation of good storytelling in books, movies, tv, etc.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
All of it. Or none of it. Writing is the hardest thing about writing.
Diligence is the hardest thing about writing.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Controlling my excitement so as not to get ahead of myself!
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Wanting to write. No effort required there at all.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
About one month for every 10,000 words of first draft, if I'm allowed to focus. Depending on my early reviewers' and editors' feedback, getting from first draft to final version might take an additional two to five months. Not counting outlining, that is.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Not really. I do get it sometimes when working on longer projects, like novels, and I've realized that it's almost always a sign that there's a problem with my outline.
Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
On the macro level, write about things you care about. If you can't always pick your own projects, find some reason to care about the project you've been assigned.
On the micro level, detach yourself for a few minutes. Walk around the room, look out the window, walk around the building, run an errand, exercise. Do something physical. Then come back and resume staring at the page.
 Whatever you do, DON'T look at cat videos. Don't even open a web browser, or your email.

If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about it?
It is and it isn't – it's more like one very long book that's been split up into three volumes of more manageable size. Her Unwelcome Inheritance ends on a cliffhanger; The Eighth Square picks up exactly where it left off, and the third book, A First or Final Mischief, will carry on exactly from the point at which the second one stops. So really, once they are all out, you will be able to read from the first straight through to the third and it will feel like one story.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
Of course! My Goodreads page is full of my favorites ( High on my list of favorites would be Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Peter S. Beagle, and Neil Gaiman.
Who designed your book cover/s?
Jill. (Sorry, that's all I'm allowed to say!)
Do you think that the cover plays an important part in the buying process?
I'm sure it does – otherwise there wouldn't be a proverb instructing us not to judge books by them! We're actually in the processing of redesigning the Her Unwelcome Inheritance cover art to make it clearer that HUI is a fantasy novel.
How are you publishing this book and why?
For the moment it's all indie, all digital. Once the three books are done I'll be on the lookout for an agent and a traditional publisher.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
Self-publishing gives the author a lot more control, obviously, and a bigger cut of the sales. On the other hand, your work doesn't automatically get the professional editing help that can turn a good story idea into a good book – you have to arrange for that yourself. Also you have to do all of your own marketing when you self-publish, so your book doesn't get the kind of jump-start a traditional publisher can give it.
Of course, there's no guarantee of success in either route. If you've written a good story, you have to just put it out there and hope that it gets noticed. Word of mouth is the only thing that really sells books, no matter how they're published.
How do you market your books?
Mostly by being active on social media – Facebook, Book Blogs, Goodreads and DeviantArt are my main focus. I'm exploring a lot of other routes as well. It seems like every other week someone recommends a new service or website, and I haven't had time to take advantage of them all yet. When I do, I plan to put a “what worked, what didn't” write-up on my blog.
Why did you choose this route?
Digital self-publishing has a much faster turnaround than traditional print publishing. It gave me the opportunity to put my work out there and see what people thought of it, to build up a fan base, before my stories go to print. It seemed like a logical first step now that I'm writing full-time.
Would you or do you use a PR agency?
I don't currently, but I'm open to the idea.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Definitely. Follow my blog to get the whole scoop! Or contact me through any of the sites listed below.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
None. I've discovered that I can't work on a long creative project at the same time that I'm marketing a finished one. They're too different – the type of brainwaves needed for marketing cancel out the type needed for writing, and vice versa. So I go back and forth, doing my marketing in between writing projects or while I'm waiting for feedback on early drafts.

What do you do to get book reviews?
Hang out on Book Blogs and Goodreads and email reviewers whose work I like and who I think might be interested in my book based on the kinds of books they've written about already.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
Decent – over half the reviewers I've contacted so far have asked for my book. I'm still waiting on a few reviews from bloggers who received Her Unwelcome Inheritance last year, but that's okay!
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
If the review is honest, then it's a good review as far as I'm concerned. Not everyone who thinks they're going to like a book does, and that's just life. Negative feedback can still help me become a better writer and storyteller. I can turn any honest, well-explained criticism into constructive criticism for future work.
Which social network worked best for you?
Goodreads and DeviantArt are probably my biggest networks right now, especially for connecting with people that I haven't met in real life. Networks like Facebook and Google+ are great for reaching out to people you know, but not so good at connecting you to strangers who share your interests. 
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
Traditional publishers are going to catch on to the fact that they need to change the way they think about ebooks and the independent ebook equation. Once that happens, traditional publishers will probably start using self-publishing as a vetting process to discover new talent. (That's already started happening, here and there, but soon it will become the rule rather than the exception). So publishing is never going to go back to the way it was, but the big publishing companies aren't going to let themselves become obsolete, either.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Wil Wheaton's Law (“don't be a dick”) is a good place to start; never disobey it, in any context, for any reason, ever. Be friendly; be courteous.
Next, add in some wisdom from New Economy marketing guru Seth Godin: “Don't wait to be picked. Pick yourself.” (from Stop Stealing Dreams). The Internet is a big place. No-one's gonna find you out there if you don't do some hand-waving.
Lastly, from Jeph Jacques, one of the world's few full-time webcomic creators: “I strongly believe that the Internet is a meritocracy, and that if you do good work you will eventually be recognized for it.” There's debate about whether or not the Internet is a “true” meritocracy, but the fact remains if your work is not good nobody's gonna tell their friends to read it.
So do good work. Put yourself out there. And be nice about it. That can take you pretty far.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
  1. Write.
  2. Read what good writers write; read what good writers write about writing.
  3. Write more.


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