(Full disclosure, and all that legal stuff: Cyrus Keith is a friend of mine, and I work as an editor at MuseItUp Publishing.)
Could you tell us a little bit about your novel?
When TV reporter Nadia Velasquez wakes up from a 3-year coma, she is haunted by memories that have nothing to do with the life she's rebuilt. When she decides to investigate, everyone she knows turns into deadly enemies. The only person she can trust is a rogue FBI agent with a disturbing connection to her past. Can they discover together the secret purpose of her existence and save the lives of millions?
What is your favorite writing technique?
Wow, that's a hard one to answer. For a lack of technical knowledge of the art, I'll put it simply: I take a blank screen and black out anything that doesn't look like the story I want to tell.
Can you tell us about your creative process?
My brain won't shut up, for one thing. All day long at work (I do really have a day job…I think), these snippets and lines and situations just float into my head: What if this, what about that. I take notes and stick them in a file, including just great titles that I want to use later. I may not use them, but they are there if I do.
Mostly, I start out with a page or two. I don't worry about prose or anything, I just want to start working with an idea. If it grows legs, I keep working with it to get a general outline. Then I start plugging in characters and dialogue, and finish out the plot and story line. I have to know where I'm going, or I tend to just ramble, especially if I'm trying to fold intricate or multiple plots. Sometimes a plot element or character will just stray from the narrow. I let them do what they want to do for a while, and if it makes the story better, I keep it. One scene in particular I thought was going to be the end of the story, but something exploded into my brain at the last second, and it took off into another direction altogether.
THEN, after I get a few chapters down the road, I start posting it on a critique site that I use. I let my critique partners and beta readers chew it to bits, and get their input. I make changes as necessary, and sometimes I get awesome suggestions that I have to use, and it rocks the story.
Then I edit it about a half dozen times, and let it sit before I edit it again. After that, I read it to see if it's ready to submit to my publisher.
It's not easy, but then again, I never do anything the easy way.
What makes sci-fi a great genre?
The gloves are off in science fiction. Whatever you can imagine, you can put into a sci-fi or fantasy novel. As long as it's consistent within itself and stays within the bounds of plausible credibility, almost anything goes. Now, you have to remember that "plausible credibility" thing, or you just make your readers' eyes glaze over. It's one thing to write a slam-bang vicious tale of suspense and technology, and it's another to churn out 300 pages of optically-administered sleeping pills.
Do you have any suggestions for writers who are just starting out?
Oh, loads. But I'll keep it short:
1. Don't try to publish a series right off the bat. Or, if you really enjoy the taste of failure, go ahead. It'll make your day. No, seriously, most paying publishers are not willing to gamble on an incomplete story from an untried author. It's very poor business, and the risk isn't worth it for them. Make your first project a stand-alone story with all the ends neatly wrapped up.
2. Develop a tough skin. Learn how to say, "Thank you, sir; may I have another?" Seriously, take input from critique partners and beta readers. I know they just told you that you have an ugly baby. But you did ask for their opinion. I've seen so many new authors take offense when I offer honest feedback, and they get discouraged and quit. If you get upset when a crit partner offers suggestions, how are you going to react when your contract is on the line and your editor demands a change to a weak area of your manuscript? A writer is a writer because he's too stubborn to quit, and too tough not to learn something new.
3. Do your research. The information you need is out there, if you start looking, and it's not that hard to find. Each publisher or agent has his or her own requirements for formatting. Give them what they want. They didn't ask you to submit your work, so you don't have the option of taking shortcuts by giving them anything more, or less, than what they are asking for.
Hey, for me, that was a short answer.
Thanks for stopping by, Cyrus! Writing can be a lonely job - it's pretty much just you and your creative dream - but learning from fellow writers can make that job much easier.
Learn more about Becoming Nadia, due for release April 1, 2011.