Interview: Steve Umstead

What words can accurately portray the honor and privilege it is to have a friend so encouraging and supportive as Steve Umstead?  Without the perfect words, how do I go about writing an introduction for an interview I was lucky enough to host?  This task has left me an author without words.  What an embarrassment! So, on with the interview…

How do you consume your caffeine?

Minimum two large cups of coffee in the morning. However I have been known to dip into the two ounce goodness known as 5 Hour Energy, especially in the early evening with a long night ahead.

5 Hour Energy rocks, though I’m quite confused by their Decaf option.  I’ll never understand that one! 

The obligatory question for any author.  What are you currently reading?

I’m just getting to the end of the second book in Allen Schatz’s Marshall Connors series, 7th Inning Death. The first, Game 7 Dead Ball, was excellent, and the follow up is just as good. Goes to show the quality a self-published author can put out there. And fortunately enough, there’s a third after this one.

I have yet to read Schatz series to compare to your standard, but I think it’s safe to say that your work is another example of the quality of a self-published author.

Since you’re a SciFi author, I must ask you, Blade Runner or Alien?

Ooh, good one. Two very different, yet very awesome movies. I’ll go with Alien – Blade Runner is a little too dystopian for my taste (I’m more of an optimist about the future…then again, a deadly alien isn’t exactly positive!)

No, it’s not.  But it makes for a good movie!  A little change in pace.  You are six years old and your first grade teacher asks you, “Steve, what do you want to be when you grow up?”  How do you answer?

At six, it was definitely an astronaut. It was still the era of the early space age, and what kid wouldn’t have wanted that as a job?

That doesn’t at all surprise me!  Another crazy question.  If you were an animal, which would you be?

A parweasel. Hey, it’s a made up animal, but it makes an appearance in Gabriel’s Return, and is downright wicked…

I love it!  I should have known.  Okay, one last random question before we get into some more about you as an author.  What is your favorite word?

I guess I’ll go with “cripes”, as it’s a frustration word that’s clean around my kids. I still picture Jim Carey in Dumb & Dumber when he locks his wallet in the newspaper vending machine and looks through the glass, saying “Criiiiiipes!”

I have a friend who says “Macaroni and Cheese” when she’s frustrated.  I must say, I prefer “cripes” as a swear word! 

Now down to business. If you could choose, past or present, who would be your mentor?  What questions would you ask?

Oh my, what I wouldn’t give to sit down with Arthur C. Clarke for a few hours. His vision of the future, from way back when, and how most of it came to be, and his ideas for the more distant future, would be the start of endless questions.

Sounds like you would need some 5 Hour Energy for what would have been an epic conversation! 

When did you first start writing?

Technically, the first fiction story I can remember was when I was 13 (just before high school), and I wrote a science fiction team-action type of story for fun. If I recall correctly, I never really finished it…and I really wish I still had a copy of it.

That’s the worst.  I wish I still has some of my early writings as well. But you’ve come a long way since the unfinished writings of a 13 year old.  You’ve now independently published two books, Gabriel’s Return and Gabriel’s Redemption.  Which was your favorite scene to write?

I mentioned in another interview a scene I wrote in Gabriel’s Return where I described the inner workings of a liquid explosive and gave the device an almost human quality, and that was enjoyable. But one of the most fun was a battle scene, hand to hand combat, with two quite large soldiers. Bodies being thrown through furniture, battle armor being cracked and twisted, and harsh dialogue. That was in Gabriel’s Redemption, and it was an easy write!

How much of the story did you know before you sat down to write?  Did you have a careful plan or let the story develop beneath your typing fingers?

With Gabriel’s Redemption, the story came out of a scene (Chapter 1 as it turns out) I had in my head for many years. When I sat down to outline the story, it all came out of that scene, and because it was NaNoWriMo, I had a fairly detailed outline chapter by chapter to give me a daily writing plan. With Gabriel’s Return, I knew the overall story and most of the scenes, but didn’t use an outline (honestly I didn’t think I needed it…mistake.) I’m an outliner, I’ve found out. I need that prompt each day to know what scene I’m going to write.

I still haven’t figured out which works best for me.  Both have their benefits.  Where did you find the inspiration for your characters?

I’ve been a fan of action and science fiction for a long time, and although I’ve never had the honor of serving in the military, I’m in awe of their commitment and training, so I tend to draw strong characters from those sources.

I know that your son has published a short story.  What was that like when he first told you that he was writing to publish?       

Absolutely thrilling. I know it was because he saw I was able to do it, and he’s truly a gifted young writer, so I was all for it. And it was very exciting when he did publish. He’s gotten very busy with high school now (freshman this year) so he hasn’t been able to get back to the next story, but he talks about it a lot and I’m sure it’s around the corner.

I can’t even fathom the joy that brings you! 

What advice or encouragement could you offer to new or unpublished authors?

Write, write, write. Keep writing. You’ll get better as you go, and you’ll have more works to get into the readers’ hands. Don’t write one and spend every waking moment trying to push it.

I believe I’ve heard that from you a time or two!  Always so supportive!  Is there anything specific you would like to tell your readers?

Don’t go it alone. Find yourself fellow writers. It’s an amazing group of supportive people!

I couldn’t agree with you more!  Last question. What’s next in the pipeline?  Anything details you can share?

Gabriel’s Revenge is under way, with a projected publishing date of in and around mid-December. I’m doing my best to have the complete trilogy available for the holiday season. After that, I’ve got a little time travel/alien invasion story bouncing around in my head I may give a whirl…

Sounds awesome!  I can’t wait.  Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.  It’s been a joy.

Check out the hyperlinks above to find Steve’s books on amazon, or visit his website at http://steveumstead.com/

Thanks for stopping by!  For  your chance to win a free copy of either of Steve’s books, leave a comment below.  Two will be chosen at random!

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Published in: on 10.13.2011 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Smaller, Obtainable Goals

It seems like it was just yesterday when school was wrapping up for the year and I was making big summer plans.  Big plans.  I was going to read a book a week.  Write a blog in the same amount of time as well.  That’s not to mention all the domestic goals that I had. Oh yeah, and write a novel. You might be inclined to question my progress, though I recommend that you don’t.   Towards such goals, my progress has been limited!

In the seven weeks of summer, I have read six books (not as bad as I thought) though only one of them was indie.  Shame on me.  But I’ve only penned one blog—this is my second.  Domestic goals are looking even worse.  And that novel?  Nothing to report there.

But when I step back and look at my summer, I’m not seeing the deficits between my accomplishments and my goals.  Instead, I find that I focus on the experiences I had.  Tragedy struck my family a little over a month ago, followed by weeks of unplanned and unexpected activities.  Two trips back to Cincinnati, my nieces visit for a week, and my husband surgery all detracted from what was supposed to be  a summer of nothing but reading and writing and relaxing.  The tragedy aside, I wouldn’t trade in any of the unexpected activities of the summer!  It’s been a great time.

However, now I’m sitting here feeling the pressure once again of elapsed time between writing sessions.  Three weeks left before schools starts, and the novel I dreamed of finishing in one summer has hardly started.   A small sense of disappointment settled in when I realized that perhaps my goal is no longer obtainable unless I plan on spending it entirely in front of my computer.

A novel, I understand, is forged through hours spent writing.  And even more spent imagining, developing, and exploring the story within the mind.  It’s a commitment, and one that I am willing and ready to make.  I have a wonderful (I’m a bit biased maybe) story that I’m excited to share with the world, and it’s one just itching to be told.  I have no qualms that I can complete my story, committing to it isn’t the issue.  My hesitation, and the birth of my disappointment, is in the timeframe that I had set for myself.

I recognized a couple of days ago how limited my summer free time had become.  Resigning to the realization that making any sort of progress towards my novel was out of reach, I toyed with the idea of abandoning my writing goals for the summer completely.  I had a hard time seeing past the final goal of the novel, unable to break the task down at all.  And if I can reach my final goal, then why try, right?

It took the encouragement of a good friend to realize just how WRONG I was.    I had mentioned to him that I had three more weeks of summer and planned on getting some writing and editing completed in the time (hopefully).  To which, he responded, of course, I could get a lot done.  And then, I’m sure without even realizing just what he was doing, he did what I couldn’t do before.  He broke down my larger goal into smaller, obtainable goals.

“Think of it this way,” he said.  “My chapters came in just over 2K words or so.  Write a chapter a day, one scene each day, and in 3 weeks, you could have 42,000 words written.  And when you think about it, completely doable.  Two hours a day, 1K words/hour… Poof, done.”

Poof!  So simple.  Knowing me, I want to give myself a bit of leeway.  So a new goal immerged.  Two thousand words a day, 6 days a week, for three weeks.  That is 36,000 words before school starts.  A decent start to a novel!  It’s not my whole novel in the summer, but if I’d focused on that goal from the start, I would have missed out on SeaWorld with my nieces, Cheesecake Factory with the family, and relaxing and recovering with the hubby.

36,000 words and lots of memories seems like a pretty successful summer to me!  Now to make it happen!

Published in: on 07.24.2011 at 1:05 pm  Comments (4)  

The Fear of an Aspiring Author

For several weeks, I nursed the ideas of a certain story.  Considering traits of my heroine.  Aspects of the story.  And finally, it all came together as the potential for a solid piece.  In my excitement of the birth of this brain child, I divulged some of the details of the plot line and characters to help hash out the details in the infrastructure of the soon to be trilogy.  I then set out on the daunting task of the back story in my first ever short story (to be released in mid June).

I went to see a friend the other night who is one of few who is privy to details about the novel which I am intending to write.  She has read aspects of the short story and understands basics of how it’s going to play into the full novel later.  When we were chatting, she asked if I was still intending to write the novels, citing that she thought I had a really interesting story to tell.  She was eager to see how it all plays out.

That got me thinking today.  I’ve really been procrastinating when it comes to actually putting my thoughts down on the proverbial paper.  My story is safe in my mind.  Free from criticism.  Free to be.  I feel inadequate to write it down, feeling that it holds so much depth and promise.  What if I don’t have what it takes to tell the story with the rich detail it deserves?  In a way, I feel a responsibility to my characters and the whole world of Cherished.  A responsibility not to fail.  I’m undeserving of the role I have assumed as their creator.  Undeserving and incompetent.

But, in reality, if I don’t tell the story, who will?

As I was sitting here today, considering those first, hardest words, I realized that my tight clutch and fear are really, actually, very selfish of me.  Do I mean to say that I think Cherished is going to be the next Harry Potter?  Do I expect any true monetary success from my writing?  Not really.  Allow me a moment to explain my claim.

Even if I do prove incompetent to tell the story that’s been haunting my waking hours, at least it’s still told.  Edits, re-edits, and beta-readers can help me shape it into the story that I envision it to be.  But if the story is never told, then it’s never given a chance.  It’s never given a chance to be enjoyed by another reader.  Never given a chance to develop.

I am realistic in my expectations of Cherished’s final development.  I understand that I probably won’t be the next Amanda Hawking or Stephanie Meyers.  But as an aspiring author, my hope is that just one person read my story and truly enjoy it.  I mean, one person curls up on the couch; kindle in hand, wrapped in a warm blanket and just gets lost in the world.  And truth be told, that ideal reader, that one person that I so long to please, is myself!

How self-righteous, right?  But seriously, how can I fail at telling a story when my goal is to write a story that I, myself, would enjoy?  If other’s read Cherished and find joy, that’s an added bonus, and one that I hope may become true.  But not my goal.  So my selfishness in holding onto my story, never letting it take shape and life, afraid that it may not meet critic’s standards.  That selfishness, is nothing more than excuse.  An excuse not to try.  And an excuse behind which I will no longer hide.  I have spent too many hours making excuses rather than find reasons to write.  That ends!

The only way I can fail Cherished is to not write it.  And that’s not an option!

Published in: on 06.11.2011 at 5:48 pm  Comments (8)  

Aint Nothing To It…

What a writing weekend. It’s been so amazing. School is finished (doing celebration dance as I type) and I was able to really focus on my short story writing. It didn’t come easily after so many weeks of not writing. I struggled with my words and sentence structures. My characters have such a great story to tell, but it was locked in my brain unwilling to come out as eloquently as they desired. (Any hear the quote about writing being a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia?  I’m starting to understand that!)  After many typed and deleted sentences, I finally decided that the best thing to do is write it down. Whatever it was, get it onto the proverbial paper and call it a rough rough draft. So that’s what I did. And (another victory dance) I have finished my first rough draft of my novella.

What a great personal accomplish.  What a great experience.  It has taught me a great lesson about the craft.  It’s an easy one.  As Aj say, “There ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”  While I was wrapping up school, I made a ton of excuses as to why I couldn’t write.  I needed to work on school (valid as it was), I only had a few minutes I should use to relax.  As the weeks past by, my hesitation to write was less based in excuses and more founded in fears.  What if I forgot my characters?  What if they wouldn’t tell their story any longer?  I had spent so much time getting to know them in the first place, and the less time that I spent with them, the harder it was to come back to them.

But when I finally did sit down to write again, I found the story was still there. There perfect words were not.  They are still trapped inside a vault in the back of the my mind waiting to be rediscovered, but my characters could still tell their story, and quite well, I just let them.

Like any craft, writing takes continual practice.  Without it, my writing muscle in the brain atrophied and my vocabulary was elementary, my descriptions weak and cliche.  I didn’t like much of what I wrote.  But I still like the story.  I found it in my slab of marble, my sculpture to be discovered.  It has taken a rough shape with blunt tools.  Now, I will let it rest as I practice the finer skills of writing to return to it later.  Add the detail it deserves and polish for others to enjoy.

I can’t wait!

Published in: on 05.30.2011 at 5:27 pm  Comments (6)  

Destructive Punishments

As a student teacher there are several things that I see in the parents of today that really bother me. Without having any children of my own, though, there isn’t much that I’m qualified to judge. But there is one issue that I see repeated that really gets under my skin.

From what I can gather, it is to be expected that children will make mistakes, make messes and get into trouble. That’s part of being a kid, and it’s part of parenting to apply appropriate consequence. My question, then, is this.

Why do so many parents punish their children by making them read books?

Allow me a moment to remove any enjoyable factor from reading, and let’s just look at it purely from the academic standpoint.  If you make reading a punishment, then aren’t you just teaching your students that learning is also a punishment?  That school is a punishment?  What if you want to bake a cake?  You have to read the directions there.  So isn’t that also a punishment by extension?

Beyond the academics, though, there is world of wizards, wimpy kids, and cats in hats.  A world of far away lands, and some closer by.  Dinosaurs, fish, and I spy.  Books hold so many joys and excitement.  Thrills, danger, and laughter.  There is so much to explore and experience in books.  So much that I want to give to my children, all made possible by the shelves and shelves of beautifully bound colorful pages holding wonders of the world.

But when I have a student who cries when I hand him a book, or another who asks me why I’m mad at him if I ask him to read, my heart breaks for all the experiences lost to those children.  They see books as an evil created to punish them for mouthing off, hitting their sister, or doing nothing.  Book have lost all their excitement to these children.  They hold no wonder, nothing enjoyable.  Just punishment.

What a painful and destructive punishment.

I am trying to wrap my mind around this.  Why would a parent choose reading as a punishment?  Do they see it as a way to impart academics in down time?  I mean, I guess I can make sense of this logic, except that punishment is not a time to learn about wizards, vampires, and one fish, two fish.  Punishment is a time to reflect on poor choices and bad behaviors.  For me, punishment as a child meant the bathtub.  No water.  No toys.  Nothing to do.  But think.  Think about why I shouldn’t bite the babysitter or tell lies.  It destroyed my good times.  Destroyed my afternoons.  But it did not destroy my passion of discovery of new worlds, new ideas, and exciting rides.

The long term effects of using something so academically, socially, and imaginatively beneficial for children as a punishment is devastating.  I just can’t comprehend it.  If I’m missing something, please, let me know!

Published in: on 05.08.2011 at 7:46 pm  Leave a Comment