Getting to know... S.J. Cairns

 

Not all Canadians are all about hockey pucks and maple syrup, eh! Some, like my good friend S.J. Cairns, are a little more mysterious, with a fondness for magic, growly music and smoosh-faced pug dogs.

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Sami-Jo recently released the third book of her SOUL SEER CHRONICLES - “DIVISION” - and is currently working hard on the rest of the series. I asked nicely if she’d give me a few moments of her time to answer a few questions and against her better judgment she agreed. lol

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Me: Hi, Sami-Jo! waves You were one of the unfortunate authors who lost some ground when Booktrope went under. After that disappointment, why did you choose to wait to be signed by Oghma, rather than go the self-publishing route?

SJ: Yes! The fall of Booktrope was shitacular for me as it came 5 days after my first ever book release. Just the luck. However, I had a finished product and could self-publish it immediately as the rights reverted to me. The simplest answer as to why I didn’t continue in the self-publishing world is that I can’t afford it. Things like editing and book covers cost big bucks and I would never expect people to work for free or for “exposure”. Nah son. I don’t play like that. I signed with Oghma Creative Media because I heard great things from authors I knew who worked with them and Casey – Head Honcho – has a soft heart for those like me who have been let down by the publishing world. Oghma Creative Media is a mid-size press and takes care of all the monetary struggles allowing me to publish a book every 9 months. Not something my bank would allow me to do on my own. The bonus is they operate as a family and care about authors. Many of whom I got to meet at their annual retreat.

Me: Outside of your friends and family, who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

SJ: Other authors? Hard to pin down just one as there’s so many with works I’ve fallen in love with over the years. Many help with a kick in the ass when I need it. And some days, I REALLY need it. It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a band of misfit writers and creatives to raise an author.

Me: Magic is an important element in your series. How long has that subject interested you?

SJ: I wish I knew. I wasn’t raised in a family of Magics nor did I have a wayward quasi-aunt to lure me into the dark and arcane. I’ve always fantasized about a world with magic and been drawn to the darker elements of life in general. I think it developed from finding stories with a basis in magic and falling in love with it. And not necessarily from books. TV and movies probably made a big impact as well, though I was an imaginative kid who grew to be a teenager who stole my mother’s books.

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Me: Was it important to you to base your story in your own neck of the woods?

SJ: I don’t know if it was important or just organic to write about cities I grew up in. When the idea for the Soul Seer Chronicles hit me one night – literally out of nowhere – I was in the building I write about across from a large inner-city park. It developed from there by a neophyte writer without a plan, writing skills, or traditional schooling in English lit.

Me: This book is book 3 in your series. Who is your favorite character and who is someone that you’re looking forward to introducing in future installments?

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SJ: Oooh! Such a tough one. Without spoilers for those who haven’t the rest of the books, Aunt Lacey is pretty damn cool since she has the whole immortal, all-knowing leader vibe, but so far my fav is Donovan. He’s fully fleshed out in my mind with a heavy background, a bleak outlook on life, and an arrogance of someone who knows what to expect from everyone he meets. Or almost everyone. He’s a perfect example of the potential someone can reach when given a chance beyond the shitty hand they were given.

As for future characters, that’s easy. Vincent. Oh, Vincent. He’s my favourite character over the entirety of the seasons and is introduced in Book 4. Everything about him is intriguing to me. A Magic of great experience and wisdom with flaws of the everyday person. The depths of his secrets and vulnerabilities make me giddy. I want to explore the nooks and crannies of his brain and display for the world!

Me: What keeps you motivated through the lengthy process of writing and editing a series of several books?

SJ: For the writing part, always wanting to know more keeps me going. I prefer to read series so writing them comes naturally. I can’t remember the last time I bought a standalone novel. Always wanting more. As for editing, not wanting to be a shitty writer keeps me going. Learning the ways of good authors before me and keeping things fresh is the goal. Whether or not I hit the target is a question for me readers. Deadlines also help. I hate being late to anything and missing a deadline makes me feel like a fraud of an author.

Me: What has been the best thing about becoming a published author?

SJ: I would say the other writers I’ve met, but you can be a writer and never be published. Once published, not much changed besides people asking about my books and me stumbling over concise and compelling answers to goad them into buying it. Knowing others have glimpsed the story that popped out of nowhere and could potentially fall in love with it in the manner I have is exciting. It’s another way to connect with others. For an introvert like myself, it’s as bold as I get.

Me: Social media has become a major part of reaching out to one’s fans. What is your favorite platform and why?

SJ: Facebook connects me to those I know in the real world, though also introduced me to writers since no one I knew spoke of writing as a love or a serious career. The ones I met helped me make further connections which led to getting published. They’ve become acquaintances and grew into friends, many of which I’ve met in real life and connect with daily. Without them, I would be less of a writer, author, and person.

Me: If you could offer younger Sami-Jo some writing advice, what would you tell her?

SJ: If I could go back to 2009 to when I started writing this series, I would tell myself

1: To start writing in 1 st person point of view instead of 3 rd so I could save myself the aggravation of changing it later.

2: To worry less about how the reader will perceive my writing and just write.

3: To have the confidence to think big. Big dreams mean big work and a lot of extroverting. Not my strong suit, though I still need to say “Yes” more and worry about the execution of the task when it comes to pass.

Thanks to Sami-Jo for stopping by to talk for a wee while. Please check out Sami-Jo’s books on Amazon and follow her on Facebook. Press the buttons to be “magically” transported…ahem :)

Until next time.

~ G

Where we ignore 2018 and look ahead to 2019

2018 - a year in review… Meh.

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Okay, it wasn’t stellar. I did finish a book, but it’s not yet fit to publish. So, that goes into turnaround as I work on the second book of my mystery/thriller series about Doyle Godwin. The tentative plan is to actually write two Doyle books in 2019, but let’s just see how the first one goes.

What else?

I am going to be re-doing the covers for the books I’ve already released. One of the countless difficulties in marketing a book is creating a cover that meets the criteria of the genre you’ve written. And then, you have to make sure it looks professional and eye-catching enough that people won’t just scroll past/walk past it. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many similar looking covers out there, this is why. People demand originality, but if you wrap it in something they don’t recognize, they turn their noses up at it. I don’t know why this is, but I guess this is why advertising people make so much money as they do their Pied Piper routine and lead us a merry dance. My original covers weren’t awful, but “Monsters” was rushed and the execution could’ve been much better. I love the cover for my Dynamo book, but people aren’t paying any attention to it, so it means I’m going to try something different.

And?

Jeez, well, I’m going to a two-day summit in Chicago in May, hoping to learn how to “sell more books”. This, after all, is the name of the game. The landscape changes so quickly for Indie authors, I’m hoping to pick up some useful tips to help me when I start cranking out more books. The most important part of selling books is to have books to sell, and I’ve been remiss in my writing duties over the past few years. That has to pick up if I stand a chance of making a nickel out of this line of work.

And don’t be mistaken, this is not just a hobby for me, even though I do have to write in my spare time. I don’t see myself ever making enough money to retire from my current bill-paying job, but it would be nice if I could.

Anything else to declare?

Nope. That’s about it. I’ve got to lose a ton of weight and make better use of my time in general throughout the year. And, of course, I’m looking forward to seeing Avengers: Endgame in April. lol. Perhaps not the loftiest goals, but I’ve got to start somewhere. If I can get two books written next year, it will have been a successful year for me. And I’ve always got the second Dynamo City book to clean up and get out into the world too, so perhaps there will be a few things to look forward to in 2019.

Happy New Year to you all. Lang may yer lum reek!



GSY

Excelsior

Stan Lee passed away on the 12th of November. He’d had a good innings and, it’s fair to say, he was remembered well by comic book fans, the comic book companies, and the people behind the movie behemoth that spawned from many of his creations. I too doffed my cap to him, whilst recognizing that he wasn’t alone building the Marvel Universe.

I’m too young to have been collecting comics when Stan was writing them, but old enough to remember “Stan’s Soapbox” and his position of figurehead of the comic book brand I have favored for more than two thirds of my life. I can’t say I was ever directly influenced by Stan’s work, but I was influenced by creators only one or two steps removed from Stan.

If you talk to me for more than five minutes, I’m bound to mention I’m a comic book fan. Luckily for me, my friends were too, and it’s from this mutual love of comic books, and their larger than life stories, that the world of Dynamo City was created. What started off as a roleplaying game -

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- based off the Marvel Superheroes RPG - morphed into something better. We created a new world, new characters, and story after story, producing many hours of fun. From there, we wrote actual stories to fill in the history of the people and the places, and it’s from those early stories that my second novel was born.

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“The Wolves of Dynamo” is a celebration of the world created by three imaginative, and dorky, boys: Alan wrote darker things, his love of Batman, Daredevil, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Excalibur influenced the beginnings of Dynamo City and the core of the mythos behind it. Andrew loved Iron Man, back before Iron Man was everyone’s darling, and the characters he created reflected the intelligence and tech know-how he enjoyed. He bridged more modern ideas with very down to earth sensibilities. The character of Jeff Langford, the Everyman, is also basically Andrew… with millions of extra dollars. Meanwhile, I leaned heavily into wide-eyed wonder, and tended, surprisingly, to create more fantastical elements, tapping into my love of fairytales, science fiction, and magic. Of course, as Dynamo coalesced and grew, the lines between our ideas and stories became blurred as we influenced one another.

The world of Dynamo is enormous. It spawned over one hundred roleplays, which then spawned offshoots: Dynamo Tales; Connery, King & Lees, Network, and even our very own space-centric ideas…a la Star Trek. So, Dynamo grew from a city to a State, to a world, to Otherworlds and the only thing that stopped it was… real life.

The boys grew up and scattered to the four corners of the globe and left behind a catalog of fascinating characters and wonderful stories. It bothered me that we had created so much and now the ideas just sat gathering dust in ring binders. So, we started writing stories based on the characters and ideas we’d created. When this too ground to a halt, I was beginning to make plans to take this writing I was doing and turn it into something I could hold in my hands. I had an idea separate from Dynamo which turned into my novel “Monsters” and after self-publishing it, I got the sparkle in my eye to have another go at Dynamo.

Andrew rarely writes anymore but gave his blessing for Dynamo to continue in novel form. Alan, meanwhile, continues to write, and will hopefully serve up some “Dynamo Tales” as the series of stories progresses. Until then, you should check out his novel The Cold Handshake. A novel in the style of an old school pulp noir.

For now, I have to get back to my thriller/mystery series with Doyle Godwin, but I fully expect to return to Dynamo soon.

So, while I wasn’t directly influenced by Stan, I believe I’m a writer today because of my love of comic books. I enjoyed the X-Men and Avengers - team books - the most, because of the group dynamics, and it’s why I enjoy writing Dynamo with its eclectic cast of characters. The themes featured throughout comic books like X-Men, were also instrumental in me creating a character like Doyle Godwin: an outcast or misfit who only feels like he belongs with the other misfits. The only thing that has influenced me as much as comic books are movies, but that will be a post for another day.

Thanks, Stan.

Excelsior.





When is my next book out?

Do you know what one of the most frequent questions writers are asked?

“When is your next book out?” (Or some variation of that).

For many writers, this is part of the landscape that’s changed a lot over the last ten years. I know my audience wants, or expects, books to be released quicker, and that need has only increased in the age of digital downloads and kindle readers. With so much content available, you don’t have to patiently wait for my next book. Instead, you can jump to the next writer and, if I’m lucky, you might come back when I have another book ready.

So, what’s taking me so long?

 
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The simple answer is: me. I’ve gotten in my own way, more often than not. However, generally speaking, the thing that slows down book releases is EDITING. I hate editing. I hate editing more than someone on the KETO diet craves cake. However, much like cake, editing is a necessary evil. It’s part of the secret juju writers apply to novels in an effort to convince YOU to buy our books.


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Right now I’m editing my third novel. I intend to self-publish, but I still need to have an editor look over my work to make sure it’s polished to a beautiful shine. Before I have to deal with someone else’s deconstruction of my writing, I have to do some of the deconstructing myself. For me, the biggest part of this process involves getting rid of “junk words” or so called “naughty words”. That doesn’t mean swear words… far from it… but it means cleansing my story of useless filler words: adverbs, pointless speech tags, and words that tell instead of show.

I liken it to the idea of trimming fat…violently, with a blunt weapon. Meanwhile, good words build muscular sentences and sculpted paragraphs. And if I do it correctly, you won’t notice when you read it. You might remark, frequently, what a bloody good read it is, but the hope is the magic is retained and your nose is stuck in the book until you finish it.

Examples of words I try to avoid overusing: UP, DOWN, VERY, FELT, THAT, JUST, TOTALLY, QUITE, NOD(DED), SHRUG(GED), SMILED, GIGGLED… you get the idea. These are just some examples of words I’m cutting back on. Now, I know you’re thinking that some of these words seem perfectly fine to you and if you read them in a story, they wouldn’t bother you so much. Take “UP” for example. UP is a perfectly sensible word. However, take this sentence:

Gareth stood up and walked out of the kitchen, his manly awesomeness plain for everyone to see.

Aside from the jokey commentary… clearly I wouldn’t be in a kitchen, what’s the point? If I’ve been sitting in a chair and want to leave, I can just stand. I don’t have to stand UP. You get it! The action is not a mystery to you so why spell it out like you’re a derpy derpster? Sitting is the same. You don’t have to sit DOWN. Just sit.

 

Of course, you can sit UP and can stand DOWN, so we mustn’t just break out the flamethrower and burn all of examples, just the ones where the word is superfluous.

Similarly, speech tags should be used sparingly. We’ve all read dialogue that doesn’t ‘zing’ like a conversation should, but instead is interrupted constantly with staccato bursts of “he said” “he yelled” “he joked” “he hullaballoed”…or something like that. I use speech tags simply as a means to keep track of who’s talking and if that’s apparent by the dialogue, then why bother with a tag?

So, despite shorter release windows, editing still eats up a lot of time. I know some writers who stockpile books to shorten the release time between them to keep their readers on the hook. And there are some who continue to ignore the changes in market demand and wait years between releases. I have accidentally become one of latter, although I hope to up my game in the coming year.

So, when will my next book be out? I don’t have a definitive date set yet, but I promise to let you know. And, I hope you’ll join me in my journey again.

There will be cake.

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