Congratulations, once again, to AJ Powers, winner of “Thriller in the Cage.” I asked AJ some questions about his experiences as a writer. Pour yourself a beverage, make yourself comfortable, and get ready to learn more about AJ and his work.
AJ…When and why did you decide to start writing?
I’ve always loved to tell a story. When I was a kid and played with my GI Joes or Micro Machines it wasn’t just random and pointless battles. My toys always had “Missions” they were sent on. There was always deep plot lines with epic moments and twists throughout…Well as epic as a story can be for an eight year old.
Eventually my desire to tell a story grew and I branched out into comic books. Drawing and writing them at a very young age, I was fond of creating new stories for the X-Men or The Terminator. I did this a lot with my long time childhood friend, Cory. We’d sit up on his porch and just draw various comics. My stories usually were more focused on the story than the drawing.
I ended up (as many of you know) doing the whole art thing for a living. I got into video games because one game in particular I played in 1999 was not only incredibly fun and good looking, but had a fantastic story (This game was called Half-Life). I decided to become a professional game developer where I would have the opportunity to tell a story through my art. Through the years, however, I’ve found that many games lack a compelling story, and even fewer tell stories through their art. It’s usually just enough to get the players from A to Z. This fueled me to put my stories on paper.
What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?
It’s kind of difficult to pick any one or two things to say that prepared me for being a writer. If I had to pick something, I guess being in the game industry has really helped. Though most games lack compelling stories, some really did incredible jobs and were on par with a good book or film. Being in a creative industry has my gears turning 24/7. For a number of years I have been thinking of ideas for the next great game. When I do that, though, it’s always a story first, game second. I have a number of stories I plan to develop as novels that originally started out as a video game idea. Including an Epic Dark Fantasy and a Sci-Fi Tech Thriller.
It comes at a price though. I can’t turn it off. So every book I read, every film I watch, every game I play, even articles I read in the news, my mind will isolate something that is insignificant to that story, and start to run with it and turn it into something much more. It’s nice to have a vivid imagination, but it makes enjoying a movie difficult 😉
Please tell us about your latest work and what genre it falls into.
Loose Ends is my debut novella that I released in April. It is a thriller about a hitman and his good friend who acts as a sort of sidekick. Told from the point-of-view of the hitman (Eric Caldwell); Caldwell is hired to take out a mark that seemingly will be one of the easiest hits of his career. However, through research and investigation of the target, Caldwell begins to blur the lines between personal and professional motives for assassinating the man, and clouding his judgment along the way.
What were your inspirations for writing it?
Well I am a big fan of the hitman video game series. It’s a game that actually feels like they put a lot of thought into their storyline (though I think many people don’t “get” it). But in general there’s something compelling about a hitman for a good thriller story. Just seems like you’re never really limited to the types of situations a hitman could get into, which leaves you with a lot of room for storytelling.
An interesting side note on how this story got started. I was picking up some groceries and I was walking out of the store and heard someone say some sort of phrase. Instantly I thought “Wow that would make a great book title.” Then I started to think about what kind of book. As soon as I thought of that, I instantly had the end scene already in my head. I had everything planned out to write down as soon as I got back home. Once I got home, I had forgotten the phrase I was going to use as a title and to this day can’t remember it. The working title was “Cross the T’s” before I came up with Loose Ends.
Please describe your writing process for our readers.
Haha this is a tough one. I haven’t really “found” my writing process yet. I keep trying different things as I work on new pieces. I have found a few consistent techniques I use though.
I have a “scribble” file. This is just a word document that has any and every idea I can think of for stories. I think this is between 10k and 20k words right now and they are just high level ideas and cool little story elements I think of for the idea. Loose Ends started this way, and so did the current novel I’m writing.
Loose Ends I just up and wrote. No outline, no significant planning, just went in and let the story tell itself. I enjoyed this method but it only worked for me because LE was a novella. It wasn’t long enough to have to develop longer term story elements. So for my current novel I have developed a very loose outline. I don’t want to limit myself through my outline, but it can be an incredible tool to help guide me through the story at a high level. To give you an indication how lax my outlines are, I had one chapter I outlined, and when I finally wrote it out it turned into 3 (Possibly 4) chapters.
After I finish a rough draft, I like to give at least 4-6 weeks of a cool down period where I don’t open that document, period. That way when I read it, it’s fresh to my mind and I can find the problems within the story much easier than if I had started to read it immediately after finishing.
To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?
Honestly, very little. I take a lot of the information that I know (Weapons, computer tech, etc) and put that to use, but I don’t really have any people in reality in mind. I do, however, like to have my characters feel like they are believable in a realistic situation; someone who is flawed, and makes mistakes. I feel this makes the reader relate a bit more with the hero (or even villain).
Can you tell us about your any upcoming projects?
I am about 1/3rd of the way finished writing my first full length novel. It’s a sci-fi suspense/thriller about a father and son’s journey to save their family from certain death. The story revolves around love, and the lengths that a man will go for it, good or bad.
Would you like to experiment with a different genre?
Sure, as I mentioned just previously I am going with a sci-fi story next, though it does dabble in the thriller genre again. However, I have several stories brewing in my head for the future, from a murder mystery all the way to a dark fantasy story. I am pretty open to any genre, so long as there’s a good story there in my head.
Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.
It’s pretty simplistic. I like a dark room, my laptop and deep/dark ambient music. Even if what I am writing is not dark, the dark ambient music can completely clear my mind and allow me to write without distraction. Darkness in the room minimizes visual distraction, and my laptop doesn’t have Tweetdeck, and other messenger services running. It’s all about keeping the distractions at bay.
Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?
I suppose the fact that I design my own book covers too. And at times I’ll even start designing a cover idea before I am fully finished with the story, and that cover idea can actually inspire scenes in the book instead of the other way around.
Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.
I wrote a big blog on this a while ago, actually. I am definitely expecting (and already seeing) great things coming from the indie world. Would I want to see my books on store shelves someday? Sure would. Do I expect to do it through traditional publishing? Not really, and that’s okay. I think with the direction the indie book world is going that there will be huge advancements in the coming years for the indie world. Amazon is already making significant strides with indie books being printed on paper for very affordable prices with little to no cost up front for the author. Things that we couldn’t even dream about doing five years ago are already happening today. I only expect the the pastures to get even greener for that world.
What advice can you share with first-time writers?
It’s the most simplistic and straightforward suggestion that most people reading this would laugh at, but I feel this is a more common issue than we’d like to think.
I have come across so many people who say “Hey, I have a great idea, so I am going to write a book and become rich and famous.” I usually ask “Oh who’s your favorite author?” or “What’s your favorite book?” With an all to common response “Well, I don’t really read much, but I do watch movies!” That drives me absolutely nuts! An author who doesn’t read other books is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music, a cook who doesn’t taste food, an athlete who never competes, etc. Reading, in my opinion, is the author’s way to exercise, and if you don’t read I think it’s safe to say that you will not likely succeed as a writer. In a sense, it’s insulting to other authors to try and write a book and expect it to sell well when you aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to read a book.
Bio and Contact Information
AJ is a professional game developer by day. When not creating 3D worlds for players to explore, he is either writing, spending time with his wife LoraJo, watching/playing sports, and just enjoying life. AJ’s first novella, Loose Ends, was released in April of this year, and hopes to have his first full length novel released this fall.
The genres AJ writes include thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery.
Web Site: http://www.twistedlexicon.com
Smashwords or other links: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52888