Steve was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and insights into the process of becoming a successful author. I hope you enjoy the interview.
Start writing “for real?” I guess that would have been October of last year, when I finally got up enough courage and cojones to sign up for November’s NaNoWriMo. I had written some before that, but had never – and I mean never – completed a story start to finish. I had a lot of first chapters, which I then went back and edited over and over again – ended up with a great first chapter, and nothing else. NaNoWriMo made me finally sit down and write, start to finish, saving editing for later.
What life experiences have best prepared you for being a writer?
Reading, hands down. I’ve been reading since I was 3 (so I’ve been told) and was into my mother’s books by 7 or 8 (Jaws & All The President’s Men still stick out). And as a youth in the 70’s, a lot of movies (Star Wars) and television (Battlestar Galactica, Starblazers cartoons) made a huge impression on me in terms of science fiction.
The second book of the Evan Gabriel Trilogy, Gabriel’s Return, just launched in mid-August, and continues the science fiction/adventure tale where Gabriel’s Redemption left off. I term it ‘near future scifi’, as it’s based heavily in reality and current technologies & settings. I enjoy that type of reading myself, and I feel it gives a wide range of fans/readers an opportunity to enjoy it – not just hard scifi fans.
What were your inspirations for writing it?
For many years I had the opening scene to Gabriel’s Redemption in my head, right down to the conch ceviche they made on the beach in the Caribbean. When NaNoWriMo rolled around, I knew I wanted to use that scene, so I created an outline around it. From there, the Evan Gabriel character, his backstory, his motivations, his future, all grew out of it.
Please describe your writing process for our readers.
It’s changed a lot since book one! Back then, (a) I didn’t know of any other authors, as I hadn’t even yet dipped into the online pool with them, and (b) was only writing for the challenge of finishing a story. That was a general outline created in October, then a minimum of two hours per night, every night, from November 1st through the 26th. I’d head into the dining room as the kids went to bed, left the wife to whatever TV shows were on the DVR, and wrote. Today? Much different. I have a LOT of social media commitments and promotional activities that can (and do) distract from the writing process. Gabriel’s Return was started in April, and after some personal and job roadblocks in May & June, sat untouched. I went back to it in late June, then worked my tail off in July to complete it. I had lost motivation in the middle I suppose. Also, I didn’t outline it – big mistake. For me an outline is necessary, as it shows me what scene I’m writing when I sit down to write. In a good hour, knowing the scene ahead of me, I’ll do 1500-2000 words. (The last week of writing Gabriel’s Return, when the story was very exciting, climactic, and almost telling itself, I wrote 30,000 words in seven days.)
To what degree are your fictional characters based in reality?
Well, I’ll give a little inside information. The main character (Evan Gabriel) is named after my younger son. I thought he (10 at the time of writing) would get a real kick out of seeing his name in a story (again long before I ever considered publishing). And in the story, his older brother (Zack) is named after my younger son. As for basing the characters in reality, not much specifically – each one is a compilation of many characters I’ve seen on TV, movies, read about in books. I just tried to make each one unique without cliched – something that can be hard to do.
Can you tell us about your any upcoming projects?
I believe this is being posted on September 5th? That would mean Gabriel’s Revenge, the final installment in the trilogy, is five days old. Readers of Gabriel’s Return will see the reason for the Revenge name at the very end of book 2. Commander Gabriel has had a tough life, has seen many fellow soldiers die, and has reached a breaking point. If things go well, it should be released before the holiday season.
Would you like to experiment with a different genre?
I would, and though I love science fiction (and already have an written-down idea for a 4th, non-Gabriel story which I’ll be working on next), I’ve always been a fan of the thriller/technothriller genre. That probably has a lot to do with being a huge Tom Clancy fan (back when he actually wrote his own books). Definitely something I’d like to give a shot, say early 2012?
Describe your ideal surroundings or conditions for writing.
Either pure silence, or white noise. I’ve tried to write in front of the television, but even with a show on I’m not watching, it simply doesn’t work. My current spot (and probably forever spot, as I don’t see our house suddenly gaining square footage for a writing study) is the dining room table with a pair of noise-canceling headphones and instrumental music (even music with lyrics throws me off). Or I might head to a local Panera or Barnes & Noble; background crowd noise (and free coffee refills) seems to work pretty well.
Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies?
Hmmm…if I take out the previous answers (headphones, instrumental music, etc.), not sure if there’s anything left! I’ll be switching to day writing for book 3; the after 9PM writing was good for a one month challenge, but I lost some family time. Instead I’ll be carving out a long lunch hour(s) to get my 2,000 words per day. Therefore, that rules out the red wine and Guinness… I guess if I said I wear my underwear on my head, or drink a gallon of tomato juice with hot sauce, or insist on having the house at 55 degrees, that would make for a good story. But none of them are true…or are they?
Briefly share your thoughts on traditional publishing vs. indie.
I’m indie all the way. However, I think sometimes the traditional VERSUS independent is an argument taken too far. We’re all authors, all trying to get our work into the hands of readers, and we’re just taking different routes to get there. Is either right or wrong? Who knows. I only know that I am 100% satisfied with self-publishing my work as an independent author, as I want (need?) that control. Being self-employed for over ten years, I know that I want full authority to change my cover art, my pricing, my blurb, and so on. I read a comment from one traditionally published author I had recently done a book review on where she said they could not change the blurb, even though the book contained several erotica scenes not specified in the blurb. “The publisher won’t change it.” I was shocked. To me, that means giving up far too much control over something that I had put my heart and soul into. Nope, not for me. If I succeed beyond my wildest dreams, or fall flat on my face broke, I want to look back on it and know that I did it myself, and no one else was responsible, either way. Right or wrong, success or failure, it’s on me.
What advice can you share with first-time writers?
One of the greatest pieces of advice wasn’t from a specific person, but from the NaNoWriMo program itself. Don’t stop to edit!! Write, and keep writing, until the story is finished. It could be perfect, or it could be a jumbled skeleton, but finish the plot line, then go back and fill in the details, rearrange scenes, fix poor sentences. Without that advice, I doubt I’d have ever finished my first book, let alone a second.
Bio and Contact Information
Steve Umstead has been the owner of a Caribbean & Mexico travel company for the past ten years, but never forgot his lifelong dream of becoming an author. After a successful stab at National Novel Writing Month, he decided to pursue his dream more vigorously…but hasn’t given up the traveling.
Steve lives in scenic (tongue-in-cheek) New Jersey with his wife, two kids, and several bookshelves full of other authors’ science fiction novels. Gabriel’s Redemption was his debut novel, published in February of 2011, and Gabriel’s Return, the second in the trilogy, launched in August. If his life allows it, Gabriel’s Revenge, book 3, will arrive before the holiday season.
Web Site: http://www.SteveUmstead.com
Amazon Links to Steve’s works:
Gabriel’s Redemption (1): http://www.amazon.com/Gabriels-Redemption-Gabriel-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B004LZ5686
Gabriel’s Return (2): http://www.amazon.com/Gabriels-Return-Gabriel-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B005HEXAP6
Barnes & Noble Links to Steve’s works:
Gabriel’s Redemption (1): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gabriels-redemption-steve-umstead/1101862376
Gabriel’s Return (2): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gabriels-return-steve-umstead/1104883916