Monday, November 21, 2011

Interview: Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Johne here - I first  met author Bryan Thomas Schmidt while wearing my editor's hat for our online magazine and have followed his career ever since. I have a specific set of interests online, and started bumping into Bryan over and over in these various widespread and frequently obscure places. I was delighted when T.W. Ambrose and Randy Streu of Diminished Media Group picked up Bryan's first novel for publication. This has been a whirlwind year for Bryan, and I wanted to give our readers a peek behind the curtain. Without further ado, I present the AuthorCulture interview with Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

AC: Genre fans used to be the nerds, the outsiders. What prompted you to write in the genre form for your debut novel, The Worker Prince?

BTS: Is this a therapy session or an interview? Yeah, okay, I have issues. I’m an outcast, outsider. That’s right. I need to be loved. Please love my book. Give me a good review. I am an adopted child. I have ADHD. I have always been socially awkward and a bit of a loner. And, as a result, I have always felt on the outside looking in. That shows in my writing work which often have similar themes or certainly themes of characters finding themselves, coming into their own, finding their place in this world. That said, my first attempt at a novel was not Science Fiction (SF). It was love story. I love Nicholas Sparks books. I have a great story I want to tell. But my prose level was not there yet. Then I remembered this idea I’d been carrying around since my teenage years of Moses in space. It just seemed like a great epic story which would fit well told as space opera with all the tropes I loved from my youth reading Golden Age SF and watching movies and shows like Star Wars and Star Trek and Battlestar Galatica. So one day, I just sat down and started writing. Four months later, I had a completed novel. Of course, that was just the beginning.

AC: The Worker Prince uses a famous Biblical character for some of its source material. Did that impetus make the writing easier or harder?

BTS: Easier in borrowing plotline and story structure for part of it. Harder in dealing with a  story people already know so well. How do you keep it interesting and unpredictable? So I made the characters Christian and chose to have the Moses story as part of their prehistory. In parts, the story echoes that biblical story, but it also allowed me to depart from it and take it new directions, while still utilizing the themes from the biblical story and key scenes.

AC: Blogger and uber SF fan Steve Davidson argues there can't be a reconciliation of religion and SF while blogger / author Mike Duran counters it is a logical topic for SF. What say you? Is there room in SF for discussions of religion without the fiction becoming a tract for proselytizing? How might that work?

BTS: Well, Davidson's post is one of the most opinionated, badly written posts I’ve seen. The guy was criticized by people who agree with him, so in the end, I don’t think he made his points well. He had an agenda and that was all that was about. Of course I think religion and SF go together. I did a post for SF Signal which was quite popular about SF classics with religious themes. And it includes some big name books like Dune, Asimov’s Foundation series and Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as Ender’s Game and more. I think religion is something that is a part of every society in some form, so one has to deal with it in worldbuilding somehow for people to find your work believable. So Davidson’s suggestion was ludicrous just based on that. But at the same time, I think the greatest witness we have is our lifestyle and how we live. Shoving our beliefs down people’s throats is offensive. Who likes it when the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the door? Not very many people. And all too often, Christian fiction is guilty of shoving beliefs in people’s faces. Why can’t we just show through our themes, our characters’ lives, etc. and let people ask questions which give us an opening? To me, that’s much more effective. With Worker Prince I worked it into my worldbuilding. I explain it briefly to be clear what these people believe. They are not fundamentalist. They are Evangelical and since so often people confuse that, I wanted to be clear. But even those who wish I hadn’t included those themes all tell me it’s not preachy. So how can it be done? With great care and deliberate intention to reach people well, not preach at them, but tell stories.

AC: In addition to writing, you're also editor of an upcoming Anthology. What have you learned about the writing game when you donned the editor's hat?

BTS: Rejection sucks from both ends. Who likes to tell someone their story isn’t good enough? Not me. But there are also lots of reasons for rejections that have nothing to do with that. I rejected stories from Jay Lake, Kevin J. Anderson and Chuck Gannon which were fantastic but just didn’t fit the theme. So it certainly gives you perspective in facing rejections yourself.

AC: You've become a successful marketing machine promoting your new book. Can you give our readers an overview of what you've done to market The Worker Prince? What's has been most and least effective?

BTS: Boy, this could be a long answer. First, I started building a blog, website, and social media presence long before my book came out. I worked really hard to just network and build friendships and support people. I listened to them and learned what they’re doing, what they like, and tried to identify who might be interested in my work. I started blogging and tweeting valuable content, content which would help people. It took some time to sort out the kinds of things that people responded to, but once I did, things really took off. I also built relationships with fellow bloggers and writers by encouraging them, spreading their posts, etc. Those paid off when I needed help spreading the word about my stuff. Some retweeted or posted my stuff without asking, some I requested. A publicist for Random House included my book release on the Suvudu releases list with all the major releases just because I’d helped him so much in the past. That got me huge notice and legitimized my book as a major release. Second, I planned a blog tour. I went out of my way to plan a blog tour in advance and write meaningful, valuable, quality posts. I worked hard to make sure they fit the themes of the blogs I would appear on and to schedule a variety so that I had reviews, interviews, guest posts, excerpts, etc. scattered rather than the same thing day after day. I also experimented creatively, using dialogues, character interviews and more. This also included podcast appearances and a prequel short story being published. Many linked to each other so people just followed it daily and it kept the interest up. Certainly my presence daily out there made a difference. Third, press releases to local media. I didn’t wait on my publisher. I did them myself. Still doing this, in fact. Fourth, plan appearances. Contact conventions, bookstores, libraries, etc. but know how to do it. Do your research. Fifth, get books out to reviewers and keep doing it. Reviews are the single best selling tool. The more good reviews, the higher the listing on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And the more impulse buys you get as well. Sixth, contests. Goodreads, Facebook, etc. Giveaway copies and get it out there. More reviews, more word of mouth. Two essentials to success. So far what’s worked best? Doing everything you can. It’s not just a one-track thing. You have to do everything you can.

AC: Speaking of social networking, you're also the host of an innovative weekly Twitter interview column called SFFWRTCHT. How did that come about?

BTS: I went to some conventions and met so many successful authors and learned so much. Then I was unemployed and knew I wouldn’t get the chance again for a while. I had met so many people in the business from Twitter and knew of some chats, I thought, why couldn’t I utilize this to create content which provides opportunities to learn from successful writers, helps them promote their books, and builds networking and my brand all at the same time? So I did it. And it just took off.

AC: Who's been your favorite interview? What's been your greatest surprise about SFFWRTCHT?

BTS: Wow. Tough call. AC Crispin was pretty awesome because she’s a writing hero. Also, Mike Resnick. I loved having Ken Scholes too. But for sheer fun, Maurice Broaddus was a real blast. Greatest surprise is how influential and popular it became so quickly. Most major publishers send me books without even asking now. They contact me to book their authors. It used to be all on me and my wallet. It’s really made  me a known presence in the industry too. And I’ve made a lot of friends who have helped me and advised me, etc. It’s been great on so many levels. I didn’t have any idea all of this could happen so fast. Less than a year. It’s pretty amazing. Our one year anniversary is December 7th.

AC: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

BTS: Write. And remember, concert musicians practice daily. So why shouldn’t you? It’s easy to think up ideas. It’s easy to dream. It’s hard to write. You are not a writer until you actually write. And that means writing a lot of crap along the way. Get over it. It’s part of the journey and process. We all do it. Robert Silverberg still throws stuff away. So does Orson Scott Card. So does Stephen King. That’s the way it goes. I offer regular tips posts on my blog every Thursday on various topics. Those might be useful as well. There are lots of people giving advice out there though. Find them. Learn from them. Use what you can. Discard the rest. Most of all, do it because you love it and can’t help it. It’s not to make money. It’s a passion.


Starting this Wednesday, Bryan's novel will be serialized with a new installment every week over at Ray Gun Revival magazine. Come on over and get a taste of some great throwback Space Opera adventure!
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