Greetings fellow SciFi and Fiction fanatics! Have I got a treat for you today.
I was lucky enough to be able to corner the great Lucas Bale for an interview this week. Bale is not only the author of the hard-hitting space opera series Beyond The Wall, which is drawing a lot of attention from the SciFi community, but he also was the mastermind and curator behind the No Way Home SciFi anthology.
This anthology featured myself and 7 other new voices in Scifi and was released March this year. Thanks to the efforts of the ring of writers involved, overseen and co-ordinated Bale and another great writer Alex Roddie, the collection made it to the top of a number of Amazon Charts, including the SciFi Anthology chart and Space Opera chart and is still doing well.
I was able to ask Bale about all he thought about his experience so far of writing and publishing independantly as well as about what makes his own creativity tick.
Interview with Lucas Bale
- What first drew you to Science Fiction?
I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, and I can honestly say I don’t know the answer to that. I think, in fact, I was first drawn to traditional fantasy – by Lord of the Rings, and by Dungeons and Dragons. I recall one dismal Easter when I was around 12 years old, convincing my mother to take me to the local Oxfam shop. I had become convinced there was a second hand copy of Lord of the Rings to be had and I had heard about it and become suddenly overcome with the desire to read it. She told me it was impossible there would be a copy there – the chances were so small as to make the trip pointless.
Nevertheless, as tired parents do with willful children, she indulged me. Of course the shop was chock full of dog-eared Jilly Cooper and Tom Clancy. No sign of any Tolkien. I was about to leave, when I decided to ask the assistant to check in the back. She brought out a box-set containing all three books, along with Hobbit, and two other lesser known works. I still have them now.
I think that’s my earliest memory of a lust for the fantastical and I suspect my love of science fiction stemmed from there. Haldeman’s The Forever War, Asimov’s Robot and Foundation series, Herbert’s Dune, Gibson’s Neuromancer, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Books.
SFF allows us to explore what possibilities lie in wait for us in the future and how we will end up influencing that future. The stars fascinated me as a boy and I could think of nothing more exhilarating than being up there among them. Currently, there seems to be a renewed thirst for knowledge of what is out there – it’s a great time to be writing science fiction.
- You orchestrated a very successful anthology of Science Fiction earlier this year. No Way Home was released in March and made its way to the top of a few Amazon charts and is still doing well. How did you find the process of organising it?
There were very few major challenges, in fact. I was fortunate to work with very professional authors who essentially allowed me to handle everything without complaint. Whatever aspects of the process I could canvas opinions on I did, such as the cover, but in the end I made the final decisions myself. Every author within the anthology was happy for me to project-manage in the way I did, so that made it rather easy. I set deadlines which were met.
I recall one author couldn’t make the first manuscript deadline and that threatened to curtail the whole thing. We were keen to retain every author, so I asked the rest if they were happy to set the date back a little, and everyone agreed. Everyone played their part – in proofing, beta-reading, and promoting. Alex Roddie and I edited and formatted together. All in all, it went well. I think, as a collective of authors, we worked well together and will continue to do so.
- When did you first get the idea for curating this anthology with these writers?
I can’t honestly say. I contacted a number of indie writers I respected and liked, and who I thought were in the early stages of their career, as I was. Authors I had something in common with both professionally and personally. I didn’t realise it at the time – I was simply reaching out with the intention of sharing resources and advice – but I had set up a writers group.
I had initially envisaged creating a collection we could all give away as incentives to sign up for our mailing lists. It sounds so mercenary now, but this is the reality of the self-publishing world and the internet age. However, the cover came out so well and the stories were far too high-quality (and long) to be simply given away. It was just too good a book to not formally publish it. So we did.
- What did you enjoy most about working with a group of writers like this?
Apart from access to seven really fantastic stories, seeing them progress over the various stages, and flexing my own editing muscles, it was undoubtedly their professionalism. All the authors approached the theme – that of being stranded – in their own way, giving it their own individual slants, but each remained true to the format. Every one of them understood the importance of collaboration, of critique (not only of their own work, but of others’ work too) and that this was an eight-person project, not just mine.
- You are very knowledgeable about releasing books independently. How long would you say it has taken you to get to grips with the way indie publishing works?
I doubt I could say I have gotten to grips with it! Quite apart from the fact it is a constantly-shifting landscape, with mines laid for self-published authors by those seeking to restrict the market to traditionally published work, there is so much to learn. In particular, advertising is something I know only the very basics of. That which I have learned has taken me all of the last twelve months to learn, by reading books by the likes of Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, Joanna Penn, Chuck Wendig, David Gaughran, Susan Kaye Quinn and investigating blogs, forums, podcasts and so on. It has also been about experimentation – doing certain things and seeing how they pan out. I doubt a day has passed in the last twelve months where I haven’t been thinking about strategies for discoverability, launching or marketing in some way.
- Do you have a starting point you would recommend to someone who is wishing to start looking into publishing independently?
The authors I mentioned above are a great starting point. They all have great books on the topic and whilst some might overlap, I’d read them all. Jo Penn and Chuck Wendig have great sites, full of good theory and thoughts on the process, as do David Gaughran and Russell Blake. Also, Hugh Honey’s website contains a list of his most popular posts on self-publishing. They’re a little dated now, but the principles are gold dust. If I wanted a quick way into self-publishing, I’d take a look at all of those websites and/or blogs, and read every book on the publishing process by Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, Joanna Penn, Chuck Wendig, David Gaughran, Susan Kaye Quinn.
- You recently attended your first convention at which you were invited to speak about your work, both writing and publishing. How did you find the experience and do you think you will do more?
It was pleasant enough and the people who came to meet me and listen to me speak were very interested and asked lots of questions. I spoke for an hour about self-publishing science fiction to an audience of engaged readers and fans. I guess I was surprised just how engaged! They asked probing questions on the future of science fiction, the future of publishing, whether the influx of books, self-published or not, would lead to a diminution in overall quality. They wondered whether working with only one editor, rather than several, meant authors did not improve as quickly as they might when they progressed by writing more books.
All good discussion points.
Then I listened to the fascinating Ian Watson on how living in Japan as a young man had influenced his science fiction and how new advances in science too easily influenced authors – often before they became accepted theories. I have read Ian since I was a boy, so this was a special moment. I was on a particularly enjoyable panel with Pat Cadigan and Ian, as well as Niamh Brown. What’s it like to be an expat writer? Does it influence our prose, our characters and our themes? Perhaps, unwittingly we decided, it does.
- What current projects of your own are you working on?
At the moment, my main focus is an epic space opera, which tends towards the harder end of the science fiction scale, called Beyond the Wall. I have just released the third book in the series, A Shroud of Night and Tears, with the final book, Into A Silent Darkness, to come at the end of this year.
I’d say that the majority of my time is going to be spent on the final research and planning for IASD, then writing it. I’m about 20,000 words into the manuscript, but I think it’s likely to be more than 140,000 words. Beyond the Wall is as much about government and civilisations, and their rise and fall, as it is about reconciling the age and scale of the universe – the vastness of the unknown that waits for us in the black. That becoming part of that huge scheme doesn’t even begin until you take those first steps into the unknown, but that the reality is that we as a species may be hugely under-equipped to deal with it.
I think Beyond the Wall is for anyone who read classic science fiction and loved it. I hope that fans of the likes of John Scalzi, Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, James S. A. Corey and Iain M. Banks will find something to love in there. I’m also working on the follow-up anthology to No Way Home called Crime and Punishment which I hope will be released in late August.
Finally, I’m writing a hard science fiction novel with a friend of mine, Alex Roddie. I can’t say a great deal about it right now, as it’s only in the research stage and that’s going to take many months. Suffice to say it will explore similar themes to Andy Weir’s The Martian, and to the Nolans’ Interstellar. Both Alex and I are tremendously excited by developments in space exploration currently, and we both write what excites us.
- Where can people find our more information about you and your projects?
Either join my mailing list (www.lucasbale.com/inside) or find me at my website (www.lucasbale.com), my Amazon Author Page (http://www.amazon.com/Lucas-Bale/e/B00LGVGUMO/) or twitter (https://twitter.com/balespen). I post regularly on my website and twitter.