After a lengthy career of military service in the U.S. Navy, would you share what motivated you to become a fiction author?
I’ve known since I was eight years old that I wanted to write books for a living, so my motivation came well before the start of my military career. Despite knowing what I wanted to do with my life, it took me nearly thirty years to get serious about writing. Before then, I dabbled in short stories, wrote bits and pieces of unfinished novels, and waited for the magic of inspiration to strike me. I think I was expecting to wake up one day with a fully-formed idea for a novel and the skill set to bring it to life. Eventually, I did get an inspiration, but it wasn’t the sort I’d been hoping for.
It was more epiphany than inspiration. Basically, I realized that I wasn’t going to make any real progress until I developed an understanding of my chosen craft. That’s when I started to study. I gobbled up every book I could find on the subject of writing. I studied plot, theme, structure, character, dialogue, pacing, description, and the other building blocks of fiction. It’s turned into a lifelong exploration. I expect to keep studying until I lay down my pen (okay, my word processor) for the last time.
The connection between your background as a Navy Chief and your works of military fiction is obvious. How did your background as a Chief shape your writing and storytelling in your technoir/cyberpunk detective stories?
I’m not sure that my experience as a chief had much effect on my cybernoir detective stories. The primary influence was probably my technical rating. I was in the advanced electronics field, working with computers long before there was one in every household (and in every phone). The idea was a lot newer, a lot cooler, and a lot scarier back then, so it seemed like fertile ground for my writing.
After writing a successful military fiction series, what made you decide to branch off and try your hand at crime fiction?
It actually happened the other way around. I started out writing crime fiction and eventually branched off into writing military thrillers. My first finished novel was Dome City Blues, but it got tied up in a joint book/movie deal that never went anywhere. By the time I got the rights back, I already had a couple of military thrillers under my belt.
Could you share the books and films that shaped you as a writer of crime fiction and mysteries?
A complete list would be too long for your interview, so I’ll stick to the high points.
Books: The Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker, and pretty much anything by Raymond Chandler.
Movies: Kiss Me Deadly, Chinatown, Vertigo, The Long Goodbye, Murder on the Orient Express, Year of the Dragon, Dial M for Murder, and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. (The last because it reminded me that there’s plenty of room in the detective genre for a bit of culture jamming.)
Your protagonist in your two cyberpunk novels has an interesting last name. Could you share why you used the name of such an infamous individual for that particular character?
I noticed long ago that authors and screenwriters tend to avoid any surname associated with a significant historical character, either real or fictional. According to the latest census data I’ve seen, Frankenstein comes in around #55,000 on the list of most common surnames in the United States. There are several hundred people named Frankenstein in South Dakota alone, but you’ll rarely seen a fictional character with that name unless it’s in an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic tale. Nor will you often encounter fictional characters named Custer, or Einstein, or Hitchcock, or Freud, or Manson. I’ve always found that amusing.
A surname doesn’t get used up. The famous (and infamous) ones are still out there, but writers are afraid to use them. I’m not. In fact, I like to put one character with a famous/infamous surname in every novel I write. For the City Blues series, it’s David Stalin. For the USS Towers novels, it’s Samuel (Jim) Bowie.
(I’m guessing from the name of your publishing company, Stealth Publishing, that you are an indie author. If I am wrong, please disregard this question) What prompted you to go the indie route as an author as opposed to traditional publishing?
First, I don’t have to surrender the rights to my intellectual property. I don’t have to invest two years of my life in creating something, only to hand control of it over to someone else.
Second, I have the flexibility to experiment. If I discover that readers aren’t responding to a particular cover design, I can republish with a different cover. I can change my formatting, correct errors, and make a thousand other updates that would be impossible with a traditional publishing deal.
And third, I don’t have to give up 90%+ of my book royalties to get into print. If I write the books and I build the reader base, why should I settle for 10% (or less) of the revenue? There’s something strange about an industry that starves the very people who create the source of the wealth. Yes, the Stephen Kings and Danielle Steels of the world are making bank, but for every one of them there are 10,000 mid-list authors who make 7½ cents on the dollar. Mid-list authors are the backbone of the publishing industry. Instead of being rewarded for their accomplishments, most of them are working two jobs to pay the mortgage.
How does the creative writing process differ between your cyberpunk novels and your military thrillers?
Interesting question. They’re so completely different that it’s difficult to find commonalities between the two.
My cyberpunk novels have linear chronological plots, with every scene written from the perspective of a single character. If David Stalin doesn’t hear, see, or experience something, the reader never finds out about it. In other words, the reader knows what David knows. Nothing more, and nothing less.
By contrast, my military thrillers are written from multiple points of view, and they follow complex timelines spread across multiple time zones. The characters in one plot thread may never discover what the characters in a different thread are up to. Information doesn’t necessarily propagate to all of the interested parties, and key points are sometimes lost or garbled in transmission. As a consequence, the reader (who gets the entire picture) can learn far more than any character in the story, but it’s necessary for readers to assemble the pieces.
So my outlines for the two genres are nothing alike. My research process is entirely different. My writing and revision processes are also quite different. Even my mindset is different. The Jeff Edwards who writes military thrillers doesn’t have a lot in common with the Jeff Edwards who writes cyberpunk detective novels.
Can you describe the thought process of creating such a dystopian future for the planet, both in terms of the environment and the use of technology to create hybrid human/computers?
The future of the City Blues novels is a product of extrapolation and the law of unintended consequences.
The extrapolation part is fairly straightforward. I look at current technologies and social trends, and try to imagine where they might lead in fifty years. I also try to imagine which items or customs will change very little over the next half century or so. New technologies don’t always supplant the old ones. (Except for coloring and choice of materials, shoelaces haven’t changed very much since Harvey Kennedy popularized the aglet in 1790.) So any extrapolated future will likely contain a mix of new technologies graphed onto old.
The law of unintended consequences is also bound to play a major role in shaping the world of tomorrow.
When car alarms with ignition kill switches were invented, they seemed like a fantastic way to protect our cars against theft. They continued to progress in complexity and capability until the average car thief could no longer practice his/her trade without specialized technical knowledge and equipment. Suddenly, the easiest way to steal a car was to wait until the keys were already in the ignition. That’s how the non-violent crime of auto theft became a violent crime called carjacking. It’s a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences.
The dystopian future of the City Blues books is built around my extrapolations of how certain technologies and cultural standards might evolve over time, and an examination of how those changes might cause problems that no one has foreseen.
What advice would you offer to authors just starting out?
First, study your craft. Don’t just fire up your word processor and hope for the best. Spend time learning the mechanics of fiction, including the so-called rules of good writing. You can bend the rules. You can even break them. But to do it effectively, you have to understand them first.
Second (and much more important) never EVER give up the dream.
Can you describe who your ideal reader is?
This is probably going to sound egotistical, but my ideal reader is me. I don’t know how to write for other people, so I write the kind of books that I like to read.
If I can make myself laugh, I figure there’s a good chance that other readers will laugh too. If I can scare myself, maybe I can give other readers a shiver or two.
I’m not writing for an imaginary ideal reader. I’m writing for myself, and hoping that at least some other people will enjoy the result.
So far, so good…