June 1, 2008
On May 30th, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author of the technothriller, Stormdragon by Lloyd Ritchey. Lloyd is one of Arctic Wolf’s authors and is a talent to watch. This blog post is a reprint of that interview. Enjoy!!
I just finished reading your book, STORMDRAGON. (And LOVED it!) Tell us a little bit about it.
Thanks, Jennifer, for your kind remarks about my book. I’m honored to participate in an interview.
The concept for Stormdragon had been brewing in the back of my mind for some time. After I learned about a government project called HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) I seized upon a plot. Some believe HAARP is far more than an innocuous research project; they believe it is a dangerous, clandestine weapon that can be easily abused. I took the HAARP concept, enlarged it, and asked “what if?”
Stormdragon is essentially a technothriller, with a heavy emphasis on exaggerated science, but it’s also solidly based upon historical fact and existing technology. And by the way, you don’t have to know anything about science to understand the book.
In the story, ordinary people stumble upon the truth behind the ARC Project, which is an installation like HAARP, only far larger and more powerful. The conspirators, who lust for ultimate power, are willing to use the ARC technology against anyone, even their own country, in order to implement their plan.
How did you come up with the title?
Titles, like cover artwork, are critically important. I think a title should entice, excite curiosity, and relate to the story without revealing too much.
In mythology, the Storm Dragon rides the violent storm and spouts lightning. The title flashed into my mind before I could actually find a solid tie-in to the novel. As the writing progressed, I realized Stormdragon actually worked on several levels; it is a metaphor for power, both that embodied in the terrifying machinery described in the story, and in the ruthlessly powerful conspirators who will do anything to further their agenda. It also has a direct relationship to a specific element that is revealed as the story unfolds.
Your prologue is fascinating. As I read it, I was reminded of the experiments in old movies…the rising platform, the enormous generators giving off electrical charges. Would you be willing to give us a little background on your experience with Tesla’s works?
I have been fascinated by Nikola Tesla since I read Prodigal Genius, by John J. O’Neil, in the 7th grade. Tesla was a mega-genius, whose turn-of-the-century inventions gave us modern electricity, the radio, and much, much more. He was so advanced that the U.S. government, which confiscated his research papers upon his death in 1943, still holds some of those papers as classified. He is the archetypal “mad scientist” who influenced film and artwork. Ken Strickfaden, who built the scary machines for Universal’s Frankenstein, and other films, designed the labs to resemble Tesla’s.
I have been building and experimenting with Tesla apparatus, primarily the well-known, lightning-generating Tesla Coil, since junior high school. Tesla’s incredible, dramatic, and powerful inventions inspired much of the action in Stormdragon.
I’ve used Tesla Coils to produce electrical effects for stage and screen. I toured a Tesla system with the Doobie Bros. and Kansas back in the seventies, filmed T.C. effects to illustrate a screenplay, and demonstrated the system to Universal Studios, Warner Bros., and Disney. But, these are long stories!
Your book is packed with suspense. I had a difficult time tearing myself away once I sat down to read. Does the writing style you have come naturally/easily to you, or do you have to work to get the degree of suspense you want?
The suspenseful idea is there, its energy clamoring to be expressed. Once I decide what a scene or chapter should be, I can write it fairly quickly. But keeping a tight, meaningful story structure is a challenge for me. So, I’d say yes, I have to work hard to keep the suspense ramped up. But once I feel I’ve “got it,” it’s a total blast, a catharsis.
You have a long history of writing…and even sold a screenplay in the past. First of all, tell us about the screenplay experience, if you would. Which do you prefer; writing a screenplay or a novel?
I sold a screenplay entitled Night of the Electric Death (no kidding!) to producer Warren Skaaren. I wrote the screenplay in three months. This was in 1974, and Skaaren had just completed work on Texas Chainaw Massacre. Skaaren bought the rights to the screenplay and brought director Tobe Hooper to my humble Dallas “studio” to see the electrical effects I had envisioned. There’s more to this story, but I digress.
I prefer writing novels. The main difference, for me, is that a novel requires far more skill in creating scenes; the reader must feel immersed in the scene through the author’s powers of description. A screenplay, of course, requires imagination, but it demands less description; you only have to indicate, for instance that the actors are afraid, or that the room is scary, or the atmosphere gloomy. That said, I know great screenplays require great skill. One has to know something of the production process, and have a sense of timing, structure, and dialogue. By the way, dialogue or narration that is to be spoken by an actor is a little different than dialogue that is to be silently read.
Would I write another screenplay? You bet—soon as I’m finished with my second novel!
Would you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?
I’m in a time-management crisis! My second novel, a techno-horror, is about one-third finished, and I’m desperate to work on it. I just fired off a non-fiction proposal to a publisher who has shown interest, and if they go for it, we’re off to the races! Meanwhile, I need to add content to my Website (and my wife’s) and also start blogging.
I’m assembling a “dog and pony show” for book signings that I think may be somewhat unique, and I’d like to keep you posted as that develops. I don’t know if it’ll help book sales, but, like they say, keep barking up that tree…there might be a possum in it!
When you’re not writing, what do you read…both for pleasure and regarding the craft of writing?
I read everything. My favorite thriller/horror writers are Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. For horror I’ll go with Stephen King, Peter Straub (sometimes), Robert McGammon, and many others. I’ve found some gems in novels such as Whirlwind, by Joseph R. Garber, and The Breathtaker, by Alice Blanchard. Prey, by Graham Masterton, is a first-class creep-out.
Your book, The Deputy’s Widow, was the first in the noir genre I had read in many years. I don’t want to sound smarmy, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed it so much I’m reading Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett, and will investigate more of the hard-boiled crime novels.
I once threw a lot of money at vendors of “How to Write” books, but can’t say any have been very helpful, and I actually disagreed with some of the authors! I found Stephen King’s On Writing not only instructive and informative, but also entertaining.
Do you (or would you ever) write in any genre other than science fiction/techno thriller?
Yes. The techno-horror I’m writing now is an example. But my strengths (I think) lie in capturing the dramatic moment and translating action into words. I love that feeling when a powerful scene manifests itself in words that bristle with energy.
What advice can you offer for writers trying to get published?
Initially, write in a genre that publishers can recognize. We’re all stuffed into boxes these days, so to get started, you may not want to be too experimental. Naturally, there are exceptions to this. Write what you enjoy.
A note here: Non-fiction is easier to sell than fiction, and you don’t have to write the whole thing up front!
Before submission, get as many critiques as you can, especially from people who don’t feel compelled to tell you they liked your book, i.e., get independent feedback. You might find some important flaws (and good stuff) after various people read your manuscript.
Have someone competent edit your manuscript. You just can’t successfully edit your own writing, even if you’re a grammar whiz.
Get the mechanical stuff right: paper, margins, headers, spacing, etc. Always find out how the publisher or agent wants his/her submission. Most of them have Websites. More and more are accepting digital submissions. Carefully read how they want material submitted. I found Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters, by John Wood, and Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript, by Jack and Glenda Neff, quite helpful. These are Writer’s Digest books.
I agree with Stephen King: you don’t always need an agent to get published. My wife’s first title, Woven Wire Jewelry, was rejected by a well known agent we met during a writer’s conference. This agent had expressed great interest and urged us to send a proposal. After the rejection, we submitted directly to Interweave Press, and in two weeks had a contract. Now my wife has published three books with Interweave.
Beware of cons. Check out potential agents and publishers. I recommend visiting http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/peba.htm. This Website is packed with useful information, and they help identify the bad guys.
Finally, you might try submitting to a small publisher like Arctic Wolf, a company that’s trying hard to assemble a stable of talented writers. With increasing competition and reduced sales, the big-name publishers are being advised to curtail acquisition of new writers and concentrate on promoting the authors they currently have.
If you’re interested in a specific publisher, read some of their books to see if the quality is there. Do you want to be in their company? If the publisher gets a bad name for poor product, it’s not going to help you.
Stay at it. Persist. Be prepared for rejection. Keep writing.
I wish you every success.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank E. Bittinger, author of Into the Mirror Black, about his life as a writer. Below is the synopsis of this interview. For more information about Frank Bittinger, visit him online at www.frankebittinger.com or www.myspace.com/sacredscarab. His books are available online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
- Tell us about your book, Into The Mirror Black. Where did you get the idea for this? Is it something you let “stew” in your mind for awhile, or did you just wake up one morning and start writing?
Are there any experiences in your past that influence your writing? If so, what?
The genesis of my Hexology, my Scarabae Saga, was back in my childhood when I lived in a small town named Grantsville in Western Maryland. Across the road from the shopping plaza that housed our town’s grocery store, pharmacy, etc, was a valley and some mountains. I always thought about the facade of the mountain crashing down in a storm of shale to reveal a temple carved into the living mountain itself.
I always told myself I would someday write a tale about the mountain and the temple inside. I always knew the story arc would comprise more than one volume because I wanted to share the stories of how different people were infected or influenced in different ways by the presence of whatever it is inside the temple in the mountain.
Because I loved to read, I told myself I would write books. When I actually did sit down to begin writing, I began with short stories that evolved into a collection centered around a theme–the Scarabae. From there I moved onto the full-length novels: Into the Mirror Black, Angels of the Seventh Dawn, and the forthcoming Angels of the Mourning Light.
Of course, having seen a ghost or two throughout my life, I am open to whatever you want to call it–paranormal, preternatural, supernatural–and I draw on those experiences as well as those the readers share with me.
Does your writing ever frighten you? Does anything you work on end up seeming overly “real” to you?
So far I haven’t scared myself with my writing. There have been times when I have sat back and said to myself, “That is really good.” But I have never frightened myself.
I have, on the other hand, frightened the readers. I get emails and letters from readers telling me how they got a fright or a chill out of a certain passage or scene. Others will tell me about something that happened–like the lights going out when they were reading or their cat sneezing just as the cat in the first book sneezes–and they caught a fright so they had to put the book down.
And I do get the letters and emails from readers who have to tell me how they needed to have a night light before they could close their eyes for the night after reading some of my books.
It seems I have a way of getting under peoples’ skin.
Your imagination runs deep. Obviously. What sort of books did you read in your younger days? What sort of books do you read now? Did any of these authors influence you?
I read pretty much the same types of books now that I read when I was younger. I have over 6,000 books in my personal library, so I do enjoy reading. I read Jonathan Kellerman, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Carole Nelson Douglas, Laurell K. Hamilton, Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and tons of others. I love scary stuff more than anything.
My favorite types of books are those in a series; I like to get to know the characters and read about their exploits.
Did any of these writers influence me? Yes, I would have to say I have been influenced by pretty much every author I have read–whether I wanted to write like s/he or not write like s/he. Some have influenced my own writing more than others, but all of them have helped shape my style.
Tell us about what you are working on now. Do you ever think about moving to another genre other than horror?
Currently I am working on book three in my Hexology: Angels of the Mourning Light. Although my books can actually be read as stand-alones, there is a story arc running through them that will lead you to a larger story. I like to call my Scarabae Saga my kind-of-a-series: the main character, if you will, isn’t a person but a place–Western Maryland. Something is here and it influences any- and everything in the area.
I really can’t see myself moving into a genre other than my current gothic genre, unless it would be comedy. I know that sounds rather bizarre, but I have been told there is a bit of wicked humor running through my books.
How long did it take you to write your books?
I write very slow, because I completely lack discipline of any kind. Sometimes I will go for days and weeks even without writing. I constantly think about my stories, but I can go without writing for a while. And that is the dirty secret about why it takes me a year to write a book. Well, I do work two jobs so that is somewhat of an explanation, too.
Tell us how you write. Is there a particular place you find you are more inspired? Is there a particular time of day you prefer?
I write slowly, that’s how I write.
Seriously, I write when the muse hits or when an idea pops in my head. I cannot force myself to sit and write when I don’t feel like it. To do that would completely destroy my love and fascination for the craft. I know other authors can turn out a book a month, but I can’t do that.
I like to think about what the story has to offer, what kind of people will be involved, how it will play off previous books, and what effects it will have on future books in the Hexology.
I cannot seem to write any place other than my “office.” I used to have an entire room in my house for an office, decorated stylishly, full of books, a couple windows…and it didn’t do a damned thing for me. I didn’t write a word. When I opened the closet door in my bedroom and took out all the clothes and suits and ties and shoes–and turned my former office into a big closet–I put my desk inside the little closet and that became my office. It worked wonders. No distractions; just me and maybe some music and my thoughts.
And I do have to say I can only write at night. I have been quoted as saying I can’t write about death and destruction in shiny happy daylight.
My second book Angels of the Seventh Dawn has been described as sleek, seductive, and sinful so I must be doing something right. And I have been told I am a cross between Clive Barker and Anne Rice, so that made everything worthwhile because they are two legends of the craft.
I know you have done book signings. And you are gracious enough to answer these questions via e-mail. Have you done any face to face interviews? Any radio interviews? Any plans to do so?
I answer all emails eventually; it’s difficult to get to them right away what with working two jobs, writing, trying to get my own business off the ground, as well as working to raise money for animal charity.
I have done two interviews: one was printed in a newspaper and one was supposed to be printed in a magazine but I never heard back from the editor of the magazine.
For all my accomplishments–selling internationally and making it onto Amazon. com‘s Top 100 on different occasions to name a few–I cannot get local media attention no matter what I do. I rely on the best advertising: word of mouth from loyal readers who love my books.
What do you like best about your fans? Do they ever say or do anything that gives you ideas for future writing?
I talk for hours at book signings with my readers. They tell me all kinds of stories about their experiences with the paranormal, supernatural, preternatural, whatever you want to label it. I can’t get enough; it’s a great.
It’s because of my loyal readers the world is taking notice of my work; my readers are solely responsible for my publicity and promotion. I cannot thank them enough.
What comes after your Scarabae Saga? Any plans for a new series?
What comes after the Hexology? I don’t know if there will be anything after my Scarabae Saga.
I have notes and ideas for several dozen independent noels–by which I mean not related or part of a series.
Be sure to check Frank’s sites often for news of his up and coming works.