Friday, January 27, 2012

Author Interview - MJ Holmes

This week, I sat down with MJ Holmes, author of Tyme and Yon Serpent.  A role-playing game turned novel, Tyme and Yon Serpent is the first in a series of six (or possibly seven, depending on who you ask) books.  A native of California, MJ Holmes stopped by to chat about RPGs, writing, and the importance of family support.

Q:  Tell us a bit about yourself.

A:  My name is Micah Holmes, but I use the name MJ Holmes for my writing projects (even though Amazon periodically screws it up).  Seems I'm not the only MJ on the net who writes...

I'm originally from California, but because of work-related issues my parents dragged me kicking and screaming to the other side of the US.  I spent 8 years in Pennsylvania, another 2 years in Massachusetts, and the rest of my days up to now in New Hampshire.

I spend a great deal of time trying not to go mad.  I work in the plastics industry, and you're welcome very much for my making certain you don't find Teflon the hard way in your fast-food tacos and cheeseburgers.  ;)

When I'm not working, I'm spending time with my family.  Occasionally I have time to write, and I hope one day I can feed my writing career enough to grow big and strong and make daddy enough money to put his other kids through college. 

Q:  How long have you been writing?

A:  With the notebooks of short story fragments from high school, several illustrations and scripts for planned comic books (screw 'graphic novels', they're comic books, dammit!), gaming materials and plans devised with my writing partner, I'd say I've technically been writing since 1989.  However, it's the getting published part that eluded me.  When I had a prime opportunity to put down the dice and pick up a keyboard I finally got a full manuscript written.

Q:  What is Tyme and Yon Serpent about?

A:  It's one piece of a very large puzzle.  Feel free to make what you will of that statement.

TAYS is a planned series of 3 Acts, 2 books to an Act, chronicling the strange adventures of stranger people.  There's rumored to be a seventh book, but I haven't seen Future Me in a while to ask him what the hell he was rumoring about.

The best idea I can actually give at the moment is found in the blurb:

"Quested by Divine Intervention to locate and destroy the source of a threatening instability, 'The Otherworlders' begin their trek having neither any knowledge of the world they’ve been transported to nor idea what they should do next. Thrust into one peril after another they struggle to adapt and survive; becoming bounty hunters, exterminators, and conscripts of the city religion on their way to entitlement as a Protectorate. An item found in their questing is identified by a benefactor to be part of an ancient weapon, thus providing them their first concrete lead of the Quest to follow since their arrival."

Q:  How did you come up with the plot?

A:  It was the story I wrote for a Role-Playing Game with friends who all had differing tastes in what constituted as adventure themes.  We needed something to do, and I somehow managed to have an idea for a story that kept us all occupied.  I guess I was inspired from a previous gaming writer and associate who turned my Game Character into a Divine Interventionist (yes, the one previously mentioned).  I felt it was a passing of the torch and brewed up the plot from there.  I devised my own set of characters, gave them fragmented backstories, and thrust them together into a situation; much akin to how most RPG's are started.  The DI instructs them with the usual vague questing, and sends them off to go prune magic hedges.  To keep things interesting, I also gave them all traits that would provide the antagonism that creates the prejudices, love/hate relationships, long-lasting bonds, etc.  I wracked my head for clues from every other fantasy and sci-fi story premises I ever read that were good, bad, or cheeseball and took inspiration from those.

Q:  How long did it take you to write Tyme and Yon Serpent? Did you hire any outside help such as a cover artist or editor?

A:  After about a year of gaming, several thousand pots of coffee, and a lot more time on my hands than was probably healthy I had the makings of Act 1.  It snowballed from there.  I would say total time writing, polishing, polishing again with the good rags, and figuring out how it would be published took 14 months. 

Any outside help with editing came more from castoff textbooks I own from English class or guides I purchased for the sake of editing knowledge.  I also had a very strict English teacher that taught us all how to write papers properly.  One mistake would drop a paper one grade, so you can see the importance of misspelling or comma usage alone.  However, no matter how strict he was, he was the best influence I ever had with writing.  I just hope I haven't given him a reason to seek me down and play his crazy filmstrip about commas, colons, and semicolons at me...again.

The cover art is all my handiwork.  I've practiced illustration since 1988 (I'd broken or worn down all my crayons by that point); the design for the Protectorate Crest appearing on the front of Book 1 was a pre-drawn doodle I intended to use in a comic book idea.  I gave it some coloring to go along with the stained glass background, did a little presto with my Graphic Abuse program ('GIMP 2'...go fig), and probably got more lucky than I realized.

Q:  What do you feel sets your book apart from others of the same genre?

A:  Has anyone else published a story consisting of a cop, a shopkeep, a half-elf, a faceless man, and something called a "Ju'Jarran"conscripted to save a world that's never been seen before?  I don't wish to seem rude, but I'd love to know so I can get on with another writing project I had in mind...

Q:  Did you have any specific goals when writing Tyme and Yon Serpent? Any themes or ideas or concepts that you wanted to get across to the audience?

A:  When I first conjured up this madness, it was only to entertain a small group.  It grew into something I wanted to write out fully, and especially write it for those that read fantasy as much as my fellow dice-chuckers.  Themes and ideas and concepts will have to be figured out by the readers.  Those are part of the puzzle intended.  Like puzzles, you'll have to finish the set to see the whole picture...

Q:  What do you think of the changes taking place in the publishing industry? With authors gaining more control over the creation and distribution of their work, what do you think readers stand to gain/lose?

A:  Readers gain in cheaper products but lose in quality of that work and how it's obtained.

The famous Agency Model needs to die off.  Now.  The advent of eBooks and eReaders is a good start in exposing this Model for the flawed system it is.  Readers know they're paying far too high a price for light; Self-Publishing helps readers occupy the time between now and when the Agencies realize the mistakes they made and their price fixing. 

However, readers are having to deal with the fact that a cheap eBook will have every possible chance of being poorly written, edited, illustrated (where applicable), or reviewed.  Readers have to deal with more push advertising than they need or want.  It's like panning for gold; once a good book is found, everyone else will want in on the action.  You'll have to sift through tons of mud to find it first.

Q:  Who has been your biggest supporter in your writing aspirations? How do they support you?

A:  Foremost: my family.  My wife read the First-Polish manuscript and gave me input.  My first daughter was thankfully too young to understand what her Da was doing at the time.  My friends were all sounding boards for ideas that I had.  The return for their efforts was entertainment in as equal a trade as I could manage.

Q:  As I'm sure you know, many readers like to find their favorite authors on social networking websites like facebook and twitter. Do you have any social network links you'd like to share?

A:  Book Sales Links & Blog:
Facebook Resource Page:
Twitter: @GameCatAlpha

Q:  What do you feel are the most important aspects of a great book?

A:  The ones reading it. The Author who wrote it properly for it to be worth reading.  Everything else can be cobbled together along the way...

Q:  Have you ever sat down to write a scene only to have the story take you in a completely different direction than you had planned?

A:  Originally, my writing scheme was: Write a goal the characters must meet, and put hurdles in the way.  In the game version of TAYS, the unpredictable players controlled how linear or not the story was and how much flexibility I'd need to keep things in check.  This allowed me a boon to write in a similar fashion, but let my characters do the steering.  I could question myself when they veered or ran into a wall and devise ways they could get past that wall.  Their goal would always be right behind it.  I had a bugger of a time getting them past a caved-in exit in Book 2...

Q:  And just for fun, favorite vacation destination?

A:  Hersheypark. Hershey, PA.

Thanks so much for chatting with us today!  Hope to have to back again soon!

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