Thursday, April 16, 2009

Author Interview ~ Stuart Vaughn Stockton

Stuart Vaughn Stockton first began creating worlds in Jr. High when he drew a picture of a dinosaur riding a pogo-stick. Since then he has created four alien alphabets and one alien language. When not writing or creating worlds Stuart enjoys dabbling in video games and spending time with his beautiful wife and newborn daughter. Stuart’s first novel, Starfire, is debuting in Marcher Lord Press’ Spring list.

What made you start writing?

The main thing that got me started writing was having a cast of characters I had created in some little comic style drawings in Jr. High and the desire to explore their world and adventures more in depth. Plus it was a fun way to live alternate lives for a time.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Starfire is a non-human, science fiction adventure that follows the tale of a young Saurian warrior, named Rathe, who is just entering his first tour in his empire’s army and is desperate to prove himself as he’s fought his way out of the lower castes through a bit of luck and desception.

Not long after Rathe sets out on his first mission with his squad he stumbles across an ancient artificial intelligence that imprints him as its protector. He then discovers that the hated enemies of his empire have begun quietly massing forces within his empire, searching for the very artificial intelligence he is now protecting.

Rathe and his spur begin a race against time, trying to unravel the mysteries of the past while their enemies close in from all around. Through this journey he is confronted with prophecies, deception and treason. In the end he must make the terrible decision of whether to save his empire or keep a darker fate from befalling his world.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific 'what if' moment?

There wasn’t a single ‘what if’ moment as much as a buildup of them. One of those moments was me wondering what a story told from the ‘bad guy’s’ perspective would look like. You see, in all my years of working on Sauria the Karn Empire had always been ‘the bad guys’. They were the vile enemy. But suddenly I had a character who was on their side and he wasn’t really all that bad, not more so than anyone else. That’s one of the ideas that really got me excited about this story.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

Rathe began life as a lizard man in a story idea that I was trying to write away from my main mythos of Galactic Lore. I’d decided I needed to broaden my horizons and was trying something a bit new. But in the end he forced me back to Sauria with a new idea about what was going on in that world.

To develop Rathe I spent a lot of time sketching him out (in real sketches) to get a feel for his look and temperament. I also wrote a short story about a pivotal event in his past that eventually became the prologue to Starfire.

Is it true that you created an alien language for this book? How difficult was that, and how did you go about it?

Yep, though it’s not complete. And for me it wasn’t all that difficult because I don’t really know the first thing about linguistics and try not to let that drag me down. My whole method is basically I wanted a language that sounded vaguely eastern European and wasn’t too serious. I started off just doing direct translations of common words and eventually built in some basic grammar rules then just continue adding words as I need them. So it’s no klingon or elvish, but it suits my purposes.

Here’s a sample of text from a traveler’s prayer I wrote:

As I embark on this quest You have set before me I ask that You guide my path and keep my steps sure upon the way You have laid out for me.

Yove Dine Joenkentae Goech Nim Kuechon DuelKo Metae Lok Nrlkol Dine – Dine Waz Men DuelKo Srlvae Ra Sertule Koebae Laengol Ra PugaeYoech Koe Goech Voe Limim DuelKo Metae Lok Kom Glozm Dine.

For pronunciations, just trust in your phonics. ;)

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I enjoyed the sense of discovery and seeing what lay just around the bend the most. I loved being able to go through the world and seeing it come to life through Rathe’s eyes and see what new kind of trouble I could get him in. While also layering in a bit of fun little details that won’t really pop out until this story progresses a bit farther.

I think the final editing pass was my least favorite part of writing this book. I hadn’t really gone in depth with the manuscript in a few years and I was on a tight schedule to finish. Not an enjoyable experience at all, but it did make the book much better.

You signed with Marcher Lord Press. Their website touts them as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. What is it about your book that made Marcher Lord a special fit?

The fact that all the characters in Starfire are basically alien dinosaurs was a big part in making Marcher Lord Press the right place for my book. The book is also firmly grounded in my Christian worldview, but isn’t allegorical. I treat the Christianity and Christians in this book like you would see in other genres, where it’s not shown through symbolism, but a fully functioning part of the world, but not the only part.

Starfire just is just the right kind of weird and interesting story that Marcher Lord Press publishes.

What does your writing space look like?

My writing space is pretty much wherever I take my laptop. For a large portion of Starfire I was writing in a low-set orange overstuffed chair with an ottoman. It was awesome and very comfortable. I could put a board across the two arms and have my laptop in a great position for writing. And it kind of trapped me, making it not as easy to wander off and get distracted. Now I move between the couch and my desk in the office where I keep my notebooks of world-building info and sketches.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

The most difficult part of writing for me is starting. I’ve got lots of great concepts and ideas for stories, but when I sit down to put them to the page in actual story form I often freeze up and get trapped in a quagmire of wondering about details and uncertainty. But once I do finally get moving the writing comes much more smoothly.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I think so. There’s a little bit of me in all my characters, both the good and bad.

What message do you hope readers gain from your novel?

I don’t have a direct message for my readers. But I would hope that they come away from reading Starfire with some questions to seek answers for. How do they discern truth? How do they go about sharing their faith? What choice would they have made in Rathe’s place?

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

My writing process is fairly straightforward. I generally start with a kernel of an idea that is the central driving force of the story then begin building out from there. For Starfire that driving force was Rathe’s decision on what to do with the weapon.

As I pull out I start filling in the plot details on how to get from the starting point to the end. Usually through a chapter by chapter outline where I write a basic sentence for what the basic thrust of the chapter will be. But this isn’t set in stone.

After that I get going on the actual writing, taking time to do any world creation that needs to be done as I go through each scene.

I don’t do a large amount of revisions on my own, unless I come across a section later in the book that needs more buildup earlier or find a better idea on how to cause trouble for my characters and create a cool scene.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

A lot of books have influenced me. But some of my favorites were the Cleric Quintet series by R.A. Salvatore. I liked how he blended mass market fantasy with the journey of faith of the main character. Not a Christian novel, but it helped solidify for me that an exploration of faith didn’t equal preachy fiction.

I also love all of C.S. Lewis’s writings and especially his fiction. He’s got such a wonderful way of exploring the depths of Christianity in unique ways.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I really can’t think of anything I wish I had known. If I had really known how narrow the market was and how hard it is to break through with a story as weird as mine, then I may have never gotten started, let alone finished Starfire. If Marcher Lord Press hadn’t come along I have serious doubts that this book ever would have been published. Or at least not any time soon.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

I’m working on the sequel to Starfire that explores the consequences of Rathe’s choice and reveals some more of Sauria’s secrets. If things go well I’ve got big plans for where this story will take us.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

Follow your dreams with your writing. That first novel may never sell, or it might just find a home right when you’ve almost given up looking. But if you’ve got the passion for the story, get it out on the page. Don’t worry about whether it will sell or if anyone will love it. Those worries will kill the creative spirit. Write that first draft for yourself and for God. Even if you and God are the only ones to experience that story, it will be worth it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Starfire is not Stuart's greatest accomplishment! Victoria Elizabeth Stockton was born on April 2, 2009. Congratulations to the proud parents from all of the staff at Novel Journey.


Gina Holmes said...

Stuart congratulations on all fronts. What an exciting time in your life! I hadn't realized you had a contract. You so deserve it. Staying true to your passion. I believe it's going to pay off in the long run. God bless you!

Nicole said...

Echo the multi-congratulations, Stuart! Darling little girl.

Mary DeMuth said...

She's utterly beautiful!!!!! Congratulations!

Ane Mulligan said...

She's gorgrous!

Sheila Deeth said...

Congratulations on both Stuart! I've been hearing about Marcher Lord in various places. Nice to read about a real book from them, and about your road to writing it. Sounds like an interesting novel - I'll try to tempt my husband as we're trying to stick to buying books we'll both read.

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

I'm so very happy for you, Stuart. Congratulations on your book and your new baby girl!

Stuart said...

Thanks for the congratulations. Little Victoria is indeed a beautiful little girl who continues to awe me every single time I look at her. Plus she cracks me up with all the funny faces she makes. ;)

Anonymous said...

From the kid back to the book:

I'm impressed that you found a publisher for an SF novel with no human characters. I'm writing something similar (as in a future space-opera with non-human main characters), and keep being told that I need a human lead or nobody will publish it.

I have also heard horror stories along these lines; the example that springs to mind is Paul Kidd of Australia. He had to go obscuro small-press for two good fantasy novels of his, A Whisper of Wings (some of the best original fantasy I've come across in a while) and Fangs of Kaath (inspired by The Arabian Nights). Neither has human characters, and the talk is that he got rejected by publisher after publisher who told him flat-out to rewrite it with an all-human cast.

Since I write with a largely non-human cast, your Starfire has given me some hope.