VP Profile #14: E. F. Kelley (Part 1)

Unusually, I’m going to break Eric’s interview into two parts. Eric was kind enough to answer my questions about self/indie/e- publishing very extensively, and they will end up in another entry that really helps define the differences for me. First, however, I’d like to introduce you to Eric and his work.

Tamago: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Eric: Must have been late teens. Trying to decide what to do with my life, I wanted a profession that would let me do more living and less working. I saw authors selling hundreds of thousands of books, knowing with the certainty of youth that they got paid five or six dollars a copy. I figured all I had to do was write one of those a year, and I could live like a king. And writing one of those isn’t so hard is it? And success is automatic, right?

I remember that version of me. Oh, the hilarity! That wet-eared youth discovered very quickly (and very painfully) the realities of the publishing world. I dropped out of the game for a while, but I always kept my place on the bench. Now that I’m back, I honestly wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Tamago: Can you remember your first writing project? Tell me about it.

Eric: The first time I sat down to tell a story was actually for a live-action roleplaying game. I was on the ‘plot committee’ who were responsible for crafting the stories for the entire weekend. In truth, it was a bit of adlib/live theater where I could only control the antagonists through a set of goals, motivations, and character traits. That was some challenging writing, let me tell you!

It was there that I first figured out (yes, on my own!) that conflict is at the core of a story. The good guys can’t just roll in and trounce the bad guys every time. It’s not fun. It’s boring and predictable. For great victory, you need great loss. Trouble was, I had no real control over what the protagonists did. Too much loss, and they just surrender. Not enough, and they’re bored. Quite the balancing act. Novels are easier!

Tamago: Where did you get your ideas for The Atlantean?

Eric: THE ATLANTEAN, for those that don’t know, is a portal fantasy wherein a modern Dallas Police K9 cop and his dog are transported to Arcadia, a realm of magic and fairy tales that exists alongside our own.

The idea came to me while reading HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS in the final confrontation between Voldemort and Harry. They’re deadlocked. Neither has the upper hand. Their magics completely cancel each other out. And I thought ‘You know, Voldemort can’t kill harry with magic, but I bet a .45 would do the trick. And vice-versa.’

It struck me that in most worlds where magic meets technology, the magic has the upper hand. Yet, look at what we techno-humans can do. We can create light. We can reproduce sights and sounds across vast distances. We can transport ourselves to nearly anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours. We can speak into a little box and have our words heard across the globe. We can heal grievous wounds. To an extent, we can prevent death itself. How are hand-waving and arcane mutterings superior?

The answer, to me, was that magic is just different, and, therefore, more interesting to us. In THE ATLANTEAN, I seek to highlight not only the entertaining aspects of magic, but the wonder our own technology holds for those not familiar with it. I hope to bring some of that wonder home to the reader, so that the next time you turn on a light in a dark room, you can think, ‘Heh. Behold my awesome power,’ and actually believe that!

Essentially, THE ATLANTEAN is an urban fantasy with a modern human (and his dog!) as the creatures of legend.

Tamago: As a Viable Paradise alumni, would you comment on the experience? How about your experience at Taos Toolbox?

Eric: Viable Paradise brought me out of the cocoon. Until then, my writing was primarily intuitive. I knew how to construct a scene, but I didn’t know the pitfalls. I knew how to craft a character, but I knew very little about why such a character would be interesting, or admirable, or hated, or feared. I had written five novels by that point, and two of them were ‘okay’, but I had no idea what made those two ‘better’ than the others.

VP taught me how to analyze my work at a high level, pinpoint errors, and correct them. I also gained very valuable contacts with the other students. These are people at my level of the game who can serve as qualified first- and beta-readers. Until then, I had friends and family to critique my work, but they couldn’t identify flaws any more than I could. It was always ‘this scene seemed too short’ or ‘this character is kind of annoying’. Having access to people that understand narrative, characterization, scene structure, and other writing concepts is vital to progressing work past the enthusiastic amateur stage.

Viable Paradise is a brilliant entry-level workshop. And it’s funny that it’s labeled as ‘entry-level’ when your writing must be nearly publication quality to get in. I barely scraped by, as I recall! (And rightfully so). I learned basic and advanced techniques, as well as getting a huge dose of industry reality from Patrick Nielsen-Hayden and John Scalzi. That doe-eyed, wet-eared teenager who could snap his fingers and produce a bestseller was long gone by this point, but those two brought him back, strapped a helmet to his head, put a rifle in his hands, and taught him to aim for reality.

Taos Toolbox was a more intense workshop since it doesn’t cover the beginner concepts. People attending must have completed one of the other residency workshops (Clarion, VP, or Odyssey are the three big ones I know of) or their writing must impress Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress. Pro sales count as well. As I recall, two of our attendees were MFA graduates, so, a big enough diploma can be sufficient, but, again, the writing quality must be there.

Taos helped refine many of the concepts I’d learned at VP. It’s a two-week course, so there’s more time to get into the details. I learned how to analyze a scene for problems, build realistic and interesting characters, and plot an entire novel from start to finish. I learned many writing techniques such as knowing when to use a formula and when to avoid one. I learned how to deconstruct my own work, and how to apply a critique to improve my work without drowning out my own voice (or writing by committee). Many of the lessons started at VP were completed at Taos.

And, again, I made some invaluable contacts. Many of the Taos students are already professional writers in their own right, with most being SFWA members, and at least one (Dr. Lawrence Schoen) having a fairly successful novel already in print (BUFFALITO DESTINY). Again, the ability to get expert peer review (and being able to provide the same expert advice!) is an absolutely vital skill.

It’s hard to compare and contrast the workshops. I feel that Taos was more valuable to me in the long term because I got more detailed instruction, but there is no way I could have attended Taos without having had the revelations at Viable Paradise.

The TLDR version: VP taught me what it meant to be a writer. Taos showed me how. (And even that’s not a big enough generalization to encompass just how important these workshops were to me.)

Tamago: Which writers would you say influence your writing?

Eric: Lots! And not all of them influenced me through their books.

The usual big names apply. George R.R. Martin, Steven Brust, and David Eddings would be my more classic influences.

I can’t leave out Star Trek TNG writers like Melinda M. Snodgrass, Ronald D. Moore, and Ira Steven Behr. Beautiful shows. Thoughtful, witty, and charming.

And then there are the writers who had a direct impact on my work through instruction and mentoring. James D. MacDonald, Walter Jon Williams, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle, Steven Gould, Laura Mixon, the Nielsen-Haydens, and part-time supervillain John Scalzi. In fact, Laura Mixon’s lecture at Viable Paradise completely altered my productivity, increasing it by more than 100%. That is no exaggeration.

And then there are my friends and colleagues, some of whom you may know, and most readers of this interview will want to know as more of their work is available. Ferrett Steinmetz, Sean Craven, Kris Herndon, Danielle LeFevre, Lou Berger, Dr. Miranda Stockett, Christian Walter, George Galuschak, Barbara Webb, Rich Baldwin, and, of course, the lovely and talented Catherine Schaff-Stump.

Starting to sound like an awards acceptance speech here, but, it is absolutely no lie that all of these people have had a significant impact on my writing whether that be through direct interaction, professional instruction, or their own superior work. I want to be all of these people when I grow up.

Tamago: What is your dream writing project?

Eric: One my readers are excited about. I want to write characters, beloved and despised, that people just can’t get enough of. The actual project could be anything. SciFi/Fantasy/Urban/Historical, whatever. I just love entertaining people, and I want to give people worlds to wander, friends to make, and foes to vanquish.

I recall reading Asimov’s Foundation series as a teen. And seeing The Hobbit in grade school. I walked the Caves of Steel with Detective Elijah Baley and fought spiders in Mirkwood with Bilbo Baggins. I want to give people worlds to escape to, and present new ways of thinking about the world we live in and the people around us.

Maybe that all sounds mildly pretentious, but any project of mine that gives any reader that same sense of wonder is my dream project.

Tamago: Where do you hope you’ll be as an author in ten years?

Eric: Oh hopes! The horror! Beside every dream is a nightmare waiting to happen. But, dreaming big, I want to be that wet-eared teenager again, publishing one or two books a year, bestsellers all.

More realistically, I hope I’ll have a readership large enough to continue supporting my writing habits. In all truth, I think five years is realistic for that. In ten, I’d hope to be even more successful than that.

Oh, now you’ve gone and done it. I’m thinking about casting for ATLANTEAN: THE MOVIE now. So much for my productivity today!

Tamago: Where can readers find more of your work?

Eric: At the moment, not many places, unfortunately. My first self-published novel is titled ‘I, DEMON’ and will be published on Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, etc… I am writing it under the pen-name Samuel T. Crown. The site will be up late June at www.samueltcrown.com, and the novel will be for sale this summer.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming soon!

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “VP Profile #14: E. F. Kelley (Part 1)”

  1. *preens feathers*

    Totally love this series, Cath! Thank you for getting all these writers in the spotlight.

    This is my favorite bit:

    “Maybe that all sounds mildly pretentious, but any project of mine that gives any reader that same sense of wonder is my dream project.”

    I love that sentiment. Wtg, Mr. Kelley!

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