Interview with Author Scott Semegran

This interview discusses To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel by Scott Semegran, which Anthony Avina gave a rating of 10/10 for his book review.

The Interview

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I began writing in earnest literally the day after graduating college with a degree in English way back in 1993. Over the years, I have published poetry, short stories, comic strips, and novels. Novels and short stories are what I have kept at the longest and find the most joy in writing and publishing these days.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
Oh, man. That’s a loaded question. I have a few answers: 1) To be honest, I wrote this story for my wife. Having written quite a bit before that didn’t particularly tickle her fancy, I set out—as a challenge to myself—to create a story that would inspire and affect her deeply. She said I accomplished that so I consider it a success. 2) I wanted to write a novel that was endearing but not saccharine and quirky but not snarky. That was a huge challenge! 3) I wanted to explore the power of friendship amongst a group of people with very different backgrounds and personalities. I felt the current state of the U.S. needed that.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
That camaraderie amongst kind-hearted friends wins the day over evil intentions. I truly believe that.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
I have mostly written literary fiction, usually with elements of humor or satire. That’s my jam. I’ve been inspired by Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Charles Bukowski, Michael Chabon, and the like. I hope to have a lasting legacy like these authors.
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
I would ask Rita to bake me her famous banana bread. Food is the key to my heart. I love food. I love to cook. And I love when my wife cooks for me.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I feel the following have helped me the most: Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, and Instagram have helped the most with finding new readers. BookBub used to be more of a promotional service but they are now enhancing their site to accommodate reader reviews and book recommendations from authors. Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram are all great, too.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Develop a thick skin. You’ll hear “No” or “This is not for me” a lot for a very long time. But if you stick at it, develop your craft, and continue to put stuff out there, you’ll eventually find your readers if your talent develops. Find someone to help with editing. Seek out reviews and accept constructive criticism. But mostly, listen to your creativity when it beckons.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
My latest novel, To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel, will be published February 1, 2019, so I am in promotion mode right now. I will be recording the audiobook version in the coming month, narrated by yours truly. And I have a seedling of an idea for a new story germinating in my brain. I’ll probably start writing that in early 2019.

About the Author

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Scott Semegran lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, four kids, two cats, and a dog. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English. He is a bestselling, award-winning writer and cartoonist. He can also bend metal with his mind and run really fast, if chased by a pack of wolves. His comic strips have appeared in the following newspapers: The Austin Student, The Funny Times, The Austin American-Statesman, Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, Seven Days, The University of Texas at Dallas Mercury, and The North Austin Bee. Books by Scott Semegran include Sammie & Budgie, Boys, The Meteoric Rise of Simon Burchwood, The Spectacular Simon Burchwood, Modicum, Mr. Grieves and more.

https://instagram.com/scott_semegran

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3409317.Scott_Semegran

https://www.twitter.com/scottsemegran

https://www.facebook.com/scottsemegran.writer/

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/scott-semegran

https://www.rifflebooks.com/profiles/172809

https://www.amazon.com/author/scottsemegran

And my website:

https://www.scottsemegran.com/

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Interview with Author Caleb Smith

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I have always been in love with stories. Whether it be though books, comic books, poetry, plays and movies, anyway I can get them really. It was always a fun pass time for me. I always had a gut feeling like I was supposed to create something, I wasn’t sure what, but this came in my late teens. After starting a contracting business and contemplating a couple product invention ideas, I came to realize that those puzzle pieces didn’t fit natural to me. Around the time of fall 2006, my little brother who is a really good graphic artist, starting working on a graphic novel with a friend of his. That gave me the spark I needed and shortly after Longevity was conceived.

 

2) What inspired you to write your book?
I don’t know if it was inspiration more so, or just me trying to find myself. In any case I really feel like the story was always there, I was just lucky enough to find it. I do have to say, Stephen King was always a huge inspiration to me. I grew up in Bangor Maine, so his presence was always big around here. I remember painting houses in my early twenties on West Broadway in the summer time, and he would roll by in his convertible. I remember thinking how cool it would be, to be able to write books for a living like that guy!

 

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
The topic of bullying especially at the middle school level seems to be more prominent. If anything I hope people can put them selves in the victims shoes through Noah’s vile experiences. I want readers to feel how emotionally traumatic it can be for someone like Noah. Hopefully this will help raise awareness for the people out there inflicting pain on others but also, act as a guiding light for those who are the victims of bullying. Its important to understand that we are all different, we all look, act, dress, speak and think differently. That is the way its supposed to be. No matter who you are, you will always have your own unique set of talents. Its important to embrace those talents and let the light inside of you grow. Most important, never stop believing in yourself. Never give up and use adversity as fuel to execute any obstacles in your path.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?

I wanted a story that could appeal to a wide audience with a main character holding plenty of room to grow. The fantasy part was natural considering a story with a multi-dimensional concept. Noah needed to be in middle school to best tackle the bullied victim role. I wanted to mesh his real life every day struggles, with the ability to grow on a fantastical level. It was important to bring a fresh concept to the drawing board, something new and different on the fantasy end. I am pleased with how well it all came together.

 

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I would sit down with Earl Sherman and ask him if he thinks going to get ice cream was a good idea? Id want his take on that.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
Facebook & Twitter

 

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Start now and don’t stop, keep writing even if its bad. Time will heal wounds. Be extra patient and willing to accept rejection. Above all, work hard and believe in yourself.

 

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon

 

Longevity: The Will Of Alastair is coming soon!

I have a couple historical novel projects, one is finished.

I also write poetry and have an on going collection.

Id like to think I’m just getting started.

Author Interview: R.D. Crist

The Interview

Q1). A little bit about myself and how did I get into writing.
Just a little?  Wow.  There is so much that I don’t know where to start.  I’ve been through a lot.  I’ve experienced so many adverse circumstances that I had to sit down and develop a new perspective, which is why I chose a degree in marriage and family therapy.  Originally, I was amazing in math and many people saw me in a more technical field, but here I am, trying to figure it all out.  What I do learn, I love to pass on, which is why I write…
I began writing mostly by chance – a long story, but…  I decided to write stories because I felt people learn through experiences, even other people’s experiences, and I learned that people fight grown when it is expected.  If you put the two concepts together, it’s better than peanut butter and chocolate – you get entertainment and growth.  A self help book can help people, but so can a good story.  If you get one lesson, or just feel a little better about yourself, in one of my stories, then it was all worth the effort.
Q2). What inspired you to write this book?
Adolescence is a difficult time for many people.  Long story short, I believe this book has the opportunity to facilitate a feeling of acceptance and normalcy.
Q3). What theme or message do you hope to convey?
I put the theme right smack in the dedication: “fitting in.”  The entire book – from the love story, the school, the parental aspect, and even in little pockets – was designed to support the theme of a young woman trying to find where she fits in regarding her immediate situation and in the outer world.  It’s not about witches, love, shoes, or even the individual characters: it’s about how Natalie begins, how she negotiates the circumstances, and where she ends.  An example is: some people wanted more love in the story, and some people wanted less love, but the love interest was perfectly designed to help Natalie feel like a normal teenage woman.  Also, the reader may notice how Natalie’s shoes coincide with her influence over the other girls; the more she is accepted as one of them, the more they wear her style of shoes. 
Q4). What drew you to this particular genre?
I didn’t begin in this genre, and I’m not fixed in this genre, but there seemed to be an opening for more empowerment in Young Adults.  Fantasy seemed the perfect catalyst.  I thought I’d experiment with a first chapter, and I liked it.  From there I set aside my other projects to finish this book; and the second one.
Q5). If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
This is such a fun question.  My characters are made from envisioning extreme personalities, and picturing how each would react is exciting to think of.
I love knowledge, and Ms. Haggle knows everything, but she also has no patience for, well, anyone, and can be very temperamental.  I’m drawn to people who need help, and I see myself drawn to Melissa; but I wouldn’t ask her why she’s so angry, that wouldn’t be smart.  I think I’d ask her, “how can I help?”  But she’d probably just reply, “by leaving me alone.”
Q6). What social media sight has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
Goodreads by far.  The bloggers there have been patient, honest, and extremely helpful.  Their sites are fun to read and informative.  I think if this book has a great start, it’s because of them.
Q7). What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Do not quit, and do not stress about it?  Advice I still need to follow.  I have walked away from writing and come back so many times, but I just keep getting better.  This story was actually written about five years ago, but it is now just coming out.  Also, I wrote another book before this one, but was frustrated when a similar story came out before I published it, even though it was about four years in the making.  Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.  I think my stories get better each time anyway.
Q8). What does the future hold in store for you?  Any new books/projects on the horizon?
Yes, yes, and yes.  I am working on about ten different stories at the moment.  I piece them together in my mind until they are complete enough to start a treatment.  I am always building them and have numerous treatments written down.  I promised myself I would publish the second book to Scarlet Reign next year, which has been written and needs to be revised, but there are several more I can’t wait to complete.  There are four books in this series, so we’ll see where it all goes, but first I must consider writing as a hobby because I have other responsibilities.  I am happy with my financial situation and would be ecstatic to just have a fan base even if I don’t make money, but the truth is, books will come slow in my current routine.  I will do everything in my power to have one Scarlet Reign book come out every year.  It shouldn’t be hard as the last two are all pieced together and ready to be written – but there may also be a spinoff.  I have already put forth great effort to piece them together so that they connect as a complete story.  Book one is filled with set-ups that are very imperative to the other seven (yes, seven) books.
I will try to keep all my fans updated on our monthly notes, which can be found on our website: www.scarletreignbooks.com

Author Bio:

R.D. Crist is a psychotherapist who generates creativity via long walks and majestic views of nature. True inspiration to write, however, derives from personal hardships that have sparked a desire to help others manage life’s various struggles.

 

Although R.D. Crist has only released one book, three have been written and several more begun, which span a variety of genres.  The focus of these stories are intended to center on Crist’s favorite dynamics of a story – personal conflict, relationship development, inner growth, and social revelation.  Each story is created with a greater purpose to stimulate a person to reflect on common challenges, be they personal, interactive, or in principle.

 

Childhood influences include Ray Bradbury stories and character conflict movies like Twelve Angry Men.

 

Socializing, listening to people’s stories, spending time with family, and relentlessly exercising (as if those last ten pounds cared) are some of Crist’s favorite ways to pass the day.

Thank you again and I hope this helps,
R.D. Crist

Interview with Author Karl Steam

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?’’

                Once upon a time, I wanted to be a park ranger and wildlife photographer. Camping, fishing, and canoeing were my favorite pastimes. I liked to learn about nature and often checked out national geographic documentaries from the city library. The things I learned inspired me to write a few nonfiction animal books as a kid. I would staple paper together, write interesting facts about a particular species, and illustrate my books with cut out magazine pictures. To this day, nature influences most of the things I write.

               During middle school a teacher told my class that kids can do anything. He once had a student who wrote a book and a different student of his could take apart a lawnmower, put it back together again, and it would still work. I wasn’t interested in lawnmowers, but I did like the idea of writing a book. I figured if some other kid could do it, I could too.

               I tried writing my first novel a few months later. It wasn’t very good. O.K., it was horrible. I gave up after a couple pages and decided to postpone my writing career until I had a few high school writing classes under my belt.

               I wrote off and on for many years, but never seriously. I told myself in high school that I would have more time to write once I was in college. In college I told myself I would write more once I graduated. After graduating, I married and had children. One day a story came to mind, but I told myself that I would have more time to write it once my kids were grown. That’s when I realized I was on the path to becoming an old man, who shakes his head and wonders why he never wrote a book.

               I write more often now. Don’t take my word for it though. Go check out the stories I’ve published.

2) What inspired you to write your book series?

The concept for the Kids vs. Nature series began after I read an article about someone who had been lost in a forest while cross country skiing. The article’s author considered this person’s experience to be an example of a great survival story. Yes, the person did survive a one-night ordeal in a forest, but I disagreed with the notion that it was a great example of surviving in the wilderness.

                The main concern of the lost person was that they would freeze to death during the night, so they continuously skied throughout the ordeal to generate body heat and stay warm while they spoke to their spouse on a cell phone. As the night wore on, the person still could not figure out what trail they were on and began to get tired of skiing. They were also thirsty and feared that without water they would become dehydrated and die, and this fear continued to be a concern until the person was eventually discovered by rescuers.

                Nowhere in the article did the writer point out that this person was skiing, which means there was snow on the ground which could have been eaten to hydrate the lost person. Nor did they point out to readers that it’s typically recommended to remain in one location if you’re lost in the wilderness, so that you don’t wander further way from your original location. This makes it easier for rescuers to find you, especially if you have a cell phone and are able to alert others of your predicament.

                Now, can I say for sure that I would have remained calm and thought clearly if encountered with a similar situation? No, and this person did survive so I applaud them for everything they did do right. However, I couldn’t help but think that I would have handed the situation differently, and the reason why is because I had read so many wilderness survival stories as a child.

Through stories such as Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Sign of the Beaver, I learned a considerable amount about surviving in the wilderness. Tactics to for staying warm, creating shelters, and how to obtain fresh water. Though I have never had to put this knowledge to practice, I do believe that if I were to find myself stranded in the wilderness my odds of survival would be much greater due everything I have learned.

This realization gave me a deeper appreciation for the literature I read as a child. I realized these stories had the power to help save people’s lives. This made me wonder what other survival stories were on the market today. What new stories are captivating young readers and providing them with similar information.

I was surprised and disappointed to discover that very few popular books have been published in this genre throughout the past twenty years. Most of the top sellers continue to be the same stories I read as a child. So, I decided to contribute to the genre and create some fresh stories for those that share my interest in action, adventure, and the great outdoors. That day I began to develop the plot of the Kids vs. Nature series, and I think they do a good job of accomplishing the goals I set out to achieve.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your books?

Like any good book or series there are multiple themes and messages I hope readers take away from these books. The main one, as mentioned before, is that I hope readers learn things that will help them to survive similar situations, should they every become lost in the wilderness. A lot of factual information and strategies have been added to the back of each book in order to help accomplish this goal. I also tried not to sensationalize the stories too much. Most of the situations the characters encounter remain simple and realistic to things average people might experience in real life.

                Because the characters in the series encounter many different ecosystems, I also designed the books be informative. Readers will be able to learn about different animals, plants, and environments.

                Lastly, there are various social issues involved in the stories. Friendships, social group dynamics, and bullying are matters frequently encountered throughout the series. Characters have to work through prior perceptions of one another in order to grow and develop from one book to another. Hopefully readers can relate to some of these issues and find the lessons that the characters learn to be applicable in their own lives.

4) If you could sit down with any character in your book series, what would you ask them and why?

I would like to sit with Tyler. He’s an odd, quirky guy but has a lot of admirable traits. I wouldn’t have anything particular to ask him. I’d rather sit and listen to him talk.

5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I’m not active on social media. Perhaps I should be. Writing time is precious. To get writing done you have to chose not to do other things. Limiting social media and television are two main ways that I carve out time during the week to make progress on my stories.

I have a website where readers message me. They also send letters in the mail. As far as developing readership goes, most authors will say that the best way to gain readers is to publish more books. I’m still beginning my writing career, but hopefully when people read stories like the Kids vs. Nature series they will want to go back and read others I have written, like Purple Pup. If they really enjoy these stories, perhaps they’ll tell others about them too. Theoretically, the more stories I complete the more opportunities new readers will have to find my works.

6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

If you want to be a writer, you need to write. Do what you can to dedicate some time to this. Don’t expect your first writings to be very good either. It usually takes many years to develop your skills. Expect your first book or two to be unworthy of publishing. This is normal. Keep trying until you finish one that is.

7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

I’m currently writing a young adult historical fiction novel. It takes place during the most recent ice age and will feature Paleo-Indian characters. Beyond that, it’s difficult to say what the future holds. I will continue to write and focus on projects that inspire me the most.

Interview With Author Stefan Vucak

1)     Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I was born in Croatia, and when my parents immigrated to Australia, I faced a new world, a new language, and a totally new way of life. My parents found it particularly difficult to integrate, but for me and my sister, as kids, we took it in stride. I had devoured books ever since I learned to read, which helped my transition, but writing in English was a path filled with spelling and grammar potholes. It took me a while to master it, and I am still not sure that I have it all. Anyway, while at the university, still reading avidly, I turned my hand to writing short stories, thinking it didn’t look all that hard. Thankfully, some of my early experiments will never see the light of day, but the process did help me hone my writing skills. I sent some of my stories to U.S. magazines, but without success. One day, I told myself, I will get published.

I always wanted to write. Well, not exactly always, but ever since I came across an illustrated book of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, the printed word fueled my imagination. In high school and university, I breezed through essay and writing assignments, truly puzzled why some of my classmates struggled. Books, of course, particularly science fiction, got my ideas factory churning. If others could write short stories and novels, so could I. I first turned my hand to writing short stories. I yearned for the day when people would walk past a bookstore and see my books on display. Vanity? Perhaps, but the fire burning deep within me that urged me to write, also compelled me to share the products of my imagination. Regrettably, just making my way in the world, I could not indulge my passion. I had to find a way to live and support myself. Hence my IT career, but that fire never went out, although I did allow it to die down a bit, frustrated at not being able to find a publisher. Publishing is a savage game, as I came to learn, and publishers are not keen to publish my books just because I wanted to see them in bookstores.

2)     What inspired you to write Lifeliners?

Lifeliners - Page 2 - V2

‘Lifeliners’ began as an idea for a short story on a long flight from Europe to Melbourne, Australia, my home. I always have my notebook handy, never knowing when inspiration would strike. Tired of browsing through inflight entertainment, I began jotting down notes to flesh out a story about an emerging new human able to draw energy from someone by touching them. Birthrates in Western countries had been falling for a while, accompanied by growing sterility. A product of our high-pressure technological lifestyle and high density urban living, explained the pundits. Nature decided that lifeliners were the answer who would over time replace the ‘normals’. As expected, this development was not received well by the general population, and governments everywhere began to blame lifeliners for failure of bad economic policies, introducing draconian laws to curtail their rights and freedoms.

Well, I wrote the short story, posted it on my website, and I thought I was done with it. Time to finish what was then my latest book project ‘Legitimate Power’. Once I had it published, I began reviewing ideas for a new book – and kept coming back to the lifeliners story. It was one thing to write a short story, but fleshing it out into a full-length novel was not something I had in mind, wanting to write another contemporary political drama/thriller. But the bug had bitten me and lifeliners began to haunt my days. The only way I would have peace was to write the damned book.

3)     What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

When I write a novel, I don’t set out to promote a particular message to readers. If something emerges from the story that readers can relate to, it would be a byproduct of the story and the characters in it. Of course, most novels deal with familiar themes: personalities, conflict, betrayal, self-reflection, overcoming adversity; the list goes on. These are all present in any book, whether a crime novel, a political thriller, love story, or just a good adventure yarn. The hard part is for a writer to utilize these themes into what will hopefully end up as an enjoyable and entertaining read. After all, isn’t that the aim of every book?

4)     What drew you into this particular genre?

Although ‘Lifeliners’ is science fiction set in 2032, it is not hard sci-fi of my previous books. I suppose I could have set the novel in present time, but I did not feel comfortable with the idea. It would not feel ‘real’. Moving it slightly into the future and taking advantage of several emerging technologies has, I believe, provided enough time for lifeliners to emerge and generate an impact on societies and governments, and the negative reaction their presence has produced. The story background is also familiar to readers without having to create a new social setting far removed from present time.

5)     If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

With a science fiction series and six contemporary political drama/thriller novels behind me, I have created a number of interesting characters. During the writing process, they sometimes say and do unexpected and surprising things, and I allow them a degree of indulgence. I believe it spices up my writing. However, I don’t give them free reign, having to keep in mind the plot and the story. With ‘Lifeliners’, Nash Bannon has turned into a character with whom I could converse at length. Having the society at large after him, and lifeliners in general, his views on life, colored by negative experiences by his fellow humans, would provide a unique perspective on people, ethics, and behavioral norms. Our veneer of civilization is very thin, hiding what is a barely controlled savage. I would enjoy exploring all these things with him.

6)     What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

I cannot say that any one social media outlet has helped brand my name or acted as a marketing platform for my books, or that any of them have helped boost my book sales. It is a tough game out there where some books do well for no apparent reason, and others simply fade away. I just plug away on several outlets, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and trust that what I have to say will attract readers and buyers. Doing an occasional interview also helps! I use my website extensively to post general articles of interest, and blogs on writing, and the publishing industry in general.

7)     What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

If there is one thing I learned over the years as a writer, if anyone is contemplating taking this on seriously, he or she should be prepared to spend many lonely hours with a pencil and paper, and sitting behind a computer screen. There will be disappointments, frustration, angst … and moments of sheer exhilaration and satisfaction when the words flow and the creative process produces something wonderful. Writing is a gift, but it can also be a curse. However, once bitten with the urge to create, there is no cure.

These days, it is easy to self-publish, and outlets like Amazon and Smashwords are replete with good books. Unfortunately, they are also full of amateurish efforts, which has contributed to a negative reputation of ebooks. Most authors dream of finding an agent and being published by a traditional publisher. I have those thoughts myself. However, traditional publishers rarely take up new writers, always keeping an eye on the bottom line. They are running a business to make money, not cater to hopeful authors. It is tough, but that is the hard reality. Another tough reality is the ongoing need to market and promote my books. As I mentioned in one of my Tweets, ‘Writing fills my soul, and marketing empties it’.

8)     What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

Having just finished ‘Lifeliners’, I need a break to recharge. I have a brief outline for a short story, and now that I have the time, I will flesh it out and post it to my website. Like most writers, I have a number of ideas for a new novel, but two stand out that I need to look at closely before deciding which one will end up as a book. For now, I will let both ideas simmer for a while, but not too long. The urge to write, to create, will not allow me to be idle for too long. Before tackling my next project, I will spend some time doing book reviews, hopefully provide editing services on the side, and indulge in reading, golf, and doing odd things around the house that I have been putting off. No hurry.

Author bio and links:

Stefan Vucak

Stefan Vučak has written eight Shadow Gods Saga sci-fi novels and six contemporary political drama books. He started writing science fiction while still in college, but did not get published until 2001. His Cry of Eagles won the Readers’ Favorite silver medal award, and his All the Evils was the prestigious Eric Hoffer contest finalist and Readers’ Favorite silver medal winner. Strike for Honor won the gold medal.

Stefan leveraged a successful career in the Information Technology industry, which took him to the Middle East working on cellphone systems. He applied his IT discipline to create realistic storylines for his books. Writing has been a road of discovery, helping him broaden his horizons. He also spends time as an editor and book reviewer. Stefan lives in Melbourne, Australia.

To learn more about Stefan, visit his:

Website: www.stefanvucak.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/StefanVucakAuthor

Twitter: @stefanvucak

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefan-vucak-65572360

Read more about ‘Lifeliners’ here: https://www.stefanvucak.com/books/lifeliners/

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Interview with Travis Smith

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I got into writing about superheroes and philosophy after reading an article by Adam Barkman published in Comment magazine. I could give that a try, I thought. Why not? Barkman looked at superheroes from a “mythological” point of view; I would prefer to look at them from a somewhat more human perspective. When I discovered an article by Jonathan V. Last in The Weekly Standard that I disagreed with I took it as an opportunity to respond. Last argued for the timeliness of the Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films; I argued that Spider-Man was a better hero for our times, in commemoration of what was then the fiftieth anniversary of Spider-Man’s first appearance. Little did I know that this one article would lead to an entire book on the subject.

2) What inspired you to write your book?

University professors are asked to find ways to engage in the public dissemination of knowledge. Most of our research is written for an academic audience. How does someone like myself take what I study and teach in the history of political philosophy and make it relevant for a wider audience? Well, if Plato can discuss the popular heroes of his time, whose adventures are depicted in the epic poems of Homer, then why can’t I look into superheroes, whose stories have become popularized lately in so many feature films? I look at them to find out what they might teach us about ourselves and our ideals—who we imagine ourselves to be at our best, or who we would become if only we could be better than we are?

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I’d point to the value of thinking critically about the things we happen to enjoy, and the possibility of thinking critically about ourselves in the process. This is something we can do even with respect to our amusements—the music we like, the TV shows we binge on, the athletes we admire, the vloggers we subscribe to. Focusing on questions of ethics when doing so leads us to wonder: How does thinking about the character of this or that person, whether real or fictional, help me to better understand the worldview and motivations of people similar to them—whether that’s someone I’ve encountered in my private life, or public figures like politicians, leading professionals, or outspoken celebrities? What answers to life’s problems do they represent, and should we heed them? What does whether I like or dislike some particular person or character tell me about myself?

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

In the classroom, I draw on a lot of examples from popular culture in order to make old ideas and arguments seem relevant and familiar to my students. With respect to superhero stories in particular, I’ve read plenty of comic books over the years and re-watched the movies based on them more than enough. I put that hobby to use in Superhero Ethics.

5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I would like to know why Tony Stark doesn’t share his most advanced technologies with everyone—whether they want him to or not. Why not save people from ever needing saving again through upgrades and alterations to the human condition? Not that I would want him to—but I don’t really understand why he doesn’t. That said, I’d be concerned that by pushing him on it I might inadvertently convince him to give it a try, or else stop playing the hero entirely. Either way, better to keep my mouth shut, really. The most interesting line of dialogue to me in Avengers: Infinity War occurs when Thanos tells Iron Man, “You are not the only one cursed with knowledge.” In Superhero Ethics I argue that Tony Stark willfully refrains from drawing the furthermost consequences of his views regarding human nature and our place in the cosmos—including, ultimately, that he himself is insignificant. He struggles with a nagging suspicion that his pride—which is substantial—is vanity, and all of his efforts and sacrifices are offered in vain.

I’d also like to hear Wolverine explain his fascination with Japan. I think it’s because culturally, feudal Japan is practically the exact opposite of present-day Canada. We can be glad that imperial Japan at its worst was ended non-fictionally and still romanticize traditional Japanese society in fiction as representing honor-based society at its best. Still, I’d like to hear Logan’s perspective on it over a few bottles of beer, hoping he’ll call me “bub” at least once—and that I’ll be able to sneak out the back door of the dive bar before the inevitable brawl gets underway.

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

Personally, I avoid using social media. I worry that it’s an engine of incivility.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Read. A lot. Read a lot of good books. Even books you imagine you’ll dislike by authors you expect to disagree with. For starters, read about Achilles sulking in his tent in the Iliad if you haven’t already. Also, learn to take criticism well, and be your own harshest critic. Reread everything you write, out loud, and ask yourself if it actually says what you want it to say in the best possible way. Always be revising but recognize that your words will never be perfect. Nothing that you decide today is good enough for now will seem good enough later in retrospect—and that’s okay.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

Some people have asked me whether I’ll write about Superheroine Ethics next. Or perhaps Supervillain Ethics. What about something fandom-adjacent, like Pro Wrestling Ethics? Within this genre, I haven’t decided yet. As a professor of political theory, I intend to publish more on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, including pieces informed by my analyses of superhero stories, on subjects such as bravery, magic, and the imagination. I’m convinced that Thomas Hobbes himself thinks he’s like a superhero or something.

Bonus/Fun Questions:

Who was your favorite superhero growing up?

On Saturday morning cartoons, I liked Green Lantern best, mainly because of Sinestro. As a teen, I connected most with Rogue. For over a dozen years now though, Ms./Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) has been my favorite. I await her feature film debut in 2019 with great anticipation.

Do you prefer Marvel or DC? Or do you find them to be on equal footing overall?

When I wrote Superhero Ethics, I didn’t just focus on my favorite characters. I wanted the book to be accessible to casual fans and a general readership. I didn’t want it to be accessible only to those of us who have read a hundred thousand comic books. My book might give the impression that I prefer Marvel, but my analyses weren’t decided by my subjective preferences. I tried to give more generous readings to characters who interest me less and be tougher on characters I like most. Speaking personally, I am a fan of both universe’s characters. I started reading comic books as a pre-teen at the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and DC successfully persuaded me to disregard the pre-Crisis multiverse as no longer relevant and too confusing and supposedly unsophisticated. As I have gotten older, however, I have discovered how fantastic Silver Age Superman, Flash, Legion, and Earth-Two stories are. I have also enjoyed exploring DC’s western and war genre comics, too, such as Jonah Hex and Haunted Tank.

Which non-Marvel or -DC hero do you think would fit into the ethical discussion of superheroes? 

Sailor Moon and The Tick were favorites of mine when I was young. Captain Planet probably deserves some critical analysis, too, but I don’t think I could sit through enough episodes to assess the character fully.

If you were to create your own hero based on the ethical discussions raised in your book, what would that hero’s name be, what powers would they have (if any), and what villain/threat would they face to mirror the challenges of our world?

I already have a hero in my wife. [Awwww!] Putting up with me and my hobbies has got to be challenge enough. And who knows what kind of villainy I’d be up to if she wasn’t always asking me, “What are you doing?!?” I try to keep in mind how Aristotle would have told Ajax to listen to Tecmessa.

Thank you, Anthony, for the opportunity to discuss Superhero Ethics with you. I’m glad that you enjoyed the book!

About the Author:
Smith_Travis
Travis Smith is the author of Superhero Ethics (Templeton Press). He received his PhD from Harvard University and is associate professor of political science at Concordia University. He has been collecting comic books since he bought Uncanny X-Men #207 with his allowance in 1986. His writing has appeared in the Weekly Standard and Convivium Magazine. For more information, please visit https://www.templetonpress.org/books/superhero-ethics

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Interview with Brandon Dragan

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I grew up Northeastern New Jersey and have loved writing for as long as I can remember. My mom tells a funny story of a third-grade teacher who said that during writing assignments most of the kids would come to her desk with a few sentences scribbled and ask if they had written enough, but I would walk up asking for more paper. So, there’s always been that desire to write and express myself, although for the better part of my life I had trouble really sticking with it. I ended up focused mainly on writing songs and actually pursued it for a bit in Nashville, Tennessee, but pretty quickly found that I wasn’t a good enough musician to really hack it there. Eventually, I think I was about 25, married and working a regular corporate job when the idea for a story hit me and I just couldn’t shake it. That idea would eventually become my first novel, “The Wages of Grace,” which will hopefully be out later this year.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
As far as the writing of my newest short story “Cast No Shadow,” again it was really just a thought that hit me between the eyes and I couldn’t shake it. I absolutely love complex characters who are capable of enormous good and repulsive evil. I think most human beings are capable of both, so I really wanted to explore the thought of a good, loving, respected family man who also has a propensity toward violence and aggression toward those he finds evil or criminal.
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3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I don’t particularly want to feed readers what they should they think, so I’ll be careful here. When art is compelling it’s because of what each person brings to it. If anything, I would hope that this story raises questions about the concept of “just” violence. Is there such a thing as “good” violence, or does it all just feed into a nasty cycle? “Cast No Shadow” does touch on several themes-many of which were not intentional when I initially wrote it, such as race, children with guns, the war on drugs, etc. It is a short story, but I feel like there is a lot of meat there and I hope everyone who reads it will come away with something to chew on.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
I was drawn into this type of story mainly by my admiration for the work of Cormac McCarthy. After reading “No Country For Old Men” I always had the desire to write a kind of “modern western.” 
5) If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
If I could sit down with any character, I think it would be Annabelle. Although she maybe comes across as a bit mousy at first, though that’s probably not the best description, I think we find by the end of the story that she’s the strongest character in it. I would love to explore her background and particularly ask why she allowed Beau his vigilante fantasy when it’s clear that was something she never wanted any part of.
6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
I am, unfortunately, not quite a dynamo when it comes to social media, but as far as connecting with actual readers, rather than just followers, I would have to say Facebook has been most helpful.
7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
My advise for any upcoming or aspiring writers would be to do it for the love of it. Don’t expect a big pay day, don’t write to try to make a living. Write because something deep in you needs out and don’t give up on it. Write for you and be equal parts honest and kind to yourself.
8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I have got lots on the radar. My debut novel “The Wages of Grace” is complete, save one last round of nit-picky edits and cover art. I am hoping to release it in the fall or early next year. I’m also about 90% done with a rough draft on a work of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction, which I’ll be sharing some details about soon. I’ve got another novel in the oven and lots of ideas, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me again!