Interview: James Peters
This week we sat down with science fiction author, James Peters. Join us as we talk about why he got hooked on reading as a kid, how he puts together his Space Operas, and his journey to find a voice actor for Audible.
James: Well, I grew up reading and loving anything that was considered Science Fiction, be that books, TV, or movies. I was in the hospital with pneumonia several times and about all I could do was to read. I fell in love with the works of Asimov in particular, and I developed a great respect for people who could tell a story.
CJ: At what point did you write?
James: I started writing short stories way back in high school. I took a class called Outer Limits, and they allowed us to write anything we wanted, we just had to write every day. So I wrote a “Buck Rogers” type story, and the teacher gave me great feedback. I developed that love for writing then, and I’ve been honing my skills for decades since. I still haven’t lost that youthful love for telling stories, but now I can do it and be a little more mature about it.
CJ: You’ve got 10 books now, I believe. Are they all stand-alone or are any a series?
James: I have a couple of series I’m working on. The first is the Black Swan Planet Trilogy. Books one and two are done, and I’m currently working on book three (about 30% down with the first draft). I hope to have it done by end of this year.
The other series I have is the Cold Cosmos books. I just finished book two in that series, and it’s going to be released in July (just around the corner!) at this point I’m waiting on my cover artist to finish up the artwork, and it’s good to go.
The rest of my works have been primarily short stories in anthologies, and so far, they have been all stand alone, but I have some ideas to turn Carbon to Carbon into a three-part short story collection and release it as its own book.
CJ: Where has the inspiration for your stories come from?
James: Many times, I get ideas from my dreams. I’ve awoken with complete conversations in my mind and have to jump up and write them down. Sometimes they are brilliant ideas, plays on words and misunderstandings, and sometimes they are downright silly, but that’s subconscious thought for you. I also daydream a lot when I’m driving or doing manual work and get ideas I have to write.
CJ: Let’s talk about your series, Cold Cosmos. Walk us through the inspiration and the writing of the first 2 books.
James: Gladly! Cold Cosmos is a Space Opera story, featuring a hero from 1895, who literally becomes a space cowboy. He has a run-in with a bear-like beast, and as things progress, it turns out this beast is a Skinwalker (something like a were-creature) but is alien to Earth. He ends up saving the creature, and it saves him, dragging him into a technicolor universe filled with aliens who have no concept of humanity. He becomes, over time, a hero in his own right, and pulls a team of misfits together to do the right things, even against their own better judgment.
The inspiration from this came from the old western heroes and the adventures of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and Jim West. I wanted a character so out of touch with science fiction, I could tell the story from his point of view and share the magic and wonder with the reader one situation at a time. I feel that Idiom Lee (my main character) is what every kid growing up wanted to be at some point, the voice of reason and justice, and kicking alien butt when needed.
Book two picks up about six months after book one when the entire crew laughs at Idiom and tells him they aren’t interested in staying together as a team. In the second book, Idiom has to rescue all the other members one at a time and bring them together to form a long-term alliance, something like you might see on Firefly or Farscape. I totally enjoy writing this series and I hope the fun I have with it transfers to the reader. I enjoy having my main character be the butt of the jokes, but he’s right and saves the day.
CJ: Your story sounds like a lot of fun. How much of that was planned and how much wasn’t?
James: When I start a story, I create a plotline; basically an outline of the big events. The characters meet up; they get into a shootout, they escape, etc. While in the planning stage, I will have bullet points saying “They are captured, and through some cunning plan, they escape”. Then, as I’m writing and the characters themselves come alive in my head, I used that to allow them to develop their own plan. I find my characters are much more ingenious than I am once they are fully fleshed out. I also make certain that each one has his or her own agenda, and I use that agenda to add conflicts and arguments amongst themselves, which I use to add humor and details. I have a lot of fun with one character in particular, “Slowhand” as Idiom calls him, loves to insult the main character constantly, and I play with that throughout the books. I also like to add wit and fun twists regularly in all my work. It’s just how I write. I’d hate to ever hear a reader got bored reading my work!
CJ: I can’t imagine that happening. Have you self-published all of your stories?
James: Other than the anthologies, yes. I got started with several established authors to get my feet wet in the professional market, and I let them handle the publishing for them. But once I got into my full-length novels, I’ve been self-publishing ever since.
CJ: For an Indie author, the idea of success is as different as the person writing the stories. What is yours?
James: For me, I find success in hearing from my readers, be it through reviews or the occasional email saying they really enjoyed my work. So far, I’ve had the most monetary success with my Audible offerings – Black Swan Planet found an audience there and took off beyond my initial dreams! I don’t write specifically for Audible; I write for the print and E-book market and have a great voice actor handle the rest. I’d write for minimum wage as long as I heard from people telling me they enjoyed my stories!
CJ: Tell us about the process you went through with Audible. Few indie authors add that to their stories.
James: Initially, I linked my written work to Audible and opened up the title for an audition. I had probably five voice actors audition, and I ranked them based upon their talents – diction, clarity, ability to do different voices for different characters, and willingness to “go all-in”. By far, David Swanson (my voice talent) was the best I’d heard from. I gave him a copy of the work, and I provide him inside information, like “play this character as a bumbling fool, and don’t be afraid to go over the top” or this character is always conniving and planning, play her as manipulative. He did such a magnificent job and came back to me later telling me he had to stop and laugh many times at the lines I made him say. He started sharing the work and together we have a loose partnership, I’d say. We split the profits, and he’s (so far) been happy to voice all my works.
Audible takes a lot of time to do. You have to listen to the work line by line, report any issues, and then go through it all again when it’s over. By the time I’m done with having my stories in print, ebook, and Audible, I am so tired of them I don’t want to see them again. That is, until I get a good review from a reader or listener, then I’m all about re-reading it or working on the next book.
CJ: Wow, that does sound like a lot of work. And here I’m complaining about needing an assistant just to keep up with my social media!
James: I was just complaining about marketing, editing, and cover design work, wishing I could outsource all of that and just write!
CJ: If only we made millions!
CJ: One can only hope. You’ve talked about your process, and honestly, it seems exhausting to me. Is it? Or does it energize you?
James: When I’m in the zone, the words flow like water over Niagara Falls. I need to have my music playing, and other than that, silence, and when it’s all just right, I can write for hours on end. I think my record is about 12,000 words in a week when I was finishing up Cold Cosmos Book 2, but I might have hit that during Black Swan Antithesis as well – sometimes the words just come to me.
CJ: Have you ever written a difficult scene?
James: Oh, of course. I’ve had some scenes that literally left me in tears because of how painful they were to my characters. I think part of being a good author is to have that level of sensitivity that allows you to feel the pain a fictional character feels. I’ve written scenes like that, then couldn’t sleep for a couple of days because I was so down. That’s one reason I try to include humor in all my stuff and a sense of “it’s all going to be okay at the end” because I don’t think we need more depressing stories right now!
CJ: How do you recover from those rough scenes?
James: That’s a good question. I do struggle with them, and sometimes I have to focus on “breathing in” and taking in some other entertainment, such as watching a comedy, reading something from some of my favorite authors I know won’t depress me. It is taxing though, and I couldn’t constantly write tragedy without going crazy. I’m just too close to my characters.
James: I worked professionally as a technical writer for about five years, and I think during that time, I learned how powerful well-written words could be. Beyond that, we see regularly how poorly chosen words can haunt a person, especially in the social media world. Personally, I see writing as immortality. Once I’m gone, future generations can still read and enjoy my work. That’s power in my book.
CJ: That sounds pretty powerful to me. Thank you so much for sitting with me today. I enjoyed our conversation!
James: It was my pleasure!
You can connect with James via these avenues: