Author Interview: Thomas Robins

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As an author, I understand how it feels to finish a book. One of the most challenging, yet fulfilling aspects of the writing process is simply finishing. For Thomas Robins, he finished not only a series, but also the complete novel of Desperate to Escape this week with the fourth installment in the science-fiction serial.

Thomas published the first part of his D2E series last September. It is unique in a number of ways, chiefly in that his protagonist is an African-American woman from the inner city of Chicago. Ineeka Coleman’s unlikely story puts her as a NASA astronaut on her way into space when everything goes wrong. The fascinating part of the book is the dual-narrative where the reader is treated to Ineeka’s time in space in one storyline and her time on earth in the other. Each story can’t exist without the other and even though you know one will end with her in space, there are tons of unexpected results and surprises along the journey for Ineeka.

I’ve been privileged to be a beta-reader for Thomas and his last couple D2E installments and he really pushes the envelope and gets the reader to think in the final couple chapters as the finish line approaches. I had a chance to ask Thomas a few questions about the series, about writing and what’s on the horizon. (Fair warning, the TV series LOST is mentioned more than a few times.)


d2e4 You have finished Desperate to Escape. Describe your feelings and what you’ve learned since starting this series.

I’ve learned that, as an indie author with a full-time job, you can’t find time to write, you make time. I’ve also learned that spending a year on a creative project is exhausting. Rewarding, but exhausting. Short stories are a much different thing: work intensely for a couple weeks and it’s done, but when the word count starts piling up, there are levels of difficulty that go into keeping everything straight. For example, when editing the final part of the story (part four), it turned out one of my characters had changed the way she talked since the last time she was in the story (part one). Something like that is not likely to happen in a short story.

Where did Ineeka Coleman come from? You don’t live in Chicago and Kansas doesn’t strike me as an “urban area,” so how did you go about creating that character?

I knew the main character would have to be strong enough to overcome some substantial hardships and Ineeka’s character came to mind as someone who could survive and grow despite the adversity.  I’ve always heard author’s say a character wrote herself, but this is the first time I’ve had it happen to me. Ineeka’s story seemed to write itself. Really, I think the first scene in the book is still my favorite: a young girl tucked away in bed using her imagination to play out her fantasy of space travel. Looking in from the outside, you’d think her whole life was terrible, but at the end of the day she had dreams just like all children do.

d2e1Did you have the finish line in sight from the beginning or did you make it up as you went along? Please answer as if you are Damon Lindelof, co-creator of LOST. 😉

Ha Ha. I feel like Damon Lindelof as I say this, but I really did have the basic story start to finish developed before I started writing. I did come across a substantial roadblock that changed the structure of the series, however. Originally, the first book “flashbacks” would feature Ineeka, book two was for Williard, book three was for Harold, and book for would go back to Ineeka. When I started writing book two, I just could not make Williard as engaging a character as Ineeka had become. I decided to make her the focus for all the books instead. Of course, I am sitting on a mountain of backstory for Willard and Harold that was not used in the books. I’m not sure they will ever see the light of day, though. Rest assured the ending was exactly as it was meant to be.

Speaking of LOST, once I finished, I really saw a lot of influences from the iconic TV series. How much do you think it influenced you in writing D2E?

I don’t watch much TV. In fact, I didn’t start watching LOST until a few seasons in. I think one of my friends lent me the DVDs and asked me to watch them. It is some of the greatest writing I’ve ever seen in television series. The slow, methodical buildup to the first season cliffhanger was brilliant, in addition to all the philosophical and religious views they touch on. LOST did influence my writing in that I liked how LOST gave equal weight to the backstory and the main storyline. In Desperate to Escape, the two parts of the story are nearly identical in length and help the reader understand why Ineeka acts the way she does.

d2e2What’s next for Thomas Robins?

Wow. I have some short stories running around my head I’ll take a stab at. I already have a superhero short written for a LOOW collaboration titled Repose. That is due out later this year. I fully expect my next novel to be even better than Desperate to Escape. It is a big project that I have been putting off until I am done publishing Desperate to Escape so I can stay on deadline.

How do you incorporate writing into your personal life and career?

Earlier, I said you can’t find time, you make time. Here are my secrets: First, if I am rocking a sleeping child, I don’t watch TV or surf the web on my phone, I write scenes on my phone. It passes the time nicely. One of my Kindle World books was almost entirely written this way. Second, I get to go to the coffee shop one night a week to work on my writing. It’s my night out. My wife has a night out too (for her hobby). It’s a great system we use to allow each of us to have a break from parenting duties while also giving each of us a night to spend quality time with the kids. It’s a win-win.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

This is such a hard question to answer because I don’t keep up with when I read books. The one that comes to mind is Eleanor by Jason Gurley.

DESPERATE_Part3What’s the best thing about being an indie author?

The best thing is when people read my writing and enjoy it. Ultimately, I make up stories all the time. Most of them are forgotten, others are never written down. The only reason I write and publish stories is because I think those stories are worth sharing.

Anything else to add? 

Will, thank you for taking the time to interview me. Please let your readers know they should sign up for my e-newslettter on my blog at www.thomasrobins.com.

Thanks Thomas!

Do yourself a favor, and pick up the four parts of the Desperate to Escape series before the price goes up (because they are really a steal at just 99 cents a piece!) Click right —-> HERE!

 

Oh…and behold the complete D2E cover (all four parts and the omnibus edition were all designed by the amazing Jason Gurley, btw…). Thomas is pegging August 1 as a release date for the full D2E story.

d2e full

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Pennsylvania Book Review and Interview with the Beard himself

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Pennsylvania is a special book. If you haven’t read it, you need to — for the words, for the amazing art by Ben Adams, for the formatting — all of it that makes this indie book look not so indie. Except — wait until April 29. That’s the launch date for the Omnibus and we need all hands on deck to buy it that day. I’ll explain in a bit…alright…everybody in? Good.
In Pennsylvania, Michael Bunker has created a futuristic world where the most unlikely of protagonists takes center stage — the Amish.
I read the first part of Pennsylvania last summer and thought it was genius. I went back to find my review of that installment and found myself comparing Bunker’s tale to Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, and John Scalzi. The comparisons are apt. While the men I mentioned have collectively written science fiction for decades, Mr. Bunker has been trying his hand at it for only a few years. Add “Amish” to that science fiction moniker and Mr. Bunker finds himself in a unique position.
I’ll have my full official review for Pennsylvania up next week when the Pennsylvania Omnibus drops in the Amazon store. (You can find my previous reviews of each of the parts on their respective Amazon pages.) The title is up for pre-order on both Kindle and Paperback right now, but you should wait until Tuesday, April 29 to buy.
Why?
Because as Indie Authors, we need all the help we can get. If the people who are going to buy PA anyway all buy it on one day, the book has a greater shot at rocketing up the charts, faster than an Amish Wagon heading to a barn raising. Michael Bunker calls it his “Book Bomb.”
I’ve read Pennsylvania and found it to be a great throwback to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, with the added element of 21st century independent author flair. Bunker did a great job crafting a world foreign to us, but yet based on a world he is all too familiar with. (If you don’t know already, Bunker lives an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, generating electricity for his computer off solar panels and sustaining him and his family off the land.) Readers really can sense a combination of a serious, but separate society in the Amish, combined with the modern politics of the time. He has already noted there will be a follow-up book, entitled Oklahoma.
With the release of Pennsylvania just a few days away, I decided I should ask Bunker the hard-hitting questions everyone is dying to know.
1. The Postal abbreviation for Pennsylvania is PA, which might also stand for Passive Aggressive. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble – why should people buy the Pennsylvania Omnibus? If you have the time to answer, that is…
Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

Bunker employed the ridiculously-talented Jason Gurley to design his covers for Pennsylvania, including the Omnibus cover.

MB:  Because if they don’t, they are with the terrorists. And besides, every time someone buys the Pennsylvania Omnibus an angel gets its wings. A puppy finds a home. An old, lonely person is comforted. But then… some people don’t care about those things…

 
2. Alright. You’ve said Pennsylvania is actually a prequel to the upcoming series Oklahoma. (Which is OK.) Can you confirm or deny that this is actually the futuristic retelling of the classic Broadway musical “Oklahoma!”? How will Curly’s story intersect with Jed’s?
MB: Jed goes back in time to stop Jud from killing Curley, only to be mistaken for Jud because of the name similarity. Because of the mix up, Jud kills Curley, hilarity ensues, and Jed goes to prison in a surrey with a fringe on top! It’s a comic love story.
 
3. As for this Facebook group, AZ… how do you feel about having your own fangroup? Also, does their name have any sense of foreshadowing, meaning is the third installment of the Michael Bunker state series entitled Arizona?
MB: It is weird and humbling having a fan-started, fan-run, Facebook fan group. I was honored when it got started and I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and know so many of the readers. But I am starting to feel I’ve been duped. Since the AZ got started, I think I’ve posted about 90% of the content in there. Wait a minute… Doh. (Interviewer’s Note: Mr. Bunker conveniently dodges the third installment question, leading me to assume he is looking to become the James Michener of state-named science fiction novels.)
 
4. What makes the Amish such great subjects for a science fiction novel?
MB: Great question. There really could be no better subject for a sci-fi novel in my opinion. The whole history of the Amish is a tale of how humans who deliberately consider what technologies they will use or adopt, interact with a world that tends to adopt technologies without much long-term consideration. Of course, no one is “anti-technology,” even the Amish, but the Amish culture is the perfect canvas to examine the future, technology, and how these things affect our lives. And of course, since the Amish came to America on huge, futuristic ships, the parallels of colonization and exploration are ready made for sci-fi.
 
Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

Look at that marvelous beard. Gaze upon its beauty.

5. I know every author these days does a zombie novel and technically you’ve already don’t yours, but what about Amish zombies?

MB: The biggest problem with Amish Zombies is trying to figure out how the first infection starts.  How do you get “patient zero”? Since the Amish eat wholesome, home-grown foods, and tend to avoid a lot of processed products, they are generally a healthy and robust people. Perhaps a young Amish man contracts the virus from an iPod earbud during rumspringa? Besides, the Amish practice of shunning would probably nip the infestation in the bud pretty quickly. Being undead is a definite violation of the Ordnung.
 
6. Hunker (Bunker + Howey) is so early 2013 and Burley (Bunker + Gurley) is so late 2013. The new jam is the Bunker-Nick Cole Bromance, which I am officially dubbing Nickel Co-Bunk. I will allow no more than 200 words of fangirling about Nick Cole’s work. And…go!
MB: You know, my relationship with Hugh was purely physical. He never appreciated my brain. And with Jason, well, I was in love with the art. We never really sat down for coffee. But with Nick, well.. he completes me. But, in all seriousness, these are three talented men, and I’m pleased to be their friend. But… desert island time? Give me some Nick Cole (or as I call him… Nick King Cole.) And unless Solzhenitsyn or Hemingway comes back in time… well, you know… (Interviewer’s Note — that response clocked in at just 84 words, meaning Mr. Bunker could have written another 116 words on his love for Nick Cole’s books. I’m sure he’s just trying to conceal his true emotions.)
 
7. There is a whole new sub-culture developing of independently published writers. In your opinion, what are some of the best aspects of being an independent author?
For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

For each of the five parts of his Pennsylvania series, Michael Bunker employed Jason Gurley to design these mind-blowing covers.

MB: There are the obvious answers. Creative freedom, more money, the community aspect of having direct access to readers and vice-versa. I am so happy to be where I am today, and in on watching and participating in the revolution. And that is my real answer. I honestly believe that we are in one of those times… those golden moments that become “a thing” historically. Like being on the Left Bank of the Seine in Paris in the 1920’s, or hanging around the Algonquin Hotel during the time of the Round Table. Very few people (when things like that are actually happening) realize that they are participating in a monumental period. There are things happening right now that students will study in the future, and we’re getting to take part in it. Some of the names we’re throwing around loosely will be (and are becoming) household names, and will become part of the cultural consciousness and lexicon of this very distinct time.  We’re a sub-culture, but what is happening now is fundamentally changing the world, and that is fun to consider!

 
8. Would you rather: Have a burrito for every lunch every day for the rest of your life OR have a donut for breakfast every day for the rest of your life?
MB: I refuse to live in a world where those two things are mutually exclusive. I choose “C”. BOTH!  (Although a breakfast burrito and lunch donut are also wonderfully valid options.)
 
9. What is Michael Bunker currently reading?
MB: I recently finished Andy Weir’s The Martian, which was wonderful, and I’ve been reading some fantastic short stories as they have been submitted for super-editior David Gatewood’s soon to be released Synchronic time-travel anthology which should be out in May.
 
10. Any other secrets in that beard of yours?
MB: Oh, I’m always finding things in there.  Bear claws, Cadbury eggs, new collaboration projects… even a whole new MB website coming soon with direct purchase and download of e-books for every e-reader.  Lots of cool stuff in that ol’, plain beard.
Thanks for having me, Will!
As always, it was a pleasure.
Michael
Additional information on the Book Bomb can be found here. (Note: thanks to Amazon’s Matchbook program, you can get the Kindle version for just 99 cents with the purchase of the Paperback — a steal!)