Saturday 19 January 2013

Author Interview: Kyle West and Jelani Sims

Kyle West is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Writing was his passion from the very first moment he started reading and getting lost in books. He started writing from a young age, and managed to complete his first book at the age of 21. He is the author of Night of the Necromancer and The Wasteland Chronicles: Apocalypse, and has plans for many, many more. He lives in Oklahoma City.


Twitter: @kylewestwriter



Since he was a small child growing up in Houston, Texas, Jelani Sims has obsessed over all things horror. That obsession has translated over the years into a Bachelor of Arts and Master's in Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma and a burning desire for writing fiction in the dark fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres. In addition to creating stories, he co-hosts The Storyboarder, a podcast on writing, with close friend and fellow writer Darren Jaworski. He currently lives in Norman, OK.


Twitter: @JelaniSims and @TheStoryboarder



Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?

Kyle: I’m still trying to figure that out myself. Generally, I think the characters know more about the story than you do. With Night of the Necromancer, everything was planned to a tee. With my second book, Apocalypse (The Wasteland Chronicles, #1), it was mostly a sandbox experience . The book I’m working on now is almost entirely unplanned.

Jelani: I do a mixture of outlining and seat-of-your-pants writing. If I outline too much, then I already feel like I've written the story and find it difficult to get started on the actual work. If I outline too little, then I get lost plot-wise towards the middle of a project. So, I outline just enough to know where I'm going and leave the rest up to improvisation and surprise.

Do your characters ever want to take over the story?

Kyle: My characters ALWAYS want take over the story, and since I'm a pushover, I'll let them. What they have in mind is always more exciting than what I had.

Jelani: I have a habit of exercising a lot of control over my characters, but they still often surprise me with the ways they suggest the plot to go.

What is your favourite food?

Kyle: I’m not a picky eater, and I would be a total foodie if I had the budget. I haven’t found a regional cuisine yet that I haven’t enjoyed: Being from southeastern Texas, just a few miles from the Gulf, I love seafood and anything fried, as well as barbecue. I love Tex-Mex, Italian, Indian, sushi, Chinese, Khmer, Mediterranean, Korean…you name it.

Jelani: Chinese Take Out.

Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Kyle: I used to be a night owl, but I’m quickly becoming a morning person. I love waking up early to write. It always feels great to start your day by putting some words down. I’m also a coffee drinker. The downside of being a morning person is I don’t have much a life after 10 p.m., but I’m okay with that for now

Jelani: I'm definitely a night owl. I can stay up until 4 a.m. without a problem. I'm working on changing that.

Where do you dream of travelling to and why?

Kyle: I've had the opportunity to travel many places: Britain (London and Stonehenge), France, Italy, and Norway. I've also lived in Cambodia a couple months as part of an English-teaching trip, which was a lot of fun as well. I dream of visiting any country you can imagine, so long as the political situation is not too dangerous. I would love to visit China, Japan, Africa, Brazil, Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia, Greece, and Turkey. The more out of the way, the better.

Jelani: I dream of traveling back to Brazil. It's my favorite country. I love the people, and I could easily see myself living there.

Do distant places feature in your books?

Kyle: I’m a science fiction and fantasy writer. More often, I invent entirely new places that are usually based off distant places, culture, and time periods. I do think visiting many different countries has opened my eyes to a lot of world views, and it has definitely influenced my writing.

Jelani: When it comes to setting, I find it easier to write what I know, so most of my stories are set in Texas or Oklahoma, places I've lived my whole life.

Do you listen to music while writing?

Kyle: Very rarely. I love music, but I find it distracting when I write. I can always get into a better flow and enter my story more effectively when it’s just me and the words.

Jelani: I love to listen to music while I write. I'm quite the audiophile, so I'm always consuming different types of music that inform and enhance my writing process. Whenever I sit down to write, I'll pick a good working song and put it on loop. It helps me to get in the zone.

Could you tell us a bit about your latest release?

Kyle: My newest release is a science fiction novel called Apocalypse, and it is the first in a trilogy called The Wasteland Chronicles. It is about people trying to survive thirty years following the impact of a meteor. It focuses on a main character, an innocent teenager named Alex, who must confront the harsh Wasteland when he is forced out of his government bunker. It deals with themes of losing your innocence when confronting the world’s harsh reality, as well as the struggle to rise above circumstances and do the right thing. I loved writing the book, and everyone who has read it so far has told me they cannot wait for the next one, which is very encouraging to hear.

Jelani: Night of the Necromancer is actually my latest release. It is a choose-your-own adventure zombie survival story, where you are the main character making all the decisions. Anyone who has read a choose-your-own-adventure book would love it. Readers can expect a new project from me from midway through 2013.

What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?

Kyle: So much, and I am continuing to learn. I discovered writing from a young age. I remember even in elementary school entertaining my classmates with stories I had written. I didn't even consider the publishing aspect until college when I majored in Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma. I learned much there, and since graduation, have been learning much more. The most important thing you can ever learn in life, college or not, is to educate yourself.

The most important thing for any writer to learn is, you guessed it, to write. That is only one half of the coin. The other is to make your product as professional as possible by editing, formatting, and having a catchy cover, and paying for those services if you can't do them on your own. Then, there is the promotion. Especially as an indie, you have to be your own promoter. Promotion is fun for me because I get to talk about something I love: my books. Much of the time, that enthusiasm carries over and it gets other people interested. The writing and the promotion are the two things any indie writer must balance and do if they want to be successful.

Jelani: The world of indie publishing is definitely still new to me. Since publishing on Amazon, I've learned that getting your book to sell comes through a mixture of dogged self-promotion and luck.

Is there anything you would do differently?

Kyle: Right now, I can honestly say no. I think I am on the right track and I am learning more all the time. I’m sure as I keep on with this writing thing, I’ll make plenty of mistakes. However, I've learned over the years that when you make a mistake, you just get up, move on, and try again. It’s how we grow.

Jelani: If I could do something differently, I'd say that Kyle and I should have started the promotion journey sooner. It's essential to being an indie author.

Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?

Kyle: Other writers. I love Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, among other science fiction writers, and various fantasy writers such as Robert Jordan, Brian Sanderson, J.K. Rowling, and Tolkien. But really, any writer who has talked about writing before with conviction inspires me to write. There have also been good teachers in my life who have inspired me: the main two are Ron Rozelle and Mel Odom, the former my high school creative writing teacher and the latter my professional writing professor. Mel is still kind enough to read what I write and give me pointers, though I am no longer a student. I’m very humbled by everyone’s support, and anyone who tells me they enjoyed my work. It is fuel that keeps the fire going.

Jelani: R.L. Stine and the Goosebumps series were definitely the initial influences of my writing. Those books made me want to write horror stories, and I still think about them, and read them, to this day.

Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?

Kyle: Write, write, write. And read a lot. I would say, especially in the beginning, quantity is more important than quality. The more words you put out, the more mistakes you make. The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. The most important thing is to think of yourself as a writer. Also, buy a coffee mug that says “writer” on it, so you never forget. I also recommend reading books about writing. I recommend On Writing (Stephen King), Plot & Structure, The Art of War for Writers (both James Scott Bell), and Zen and the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury).

Jelani: I would say what every other author says. Write every day. You need to get the "million words of crap" out of the way so you can start writing the good stuff. And, make sure the Internet is turned off during your writing sessions. I'm still working on that one.

What are three words that describe you?

Kyle: I am driven, serious, and caring.

Jelani: Jovial, loud, and spacy.

What's your favourite book or who is your favourite writer?

Kyle: I have many favorite books, but I love long, sweeping epics such as The Pillars of the Earth, The Lord of the Rings, The Stand, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Anything having to do with historical fiction, or a long, well-told story with many plot elements and characters is my kind of book. I love Tolstoy as well, Anna Karenina is probably my favorite book of all time. My favorite writer is probably Stephen King. I also love nonfiction, and am also a self-professed Jared Diamond nerd. Anything to do with history or science piques my interest.

Jelani: One of my favorite books is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I love the unique way that it's written and its message of bravery and courage has stuck with me throughout life.

Blurb for Night of the Necromancer:

You were a student just trying to survive college. Now, as zombies break down your front door, you must ask if you will survive the night.

You will need weapons. A vehicle. A group. A plan.

You must make all the right decisions to avoid a zombie's sharp teeth shredding you to bloody bits.

Will you rescue your overbearing ex-girlfriend, who broke up with you hours before the zombies arrived?

Will you trust the survivors you meet along the way?

Will you retreat to the country's little-used roads and creepy forests? Or fight your way through the city's streets, buildings, and subways?

Can you end the Necromancer's zombie reign of terror, or watch helplessly as the world disintegrates into his vision of madness and death?

If you are quick on your feet, you just might live to see another day. One wrong decision, you will end up as zombie food, or worse...a member of the undead.

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