Hello! Welcome back to the Self-Published Fantasy 8 Author and Book Spotlights with Raina Nightingale. Sometimes, the weeks tend to have something of a theme to them. Yesterday’s spotlight was D.H. Willison with Hazelhearth Hires Heroes, a book that doesn’t quite fit into conventional genres, perhaps by touching too many of them. Today’s spotlight is J.C.M. Berne with Wistful Ascending, and J.C.M. writes in a genre usually associated with being for children, but that when it is written for adults, it usually goes either silly or grimdark, but his books are neither. All of that according to J.C.M. The genre in question is Superhero Fiction, and I don’t know much about it, whether the children version or the adult version! Anyway, let’s introduce you to his SPFBO 8 entree, Wistful Ascending.
Retired from a career as a weapon of mass destruction for the Imperial Fleet, Rohan wants little more than decent coffee, a chance for romance, and a job that doesn’t result in half a galaxy shuddering at the mention of his name.
When a long-dormant wormhole opens near his employer, the sentient space station Wistful, the Empire takes renewed interest in the system. As scientists and spies converge on the system, Rohan struggles to protect his friends and his peaceful life without again becoming the type of monster that can’t have either.
And now, onto the questions!
As a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Entrant, you’re not just independently as opposed to traditionally published, but self-published. Can you start by explaining a bit about why you chose that route and how it’s been for you?
After starting twenty novels in thirty years and finishing fewer than half of them I needed stronger motivation to complete a work than I could get from the idea of endless rounds of pitching my book to agents. Instead, I promised myself that I would self-publish my final version, regardless of quality, and that did, in fact, turn out to be the push I needed to complete my novel, Wistful Ascending. I published it in a very amateurish way, with no professional editing, an inexpensive cover, and very little feedback in general. Only after a significant number of people provided really enthusiastic responses did I suspect that if I did the book the right way I could really make an impact.
It’s been difficult but rewarding. All the cliches are true – full control means you are in charge of every element of production, but it also means you have nobody to blame when things go wrong. I don’t have much choice, as the major publishers aren’t particularly interested in my genre, which helps prevent me from second guessing my decisions.
Who needs to blame? Blame doesn’t make the world a better place, does it? That’s awesome self-publishing turned out to be the motivation you needed to finish!
On a related note, why did you enter the SPFBO contest? A number of people have related that they find it pretty stressful. How do you feel about it so far? Or has it not affected you much?
I entered SPFBO because it seemed like the perfect answer to what I see as the problem with indie publishing: getting eyeballs on my text. What I need most at this point is reviews. I need people with a feel for the market to either tell me my book is great and recommend it to others, to generate an audience, or to tell me that my best efforts aren’t really all that noteworthy so I can scale back my investments and treat writing as a hobby and no more. SPFBO guarantees that at least one reviewer will give my book serious attention, and that’s a wonderful start.
I don’t feel much additional stress from SPFBO, to be honest. If I lose in the first round and hear that my reviewer didn’t care for my work, I might feel differently!
I wouldn’t worry about it even if you do lose in the first round! It’s not as if the judges choose their books out of all 300, so it can be just NOT a match! But I hope you get the review you’re looking for!
Book titles. Why did you choose the title you did for your book? Take this wherever you want; an analysis of how it fits your book (if that’s not a spoiler you’d rather not share); the inspiration for your title; how the title makes you feel. As short or as in-depth as you like.
I keep a running list of titles as I write and look for titles that are somewhat different from the competition AND represent the book in at least 2 different ways. I like double meanings in my titles. I want readers to think about the title, think they understand what it meant, and then at some later date realize it can be read differently.
Wistful is the name of the space station where my novel takes place. After a wormhole opens in her system, many eyes are drawn to her, and her position in galactic society rises, as this formerly sleepy, out of the way system becomes a center of attention. Her ascension, as well as that of the main character, Rohan, is a wistful one, because they are both individuals who would prefer to remain out of the limelight. The book is both about Wistful, the character, ascending, as well as the ascending of Rohan having a wistful tone.
Book 2 in the series has a similar title. It is called Return of The Griffin – it is both the story of Rohan (whose codename is “The Griffin”) returning to Earth, which he hasn’t visited in over a decade, and the (partial) return of the cold-blooded, vicious, win-at-all-costs persona that he adopted while using that codename as he fights to save his home planet from invaders. Book 3 (unreleased) does something similar.
Do I gather that the space station is a person? Double meanings are always intriguing and nice to play on!
I won’t ask for your favourite scene since I know some people don’t have those (wink wink), but can you share a scene you really like and you just can’t believe how awesome it is every time you go back to re-read it, that you don’t consider to be a spoiler? Alternately, you can share something about a character you really like. Or both, if you want.
I think every scene is a spoiler. Here’s a good snippet in a minor scene. Rohan is sitting across from Magdon Krahl, a Shayjh Adjudicator and generally scary person:
“Tamaralinth Lastex is a genius and will inherit her father’s position. You cannot be part of that future.”
“Let me play along just a bit longer, okay? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, let’s just say that I agree with what you’re saying. We’ve been on, what, three dates?”
“Four. And one non-date conversation.”
“Wow, okay, that was creepy. That you knew that. More creepy than scary, though, you should work on that.”
Magdon chewed slowly on his appetizer but didn’t answer.
“My charm is so definitely not working on you. My point is, we’re not getting married or anything. Isn’t this conversation a little premature?”
The Shayjh sighed a small sigh. “That is what we thought as well, right before she married her first husband.”
“Ah. I get it. Little lady’s a fast mover. Must be hard on her father, I guess, as long as he’s sticking to his old-fashioned notions of worthiness.”
“It is. I do not assume that you will sympathize with First Citizen Eldarinth’s position. You are yourself young and, obviously, not a parent.”
“No, definitely not a parent.” Rohan felt his own lips tighten. “If you’re not expecting me to sympathize, then what’s my motivation here to stay away from a woman I find quite delightful? In your eyes, how is this supposed to convince me?”
“I am prepared to offer you a substantial sum of money if you cease any and all interactions with Tamaralinth.”
“Seriously? A bribe? I’ve seen this on TV and it’s a bad cliché. Are you going to pass me a slip of paper with the number on it, then pause meaningfully as I unfold the paper and gasp at the sheer quantity of zeros written on it?”
Magdon already had his hand on the table, sliding it forward slowly. “That is the custom.”
“There’s really a slip of paper under there. There really is! This is kind of fantastic. I mean, I’m not going to take the money, but this will be a great story for me to tell. I mean, I can’t thank you enough.”
The tall, pale man lifted his hand, revealing a folded slip of paper. “It is customary for you to take it.”
“Wait, I forget the trope. Do I open it, then crumple it up and throw it in your face, to signify that even after seeing the amount and being tempted by it, I’m refusing? Or do I crumple it up and throw it without looking, to show that no amount of money could possibly tempt me away from my Tamara?”
“The former is more common than the latter, but it is your choice.”
Well, my personal opinion is that there is no such thing as a spoiler, and as often as not the so-called spoilers reveal the value of a book! And this was certainly a gripping read. I like Rohan already.
Same sort of thing as with the last question, except this time what about a quote? One to five lines or so, but this isn’t math. You don’t need to count the periods (or question marks, exclamation points, or other sentence-enders).
“The balance of power in the sector, in the galaxy, ultimately comes down to menopause.”
Can I say that was weird? And will probably make a lot more sense if I read the book? Or maybe if I was at all acquainted with the Superhero genre?
It’s been a pleasure to have you with us so far (and I expect that to continue!) What else might you like to share?
I write superhero stories. A lot of people who I think should be in my intended audience balk at the idea of reading a superhero story for a variety of reasons. Historically, superhero stories have been aimed at children. They haven’t paid much attention to internal consistency or covering up plot holes or the laws of physics. They’ve prioritized ‘wow’ moments over solid storytelling.
More modern superhero stories that are written for adults often show that intention by deconstructing the genre in one of two ways. One set tells goofy, silly stories. The heroes have nonsensical powers that they use for sex or to set up jokes. The other set make their heroes grim, dark people motivated by baser instincts. Their heroes are dark and dangerous, living in a grim and dirty world, aiming for a tone that is as contrary to the childish tone of earlier comics as possible.
I try to write a different kind of superhero story. My books aren’t grim, but they aren’t silly. I think pretty carefully about the ramifications of the powers that are on display, about how they’d impact worldbuilding and so on. I pay attention to physics and choose with deliberation which laws I’m willing to break and how badly I break them.
I wouldn’t say my stories are better than something like Watchmen, only that they represent a different approach to superheroes for adults. I’ll never write anything that could pass as grimdark. The violence will always be less realistic and more like that in an action movie. The characters feel realistic in their emotional reactions but not necessarily in their physiology.
If you like things like Invincible or the space-based Marvel movies (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor 3), I think you’ll appreciate these books.
Well, I don’t know either of those, so I can’t speak to it, but the balance you’re going for here certainly sounds good.
JCM Berne was a geek long before anyone thought it was cool. A youth spent immersed in E.E. Smith, Micronauts, Bruce Lee, and Conan the Barbarian led to a lifelong obsession with martial arts and shonen manga. As an adult he spent more time than was strictly healthy wondering why Luke Cage never learned kung fu from his partner and whether joint locks would work on the Hulk, occasionally taking a break to enjoy some Bollywood films. Java developer by day, by night he ponders the future and past of Rohan of Earth and associates.
You can find J.C.M Berne
And, for Audiobook lovers, JCM has let us know that Wistful Ascending is currently in production. JCM also has another release coming later this year: Blood Reunion, Turn Three of the Hybrid Helix.