Jun 2nd, 2020
Hi everyone, and thank you for tuning in to another episode of the We Make Books Podcast - A podcast about writing, publishing, and everything in between!
This week we have a very special guest! We were lucky enough to be able to sit down with author Scott Warren. Scott is the author of the Union Earth Privateer series and the third and final book of the trilogy is being released the same day as this episode! Full disclosure: Scott was the first author ever signed by Parvus Press and so it was extra awesome to be able to talk to him ahead of the release of the last book in his trilogy. Scott is an all-around amazing and fascinating guy, so we were thrilled to be able to get his perspective and thoughts on developing a story past your original plan, writing from your own experience, and wrapping up a trilogy. We had a great time talking with him and hope you enjoy listening!
We Make Books is hosted by Rekka Jay and Kaelyn Considine; Rekka is a published author and Kaelyn is an editor and together they are going to take you through what goes into getting a book out of your head, on to paper, in to the hands of a publisher, and finally on to book store shelves.
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Episode 36: Every Rivet in the Alien Railgun - Military Science Fiction with Scott Warren
transcribed by Sara Rose (@saraeleanorrose)
K: Hi everyone! Welcome back to another episode of We Make Books, a show about writing, publishing, and everything in between. I’m Kaelyn Considine, I’m the acquisitions editor for Parvus Press.
R: And I’m Rekka, I write science fiction and fantasy as R.J. Theodore.
K: And today’s a big day for Parvus.
R: Yes! We, full disclosure, we are being very self-serving today and loving every minute of it! And hopefully you’ll love it, too.
K: Today is the launch of Where Vultures Dare the third and final book in the Union Earth Privateers series and thus the first completed trilogy published by Parvus Press! Oh, also, Scott Warren had something to do with this, I guess.
R: I, well, he can talk later. It’s just us now. We can—
K: It’s just us now. So today we had Scott Warren, author of the Union Earth Privateers series sit down with us to talk about—I mean, we talked about everything in this interview!
K: We had a great time talking to Scott, covered a range of topics from writing techniques to crafting action scenes to where he came up with the idea for the UEP series. It’s a fantastic interview, Scott is always a delight to talk to.
R: Yeah, and as a reader I really enjoyed Vick’s Vultures and To Fall Among Vultures and I’m just about to dig in because, of course, I have the inside scoop. I got an advance copy of Where Vultures Dare. I, of course, picked it up because I was interested in a small press, to see what they were all about, and I really enjoyed the first book and the second one went a direction I did not see coming, so it’s really great that Parvus was there to allow Scott to take it in a direction that military sci-fi might have said, “Um, actually, if you’re gonna follow the conventions, maybe don’t do this thing?” And I’m really excited to see where book three is gonna go.
K: Scott was the first author ever signed by Parvus Press, so we are very excited about the success and progress of all of our authors, but this is our first completed trilogy and this is Scott’s first completed trilogy, as an author as well. So big day all around!
Anyway, we had a great time talking to Scott and hopefully you have a great time listening to us talk to him.
R: Yep and because it’s June 2nd when we release this, that means book three is out on shelves. So you can go check out Where Vultures Dare and, if you haven’t already read Vick’s Vultures and To Fall Among Vultures, they are quick reads! They read very fast, in addition to not being big, door stopping tomes. So you could pick up all three and check them out in, probably, a span of a few days. Just tear through ‘em.
K: You won’t be able to put them down. Anyway, take a listen and enjoy, we’ll see you on the other side of the music.
[intro music plays]
K: Alright, well, I’m sure that’s all classified so we won’t ask you too much about that!
R: Which is to say that Kaelyn really wants to ask you about it.
S: You can ask me. I’d answer what I can.
K: I have a master’s degree in American military history, so I am—
S: Oh, you probably know more about my activities than I do.
K: Well, my focus was Vietnam, so.
R: Possibly not.
K: Wellllll, there’s debate over how much submarine activity there was during the Vietnam War. There’s some official numbers and then there’s some… speculative numbers.
S: Oh, I don’t actually have any information on that, unfortunately.
R: That’s the official line anyway.
K: That is exactly what he is supposed to say.
R: So we are talking today to Scott Warren, author of military science fiction series the Union Earth Privateers, and we are very excited to have him and we are celebrating with him because today his third book in the trilogy has just released. That is Where Vultures Dare. So, welcome Scott, and would you mind introducing yourself for our audience?
S: Thanks for having me, guys! I am Scott Warren, as you said I’m an author, I write both science fiction and fantasy. My sci-fi series is Union Earth Privateers, published under Parvus Press. Humans have just broken into the intergalactic scene and they’ve found it packed to the rafters. They’re kind of hopelessly outgunned. All of these alien races, every single one, is far more advanced than they are. So they developed a small, elite corps called the Union Earth Privateers, whose single directive is: go out and secure advanced technology through any means necessary.
Vick’s Vultures and its sequels follows one such privateer ship, captained by Victoria Marin, and they go around and they engage with aliens. They help them, they fight them, or they pick their bones in order to bring home technology.
R: So you don’t have history, personally, with spaceflight or salvaging alien technology, but you came to the Union Earth Privateers trilogy with a certain background that, I assume, did help you?
S: So the experience that feeds into Vick’s Vultures is kind of two-fold. The first is the submarine experience in the military. I spent about three and a half years in the military, and then after that I transitioned into civilian aviation. So the way that the space combat is written is kind of a blend of the two. It features a lot of the submarine warfare aspects of stealth and sensor readings, as well as the three-dimensional movement. And, as far as aviation goes, that’s where a lot of the nomenclature and the procedural stuff comes from. So when you see Victoria Marin engaging with other cultures, other militaries, most of the jargon and the lingo they use actually comes from the aviation world, not the military world.
R: And I think one of my favorite things from the first book was humans had this Boogeyman aspect to them because they used that submariner stealth and the other aliens had never seen their faces, they just knew that, if humans came, they were gonna come in through your portholes and take everything. That was a really neat aspect of it.
K: Military sci-fi, that’s a popular genre, to say the least, certainly amongst its fans. I would say it’s one of the most vivaciously consumed of a lot of science fiction and fantasy genres. What, particularly, drew you to writing that because it is a very competitive field to get into, and it’s very hard to write well. It’s interesting that you went from being a submariner to a civilian pilot. I don’t think you can have two more different trajectories there. But I think that, also, as you said, gave you a really interesting perspective to write about here. These stealth operations that the humans in the book are conducting versus being able to incorporate your knowledge of aviation.
S: Well, like you said, the military science fiction genre is huge and has very voracious readers, of which I am one. That was the biggest reason for wanting to write The Union Earth Privateers, is I’ve been reading military science fiction for a long time. I’m, specifically, a big fan of John Scalzi, I like H. Paul Honsigner and his Man of War series, which is also a submarines-in-space style book. But the competitiveness and the market and, really, whether or not I would be able to sell Vick’s Vultures at all didn’t weigh into the equation really at all. I was writing because I wanted a creative outlet. I was coming off of the Sorcerous Crimes Division, so I had just self-published my first fantasy novel and I decided, “Hey, I think I’ll take a try at sci-fi!”
R: And you’re a reader of both, though, right?
S: Yes, absolutely.
K: So, in Vick’s Vultures, and the setting of Union Earth Privateers, humanity’s not in great shape, as you said, at the beginning of this. We are a very small fish in what we are learning is an increasingly big pond, full of very carnivorous other fish. And there’s, instead of this humans going into space and learning and exploring, you have a very—I don’t wanna say more of a dark take on it, but it’s certainly not a very optimistic one. [laughs] Is that—where was that coming from in your writing? Is this what you envision if, you know, we do eventually encounter alien life, is this what you think we’re gonna find?
S: It’s not so much what I think we’re going to find, it’s that I’m a really big fan of the crowded galaxy philosophy, in terms of fiction. But most of the science fiction that I read, humans are usually on force parity with most of the aliens that they encounter, or it’s just hoo-rah, humans are the best forever and ever. I kind of wanted to explore that transitory period where humans get out and it’s not, “Oh, these guys have a similar level of weapons and technology.”
These guys are better than us in every way, so the only way we can survive is if they do not know we’re there. That sort of disparity in force has been explored quite a bit, but usually it’s in terms of aliens invading Earth, aliens invading human space. So the first contact is made by the aliens, and then it becomes a war for survival. I wanted this to kind of be exploring the, “Well how do we prevent a war for survival from happening?”
R: Right, so in your stories the aliens don’t even really know where Earth is or where the humans come from.
S: Mhm. You touched on the humans being kind of the Boogeymen and that was one of my guiding philosophies of that. I wanted humans to be these things that were only scary in the dark.
R: Right, and that was their technique for making sure that nobody messed with them because what else were they going to do? They couldn’t defend themselves against the bigger—the Big Three, as you call them in the books.
S: Right. When I designed most of the alien species in Vick’s Vultures, the kind of philosophy behind it was, well, most of these alien species have long-since settled their differences before they got into space, so they didn’t have the same infighting that humans did, that caused them to be militaristic throughout their existence. And that they’d also been in space for so long that they pretty much had lost their ability to go outside their ships and feel safe outside their ships. So humans were still the only ones using spacesuits and spacewalking. So it’s kind of an age of sail allegory where a surprising amount of sailors didn’t actually know how to swim—
K, laughing: Yeah, right? Yes.
S: —so they feared things in the water. The third aspect of the aliens is that their minds were so much more advanced that they just didn’t need to develop computer technology, so when humans come around with their little, dumb, smoothbrains they’ve been developing computer technology to do their thinking for them, to the point where it’s so advanced that it does things the aliens can’t really wrap their minds around.
K: One of the things that I, personally, really enjoyed about the series with the juxtaposition between the humans and the aliens, is that the humans—like, I get a little annoyed with a lot of science fiction where it is frequently, the aliens come to us first and then the scrappy humans have to come back and fight their way through and unify and, you know, we figure out water is their kryptonite or what have you.
But, what I did like about this was these things is, where we usually have this approach of like, “Oh, you humans, with this, this, and this.” It’s such a foreign concept to these aliens that we’re surprised that they are surprised by this, a little bit.This idea of: they don’t go out into space, they don’t use space suits. As you said, the sailors that can’t swim. So that was something that I really liked about how you differentiated humans versus the aliens in this. That they really have these fundamental differences in how they approach life and space, if you will.
R: But speaking of life in space, you have a lot of action scenes in Vick’s Vultures. That was something that we specifically wanted to talk about in this interview because action scenes are notoriously difficult to write. I don’t care if it’s a giant, massive space battle or if it’s a sword fight between two people in a desert. They’re very hard to write, and you do an incredible job of it while navigating a lot of elements and, as you had mentioned, kind of in the way that a submarine has more than forward and backward and up and down to move, there’s literally infinite directions when coordinating a space battle that objects can move in. Thereby making it even more complicated to keep track of things.
R: So how on Earth do you keep track of all these things?
S: Well, the first guiding light is obviously the Rule of Cool. I ignore all the potential things that would just end the scene in one line, so that I can write out an action scene. But when it comes to writing realistic space battles, it doesn’t really happen in science fiction. So, once you have that figured out, you’re kind of free to flub whatever you want.
K: Now, when you say—
S: This is gonna sound like I’m kind of a scam artist peddling snake oil, but really that’s all it is is writing action scenes in space, so far as ship to ship combat, is essentially selling your reader a pipedream.
K: Now when you say—because when you say writing realistic battles, there’s the how you really turn in space, kind of, component to this, and I apologize, I don’t know—I imagine submarines are somewhat of the same where you have to use pressure to force directional changes. In space, in order for, for instance, the space shuttle to turn, it has to release air to force it to do so at a 90 degree angle. Obviously, that’s not how these ships fight each other in space. So, physics is not a consideration for you, at all, when writing these?
S: Somewhat, it is, but very loosely. I mean, when it comes down to it, the best tactic is always gonna be the The Last Jedi, hit a ship with another ship at lightspeed tactic. Why would you never not-use that? Unfortunately, it’s kind of boring to read. So, mostly, I ignore the mechanics of how the ships move like they do. I’m more focused on the story of how some force is going to tackle some other force, based on the disparity in strength. So I’m a little bit closer to a Star Wars kind of ships fighting between each other.
K: So one of the things that I encounter a lot, as an editor, when dealing with any sort of action or combat scene is mapping and tracking all of the components of it. I can’t tell you how many times I get a draft from a writer and we go through this whole thing and I’m like, “Hang on a second, where’s this person? What were they doing the whole time?” and it’s very hard to block that, if you will. And I understand that that’s a phrase for the video component of this, but you kind of have to take it into consideration when writing, too. Where is everyone and how are they interacting? Action scenes are very difficult to write because of that. Because if there’s a fight going on, you can’t have one person that’s just standing there waiting for it to be over because you don’t know what to do with them.
S: Funny story about that, actually, and I’ll answer your question in a second. In the first draft of Where Vultures Dare, the squad that goes down onto the planet, and I’m gonna try and avoid spoilers too much, the small squad initially had another member, a new character that I had made, and by the time they got to that first action scene, I had completely forgotten that, that character even existed and he never shows up in the draft again.
S: It is difficult to plot out the initial blocking of that action scene. Now, when you use that term, blocking, you say it’s a visual-focused term, and it is, and I also come from a visual art background as well. I still occasionally do illustration on the side, that was originally one of the things I wanted to be, before I joined the military. So when I do this writing, I actually take a very visual approach in two ways. Like you said, I block out all the big pieces first. I make sure the reader’s aware of them. And then I do what’s called working from big to small. So, when you’re painting or illustrating, you start with the biggest brush possible and work your way down. You don’t use a detailing brush until you absolutely need it. And I kind of take the same approach to writing action.
So the first thing I do is I work big to small, I make sure the audience is reading the broad strokes. Because our brains do a handy little thing where they’ll fill in the detail where there isn’t anything present. And the other aspect of writing action scenes is, when I’m writing one, I try and make sure that reading the scene takes exactly as long to read as it would to happen, if you were watching it in a movie.
K: That is such an important thing, I think, to me when writing and plotting action scenes. Authors tend to, and I completely understand why, get bogged down in description and not realize that the time that you’re taking to read this, this guy’s been stabbed to death six times already now.
K: In all the time that he’s sitting there describing the sword in the other person’s hand and the stance that he has and the dust clinging to his boots, he’s been dead for about ten minutes. I alway use, and Rekka’s gonna shoot me because I’ve been referencing a lot of Harry Potter things recently, but I always use the reference when, in the end of Goblet of Fire, when Harry gets sucked through the portkey and ends up—and Cedric dies, and there’s this whole long scene—
R, ironically: Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—
[K and R laugh]
K: It’s your own fault if you haven’t read it at this point. Cedric dies, everyone! There’s this whole long, drawn out scene that I think, in the book, is about two and a half chapters from start to finish, with this whole process. And then I remember when I saw the movie and how quickly that happened!
S: It’s just a snap of the fingers and he’s gone and I loved that aspect of the movie.
K: I loved how fast that happened, that the whole point was that this was incredibly disorienting because this whole encounter, this death, this terrible realization, this shocking revelation of Voldemort is back, all happens in five minutes. And that’s why nobody realized Harry was even gone back at Hogwarts. So, I completely understand why you need to explain and flush these things out, it’s an entirely new setting that you have to describe. You have to establish the characters, you have to establish where they are and what they’re doing, but having that visual component to it eliminates all of the need for exposition there.
So, it’s a really hard thing to do in writing, taking these scenes where you have to set the scene, and still trying to get it to a reasonable amount of time that these actions could be transpiring over.
R: One thing I always like to remind people is that you are a writer, you have control over everything that’s going on, that wouldn’t happen in real life. So you don’t have to describe a scene, you can start your action scene in a place that’s already been described in a quieter, more peaceful moment. Or you can keep in mind what Kaelyn’s saying and describe what the person needs to know in the moment of the action, which is: there’s a door over there and the floor is slippery. You don’t need a whole lot more than that. Or, it’s dark or whatever. That doesn’t take paragraphs, whereas if you feel like you need to get tactile with it and describe the stones’ texture, then that’s probably not something that a person’s going to realize until after the fact. They’re just trying to survive the moment. So big to small is good like that and it’s kind of the same thing that you’re saying. Get the big details and then you’ve placed the scene and you can get the smaller details as they become necessary, as the character is able to even recognize them. I mean—
R: —it’s reasonable to assume that somebody looking at a sword is going to see SWORD, if the sword is drawn. As opposed to looking at the pommel and everything if the sword is sheathed and safe.
K: I always have a line I use that’s been dropped into many a manuscript that I’ve edited: human evolution was designed rather to react than to analyze. We don’t necessarily care what’s chasing us, we just know it’s getting closer and it has teeth. So, along those lines, how do you—you are in a genre where the fans of this really like and appreciate a lot of detail about the spaceship that’s attacking them. They want to hear all of the guns, all of the turrets, all of the engines and components to this. How do you avoid falling down that trap into—because I imagine from your side, and you write in a lot of detail and are clearly knowledgeable about this—how do you avoid falling into that trap?
S: The biggest thing for me is that the focus on combat, most of the combat in Vick’s Vultures is based around the same thing that submarine warfare is based around: a lack of full information. You’re working with very limited details on whatever enemy you’re fighting. So they might know that there’s something out there, but they can’t see what it is. And if they can’t see it, well then there’s no point in me describing it to the audience. Because at the end of the day, I’m writing in third person limited. The narration only knows what the characters know.
R: That is a good point, though, because we are so used to the Star Trek viewscreen and looking at the other ship and knowing as soon as it drops out of warp that it’s a Romulan ship versus a Klingon ship versus, you know, there’s something out there, we don’t know what it is. Okay, well it’s Romulan because they have the technology. But your characters are, sort of, in a submarine in terms of what they know about what’s going on around them and they need some kind of signal from the ship to recognize it, or to be sitting on the outside of the ship in one of their suits. But even then, there’s the realism of how far away is it? How much can you actually see if you’re looking directly at it. So, yeah, that’s a good point and that aids you in the genre, I think, because that adds to that realism that the readers expect.
S: Mhm. Kaelyn you mentioned that readers are very voracious for those details.
K: Yes, yes.
S: But I think a lot of them are also voracious for that level of grittiness and realism, and sometimes you can’t have one along with the other. And, in this case, I think they settle for the realism rather than the exploring every nut and rivet on an alien railgun.
K: I completely agree. I think there is—I don’t want to call it a trade-off, but there is this notion of—well, I’ll call it a trade-off!—trading one for the other. There’s a degree of suspense that you can entrench yourself in and use that as your high, if you will, in reading all of this versus getting to kind of sit and revel in the description of, as you said, every rivet in the alien railgun. Which is now going to be the name of another book that I want somebody to write. [laughs]
R: Well, you know what it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be all exposition, if you want that book.
K: Nah, it’s gonna be… we’re gonna make the, you know, one of those—remember Star Wars during the, when they put the prequels out they made those books that was like the pictorial guide to Star Wars? Well, we’ll do that for Vick’s Vultures. It’s gonna be a lot of black pages with vague shapes in the back of them.
S: And half the text blacked out and redacted.
K: Yes, exactly! Perfect. But, actually, speaking of blacked out text and redacted, this is not a series that is simply, hit-and-run stealth missions. There’s some political components, there’s some scheming, there’s other parts of this beyond just humans going into outer space and trying to further humans’ ability to exist in space. Vick and her team get into some nonsense.
S: As a rule, I tend to try and avoid political themes and huge political arcs in my books, simply because I don’t like reading them. But you can’t really have an interplanetary, sometimes diplomatic, directive or organization without touching on the politics. And so they not only get pulled by the human politics, but they get pulled by the alien politics as well. One of the things I always try and have in Vick’s Vultures, on multiple levels, is a trichotomy. So it’s not just good versus evil, it’s three opposing organizations that are each trying to further their own goals, usually at the expense of another. Sometimes those goals are political, sometimes they’re military, sometimes they’re survival.
K: And sometimes they’re a combination of all of them.
S: Mhm, absolutely.
K: They frequently overlap and motivate different components of what they’re trying to accomplish. So, I have to ask something because—and this is a little bit of, you know, how the sausage is made here—by the time I came on to Parvus Press, Vick’s Vultures had been out for, I guess, about a year at that point and Colin had sent me a copy when I was kind of auditioning, if you will, to be an editor. And I was shocked to realize that Vick was short for Victoria.
K: And that this was a woman. I have to, of course, ask—I mean, I love Vick as a character, I love all of the intricacies and nuance to her personality that you write in, but—women are not allowed on submarines.
S: They didn’t used to be. They are now.
K: Oh, they are now! Okay. Why, I have to ask, what made you write Vick as a woman?
S: So there’s three main reasons that I did that. The first one is this notion that male readers won’t read female main characters, so I kinda wanted to do a bait-and-switch like, “Oh, it’s called Vick’s Vultures, so obviously the main character is a guy named Vick!” And then if they don’t read too much into it, it’s like, “Ha! Gotcha!” You’re actually reading about a female character.
The second was I kind of wanted her to be the inverse of, you know, the classic male Han Solo? Where these male captains have, they do all these things that no reasonable, realistic person would do and then get rewarded for them. I kind of wanted to make Vick do those things and then everyone kind of call her out on it, her self-destructive tendencies getting her into trouble more than they get her out of it.
And then the third was that I wasn’t sure whether or not I could write a female character well, but coming off of Devil Bone, which is the first Sorcerous Crimes Division book, a couple fans pointed out to me how well the few female characters had been written. Specifically, there’s two main characters, not main characters, but side characters in Sorcerous Crimes Division that were female raiders. So they would go in with the raiding parties. One was a more leader archetypal mother-hen type and the other was basically a psychopath.
S: But they were on the same side and people thought they were pretty realistic. So I thought maybe I’ll tackle writing a female main character for the next book. I enjoyed doing that so much that I ended up making one of the female characters also a POV character in the second Sorcerous Crimes Division book, as well. And she ended up being pretty much the fan favorite.
R: I mean—
K: That’s great.
R: Women kinda rock, don’t they?
K: I agree.
S, warily: Let me make sure my wife is not…
R: Wait, before you disagree with me, you mean? No.
K: I was gonna say, maybe this is what she should be hearing!
S: No, I just don’t want it to go to her head.
R: Ah, got it.
K: Ah, alright, fair enough. That’s fair.
S: Also, fun fact: she just finished reading Harry Potter for the first time this week. So—
K: What’d she think?
S: —she narrowly avoided the Goblet of Fire spoiler.
[R and K laugh]
K: See, there would have actually been someone out there who was—
R: I told you! I had to warn you about the spoilers, yeah.
K: I have very little sympathy, apologies to Scott’s wife, for people who are upset by fifteen-year-old spoilers at this point. But what did she think of the books? Just out of curiosity.
S: Uh, she liked them but she’s also very able to pick up on the things that are acceptable in Young Adult writing that maybe don’t so much fly for adults.
K: Well that’s a whole other conversation—
R, laughing: Yeah, I feel like our Patreon deserves Kaelyn’s Rant on Harry Potter and Kaelyn’s Rant on a couple other movies and book series.
K: I’ve got a few of them. It’s a—do not get me started on Game of Thrones. The last season of that. Poor Rekka, poor Rekka had me—
R: I saw it in real-time. I saw it happening. Kaelyn’s devolution into—
R: Not even madness, just you… couldn’t even speak sometimes—
R: —because you were so upset about the decisions made.
K: Rekka had the misfortune of being with me to watch the Battle of Winterfell and then also—
S, laughing: You mean listen to the Battle of Winterfell, right?
K: Okay, well, here’s the thing: Rekka and her husband Matt should have a service where they go to people’s houses and fix their TVs for them because we could see everything perfectly watching that. So I don’t know what you guys did to your TV, I don’t know what setting you have it on, but we could see everything and then all of my friends are texting going, “Well I think they won. I don’t know, I can’t see anything!” and I was like, “Oh, really?” and I went back and watched it at home and I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is just a black screen with some shapes moving around in it. Oh, there’s fire. Okay, I see fire.”
And then Rekka, also, was sitting next to me when we watched the series finale at the Nebulas out in Los Angeles last year. Parvus and, mostly Colin, finagled a viewing—
R: Viewing party.
K: A viewing party. It was a lot of fun, but oh my goodness. That’s a—
S, a hero bringing it back on topic: Yeah, going into the launch of UEP #3, at least secure in the knowledge that hey! at least it won’t be the last Game of Thrones season. You know, the bar has been somewhat lowered.
K: So, speaking of that—
R: This does close off your trilogy, yeah.
K: Yeah! The trilogy’s wrapping up. How are ya feelin’?
S: I feel pretty good. You know, I’d actually set this book aside for I while. I wrote and published an entirely separate book in the time that this one was—I’d kind of gone through pretty much writing and editing on The Dragon’s Banker while Vick’s Vultures #3 was going through the editing and publishing process. And I don’t know how it is for other authors, but I actually tend to retain very little of a book that I’ve written once I move on to the next book. I forget character names, I forget plot points. All of that just gets flushed. Part of me thinks that’s a result from the studying tactics in the military and aviation where you cram and cram and cram and then knowledge dump immediately after the test.
But I can actually, I’m doing my final review of Vick’s #3 now and a lot of it going to be going through and almost looking at it with fresh eyes, as if it’s something that someone else wrote.
K: Well, we were gonna ask you some questions about resolving plot points, you know without spoiling anything, and completing this three-story arc but do you remember any of it? [bursts out laughing]
R: All right, so feel free, if you need to say “I don’t know that one” we’ll just cut the question like we never even asked.
R: So you have three books out now that complete a trilogy. Did you see it as a three-book trilogy to start with? Did you have an arc in mind?
S: No, actually. When it started out Vick’s Vultures was not meant to be part of a trilogy, per se. I was thinking of it as more of a serialized thing where each book would be its—
S: Mhm. It's its own separate, self-contained story. Neither one would really feed into the others. Once I had the first book out, I wanted it to be something that could absolutely stand on its own. You could read Vick’s Vultures as just Vick’s Vultures and then ignore the rest of the books and be perfectly happy and get a one hundred percent complete story. Because I didn’t know if there would be sequels, at that point. I was still a very new writer. I wasn’t super confident. I thought this is a good book, but I don’t know how many good books I have in me. What if I run out of ideas half-way through the next one? Six books later, that’s not a huge issue apparently.
K: I was gonna say, what is it with you authors and doubting your abilities to generate stories? That’s all you do!
R: Have you read the Goodreads reviews, Kaelyn? You know, if you’ve ever spent any time looking at other people’s reviews of books you think, “Wow! I could mess up in so many ways I didn’t even consider when I started writing!”
K: Yeah, but those people don’t know what they’re talking about.
S: It helps that I’d committed pretty much every sin that I’ve railed against in Devil Bone, when I wrote my first book. So I was like, “Man, all these mistakes that I see other writers writing! I’m gonna avoid all of those!” And then I did ‘em anyway and I was like, “Oh, it’s because that’s the only way I know how to do it.” That’s what’s familiar.
K: Do you have more stories set in the UEP universe? Do you have other things you’d like to write here? You know, as you said, you saw this as kind of a serialized, ongoing collection of stories. Is that something down the road that you think you’d revisit at some point? And I’m not just asking this as your publisher!
[K and R laugh]
S: I would like to revisit it at some point. I didn’t leave open ends so much in Vick’s Vultures #3—
K: No, that’s kind of why I was asking. Yeah.
S: —but I did seed things that could be explored further, and there’s always other ships in the Union Earth Privateers. I purposefully made this big terrain, this big stretch of stars, the Orion’s Spur, which gets name-dropped constantly in the series. One to say, hey this is the humans’ limit. This is how far we can go because there’s basically a brick wall at each end of the Spur. And the other being like, hey! This is a big playground. You can go anywhere in this and we’ve only touched on a small fraction of it. And, essentially, the number of locations and the number of stories that can be told in that universe isn’t limited by what’s already been written because it’s not going off—this is kinda pulling back the veil a little bit—it’s not going off of real stars, it’s not really going off real systems. Everything’s being made up to serve the narrative. Everything is kind of what it needs to be to tell a good story.
So would I like to go back to it? Absolutely. Right now I’m on a little bit of a fantasy kick. Coming out of Dragon’s Banker I tried to start up a sci-fi novel, wasn’t really happy with it. I restarted it a couple times before saying, “I’m gonna put this back on the shelf for a little bit,” and kind of explore more the things that I explored in Dragon’s Banker with the slice-of-life fantasy, and then go back to maybe doing sci-fi after that, with maybe something either in the Vick’s universe or more esoteric. Kinda closer to something like grimdark 41st millennium, without name-dropping and having DCMA requests called on your podcast.
K: Now, it is interesting because I’ve obviously read UEP series and I did read Dragon’s Banker as well. These are very, very different books. Not only in terms of genre but in terms of, really, your writing style. Do you find it difficult to oscillate back and forth between sci-fi Scott Warren and fantasy Scott Warren?
S: That’s kind of a tricky question, but I like it. One thing to keep in mind is that between Union Earth Privateers and the Sorcerous Crimes Division is that the subject matter for the books, despite being fantasy and sci-fi, ultimately was very, very similar. They were both about elite, professional teams working together in an action-oriented environment. But one dealt with magic, the other dealt with aliens. But when you dig really deep into them, they have more similarities than they have differences.
When it went to Dragon’s Banker, it was a challenge to myself. I’d been writing very violent, very action-oriented books and I wanted to challenge myself to write a book with a true pacifist. Where the main character would not and could not resolve any of his conflicts through violence. I wanted to explore that theme, and I wanted to explore a novel where lateral thinking was the key to completing all of his objectives. And that, really, he was completing a lot of his objectives just through struggling through his own personal problems and not even realizing that he was contributing, behind the scenes, to all of these conflicts he wasn’t really even aware that he was involved in. Which was a tricky plate to balance.
S: But you mentioned the style of the narration and the dialogue and everything being very different in Dragon’s Banker, and the fact is, writing Dragon’s Banker, my wife read that and once she finished, she put down the book and she looked and me and said, “You are Sailor Kelstern!” And I tried to argue and she said, “Don’t lie! I know you.”
[K and R laugh]
S: So, reading Dragon’s Banker is the closest you’ll get to an unfiltered view of my internal narration for my own life and my own thoughts. And the truth is, in real life I am not a violent or aggressive person at all. I’m the mastermind, I’m the plotter, the planner, and the schemer.
K: Yeah, because I remember reading Dragon’s Banker and I’m going, “Is this really Scott?” [laughs]
S: I mean, that did cause a little bit of friction, I know, in the publishing house because I think Colin was a little hesitant. Like, “Ooh, we have this military sci-fi writer who’s also trying to have us publish this,” and I ended up self-publishing Dragon’s Banker. Ultimately, I decided that was probably the right path for it to go.
K: Because you have—all of the science fiction books you’ve published have been with Parvus Press, but your fantasy books have been self-published. Do you find there’s a cross-over with your fans, that they follow you between these genres? Or do they tend to segregate based on what they like to read?
S: Honestly, I couldn’t say just because I don’t really have a large level of fan interaction.
S: I’m not like a lot of authors who make a fan page or interface with their communities. I’m honestly not even really aware if I have a community or reader reviews.
K: I can tell you that Union Earth Privateers definitely has a community.
S: Mkay, so the closest I come is to looking at some of the reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. What I notice is usually, if the reviews namedrop another book that I’ve written, it is a namedrop of a book in the same genre. So if I had to hedge a guess, I would say that there is not that much genre crossover between my readers. And that might be, in part, because they are segregated in terms of Parvus taking one half of my library and self-publishing doing the other half of my library. Or it might be because there’s just a readership difference in sci-fi fans and fantasy fans. I honestly couldn’t say.
K: So, along those lines, you’ve kind of got a foot in two different worlds here, if you will. Where do you wanna focus next? Do you have a plan for what you’d like to do, if you wanna lean more into the fantasy side or the sci-fi side? Are you just gonna see what comes and what you feel like writing?
S: So, right now I am doing what I feel like writing. I am doing another slice-of-life fantasy that takes place in the same world as Dragon’s Banker and the Sorcerous Crimes Division, it’s more action-focused slice-of-life. I really wanted to get very out there with this one. I don’t have a title for it yet, but I will say that it has an undead protagonist—
S: —who is a traveling monster hunter for hire along the west coast of the continent that all these books take place in. And he has an apprentice who is a living human child, between the ages of eleven and fifteen. The main character literally does not know how old he is, and doesn’t care to. But the book kind of explores their traveling and their relationship and their role in the world. One of the biggest complaints with Dragon’s Banker was that the worldbuilding was a little weak, so I wanted to take this book and really delve in and say, “Hey! They’re travelling here, this is what it looks like, here’s the kind of creatures that live here and the people that live here.”
In the future, yes, I definitely want to return to sci-fi. With the fantasy side, I will probably maintain the self-publishing just because I enjoy that aspect of it. With the sci-fi, I had talked to Colin, he wanted a new military sci-fi and that was actually the working title of the book: New Military Sci-fi.
R: Hits the keywords!
K: Of course it was!
S: I wasn’t ready at the time. I had just come off writing back-to-back military sci-fi books and I was honestly a little burnt out at that point, I think, with writing Dragon’s Banker and the untitled monster slayer book. I’ll have created enough space to confidently return to military sci-fi for the purpose of writing military sci-fi. That was one of the big problems with it, is that when I was writing the book, I wasn’t writing it for myself, I was writing it for someone else. With art, as with writing that’s kind of when I start to encounter the mental blocks is when I stop writing for myself and start writing, well, I should write this because an audience will wanna read this. Or I should write this because a publisher will be interested in publishing this. And what I really need to do, and what really contributed to the charm and uniqueness of both Vick’s Vultures and the Sorcerous Crimes Division was I’m writing this because it’s something Scott Warren would write. Because it’s something that Scott Warren would want to read and because it’s something that doesn’t exist currently. It’s a new take on something.
So when I start trying to write to an audience or to a publisher, my whole process kinda breaks down and stalls. Once I get this fantasy flush through my system, I think I’ll be ready to return to military sci-fi and come up with something a little more unique. And I have two different manuscripts for military sci-fi that I was writing during this period of roadblocks that reached about 20,000 words and they had some really fun and interesting ideas4, some of which ended up being in these others books, but some of which really need to be, I think, explored and will be very fun to explore.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest ones, Martha Wells kind of beat me to the punch with a very recalcitrant AI character!
And as much as I love Murderbot, I hate that it exists because it was very similar to a character that I was actively working on when All Systems Red came out.
R: Well, you know, there’s always something to be said for having a very successful copy book, too, so. You know, feed the people who want more of the recalcitrant AIs. I think that’s fair to say. But that’s good that you can recognize what it is about your writing process that works for you and notice when it starts to break down and see what the symptoms point to. I think writing for yourself is always the best advice for anyone who’s trying to be creative. It’s interesting that you’re big into self-publishing and not so big into write-to-market. I think that’s healthy.
S: Mhm. And hopefully that’s not too much nails on a chalkboard on the publishing side of the house!
K: No, no.
S: Because I also do love being a Parvus author.
K: Well we certainly love having you and Vick’s Vultures was the first book that Parvus ever put out and I know Colin is certainly not shy about saying it was a significant cornerstone—the keystone, if you will—to our early success in the publishing world.
We’ve covered a lot of topics, a whole range of things, is there anything that you could go back and tell yourself when you started all of this, or is there any just general advice you have for either people who are self-publishing or somebody who is trying really hard to work around a particularly tricky action scene, or anything that you wish you had known or could offer as advice to those listening?
S: Hm. So there are a couple pieces of advice that I would give to budding self-published authors. So, one thing that Parvus provided was an editor, which I think is crucial and it takes a lot off the pressure off me. When I initially got into self-publishing, the idea was that, “Well I’m gonna be a do-it-yourself guy on my first book and I wanna experience the whole process. The writing, the editing, the marketing, the publishing, and, most importantly, coming from an illustrative background, was the cover art. My fantasy titles actually get a lot of comments on the cover art because my illustration style is so unique and I tend to illustrate the tone of the book, rather than the content.
But the biggest thing when I went into self-publishing—and I will without reservation tell every self-publishing author who’s thinking of their own editing—go ahead and slap yourself in the face right now and get a freelance editor lined up to edit your book.
S: There’s a reason that editors are so in-demand, so highly sought after and so highly regarded in the publishing industry, and it’s because published authors would not exist without them.
K: I swear I did not pay him to say this! I promise.
R: I mean, she’s writing a check right now, but that wasn’t arranged beforehand.
K: But that is something that we talk about a lot, is that there’s a reason—even if it’s not just an editor—get other people to read your book and give you feedback on it. Preferably people that maybe have some experience and at least some involvement in this process, but.
S: Mhm. So this advice comes from as much of an art background as it does writing. But you need to be able to have a thick skin, as an author, and be able accept critique without taking it as a personal attack. In both art and writing, the people that succeed are the ones that can take feedback and improve their writing based on it. No one is above critique and when someone comes to you and tells you something doesn’t look right, or something reads wrong, you cannot tell them, “No, you’re seeing it wrong.” 99% of the time, when someone gives you a critique that something is wrong, that critique is accurate.
R: Or at the very least, it draws attention to something you need to look at again. That person may not have nailed the solution or given you the exact issue, but they’re pointing to something that’s not feeling right for them.
S: Right. So when I was working with Arley on the Union Earth Privateers #3, there were a couple times—my favorite quote from an editor that I’ve ever gotten. He left me a comment, after I’d made a change, where he said, “I love that I can spend ten minutes marking out a paragraph and telling you why something doesn’t work, and writing out two paragraphs worth of comments on it, and you can go back two pages earlier, change one line of dialogue and it fixes every problem.”
K, laughing: He was—Arley and I had a lot of conversations about, obviously, how things were progressing on your side and he was very impressed with your ability to, instead of having to tear something down and rebuild it, fix it and move forward. But it’s hard to get work back that you've put so much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into and have somebody say, “Not this, not this, change this, do this.”
S: It is hard.
K: As an editor, I can tell you it’s coming from a place of love. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy.
K: If we didn’t love what you were doing, we wouldn’t care. We wouldn’t tell you how to improve it.
S: I won’t lie or sugarcoat it, it does kinda sting a little bit.
K: It stings, I’m sure!
S: When you get a manuscript back and you see 1200 revisions or, I think the first Vick’s Vultures book when I first saw it had a couple thousand revisions and I was like, “Ohh! I wrote a terrible book!” But the biggest guiding light for working with an editor that I have to keep in mind, and I would encourage other authors to keep in mind, is that an editor’s job is to make your book the best possible version that it can be.
K, delighted: Oh my god, that’s exactly what I say all the time!
[S and K laugh]
K: I want this book to be the best possible version of itself!
S: Mhm. And you won’t always agree with an editor 100% but you have to keep in mind that that’s where they’re coming from. And sometimes you don’t want to turn a phrase or something that isn’t 100% grammatically correct, but invokes the tone or the narration that you want. You have to recognize that, hey, you can push back sometimes against an editor, but for the most part they are trying to improve your book and you are not looking at it from an unbiased perspective.
K: Well I always remind authors that I work with, or even just people who ask me about this, this is a conversation. I’m not standing on high handing down edicts that you must apply to something that is ultimately your work. This is—if there’s something that you’re really hung up on, I’m gonna ask you, “Why is this a big deal? What am I missing here? Am I not understanding something? Is there a part of this that is just going over my head?” Because that’s happened before! This is a secret. Editors are not perfect. [laughs] And now I have to go because the secret cabal of editor-ninjas are going to come kill me for saying that into a microphone.
R: Well, lucky for you, we are just about out of time. So, I know we could go on trading war stories about either our off-planet missions or editing, but thank you Scott for joining us today. So everyone listening, definitely go check out Union Earth Privateers. If you haven’t already read books one and two, you could catch up on all of them in one weekend, I bet. Because once you get into one, you’re gonna really just read straight through them.
K: Yeah, no. You’re gonna sit down and blow through that.
R: Yeah! So that’s Vick’s Vultures, To Fall Among Vultures, and Where Vultures Dare and those are all from our favorite little press, Parvus Press! You can get them all today.
K: And Scott, where can people find you online? I know you don’t really have a fan page, but if somebody wanted to send you a note and say how much they love the books.
S: So I am abysmal at social media. I’m a very reclusive author and, actually, kind of a funny story if we have time.
S: I actually came across a post in the wild, on Reddit, referencing Vick’s Vultures, saying that the person had tried to contact me and had been unable because I hadn’t made a Twitter post in months and I hadn’t made a Facebook post in something like half a year, on my author page. And I responded to their Reddit post saying, “Oh, hey, this is me!” So, honestly, the best place to get in contact with me would probably—
K: Is Reddit!
S: Yeah, because I honestly don’t really check my author e-mail? But I am very active on Reddit in the fantasy community and the sci-fi communities and a few other communities. So my username is /u/scodo, so fairly simple. And you can message me on there and probably get more immediate feedback than if you tried my Facebook or my poorly neglected blog or my Twitter account.
R: So if you are a reader who has read both Scott’s fantasy and science fiction, make sure you tell him that you crossed over genres to follow him. Because he doesn’t know that you’re out there.
K: Tell us, too! Because we’d love to hear that as well.
R: Thank you everyone for joining us, thank you Scott for joining us! And good luck with the book launch.
K: Yeah, congratulations!
S: Thank you and thank you guys for having me.
[outro music plays]
R: Thanks, everyone, for joining us for another episode of We Make Books. If you have any questions that you want answered in future episodes or just have questions in general, remember you can find us on Twitter @wmbcast, same for Instagram, or wmbcast.com.
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