Interview – Jim Melanson, author of the Mike Lane Stories
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Jim Melanson, author of On Mars: The Mike Lane Stories. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Jim
JM: Thank you, Paul. This interview is my first; I’m very excited.
SPS: For any of our readers that haven’t come across your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself and your work?
JM: I’ve worked in Emergency Services for almost thirty years. During that time I’ve done a lot of writing for work. Business cases, technical manuals, procedures, that sort of thing. I developed a reputation as a “go-to” person when something needed to be written. Since my favourite genre of books, movies, and television is science fiction, it was a simple leap to start writing in that genre for my own enjoyment. In 2014, I sat down to write a sci-fi novel. What came out was still a sci-fi novel, but the story was completely different than I had originally planned. My fingers seem to come up with the story as I’m typing and I’ve learned to trust that little muse that takes my ideas off on tangents.
SPS: What are your perfect writing conditions, and how often do you write?
JM: The perfect condition is a hot cup of coffee in my hand, Sirius XM playing quietly in the background, and not having to go to work that day. As a shift worker, I get stretches of four and five days off at a time. I usually write for two to four hours on those days (or more, depending on how the writing mojo is flowing), and for at least an hour on days when I’m working. I’ve learned two secrets to being productive at writing. The first secret is to write something every day, even if it’s rubbish and I wind up deleting it. The second secret is to stay the heck off of youTube.
SPS: Can you put your finger on the moment where you decided that you wanted to publish your work?
JM: A few years ago, a dear friend passed away suddenly. There was no warning. She went home from work one morning and collapsed as she was taking off her coat. The mortality of that moment struck me, and I knew that I had to make some changes in my own life. I had spent too many years saying, “tomorrow, next month, next summer.” One of those things I had always put off was writing for myself. I know that my friend, Lorraine, would have loved my writing. I know that she would have been my biggest supporter. Whenever I face a quandary about whether or not I should write something contentious, I hear her voice in my head: laughing at me, calling me a dork, and edging me onward.
SPS: Why do you think it is that you have found yourself writing in the style that you do?
JM: Early test readers told me that I have a very direct and in-your-face way of writing. I’m not afraid to make my villains a little bit likable; I’m also not afraid to tarnish the halo of my heroes. One of the things I dislike when I read a book is when what happens is exactly what I expect to happen. I always try to surprise and throw twists into what you expect. As an example, in On Mars: Pathfinder, when the protagonist should have been using a pulse-energy weapon to fight off an attacking alien, I had the character leave the weapon in his habitat. He was stuck fighting the alien with rocks, on Mars. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about that decision. In volume 2, I kill off the one character that should have been untouchable. They’re just examples of how I like to deliver the unexpected.
SPS: What would you say, if anything, best differentiates you from other authors?
JM: I write my books to have multiple, interrelated story lines. I like the flow of moving from story line to story line as the book progresses. It gives more depth, variety, and if done right, it will keep you on your toes.
Another thing is that there is no formulaic resolution to my protagonist’s goals. I’ve read a lot of books that seem to follow the same template for how a story flows. I’m not saying anything against that; many of those books are excellent, and I’ve enjoyed the stories. However, I also knew what to expect. No matter how good the story is, having twists and turns I don’t expect make me enjoy a story even more. I’ve had many people say that my first sci-fi novel was not what they expected, in a good way. That’s what I hope differentiates me from other authors, that I’ll surprise you and present you with something you didn’t expect. As well, with my fiction, I like to throw a lot of hard science in with the fictional science. I do spend a lot or time researching, and I know far more about heliocentric transfer orbits than a non-astronautical engineer should know.
SPS: Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
JM: In general, the inspiration comes from asking myself, “What if that were true?”
The biggest part of my inspiration comes from looking at emotions in a situation. What would my character feel? What would they want? I think I anthropomorphize my characters, for want of a better word, to a high degree. I’ve even cried over characters deaths, much to my surprise.
One of my biggest influences is Edgar Rice Burroughs. I really love the Princess of Mars series of books. The John Carter character was a chivalrous man, in a fantasy world. What made those books so great wasn’t only the otherworldly setting, it was what John Carter was experiencing as a man, and how he held to his values and morals. Figuring out what my characters are going through is a significant source of inspiration for creating the stories.
There is a book called “Triplannetary” by E. E. “Doc” Smith, published in 1934. It should be a required reading for any aspiring sci-fi author. The characters are a bit campy, but they are also big, bold, strong, and brash. By today’s standards, it’s a lark. But if you pay attention to the writing style, the character presentations, the way the story flows and moves, it is an exceptional book. I strive to bring some of that melodrama, bigger than life characters and fast paced action to my writing.
For my first sci-fi novel, On Mars: Pathfinder, I got a lot of inspiration for the story itself from the conspiracy theorists websites, and the conspiracy theorists videos on YouTube. I based some of the aliens on things I’ve read and watched. Videos of supposed alien contact by the alien “Skinny Bob”, were part of the inspiration for my alien characters called the “Eben”. What those lacked in depth, I added to the concepts by reading the conspiracy theorist stories of the supposed Air Force involvement in the Zeta Reticuli Exchange program. Of course, the idea of a guy going to Mars to set up a colony probably wouldn’t have popped into my head without the efforts of what Mars-One is doing.
SPS: If you had one moment to sell us on the idea of your book. How would you sell it?
JM: The first trilogy has three themes. Volume 1 is hope, volume 2 is love, and volume 3 is forgiveness. Rather than a moment to sell you, I’d rather sell you on the protagonist’s dogged determination to succeed, even when everything is working against him. As a person, I can get through anything so long as I have hope. I’d like that to be something that people take from the book, and perhaps a reason that people turn to it. Mike Lane, the protagonist, never gives up hope through all three volumes, even when faced with incredible tragedy.
SPS: Have you received a favourite review of your work?
JM: It wasn’t the review per se, that I liked, it was the title of the review. A reader posted it on Amazon. He titled it “Not your typical sci-fi book..” That’s me in a nutshell. My friends know that I never do or say what is expected, and I hope that I never lose that in my writing. The day I write by formula, is the day I’ll stop writing.
SPS: What’s next on the self-publishing horizon for yourself?
JM: Volume 1 & 2 of The Mike Lane Stories are available. Volume 3, titled “On Mars: Vengeance Daughter” is with the editor I hired, and will be available in March of 2016. Right now I’m working on a new series that is about the Men In Black, from their perspective. It’s called, “The Umite Imperative” … and it won’t be a feel-good comedy.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
JM: It was the only option I seriously considered. I read about literary agents, publishing houses, and the commercial book industry. I knew that I neither had the patience or desire to go that route. I also looked at the vanity presses that do all the design work for you, but still leave you to promote and market your book. I couldn’t conscience spending the money on them when I’d be getting so little in return, and still have to do all the marketing. Both of my sci-fi novels have cost me about $2000 to get published. That’s because I hire a professional editor and a professional illustrator for the covers. My other books (a stage play, a book of poetry, and a book of short stories), I’ve published for less than $100. The upside is that the royalties I earn are all mine. I do have to say that my experience with CreateSpace and with Amazon’s KDP Select has been positive. I’ve made eight times more royalties on the KOLL/KU reads (you get paid per page) than I have in sales of the book itself.
I’m really not writing to be rich, though; I have no illusions about that. Don’t get me wrong, money is nice, and I won’t turn it down; but one of the reasons that drive me to write is simply to tell a good story, and have people enjoy the read. Some books and authors just resonate with you, and you get so immersed in their books that you miss the characters when you’ve finished reading the book. The books of “The Expanse” series did this for me, as did Elizabeth Moon’s series called “Vatta’s War”, as well as Peter Hamilton’s “Commonwealth Universe” series. The only way I can have complete control over my work, from story to artwork, is to follow the self-publishing route. Would I do better with more professional guidance? Maybe, maybe not. I’ve made my choice though, and I’m happy with it. I hope that this route allows me the freedom to create the characters and stories that will resonate with my readers the same way.
SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?
JM: Honestly, I’ve been overwhelmed by how well people I know as well as complete strangers have received my work. I’ve had people who are not sci-fi fans tell me that they couldn’t put the book down. Comments like that make me want to do even better, for the reader. I entered a writing contest in the last year on Wattpad so that I could have more opportunity to practice, and improve my skills. I think that the most surprising part of this experience has been how involved I become with my characters. Some days they are like old friends. The only thing that would have made this experience better would have been for my mom to still be alive, for her to see what I can do with the pen.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
JM: It may sound cliché, but JUST DO IT. It’s going to take a long time to write that first book. It will be uphill; there will be good days; there will be bad days; there will be days you doubt yourself; and there will be days you are thrilled. Eventually you have to find a point where you say, “enough!” Always remember that today is yesterday’s tomorrow. You said you’d do it tomorrow. The only person who can write the story you want to write, is you. So just do it. Even if people roll their eyes, laugh at you, or come up with a hundred reasons why you can’t do it. The hell with ‘em, JUST DO IT.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
JM: In addition to those mentioned above, Jamie McFarlane, author of the Rookie Privateer series, is an extremely good writer. I’ve also found a gem with E. M. Foner. His EarthCent Ambassador series should be setting a bar for writers of the genre. Rob Dircks debut sci-fi novel, “Where the hell is Tesla?” was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time. He made me laugh so loud and hard I scared my cat.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today, and all the best for the future.
JM: Thank you, Paul, I truly appreciate the opportunity to share a bit of me with my readers.
SPS: For more information on Jim and his work, please do visit Jim’s Showcase author page