1 February 2010

Please give a warm welcome to today's guest, Clive Warner

Today, please welcome Clive Warner, owner of small press Citiria Publishing, author of "Rebody", "Appointment in Samara" and "Heart Bypass - The Road Map"
Rebody is still available, as is  "Heart Bypass - The Road Map"

Rebody is a SF satire on the American way of life.
 Heart Bypass - The Road Map  ~ I wrote this small nonfiction book as a guide for other patients. I bought several books by medical professionals that turned out to be pretty useless - those people had not experienced it themselves and had little idea of what the patient is going through.

We were talking recently about the importance romance plays in almost every genre of writing; please will you elaborate on this topic?
Back in the Bad Old Days otherwise known as the Golden Age for booksellers, let's say up to the 70's, in science fiction and much fantasy, for example, there was a kind of unwritten rule that there was never any sex in novels, and not a lot of romance either, in many of them.
Since the human race consists of both male and female this always seemed a very sterile way of writing a story. Actually come to think of it, most of the Star Trek series abode by the same rule. The crew of the Enterprise seems strangely sexless. They never have to go to the toilet either.
I didn't start by writing SF, that was just an accident. The first story that really worked was the international adventure, Appointment in Samara. I knew that agents were (a) mainly female, that (b) most book buyers are women, so I decided I simply had to write a strong female character into the story - one that would not only provide the romantic interest but also allow female readers to have an identification character in the thick of the action. I personally can't stand the sort of story where the heroine always falls over when the monster is chasing her and is pretty useless at anything - such as even starting the car to get away from the bad guy. So I wrote the female lead character as stronger in moral purpose than my male lead, if anything. So I tend to see separate lines of conflict in both the romantic interest and the main challenge(s) faced by the characters. Of course if the romance conflict can also strike sparks off the main challenges, that works best of all.
Apart from commercial and non-fiction, is there any genre you can think of that does not include at least one romantic scene in their books?
I believe there are probably quite a few. SF for instance still has many writers stuck in the past where this is concerned. And war fiction too; some of has romance, much of it not. And action-adventure stories - many of the 'Brand Names' really don't do romance. Clancy comes to mind. And some writers are anti-romance; I'm thinking of Patterson, whose novels to me are not far off a form of pornography in the way they exploit violence against women.

In your work as an international project engineer you travelled widely, do you use the locations you visited in your books?

- Yes, I do. I believe in absolute authenticity for locations. I want the reader to be able to fully experience that aspect and be comfortable in the knowledge that if the reader travelled, say, to Lagos, they'd instantly recognise the music, the beer being served, and all the myriad of little details in the scene.

Do you have a favourite location?
- Not really.

Where do you get your ideas from?
-Well, you already know where Rebody came from. I'm presently working on the backstory of "Broken Green Bottles" a general fiction novel set in northern England, 1959, and partly in north Africa (WW2), sixteen years earlier. The idea for the story came from my own childhood, plus a sepia photo of an uncle who died in the war. It was a story I just wanted to do; a story I felt I had to tell. The ideas just come to me.

Are there any special people who particularly inspire you?
That's a difficult question! There are some writers I consider major influences: Philip K Dick, J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, HG Wells.

Are there any special people you have met and would like to meet?
-Interesting people I've met are: Bianca Jagger, Pete Townshend, Stevie Wonder, Rick Wakeman, Barbara Windsor, Ronan O'Rahilly, the CIA guy that attached himself to my Gambia expedition and smoked herb all the way up the river.
Who I'd like to meet: Richard Branson, Keith Richards, Paris Hilton, Mrs Clinton, President Calderon, Subcommandante Zero, Antony Gormley, Michael Moore, Uncle Ernie, The Pinball Wizard, Mr. Kite, John Clees.

Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’, and if the latter, how much preparation do you undertake before you start writing your story?
I really don't do any preparation at all once I have written down the premise. I have a general idea of story direction in my head, but nothing specific. All direction has to come straight from the characters. Really what I do is set the physical scene up in my mind as if I were constructing a set; then I "press the PLAY button" and watch the scene unfold. It is as if they themselves make decisions and act on them . . . I merely act as a reporter.
Sooner or later the scene "runs out of ideas" and then I have to stop writing until the mystical process of scene generation creates another one. If I get blocked - and it does happen - I generally have to backtrack until I locate the point the story took a wrong direction, and try again from there.
I really detest stories - you see it with Hollywood movies a LOT - where the characters just 'walk through' a predetermined plot.
The only thing I would add is that when I am working in third person, if there are more than three plot lines going on, I will have to establish time-lines for them all to come to conclusions, or risk getting the timing wrong.

The transition from project engineer to writer, publisher and professional editor is quite a leap, can you pin-point the moment when you decided to ‘pick up a pen and write’?
That's difficult. It started with short stories written for local radio in the UK. I spent years trying to write a novel. I didn't understand that I needed to have a hot premise, that the story had to be desperately trying to come out, as it were. And I wasted a lot of time using third person limited because it 'was the way you write a novel' so people told me. Then I decided to try first person and immediately realised it was what I'd been looking for. I do write in third limited these days, but I prefer first person by a long way.

When you write, do you prefer silence or do you enjoy music in the background and if so what is your favourite music?
I prefer solitude. For me, the ideal is to take the laptop into the woods where all I hear is the wind in the trees and the woodpeckers.

Do you have a set space and routine for writing?
Not really . . . I can and do write pretty much anywhere.

What are you working on now? – Not everyone wants to talk about their current project. If you feel like sharing, please will you tell us a bit about your WIP?
Right now I am finishing Broken Green Bottles, writing a textbook for the SAT exam - designed as a companion to the official GMAC guide - and I'm publishing Alien Seeding, by Perry Defiore, in the SF-Horror genre (one of Citiria's genres) so that involves me in quite a lot of design work for the cover, publicity, support for the author and so on. I'm also writing a short story for a competition.

In your multi roles of author, publisher and editor, how important are book reviews to you?
Extremely important. They're the only real way I can tell when I've made everyone happy.

How do you deal with a poor review, and when you receive glowing responses do you acknowledge them?
I've only had one bad review so far, and it was so vituperative that I think the reviewer had personal issues that made the story - it was Rebody, in fact - unacceptable to her. The reviewer even called me a 'potty mouth' because I'd used the words "poo" and "pee" (In a chapter set in a town run by genetically enhanced animals such as dogs and cats . . . )

The other day we were talking about how important it is for an author to promote their book if they want to sell today. Please will you share some of your experience and advice with us?
It is really down to the author these days. Actually, it always has been except for the megastars. Print media won't accept a review copy from any press except imprints of the six big publishers that have taken over the world. So unless you're with Random House or whatever, don't think your book stands any chance of appearing in the New York Times book review.
These days you need to be looking for sympathetic bloggers and similar places who're prepared to give new authors a decent chance. There's still an awful lot of snobbery in publishing.

You have your own publishing company , http://www.citiria.com/citiriapublishing/  so, wearing your publisher’s hat, please will you chare your opinions about the future direction you think the publishing industry is going, and are the bigger companies ready for the changes?
Everything is changing so fast it's hard to keep up. I cannot imagine for instance, bringing out a print book and then a paperback like in the "Good Old Days". I could do so, of course, but it would be pointless. The argument about "hardback first, paperback second" has become one of "Kindle first, or the paperback?"
For instance, I brought out Alien Seeding in Ebook for Mobipocket first, then the paperback, and now I am busy learning new angles - such as, how to prepare versions that can be read easily and conveniently on an iPhone, Blackberry, or other Personal Digitial Devices?
I have the feeling that the publishing industry may go the same way as the record labels. Once E-Readers such as the Kindle and Nook - and their successors - become THE way books are read - and it will happen sooner than we think, to judge by industry feedback - then I don't see any reason why consumers won't simply download the EBooks using Bit Torrent or whatever. Sure the Kindle etc has DRM, but they tried that with music too, and see where that got them.
I really don't think the big publishers are ready. The more the technology changes, the more they seem blinkered, blindly paying vast sums for ghostwritten 'celebrity' books that - usually - end up losing them money and being pulped. And let's face it, the sale - return - pulp model is an environmental horror. I don't see that publishers can justify the model for much longer, or support it financially for that matter.

There was a recent article about the future role of editors. Wearing your editorial hat, do you have any thoughts or opinions you’d like to share?
I think editors should become more and more essential as the potential for pretty much anyone to write a book is with us now, and even to be able to instantly publish it with the likes of Lulu etc.
Unfortunately what we see is that the overhelming majority of self-published writers are apparently unable to recognise the fact that their manuscripts need editing. Consequently the majority of self-published books remain unedited and chock full of egregious errors of every imaginable type: all the way from spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure, (copy editing) to unbelievable characters and / or stories.
Not only that, but most self published books do not even comply with the stylistic conventions for 'book beauty'. We see books set in Times Roman, a font designed for narrow newspaper columns; or Arial, a sans-serif font not designed to be read in large chunks. We see text that is ragged-right margin, books without page numbers . . . and books, mainly, whose authors having spent years, often, writing them, then use a "template cover". People do buy books by their covers! The first thing I learnt when I became a publisher was this: it is a business of zero mistakes. I really mean that.

As you are involved with both publishing and editing, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I was afraid you were going to ask that question. I'd say, you a solid peer group can be a big help. If you're serious, join your local Guild branch in the USA. You will find friendly, professional advice. If you're seriously into SF, for instance, join your local conference group. Same for horror. For any genre, really. And general fiction? Ah, that's more a solitary pursuit, but even there you can find a lot of support on the Internet. The Internet Writing Workshop is a good example. Its first moderator for the novels group taught me how to handle character transitions in limited third person. Before that I had no idea the problem even existed!

What key things should aspiring writers avoid?
Negative people. Too many rejections. If you really do get to the point where you think you'll never be published, and you've already written at least a couple of full length books, it's probably time to find a good editor. I think the worst mistake of all is to endlessly rewrite a first novel in the hope that in one more round of submissions it will win through. It probably won't. If you really have what it takes, you'll be able to write novel after novel after novel. Many writers break through with the third one or fourth. Very few with the first, unless they've got professional help.

Please share a couple of the most amusing incidents you have experienced as an editor and publisher.
This is going back a long time but back in England I once decided to join a "writers circle". It turned out to be eight middle-aged ladies who all seemed to think of themselves as Barbara Cartland look-alikes. (Actually I once met Barbara; she was completely nutty. But that is another story.)
I had brought along my work in progress, a thriller. Quite violent and sexual it was. (My unpublished second novel, about which I will say no more!)
They absolutely insisted I read a section from it. So I did.
I wasn't invited back . . . they were really shocked. Apart from that there hasn't really been anything out of the ordinary.

Please will you telll us a little bit more about Rebody?
The genesis of Rebody was pretty much spontaneous. I happened to have a Professor friend of mine staying with us over Christmas. He's always telling tall stories and I always fall for them. So, he told my family and I over dinner that he'd arranged cryogenic insurance to have his head frozen when he died, hopefully to be resurrected later on.
Now, immediately he said this, I thought about the US health system and its extravagant cost, and it seemed to me that there was an obvious flaw in the idea. Right now people can't afford more basic operations, so what would it cost to arrange a whole new body? So I told him, "By the time they are ready to wake you up, your savings will probably have been taken by your surviving relatives so how will you pay for a new body? You'll probably end up as a domestic slave, with your head driving a glorified vacuum cleaner around."
Immediately the words left my mouth an image of his head on top of a vacuum cleaner came to mind; in that instant I knew I had a story that had to be written, so I rushed to the computer and started typing as fast as I could. That's the way novels are with me: the premise (concept) comes to mind, and after that the characters build the story for me. I merely report what they do.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us before we finish?
I like huge breeds of dog, I write poetry, some of which has been published, I write novels, and I write nonfiction. I'm a firm believer in climate change and think that unless the human race curbs its appetite to breed more people, the planet will be stripped as if by a swarm of locusts.

If you've enjoyed sharing Cilve's experiences  or have any questions, please drop in and leave a comment

Clive, :-) thank you so much for sharing your time and experiences with us today.


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