6/29/15: Chumming with AJ Powers
Welcome to Chumming with Sharky™, my blog series where I treat viewers from every corner of the deep blue sea with a taste of talented authors from a myriad of genres. This month, it is my pleasure to welcome fellow Texan author AJ Powers to chat it up talk show style. Grab a plate of cocktail weenies (AJ’s choice, not mine), take a seat, and enjoy the show . . .
with your host Robert “Sharky” Pruneda
Robert “Sharky” Pruneda, Host
AJ Powers, Guest Author
Anchor the Hammerhead, Our Toothy Bartender
Anchor: Okay, Sharky, I know you like going with themes and all, but is it really necessary to make it feel like it’s thirty degrees in here? It’s June, you know? And did you steal that Mount Wannahockaloogie volcano from the set of Finding Nemo? You know Disney-Pixar is going to want that back.
Sharky: Hey, it looks good in the shark tank. And put on a coat if it’s too cold in here for you. I’ll return the volcano before Disney-Pixar even knows it’s missing as soon as the show is over. Anyway, aren’t you supposed to be getting us some drinks?
Anchor: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, a frosty virgin strawberry daiquiri for you then?
Sharky: Ha! A Flaming Volcano, of course.
Anchor: Naturally. And what about you, Mr. Powers? Frozen Bloody Mary? Frozen Butterbeer? Lava Flow? Or how about a Frozen Beer Margarita?
AJ: I’ll take a Shiner Slushee—seems like that might be pretty tasty.
Anchor: A Shiner Slushee it is. And mine are the best. Just make sure to watch Sharky. He tends to sneak a sip.
Sharky: Anyway! Go make the drinks, Anchor. So, while we wait for that smartass hammerhead to whip up our drinks, let’s talk a little bit about the post-apocalyptic genre. AJ, what is it about this genre that you like the most? And what inspired you to write As the Ash Fell?
AJ: There are so many reasons I love the post-apocalyptic genre as a reader. But one of my favorite things about it (as a writer, especially) is that it’s like a modern day western. Often times luxuries, such as vehicles, medicine, etc are not present in these fictional worlds. Yet, things like urban locations, modern firearms, and even some electronics exist. Law and order is optional, and it’s completely acceptable to use the term “bandit” 🙂 Then there’s the scavenging aspect of it, giving the reader a sense of exploration that allows the author to make the sky as the limit in terms of what they might or might not find.
When I initially came up with the idea for As the Ash Fell, I was on one of my lunch walks and I thought “I wonder how a younger character would handle living in a post-apocalyptic world where he was armed well, but others weren’t. Kind of like putting the odds back in his favor when outnumbered. There were more of them, but he was the only one with a battle rifle. I originally planned on Clay being more like an action hero—a James Bond of sorts. Always having a solution for any problem that comes his way, and someone who always comes out on top in a fight…But as you know, that’s not quite how his character turned out. The more I wrote, the less I wanted Clay to be perfect, and the more I wanted him to be flawed. This single change, I think, drove the rest of the story.
Sharky: That’s one of the things that I really enjoyed most about As the Ash Fell, the fact that the characters felt real to me. Had you gone the “James Bond” route, I probably wouldn’t have gotten through it as fast as I did, or maybe not at all. And Anchor probably wouldn’t have let you in the door. 🙂 I’m glad you made the change. Speaking of changes, as a fellow author I know what it’s like to have a general plan of how you expect the novel to go, but sometimes the characters or situations lead to more changes to the story. Did you experience any of that while writing As the Ash Fell? Did you have to cut any scenes that you absolutely loved, but just felt that they needed to go?
AJ: Yes, absolutely! I was actually just going through a document where–over the course of months–I made hundreds, if not thousands of notes for different potential ideas. I was laughing at how far some of the story elements had come since I started writing. Some of the ideas I had grown quite attached to, but as I started writing and developing the characters I noticed that the characters started to change the course of my original story. I hadn’t expected that, and in many cases didn’t even notice until I read over some of the notes and realized I never implemented an idea I liked, but then realized that the character would now never allow such a thing, so I scrapped it or saved the idea for other books.
Sharky: I had the exact same thing happen to me while I was writing Devil’s Nightmare.
AJ: There was actually a side-story I cut from the book that had Clay paying off a gangster of sorts who knew of his living arrangements in the office building. In exchange for keeping quiet, Clay had to bring him food and other goods. It was very much like paying the mob for protection. I wrote the introductory scene with that character (Oscar was his name) and though I liked it, Clay’s character just didn’t fit what he needed to be when dealing with that guy. It also opened up a much bigger subplot that I felt was going to take away from the main storyline, so it got the axe. One thing I’ve learned from working in the game industry is: you can’t be afraid to cut things. And in writing, if it’s not truly adding to the story in some way (ie it’s not just filler), then it needs to go away.
Sharky: Well, you know the old saying about killing your darlings. It’s so true. Painful to do sometimes, but true.
Anchor: Sorry to interrupt, gentlemen, but I have your drinks ready. A Shiner Slushee for Mr. Powers and a Flaming Volcano for Sharky. I want a raise, by the way.
Sharky: Thanks, Anchor. And I’ll think about it. If you can sneak Ariel back from Disney, then I’ll even give you a bonus. She was a damn good waitress.
Anchor: Um . . . fat chance on that one, buddy. I’m not going anywhere near there. Ever since the merge with Pixar, that crazy non-fish-eating great white shark gives me the creeps.
Sharky: Fine. Whatever. Anyway, let’s switch gears a bit and discuss publishing in general. AJ, tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned throughout the process of publishing your first novel. Was it what you expected? What challenges did you face? And finally, what made you decide to publish As the Ash Fell independently instead of through a traditional publisher?
AJ: Overall I think it was very smooth. Since I chose to sign up for KDP Select for the first 90 days I have only had to deal with Amazon and CreateSpace. This made the publishing side of things quite easy; a pleasant experience. However, at the end of July I am looking to “go wide” as it’s been coined and release As the Ash Fell on all major e-reader platforms (Kobo, Nook, and iBooks). I am hoping this goes smoothly, too, but time will tell.
I would say the biggest challenge I faced (as far as the actual publishing process goes) was just getting enough courage to hit the publish button. Any author who has books published (indie or traditional) will tell you that you are really putting yourself “out there” when you publish a book. Being in the spotlight is something I tend to shy away from, so having my work be on display, ready for people to read and love–or hate–is something I imagine I’ll struggle with every single time.
I chose indie because the more I hear about traditional publishing, the more I believe there are only few who really succeed in that realm. And for those authors that collectively bring in a lot of money for the publisher, but aren’t considered the huge “hits” publishers want to see are giving up a lot of creative control (and royalties) to the publisher. It seems like you either have to get lucky and have that smash hit that rocks the world, be an indie author first and gain a lot of success and notoriety before climbing under the umbrella of the big pubs, or be someone like King, Clancy or Rowling. It just seems that for a talented author writing solid books to succeed, indie is the best way to go (in general). I have complete control over the story, the pricing, the marketing, and I am fully invested in seeing the book succeed. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because having control of all those things means more time spent doing them and less time writing. But in my mind it’s better than having someone on a salary who has a half dozen other books to promote or edit. At the end of the day, sink or swim, I’m driving the car, not someone up in NYC 🙂 — Having said that, however, if a big publisher approached me about one of my books in the future, I will say that just for the mere “achievement” of being published by a Simon & Schuster, or Penguin or whoever would make it mighty tempting.
Sharky: I don’t think I’d be able to pass up a deal with one of the big publishers either if they offered me a contract. I’m still waiting for that movie deal, too. Speaking of movies, if As the Ash Fell got the attention of a big Hollywood producer, and you had full control of casting, who would you choose to play the roles of your main characters?
AJ: I really am stumped on this. I think I would go like Star Wars and have actors who were not very well known in Hollywood. There are plenty of great actors out there who would fit the characters in my book quite nicely who none of us would recognize by name. Hopefully my book would launch their acting careers 😉
Sharky: Ha ha! Good answer. Just like there are plenty of unknown indie writers out there that write some damn good stories. One of those stories I speak of is, of course, As the Ash Fell. In a Twitter-style sales pitch, in 140 characters or less, why should readers pick up As the Ash Fell?
AJ: This book is not a typical post-apocalyptic story. It’s very character focused, and by the end you will feel whatever emotion the characters feel. (146 characters, sue me 😀 )
Sharky: Oh, no you didn’t! Consider yourself served! 😎
Okay, now that we have that legal matter taken care of, let’s move on. Anyone who follows my Chumming with Sharky™ series knows I like to end each episode by putting my guests into a hypothetical scenario to see how they would handle it. For you, AJ, we’ll stick with the post-apocalyptic theme.
You are alone with only a makeshift knife, very little food and water, and a compass. A group of ten bandits ambush you, steal what little supplies you have, beat you, and leave you to die. As you fade in and out of consciousness, you overhear the leader of the group mention killing a family living in a cabin for their food. One member of the group advises against it because the family has small children; they could find food elsewhere. You then hear a gunshot and the leader says, “Anybody else think we should let that family live?” You are alone, have no food, no water, and no weapons. What do you do?
AJ: Ten bandits? Really? Couldn’t it be like nine or something? 🙂 In all seriousness, I would like to think that if I ever faced a situation like that I would take the noble road and do everything in my power to stop the attackers, or warn the future victims to flee. It would be great to go all action hero on them and suddenly find my inner Chuck Norris and beat the tar out of the entire group before they got within 100 yards of the cabin, but in all likelihood I’d hope to just cause enough ruckus for long enough for the family to see what was going on and get out of there before the bandits arrived. Hopefully we never find ourselves in that kind of world. And if we do, hopefully I won’t have so little supplies on me. 😉
Sharky: I know if we ever did find ourselves in that kind of world, you would be better prepared, and just the mention of Chuck Norris would drive the bandits away. Oh, and for our readers, the “ten” reference is an inside joke between me and AJ. Sorry, buddy, I couldn’t resist. 🙂
I’d like to thank everyone for joining us for Season 4: Episode 3 of Chumming with Sharky™. Don’t forget your survival gear on the way out and be sure to grab a copy of As the Ash Fell on Amazon. It may save your life one day . . . and help AJ pay his legal fees for going over that character limit. 🙂
About AJ Powers
AJ Powers is a professional game developer working on some of the biggest franchises in the game world–Halo, Call of Duty, and Borderlands to name a few. However, once he leaves the fluorescent pit of polygons and PBR materials, he switches gears into a reading, writing monster fueled by Code Red. His first full-length novel, As the Ash Fell, is now available. In addition to writing, AJ also does his own cover art, as well as covers for various other indie authors.
AJ resides in Austin, Texas with his beautiful wife, Lia, and their two incredible children. They also have a dog that really could use some braces.
You can learn more about AJ over at www.ajpowers.com.
Robert “Sharky” Pruneda is a native Texan, video game “enthusiast” [addict], and fan of all things horror. He left a career in the newspaper industry in 2011 to pursue the life of a nocturnal author, brainstorming new and creative ways to creep out his readers. He doesn’t only write horror though. He also pens the occasional family-oriented tale just to keep from going completely nuts with all those creatures of the night whispering in his ears. When he’s not pulling ideas out of his twisted brain, you’ll likely find him on social media or fighting alongside his fellow gaming buddies where they all get shot up into Swiss cheese (or turned into little bite-sized chunks because of “Sharky’s” obsession with explosives). Medic!
Pursue your dreams . . . and never look back.
Twitter: Follow @SharkbaitWrites