Marketing was not my major in college. Honestly, when I picked my major, I mostly knew I wasn't cut out to be an art major (what I started as), and that I wanted to write books. So, I chose English. Here's the deal. When you are an English major, everyone expects you to teach. I am NOT a teacher. Not a school teacher anyway. Preschool and Bible classes are totally different subjects. Needless to say, I graduated with a fair knowledge of what other people had written and where to put a comma.
Fast-forward to becoming a published author. When thinking about what it would be like to write books, no one ever thinks about marketing. You think, "Wow. People are going to be able to pick up my book off the shelf in the store and read something that came out of my head. And they might even like it." But how to get it to that shelf in the first place ... not as easy as you'd think. Needless to say, in this world where authors are having to do more and more of their own marketing, I am still learning despite having been published for several years now. And to add to the fun, social media sites often change their rules and algorithms, meaning one thing that worked last week to reach readers might not be seen by any of them this week. It's a bit frustrating.
So, in light of all of this, two other author friends and I decided to do something crazy. We met in the middle of where we all live (three different states) and recorded some videos to start posting on YouTube each week. I'm the most extroverted of the bunch, so it took a couple tries to get everyone where they weren't afraid to talk. We're still learning, and we made ourselves laugh a LOT as we tried to figure out all the whys and wherefores of how to do this. But we're hoping it will be a blessing to any and all who stumble across it. We'll post a video each week, some on the writing process, the life of a writer, problems we stumble across or funny stories, snippets from our books, and even challenges and giveaways. If you think this is something you might like to see, feel free to follow us. Our page is called Once Upon a Page, and you can reach it by clicking here. Also, if you think you know someone else who might like this, please share with them, too.
God has blessed me richly with this small "tribe" of writers, and I'm loving every minute of getting to know them better while we all try to figure out one more way to market ourselves together.
Do you ever have to do something that puts you out of your comfort zone? Do you have a tribe of people who help you figure out how to do things better? I hope so! And I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Today, for our interview, we have an author who writes something a little different than some we've had on here lately. Brett Armstrong writes speculative fiction, in particular dystopian science fiction with a twist of history. His stories sound very interesting, and he does, too. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.
Hi Brett, I was reading through your about page on your website, and I have to say that I am more than impressed by all the degrees you have in addition to writing. I'm curious. Do you use your other degrees as well? Has any of your engineering knowledge been helpful as you write?
I’d say that it certainly hasn’t hurt when it comes to writing my near-future dystopian, science fiction series Tomorrow’s Edge. Book 1, Day Moon, was first conceived while I was in classes for my computer science and computer engineering degrees.
It’s really been most helpful in a less direct way. Early on when I decided to give writing a try, and by that I mean publishing, I decided I wanted it to all be focused on God. Whatever I do, I want it to put back to Him and be for His honor, so I prayed about giving back all of the royalties from writing to charity. To do that I’d need a stable income, which my engineering background makes possible. Since finishing my bachelor degrees I’ve been working in the West Virginia Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology as their web designer and infectious disease data manager. It gives me stable hours, is close by, and I still do some work that has the potential to directly help people. That stability and flexibility let me finish a master’s degree in creative writing, six books, and see three through to publication with a fourth and fifth awaiting release. All while getting to be there for my wife and son. Sometimes I drift towards the “What If?” realms and wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gone for my engineering degrees and pursued writing outright. When I do, I always return to the fact that I’ve been beyond blessed. The Lord has been good to me and a big part of that has been through my engineering degrees.
That's absolutely amazing. I'm definitely inspired!
know you write fantasy, but do you also write another genre, too? Can you tell us which one you prefer?
I actually write all over the place—genre-wise—depending on what a story needs. There are the Tomorrow’s Edge books (dystopian/sci-fi) and I have a supernatural/contemporary story being looked at by an agent. Though my first love is definitely historical fiction. I wrote my first original story when I was nine and it was set in the last days of the Aztec Empire. History as the setting and vehicle for stories just makes sense to me. Most of my short stories in college were historical fiction and my first published novel, Destitutio Quod Remissio, was about a senator who was secretly a Christian during Diocletian’s persecutions in 4th Century AD Rome. His secret wasn’t secret long and he wants to know who betrayed him, so the book blends into mystery and suspense genres as well.
Choosing between historical fiction and fantasy is kind of tough for me lately though because I tend to weave inspirations from real history into my books, particularly my Quest of Fire saga with its dual timelines playing out in parallel and crazy amounts of lore I wrote for its world. When I work on events in that world, particularly its past, I look to history for examples of how events shaped the social and political landscape of our world. I weave those insights into the tapestry of Quest of Fire’s Lowlands to enrich it and give it a sense of depth and familiarity.
When writing your fantasy novels, is it hard for you to create that imaginary world and make sure you stay within the boundaries you created for it? What helps you do that?
It hasn't been a big issue so far. I'm hyper conscious of mechanics within the story worlds I write, because world-building is a big thing to me and fantasy readers tend to be pretty aware of when you don't respect the rules you establish. Some of the backlash to the new Star Wars movies is purely based on inconsistencies to the mechanics of the galaxy far, far away those movies introduced.
Which is understandable for Star Wars. After that many episodes and spin offs and novels, it gets tough. There's a tricky balancing act between showing something new in an established fantasy landscape and breaking a rule you've explicitly or implicitly set. With the latter being the most critical to avoid tripping over because those are usually related to the plot in some way. Imagine if Amazon in its new Lord of the Rings series added a scene where Sauron sets a town on fire just by focusing his gaze on it from Barad Dur. That would be hugely problematic because even though Tolkien never said Sauron couldn't do it, the question becomes, well why didn't he just do the same to Lothlorien or Rivendell or Minas Tirith?
So, I'm trying to avoid that as I'm working on the next installments in Quest of Fire. I suppose part of the key is to keep checking back to the boundaries you draw and if you ever find yourself stepping outside them, make it abundantly clear why there's a new boundary or why it's a onetime thing. Like an Arthur pulling the sword from the stone but swords don't go through stone or from it otherwise. I keep some notes on story-building elements like the backstory for people and places, character traits (eye color, age, etc.), and make notes on spiritual influences on the story. It helps while writing and when looking back after the fact to keep everything straight in my mind. Hopefully it will hold up and help me keep from crossing the obvious and not so obvious lines I’ve been drawing.
I know some authors like to hide "Easter eggs" through their stories, scattering little tidbits that their friends and family could pick out as things from the authors real life. Do you do anything like that?
When I first wrote the story that became The Gathering Dark, I was a high school senior in a creative writing class. I had some friends in the class and I put them in the story. I also added a heavy dose of Star Wars cues. In the decade plus of rewriting the story, and growing as a writer, I've gotten further and further from doing direct translation of real life into my stories. Being a fan of “Easter eggs” though, I can't help inserting some references to books and movies I enjoy.
My dystopia/sci-fi book Day Moon has a lot more of them than The Gathering Dark, just because they're easier to work into it. For instance the main character comes back to his apartment and his roommate is playing a virtual reality version of Mortal Kombat. The mascot for the university in the book is a nod to my own undergraduate alma mater West Virginia University. Though I suppose along that same vein, all but a few chapters in Day Moon start with quotes from Shakespeare’s plays so depending on how loosely the definition of “Easter eggs” can be applied that book is really built on them. One “Easter egg” that I cut from Day Moon was having my first book Destitutio Quod Remissio appear on the shelves of a library the protagonists are in.
I love that on your blog, you post about things you've learned from your little one. I do a similar post called "Childlike Faith." What's one of your favorite things God has brought to your attention through your child?
There are so many things, many of them haven't even made it up onto the blog. Or at least not yet. As it turns out the one that I think has struck me most potently is the realization I had just this past week as I related to a co-worker how my little boy went with me to a signing event. The event was really a vendor/city fair called “Boomtown Days” and featured antique and exotic cars. Not really the ideal event for my books, but the events planning board for the city invited my wife (who is a crochet artist par excellence) and me to have booths for free. We jumped on the chance and setup where they directed us which happened to be directly in front of the band stand.
My little boy wanted to come with us, because the last time I had an event at the park they had inflatables and he had a great time. This time the inflatables didn’t come till hours into the event and were a few blocks down the street from our setup. We also hadn’t anticipated the live bands coming to the park throughout the day, which made it loud. Like LOUD loud. My little one hates loud noises, even if that noise is music he’d dance to at lower decibels. He would cover his ears and curl up on his mom’s lap or mine.
Between my wife and me we managed to take turns getting him out of range of the music for 30 minute stretches at a time by taking him down to a local park. That worked till about noon when it got hot. Like HOT hot. Too hot to play in the park for very long.
Seeing that this was starting to look torturous for my little one, I asked him if he was ready to go to my mom and dad’s house for a while. We had already prearranged that escape route for him if he wanted it and assumed he’d be happy to jump ship. Even we were melting and hoping the bands would take a break for a bit. But he didn’t. In fact, he was adamant that he wanted to be with us. He said, “I love you! I want to be where you are!”
At the time it melted my heart, but later when I was retelling it, I told my co-worker, “I guess he’s at that age where he loves us too much to leave us.” The moment I said that it kind of clicked for me that I bet that’s the kind of attitude God as our Heavenly Father would love to see in us. If it melted my heart to see my little one sticking it out, clinging to me though he was miserable, how much more would it touch God’s heart for us in our trials and sorrows to hold fast to Him. He’s already warned us that we will face persecution and suffering in this world (John 16:1-4). The Lord didn’t leave it at that though. He told us also to take comfort because He has overcome the world and He will never leave us nor forsake us (John 16:33, Hebrews 13:5). The way I treasure my little one and the way he whole-heartedly shares his affection with and seeks comfort from me—I feel sure that God does so as well with us. Which is marvelous and humbling and something I don’t think I would’ve gotten to as quickly or as potently if I didn’t have my little one to help me see it.
That is very powerful. Thanks for sharing. Okay. Here's the question I always ask at the end of my interviews. Can you please tell us one thing about yourself that very few people know?
Well, this is somewhat embarrassing, but about 50% of the people I know think my name is Brett and the other 50% think my name is Beau. And it’s all my parents’ fault. I kid, a little. When I was growing up I always went by the name Beau. I signed every school paper, introduced and was introduced to everyone I met, as Beau. That was my name. Then in junior high, no one there had bothered to ask for my name. It was already on their official transcripts: Brett Armstrong. As it turned out, my name wasn’t legally Beau. So, I asked my parents about it.
Apparently before they knew I was a boy, Mom and Dad tossed around baby names. One night they were watching a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies. My dad (and this is hard for me to believe because it seems so out of character for him) suddenly proposed that they should call me Jethro Bodine if I was a boy or Jethrine Bodine if I was girl. That got shortened to Bo for ease and morphed into Beau after I was born. Mom claims the intention was to name me that officially, but that they had given her some pretty potent drugs during delivery which rendered her decisions questionable.
Ever since junior high, starting at a new place I usually have to go by Brett. But before long people stumble on Beau. At work, one of my references introduced my boss to Beau, because my reference didn’t realize my real name is Brett. In the writing community Beau got out among some blogging friends because my personal e-mail was set up years ago and Beau is the name attached to the account.
Conversations become interesting too. I’ve had several where the person starts out calling me one name and by the end is calling me the other, possibly unawares. So far, I don’t have a Jekyll and Hyde complex over it, but it does make for an amusing quirk. Though I have typically kept the Beverly Hillbillies origin story close to the vest.
Too funny. Thanks for sharing that interesting story about your name(s), Brett/Beau!
If you enjoyed this interview and want to know more about his book and him, keep reading for links and information.
Jason is an expert at running from his past. When it catches up, he finds himself hiding in a peculiar inn listening to a tale from centuries past.
The story is Anargen's, a teen who is pulled from all he loves to follow his oaths of loyalty to the fabled King of the Realms. Together with his mentor, Cinaed, he rides north on a special quest to mediate peace talks between ancient foes--the men of Ecthelowall and the dwarfs of Ordumair. Nothing goes as planned. Many on both sides of the dispute despise Anargen's Order. Worse, an arcane evil has returned to the North. This "Grey Scourge" seeks to ruin the peace talks and ensure a lost treasure held by the dwarfs is never found by those for whom it is meant.
As Anargen's story unfolds, Jason begins to wonder whether it is truly just a fable. He soon finds himself drawn into the conflict Anargen faced--a battle which has shaped and can destroy his world.
Want to watch a trailer for this book? Click here.
Interested in buying? Here's your link.
Brett Armstrong has been exploring other worlds as a writer since age nine. Years later, he still writes, but now invites others along on his excursions. He’s shown readers hauntingly sorrowful historical fiction (Destitutio Quod Remissio), scary-real dystopian sci-fi (Tomorrow’s Edge Trilogy), and dark, sweeping epic fantasy (Quest of Fire saga). Where he heads next is as much a discovery for him as readers. Through dark, despair, light, joy, and everything in between, the end is always meant to leave his fellow literary explorers with wonder and hope.
Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8281587.Brett_Armstrong
If you've been following me long, you know I participate in Nanowrimo almost every November. It's a challenge where the author agrees to strive for 50,000 words in 30 days. I have participated 8 other years, achieving over 450,000 words altogether. My first two books were written in Nanowrimo 2011 and 2012. The one coming out next year is from 2013. There's just something exciting to me about seeing the little bars grow each day when I enter my word count.
This year, my story idea has been percolating for a while. I've titled it "My Mama Dated Santa." That's right. It's a Christmas story! I got into reading them quite a bit during December last year, and I guess it inspired me. Here's the blurb I've come up with for it so far. I know it will be tweaked quite a bit between now and when it finally gets in your hands, but it will at least give you an idea.
Burnt out on Christmas, the last thing Trudy wants to do is take her nephew to see the local Santa. Running into a Scrooge of a storekeeper, Nick, while there doesn't make her feel any warmer toward the holiday. But sometimes Santa and the spirit of the season can work wonders in hardened hearts, especially when that particular Santa turns out to be a former boyfriend of Trudy's mom.
Like where I'm headed with this? I hope so! Keep your eyes on my Facebook page because I'm going to be asking for input and ideas over the next few weeks. And if you participate in Nanowrimo, too, feel free to friend me. My username is jersgirl.
This is a place for me to tell you about what I'm writing, talk about the process or where some of my ideas came from, or even have other authors come in and talk about their books.
Authors I Love to Read (in no particular order)