LC: I was wondering where you get your story ideas?
VAP: When I was younger I worried about running out of story ideas. Now, I seem to have so many that I worry I might die of old age before getting all of them down in print! I think it’s a matter of two things. One is exposure to great ideas in print, in film, television, and so on. When I see a good idea in any kind of story, it sort of gets stashed away in the back of my mind; eventually enough little ideas bounce around in there that a few stick together and form one (hopefully) good new idea! The other factor is gaining confidence as a writer. Once you become more confident of your abilities to construct a decent story, I believe your brain sort of automatically learns how to sort those little ideas better, for future use, and you therefore develop more (and better) ideas of your own as a result.
LC: What is the usual process for your fiction writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
VAP: I’m generally known (or accused) of being a dedicated plotter. It’s true that I write very long and somewhat detailed outlines and breakdowns of my stories and novels. Part of that, though, is just so that I don’t forget anything by the time I actually get to write it. I keep things loose enough that I’m always getting surprised by my characters and by unexpected twists in the plot. I think a healthy combination of those two approaches is the best route.
On some occasions I’ve been able to see cover art or interior before the writing was done, and getting to look at a visual representation of your characters can be very helpful in creating additional “focus” for story, character, and descriptions.
LC: Once you have an idea that sparks your imagination do you research your idea or do any world-building exercises, or do you just begin to write and see where the Muse takes you?
VAP: It totally depends on the story and especially the setting. When I’m writing something set in the past, such as a pulp story from the 1930s, I do a lot of research. That approach generally pays off; I discovered the SS rocket-planes I used in my two Griffon stories, for example, while researching some other technical point.
For more future-oriented works such as HAWK or LORDS OF FIRE, I generally rely on my own pretty comprehensive knowledge of SF tropes and existing stories and characters to work out the best way to design or depict something new, from galactic empires to starship designs to weapons and communications devices.
The only real “exercises” I ever do are writing short chapters or stories with my characters that I may or may not use in the actual book, mainly just to help get a handle on them as characters and what they would do/how they would react in various situations. It can be annoying to write something like that and then throw it out, but it beats writing a boring character or not writing anything at all while you puzzle over that character!
LC: What is your daily writing like?
VAP: I wish it could be daily! I write at every opportunity, though my motivation varies depending on how well a project is going. If I’m on a roll and a book is coming along smoothly, I will sneak away to the computer at every opportunity, day and night. In general, I try to carve out an hour here and there, and schedule larger blocks of time (sometimes at Barnes and Noble or at a restaurant) for major chunks of writing. I also constantly write story notes to myself on my iPhone and email them to myself during the day.
LC: Are you a full time writer? If so when did you make the decision and what factors led to the decision. If you are not a full time writer…Is your plan to one day being a full time writer?
VAP: I doubt I’ll ever be successful enough at writing to do nothing else but write for a living. Being a college professor, though, does mean that I have probably more opportunities than most folks to sit down and write—and I’m very grateful for that. Semester breaks are particularly good, as you can imagine! I suppose when the day comes that I can retire from my regular job, I will suddenly start cranking out a half-dozen novels a year. That would be wonderful.
LC: Can you tell us about your experience working with your current publisher? (Any other publishers?) (And/Or your self-publishing experiences?)
VAP: The New Pulp publishing world is interesting; it’s still very young and very informal. Consequently, I’ve been able to work with a number of publishers in only a few years. Permuted Press (a zombie/horror label) started a superhero imprint a few years back and signed my first three Sentinels novels for that line. Airship 27 introduced me to the more “classic” pulp stuff, and I’ve written everything from SF to 1930s air combat to Sherlock Holmes for them. They’re terrific. Pro Se does so much good stuff every month, and I’ve been privileged to do a bit of work for them, as well. My own imprint, White Rocket Books, allows me total creative freedom for myself as well as the opportunity to publish stories and novels from other writers whose work I enjoy (such as Mark Bousquet, James Palmer, Bobby Nash, Sean Taylor, and Jeff Deischer, to name but a few). Consequently, these days, my first loyalty is to White Rocket, but I do try to keep my hand in with other publishers in the field when I can. Every company is slightly different and there are always challenges along with the rewards, but I’ve yet to have what I’d call a really “bad” experience.
VAP: My most recent fiction book is LEGION I: LORDS OF FIRE, which is the first book in “The Shattering” series. A stand-alone SF novel, it also provides a great deal of backstory for the universe of my earlier novel, HAWK: HAND OF THE MACHINE. In HAWK, the main character, a far-future lawman, awoke to learn that the galaxy had been “shattered” by a horrific invasion and subsequent apocalyptic warfare, and Hawk has to deal with the aftermath. In LORDS OF FIRE, we see the events that led up to that “Shattering.” It’s the story of Marcus Ezekial Tamerlane, an officer in the 1 Legion, nicknamed the Lords of Fire, and the disastrous consequences that befall him and the galaxy after the Emperor of Mankind leads an expedition through a cosmic portal into a neighboring dimension. Both books also tie into the world of my earlier novel, LUCIAN, as the gods of that book are still around and still up to bad things, mostly.
LC: Can you tell us about some of your other writing and any appearances or signings that you have planned?
VAP: My best-known books are the SENTINELS superhero novels; the seventh volume in the series, METALGOD, came out at the end of last year. They’re action/adventure novels with a heavy “cosmic” SF theme, but with the flavor of 1970s-80s Marvel comics such as the AVENGERS. Each book contains interior illustrations by Chris Kohler.
My next appearance will be at the Alabama Phoenix Festival in Birmingham, Alabama on May 24-26. I will be doing a book-signing event at a bookstore in Birmingham the day before, both for my New Pulp and also my nonfiction sports books that I co-author with John Ringer. After that, we’re probably looking at DragonCon in Atlanta at the end of August, and Archon St Louis in October. I’m also doing the Georgia Literary Festival in November.
LC: As an author what inspiration or advice would you give to a writer who is working to make the transition to Author?
VAP: I think it just requires a combination of passion and discipline. If you don’t love writing—if you don’t love the act of creating your own characters and stories, from start to finish—then obviously you won’t have the internal drive to keep at it until you succeed. And if you don’t have the discipline to treat it like “work” (while still allowing your passion to keep it “fun”) then you won’t ever finish anything.
It generally takes a long time and a lot of work to write a full-length novel. One of the hardest things to do is to keep working on something once the initial fire and passion for it fade—as it almost always will, at some point. You have to develop the mind-set that you can continue to find interesting and challenging things about the project, beyond that first rush of enthusiasm.
You also have to remind yourself that everyone in the world has slightly different tastes, and that includes editors and publishers. Don’t be too discouraged by early rejections. Keep at it, and keep refining your skills. And read a lot—especially things outside of the field you mainly like to write in. If you only read in the field you want to write in, you’re far less likely to come up with anything original to say. If you read in other fields, you stand a better chance of stumbling across new concepts and new approaches that maybe nobody has ever tried in your chosen field before. For example, the key ideas that sparked LORDS OF FIRE came from my reading a three-volume history of the Byzantine Empire!
LC: Who is your favorite author, and can you recommend a book by that author?
VAP: I have so many favorite authors and they change from time to time, but my single absolute favorite is Roger Zelazny. I dearly love the Amber novels, and nothing else has been so influential on what or how I write. I am always so amazed by the way he combined SF and pulpy fantasy concepts along with an almost lyrical “prose poetry” stylistic approach.
I recently guest-hosted the RevCast from RevolutionSF.com to lead a discussion of my favorite Zelazny novel (and thus my favorite novel, period)—NINE PRINCES IN AMBER.
Probably the other great Zelazny book to start with, if you don’t want to immediately journey down the ten-volume Amber series, is LORD OF LIGHT. It’s a wonderful stand-alone novel about the crew of a crashed starship. They have replicated the Hindu pantheon and are exploiting the descendants of the passengers. Everything’s great for them—until Buddha shows up!