Today, I'm hosting a debut novelist with a thriller for all you mystery/suspense and sci-fi/fantasy fans. Welcome, Sam. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
I think I put a little bit of myself in all of my characters. I do make a concerted effort to explore the psyche and motivations of the characters even before I begin writing. In the case of Wayback, I actually built imaginary Facebook sites for each of them – where they went to school, their employment history, possible social situations they have been in, etc. In the case of the female characters in the book, I specifically made them strong (strong willed, courageous, ambitious, etc.).
My kind of woman. What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Quirky is a funny word that’s open to lots of interpretation, so let’s use the interpretation of “strange” or “peculiar.”
My “other” hobby is high-powered rocketry. Not the little Estes rockets we all flew as kids, but 45-65 pound rockets that burn the same fuel as the Space Shuttle does. I guess I’m drawn to the planning and construction side of it and then the ten seconds of sheer terror in watching these things take off and returning safely (hopefully) to earth.
One thing’s for sure, my neighbors give me weird looks when I’m loading a seven foot rocket into my car to go to the flying field.
I'll bet they do, and I'm sure they're glad you're taking them somewhere else to fire them. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I entered a creative writing competition in a multi-school achievement event when I was a sophomore in high school. To my surprise, I won first place. I was not a writer—hated English and language classes, but I’ve always been a profoundly visual person. I think in pictures, analyze with pictures, even my “real” career has largely been about making pictures from information. The subject was “Thanksgiving” and we had something like one hour to write creatively about that subject. I still remember that mental trip I made as I wrote out the essay. What a cool morning on Thanksgiving feels like, the last few crinkled leaves on the skeletal trees—you get the idea.
The most important part of that experience was that my high school teacher, Mr. Robin Maples, after reading my (unlikely) winning entry, told me, “You might have a real gift there; you should do something with it.” That’s probably not an exact quote, but that’s what I remember. It simmered in the back of my mind for twenty years before I began writing Wayback.
Tell us the range of books you enjoy reading.
I tend to lean toward History and Biographies – especially anything in the technology, science, or military fields – books about Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, The Development of the Atomic Bomb, and stories about secret agencies and companies that have made a huge difference in the world – like Lockheed’s Skunk Works, the CIA, and the NSA.
I do enjoy virtually any novel that was written by Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton. These two men are the masters of the tech-thriller genre and in many ways were the models for my own style. There’s a delicate balance between being too verbose and informative about technology and giving just enough to make something believable.
In high school I was totally into fantasy and would place Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Steven R. Donaldson, and Terry Brooks very high on my influence list. The Bible is also on that list and keeps me grounded in what’s really important in life and what my priorities should be.
What other Books have you written, whether published or not?
Well, Wayback is my only published work, but I have three books under construction at the same time right now. My first book was abandoned when an incident in real life became a little too close to the story I was writing and both my wife and I thought it was wise to put it on the back burner. I’m working on the sequels to Wayback and also on another completely unrelated book that uses America in 2040 as the backdrop (hint: America isn’t called America anymore). I don’t struggle with ideas (yet), just the plotting to get them into an enjoyable story structure.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
As for day-to-day sanity, I’ve found a daily two mile walk helps to alleviate stress and allows myself to evaluate priorities a little more objectively. I also teach computer programming at a Christian school for the seniors in an elective capacity. Nothing beats teaching. I love seeing the light bulb come on when a student gets a particularly important concept. I love being part of that process. Passing my knowledge on to others and giving of myself keeps things in perspective for me.
How do you chose your characters names?
Well, I think they come from lots of places, but I don’t think it’s a super-sophisticated process. I’ve only been specifically conscious of picking a few of them. When I’m at a conference I do pay attention to name badges that wander past me. The names that I think go well together seem to stick with me- that’s where I got Alicia King’s name in Wayback, but most of the time, it’s just putting a few names together in combination and seeing how they sound and if they reflect the character I’ve cast in the book.
What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?
God has blessed my life in tremendous ways-from high school to college to first jobs to getting a dream job that I currently work in. However, Wayback is perhaps the most important to me right now (outside of my children). It was completely out of my comfort zone with a process that was very alien to me―from writing the beginning few sentences and wondering whether there was enough material to make an entire story to the process of getting it published. I love the opportunities that a published novel brings to me – the story it lets me tell to people I’ll never meet.
What is your favorite food?
Wow. Well I enjoy all kinds of food, but I guess Italian would have to get the nod. I especially enjoy getting together with great friends in a “family style” arrangement and laughing the night away.
That aspect is food is my favorite, too. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock and how did you overcome it?
When I experience a roadblock of a scene or an emotion, I stop and do everything I can to transport myself to that part of the book. I jot down notes, listen to dramatic music, draw and sketch up scenes. I end up immersing myself so deeply that it’s literally spilling out of my brain. That’s how I get through those pesky writing blocks.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
One of the most important things I’ve learned about writing (and getting published) is that you have to get aggressive—asking advice and getting opinions is important…to a point, but at some level you have to stop asking for a moment and get the manuscript written―that’s the hard work and no one can do that for you. Write your manuscript, pursue criticism and critique, learn, get better, revise, put the work out there, see if it gets a bite, but don’t sit and stew—work on something else while it’s out there. There are numerous books out there to help you get started, or to improve your existing skills. The Writer, Writer’s Digest, books by James Scott Bell (especially his Plot & Structure) and www.wherethemapends.com are fantastic resources.
Tell us about the featured book?
A mysterious Nazi super weapon, hidden for more than 60 years, has been discovered by members of a reclusive, private think tank and perfected using modern technology. This fully realized and reliable device is so powerful, so provocative, that the basic beliefs of science, history, and religion could be overturned in an instant. After a cataclysmic system failure kills an expedition attempting to return to the year 100,000 BC, a team of skeptical scientists and adventurers is dispatched to the Antediluvian world, a world that no one anticipated full of wonder, danger, and advanced civilizations that will rock the accepted theories of science and history to their core. However, the team is unaware of another plan that is unfolding; there are people who will kill to use this remarkable machine to further their own plans for our past and future.
Please give us the first page of the book
Prologue: The Bell
The amber glow from the cigarette lighter lit up Hans Voss’s sharp, Aryan facial features. He snapped the silver lid shut and exhaled a plume of silvery-blue smoke into the still night air. The spruce trees climbed high into the starry sky, concealing the concrete blockhouses and heavy equipment parked around the secret complex. In the distance, the faint but constant pounding of Allied bombs falling on Voss’s homeland could be heard, like the heartbeat of a giant coming ever closer. Intermittent flashes of light danced on the horizon, marking the end of a manufacturing plant, a church, a neighborhood―the coming end of the Third Reich.
The gravel pebbles crunched under his leather boots, and the slight clinking sound of the medals awarded him by the Luftwaffe elite announced his approach to a concrete reinforced guardhouse. A drop gate with a red and white alternating pattern barred his entrance to the complex, and a young German soldier stood guard in front of the barrier.
Young—too young, thought Voss.
The young guard’s blond and black-streaked German shepherd strained on its thick leather leash, snarling at the approaching airman. The guard, struggling with a fur-covered razor blade, clicked on his flashlight and shone it on Voss, blinding him for an instant. The glint of light across Voss’s Iron Cross medal snapped the young soldier to attention. He clicked the heels of his boots together, and his right arm shot out in a familiar salute. “Heil Hitler,” he said with fervor.
Voss returned the salute robotically. His fervor had died a long time ago.
As the soldier examined Voss’s credentials, the Luftwaffe ace took a last long drag on his cigarette and dropped it onto the concrete ramp leading to a deeply fortified complex, hidden in the bowels of the mountains of Bad Ischl, a small village fifteen miles from Ebensee, Austria. The young soldier returned Voss’s credentials and saluted the airman again before raising the gate. Voss extinguished the burning cigarette with the heel of his leather boot and walked up the ramp to the massive hangar opening.
As he crossed the bunker-like threshold, his mind filled with the images of two other Luftwaffe pilots—close friends—both of whom had crossed this same threshold in the last month and disappeared. Their families were told that they were killed in combat and there were no bodies for a funeral. The truth, Voss knew, was much more complicated. He hoped, and secretly prayed, that this test would be successful.
A very interesting start. I'm sure we've hooked a lot of readers. How can they find you on the internet?
My author site has information and reviews about Wayback and forthcoming books, as well a link to my blog and Facebook Fan Sites. You can find it at http://www.sambatterman.com/
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