And there I was, nonchalantly strolling through the Dragon Back Valley trying to reach the gates of Dragon Back Castle. My goal was to be nearby at a convenient time to be asked in for supper. Some miles away, I bumped into Steven Swem. I’d been hoping to interview him for ages and ages…
Bio: Steven Swem now resides in the Seattle WA area with his mate of 32 yrs, Detra or Dee. To get there, he first had to go from upstate NY where he grew up, through the USAF and Germany. Then off to southern CA, where he met his wife to be. Reading, first comics and then books, fueled his imagination. To have an outlet for that imagination he developed adventures for his young self, then he did the D&D gaming. With the advent of the electronic age, Chat rooms were next. Now, eBooks and self publishing is his new outlet for that imagination. His love of reading spread to his wife and when his children were growing up, there was reading night. Where he would read out loud for all to hear. Passing the passion of reading onto another generation.
Jim: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Steven: I am the primary writer, but, my other half is very much a part of my writing. She contributes to the story. I take what she gives and smooth it out, give it a flare, set the scenes. In just about any conversation with either of us, you will get lots of, us, we, and ours.
Jim: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Steven: Well, if I am not chasing the boss around. I might do the Xbox game, Mass Effect. I sometimes get pulled into watching YouTube music videos all day. There is always movie days that crop up from time to time. I have a number of eBooks and just over 500 paperbacks, or pocket books to choose from.
Jim: Do you have a day job?
Steven: Oh, you mean my hobby? Why yes, I do. I have been working on, in and around airplanes for a long time. Currently I get to play with an engineering flight deck simulator. We got some neat toys, and I get to fly the planes before the pilots do, run them out of gas, crash them, run off the runway. Fun stuff.
Jim: When did you start writing, and when did you finish your first book?
Steven: I started writing backgrounds in my D&D days. Oh that would be in the 80’s. I even took a writing course in the early 90’s for children stories. Moving from one job to another got in the way of that. The first novel would be Demesne Valley of Mystery, now book 2 in the series, that would be last year.
Jim: From where do the ideas for your stories come?
Steven: That is easy. My ideas for stories come from everywhere. I got a story line from playing Mass Effect 2, while mining for materials. I got another idea when I was talking to the guys, the conversation just popped into the head as a possible storyline. I got another when I was reading a news article about the ISS space station having to dodge space junk. I guess you might say that since I have written a novel, my mind is constantly looking for new material these days. You never know how the mind, will see a hotdog, at a cookout.
Jim: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Steven: Not really. Since I might wake up one morning and decide to do nothing but play Mass Effect all day. The next day when I sit down to write I have new nuggets or tweaks for the story. I might be stumped momentarily on which way for the story to go, and do a day of music, then pop. Something nudges the story in the right direction. Full blown writers block, nope, not yet at least.
Jim: Do you outline or write “by the seat of your pants”?
Steven: A little of both. We sort of form an outline for a beginning, middle, and ending, for the general story line. Then it sort of starts to flow. Then it really gets interesting as we start our editing and go, “why did she do that?” and of course we have to answer the question.
Jim: What author or book influenced you most in your writing?
Steven: Oh dear. Authors? Name just about any in science fiction and or fantasy. I have been a veracious reader since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Makes a good escape from reality. Kids can be very cruel. Asimov, Heinlein and Appleton. Then I got “The Ship Who Sang” by Anne McCaffrey. That really notched up my reading and I guess you might say that Anne is who I am trying to emulate. She pulled me in and really made me feel the characters. That is what I am trying to do, pull the reader into my story.
Jim: What challenges did you face in getting your book published?
Steven: The biggest challenge was getting a program that worked with a Mac to convert to all the different formats needed for electronic publishing. The first file uploaded to Amazon I tweaked in html code. Yuck. We spent the pennies for Scrivener and now, after a bit of learning, with just a few clicks I can export the finished product for Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Createspace.
Jim: If you had to go back and do it again, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published you’d do differently?
Steven: Here goes the time paradox, go back and do it differently, then there would be no need to go back and change things. Nope, would not go back. If we were to go back and do things differently, then we would never learn and grow. As the first Matriarch said to Jira. “You can not go back, the only way out is to go forward, to get back to those that you have committed to.” We have learned and continue to learn as we move forwards in this thing called writing and publishing a book.
Jim: How do you market your work? What works best for you?
Steven: Marketing right now is Facebook, twitter, our website and blog. Oh and I guess you could count family and friends word of mouth. What works best? Don’t know. We are not really pushing the promoting at this time. Once New Beginnings is out there and Valley has been overhauled, then we will do more. That way there is at least 3 to choose from, while we work on other projects.
Jim: What was your favorite part of this story to write?
Steven: The little humorous quips that any of the characters pop off with, from time to time. The snide comments that come out, even in a very, um, intense part of the story. In New Beginning there is a rather funny part, a whole chapter actually, when Jira visits her family’s farm. Her brother has no idea of what he really has done, when he catches Aithera’s friend and companion, Chaka the hawk. He learns though.
Jim: Do your characters lead you on merry chases, creating new plots or do you have to pull it out of them?
Steven: Merry chase, nope. Pull it out of them. Nope. In writing Valley of Mystery, we were making notes about how, what, and why the character Aithera would be doing, saying, or acting a certain way for the scene. My characters, even the supporting ones, are real and that is how I am trying to portray them. Ka-boom. Now there is Aithera, and in getting it published, she just seemed to say that her story should be first in the series. So it is.
Jim: What’s the most amusing thing that happened during the writing of this book?
Steven: As the computer is reading the story, one of us will make a snide comment about an action or statement from the characters. Several good comments have ended up IN the story as a character comment.
Jim: Why this story? What was your inspiration?
Steven: This series actually dates back to a chat room RP. That is where we first came up with Devon. Aithera is older yet. D&D days. So after getting a short story up on Amazon and seeing that it worked, we decided to go for the gold and do a novel. We dug out the chat logs from our RPing, we had a really good story line. Now it has grown way beyond what we started.
Jim: Tell us about your writing environment. Is it messy or neat? Is there a cat on the desk or a dog at your feet? Do you use pen and paper, laptop?
Steven: LOL, oh my. In my cave, it’s a mess. At least some would say that it is a mess. There is a cat, she comes and goes, but does not sit on the desk. My desk sits next to the gas fireplace so I stay nice and warm, I like warm. Next to my desk is the TV and next to that is Dee’s desk. Makes for good play when we do WoW. Don’t have a laptop, does a desktop count. iMac. I do have a pad of paper and pencil, had to use that to sketch out a family tree for a couple of characters, otherwise it is computer work. Sometimes I will put my earphones on and listen to play lists, I have several types, depending on the tone of the scene I am trying to write. I find, sometimes, that the music adds to my emotional mood, and this mood comes out in the story.
Jim: What about your process? Do you produce consistent daily or weekly word counts or do the words rush out all at once and leave you with a dry spell?
Steven: I do not worry about word count. The story will tell itself and when it is done, then it is done. I try to write every day. Except when I get into editing. Then I like to distance myself from the story and do a review of the chapter, tweak it and then send it off for editing. When a roll does hit, I can do 10k. I have not really had a dry spell. Maybe that is because, when in editing, I give the story a break.
Jim: What project are you working on now?
Steven: The 3rd book in the Demesne series is in editing. New Beginnings. The continuing saga of Devon, Aithera, Jira. The how and why Aithera and Jira were drawn to Devon, and the valley. After that, we are going to go over Valley of Mystery and re-publish it. We have learned a lot since it was published. After that, there is the ISS story, maybe. Maybe overhaul the very first project that was put on Amazon. We pulled it when Valley came out, because it was not well written. Have learned a lot since then. Speak of the devil, chapter 8 just came back from editing.
Jim: What was the toughest criticism you received as an author? What was the best compliment?
Steven: The best compliment, was that a non-fiction reader, and not much of a reader at all really, read our fantasy story and liked it, and is waiting for more. We, have not gotten any criticism, YET. As we get better with the stories and get more known, there is going to be some. We’ll deal with that when it happens.
Jim: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Steven: Write, write, write. If you have a story idea, write what comes to you or what you are thinking about. Don’t worry about spelling, editing, grammar, chapters, word count. All that extra stuff that is involved in getting a story out there to be read. Like a good cook, you need ingredients before you can make a yummy dessert, or a memorable dinner. If you do research, on what others have done, you will find that they all have nuggets that lead to a story. There are lots of ways to write a story, pick one for you. So write and when you think you are done, piece it together and see where the story leads. If you are one of those folks that need a 30 page outline, do it. You are still writing and getting idea nuggets for the story.
Jim: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Steven: I have fans? Oh dear, when did that happen. I hope that Devon, Aithera, Jira and the supporting cast has distracted you from the hum drum, for just a little bit. If it has, your most welcomed, and I hope not to disappoint you with any future projects that comes along. If I do, then lynchings are every Monday, Wednesday and Fridays at noon.
Jim: Where can we find you on the web?