Writer Wednesday – Benjamin Cheah

1. Who are you? (A name would be good here…preferably the one you write under)
Benjamin Cheah, indie writer, blogger and freelancer. Someday I will become a full-time writer.

2. What type of stuff do you write? (Besides shopping lists)
I write about the impact of disruptive technologies and ideas on people, how conflict between people and groups would evolve, and how society and individuals adapt. In my fiction I strive for high-intensity action sequences, plausible futuristic technologies, realistic tactics and strategies, and characters driven by personal codes and visions of tomorrow. My stories also tend to blend science fiction and fantasy tropes to varying degrees, with a strong bias towards hard science fiction, military and law enforcement, and spirituality.

3. What do you want to pimp right now? (May it be your newest, your work-in-progress, your favorite or even your first)
Keepers of the Flame, my first novel, which is the second entry in the American Heirs series. Set in a North America recovering from a global collapse, the Republic of Cascadia is attempting to restore civilization in the Pacific Northwest. However, at the edges of Cascadia’s Green Zone, the Sons of America are plotting to foment a revolution and restore the old United States. On the East Coast, a new American empire rises, and prepares to march west. And as the conflict heats up, in the digital infrastructure that underpins Cascadia, a machine god is born.

The full American Heirs saga is conceptualized as three core novels supplemented by three novellas. The novels cover the major events of the series, while the novellas focus on a single character. The first novella, American Sons, was published last year, and the second novella (the third entry) should be ready by the end of Q1 2015.

I’ve also sold a short story to Castalia House for its anthology Riding the Red Horse. Titled ‘War Crimes’, it tells the story of a shell-shocked solder who stands accused of massacring alien civilians and a journalist who wants to find the truth. You can find the anthology here.

4. What is your favorite book? (Okay, or two or three or… I know how writers are as readers.)
I don’t have favourite books so much as favourite writers, specifically those who inform my writing. Currently, the most important writers are:

Jim Butcher. His Dresden Files and Codex Alera series inspired my earliest stories. They still inform my writing, through their combination of high-octane action and characterisation.

Larry Correia. Guns, magic, B-movie monsters, fleshed-out characters, authentic action scenes, incredible worldbuilding, and he just keeps getting better. His Grimnoir series was also fairly similar to a story idea I had in my head – but much, much, better, so much so I had to revise it.

Barry Eisler. His flagship character, John Rain, is a Japanese-American hitman who lives in the shadows but yearns to get out of the life, a ronin looking for a cause but disappointed by what he found, someone with a foot in the East and West but fully belonging to neither. His characterisation is incredible, and so is his unflinching portrayal of counterterrorism and modern-day espionage. The realistic martial arts and well-researched technologies help.

Marcus Wynne. Former shooter turned writer, his stories capture the mindset of top-tier operators and how they see the world around them. Also, his Depossessionist series resembled another idea I had – but much better.

Tom Kratman. His Legion del Cid and M Day series are masterworks of military fiction. Not merely content with portraying modern war at the tactical level, they delve into politics, economics, impact of technology, strategy and philosophy. He even wrote a thinly-disguised handbook on training women for warfare. His works set the standards for my big war novels and series, such as Keepers of the Flame.

John C. Wright. Just about everything he writes is pure genius. His writing harkens to the Golden Age of science fiction and the pulp era, with fantastic technology and mind-boggling scales, characters who are true to their beliefs and products of their times, and his stories always point towards better and brighter tomorrows, albeit won through blood and fire.

5. What other hats do you wear besides the writer hat?
Professionally I write articles for lifestyle magazine Eastie Brekkie and website Mothership.sg, and work for local NGO the Pwee Foundation as a staff writer. I’m also available to take up writing and/or editing assignments. In between stories I write the script, churn out design documents, and hash out mechanics for my indie RPG project.

In other words…I don’t.

6. What link can we find you at? (One or two please; don’t go overboard here!)
I blog at www.benjamincheah.wordpress.com, while my professional writing page is at www.benjamincheah.com.

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Advice For New Writers

Figure out what kind of writer are you: why you write, and who you write for. This will inform the skills you need to develop.

If you’re a hobbyist, you write for fun and to pass time. The most useful skill to develop is perseverance. To finish the story, even if it feels bad or wrong or when it stops being fun. Finish the story, then work on the next one. The only reason to give up a story is to burn it up and write something better from the ashes.

If you’re writing for a community, you’re writing to entertain people. First, learn the above. Then, develop the craft and art of writing. The former are the tools of trade that build the story: plotting, characterisation, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and so on. The latter is derived from the former; how you wield the tools of the craft defines you, and makes you stand out among everybody else in the community. And keep in mind, how you feel about your story doesn’t matter; if your audience is not entertained, you’re likely doing something wrong.

If you’re writing stories for a publisher, you’re working. First learn the above. Then keep in mind that you are writing for your client, the publisher, and your audience. Sometimes your client and audience are one and the same, or else they have similar tastes. More realistically, both the writer and publisher will have different ideas over what the audience wants. You’ll need to work with your client to serve your audience, and that means reworking your story as needed and standing firm where you must, so that the both of you deliver the best story possible.

If you’re writing as a career, you’re a small business owner. Build upon the lessons of the above three stages of writing. Then, while perfecting your craft, study the industry. The industry is changing, and to make a career out of it you need to stay abreast of affairs and figure out how to best promote and sell your works. If you’re a self-publisher, you need to think like a publisher too, and study the ways of formatting, editing, cover and interior design, marketing communications, accounting, management and other business skills.

Notice that each step of the way builds upon the last, but at heart is the determination to write a good story and to keep on writing. Writing is no more and no less a skilled trade as any other; if you aspire to master writing, you must first master yourself.

Writer Wednesday – Andrew Toy

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Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m Andrew Toy, author of The Man in the Box and blogger at the popular AdoptingJames.wordpress.com, book editor, and writing coach.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a simple guy who was born and raised in Southern California. I was the dork who would rather be writing stories than be impressing the girls with skateboarding and surfing – I mean, I tried that for a stint of time, but didn’t really work out to my advantage. I love ice cream, pizza, bean burritos, my Floridian wife, and our awesome loft in Louisville, KY.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
The Man in the Box is an adventure/fantasy novel. I’m always hesitant to say “fantasy novel,” because it’s really a fictional book that dabs into fantasy every now and then. It’s about and average family man, married with kids, who discovers his imaginary childhood world inside a cardboard box. In this world he faces zombie-like ghosts, runs from dinosaurs, encounters titanic-sized panthers, giant insects… anyway, as you can imagine, he becomes increasingly addicted to life inside this adventurous world and he’d rather not spend time with his comparatively mundane family. So, he’s go to choose what he wants more. And the ending just might throw you for a surprise… Oops. Did I say too much?

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m afraid I’ve told other bloggers and fans that I’m working on an apocalyptic series, but I’m putting that on hold until I get through some more research and possibly find a co-author. But just a couple of days ago, a light went on in my head and I was struck by the inspiration of a young reader’s book which I’m very excited about. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but let’s just say dog-lovers and history buffs both will enjoy this read, no matter what age.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Like reading them or writing them? Reading them, I was the first one in my kindergarten class to read an entire picture book by myself: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. That was a good day, reading it to the whole class as they oohed and awed. My advise to kids, however, don’t accept your 15 minutes of fame too early in life, if they do in fact, only present themselves once in a lifetime. I could have done better, I’m sure. Writing books, however, I wrote a couple in junior high and high school (after I determined skateboarding was getting me nowhere), of which the public will never see.

What are your three favorite books?
Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, and… I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that I really, really like Little Women. It’s a great character study! (It’s actually neck-in-neck with Anne of Green Gables.)

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I read three books at a time: One fiction, one historical/biographical, and one Christian-related. Right now I’m reading Life of Pi (fiction), Elizabeth the Queen (biography), and Adopted into God’s Family (Christian). I can’t put Life of Pi down.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…Feel like a girl. But when I read a few pages while I’m waiting for the dogs to go poop, I’m hoping it doesn’t rain all over me.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I read a lot of really good books. But if by some chance, I come across an exceptional book that I just don’t want to end, that’s when I’ll read it again a year or two later.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Extremely.

What do you look for in a good book?
Depends on the genre. For fiction, I’m looking for that rare moment when storytelling and skilled penmanship meet (it’s rarer than one might think). Life of Pi is once such book. For history or biography, I’m looking for how observant the author is about particulars and facts and tidbits other observers might not pick up on. Give me ALL the juicy details! For my Christian books, I’m looking for creativity and originality in their theological teachings. That’s rare to come by. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis would be the perfect example of that.

Why do you write?
Okay. Here’s my being extremely vulnerable. I write to tell good stories. I tell good stories in hopes that Pixar Studios will want to have me join their storytelling team. That my expectation, anyway. The reality is, I just want to tell good stories and make a living off of it.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A lawyer. For real! There’s a lot of acting and story-spinning involved. The same story can be told a million different ways!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Pixar movies. Loud, upbeat, happy music.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I can (and will be) so much better.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My wife is completely and 100% supportive of it. I can’t ask for anything more.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
No. They’re true. We’re all weird and very socially awkward. I choose to be socially awkward because I want to see how people respond to unexpected circumstances, then I can transfer that to paper.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, itunes… everything is a distraction from writing. That’s why I get most of my writing done on paper.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
This is too embarrassing. Next question.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yeah, that apocalyptic series I hinted at earlier. I can’t wait to get started on it. That, and Pixar’s latest projects.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I love ‘em! I feel I’ve earned their trust and I want to keep it by continuing to tell stories that they will be happy to invest in.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
My fans would be surprised to know that I deliver pizzas to help pay the bills. So keep telling your friends and family about my books so I can have more time to write!

Anything else we should know?
Yes. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, crawl into a cardboard box and close your eyes. And if you do, stay well hidden at night…

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