Monday, October 22, 2012

Interview with Space Opera Author K.J. Blaine!


Today we have a special guest. Space opera author K.J. Blaine is with us to discuss her latest release, just in time for Halloween. What? Space Opera? Where are the monsters you've come to expect from me? Fret not! While talking with K.J. about her new release Hard Time, it became apparent that she's tapped into a dark tale of human torture and horror, fitting subject matter to get your hackles rising this October. I asked her to stop by and chat up the new book, the series it belongs to, and the surprising roots of her stories!!

Greg Mitchell: Your new dark sci-fi book is released, just in time for Halloween! Tell us about Hard Time.

K.J. Blaine: Hard Time is a Space Opera/Time Travel/Horror story all in one. A madman from the future uses a Temporal Portal to suck an entire spaceship back in time, to the year 1504. Since humans didn’t even have radio in that time, there is literally no way to call for help, and no one who could help them even if they could reach them. 

The madman is obsessed with torture, even to the point that he’s met (and may possibly BE) the Marquis de Sade. He leaves the spaceship crippled in the shadow of Jupiter, unable to get out, because it needs solar energy. The best they can do with emergency battery is maintain a slow orbit that keeps them from falling into the planet’s heavy gravity.

While the ship and most of the crew are stuck in the Shadow, the madman kidnaps everyone on the bridge and imprisons them on the moon of Io. Here, he tortures them one by one, making them watch each other’s torment, and filming it all for his sick pleasure. They are each in solitary confinement, seeing each other only when someone is getting beaten or worse.

The ship is trapped and doesn’t know where all the ranking officers disappeared to. The tormented have no way out. How will they escape, and can they get back to their own time?

(Oh, by the way, one of the petty officers on the bridge at the time of abduction is named Greg Mitchell. Thanks for letting me use your name!)

GM: No problem! I have a strange obsession with getting my name in as many strange works of fiction as possible :p What some may not know is that this is actually Book Two in the Phoenix Chronicles, begun with Gynocracy—a Kindle bestseller, I might add!  What are the Phoenix Chronicles all about?

KJB: The Phoenix is a spaceship in the near future (2042). Humans haven’t made it out of the solar system, so no faster-than-light speed, just a bit faster than now. It takes about a week to get from the farthest orbit of Pluto to Earth. But the stories are really Space Opera, which means they’re about the characters, not the technology. I try to make the science reasonably plausible, but it is NOT “hard” science fiction by any stretch.

The Phoenix Chronicles is simply the name I’ve applied to all the books in this setting. Gynocracy is actually the fourth in the series chronologically. The reason I released it first was purely logistics, which I’ll explain later. It was my test balloon, if you will, to see if anyone would be interested.

GM: How many books do you have planned for the Phoenix Chronicles? Do you see this as a finite series, or could this series continue on?

KJB: I have five books already written, but not quite ready for publication. I’m currently working on Book 1 and hope to have it up by Thanksgiving, with Book 3 by Christmas. (Hard Time is Book 2).  Book 5, assuming the other four books are doing well enough to warrant it, should go up in early 2013. I don’t see it as any more finite than the voyages of the starship Enterprise, which is to say, definitely continuing.

GM: You’ve had some success releasing these books yourself, straight to Kindle. I remember when I first started out, there was a huge stigma against self-published authors as not being able to “cut it” with traditional presses, but every day I’m seeing more traditionally published authors—including established names—leaving their publishers in favor of doing “straight to Kindle” type books. Do you see this as a phase in publishing, or is this the future of the industry? Why do you think that might be?

KJB: I am traditionally published with a small press under a different name, so I have done it both ways. I can’t speak for what it may be like if an author has a Big Six publisher behind her/him, with physical books on the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores, but I CAN tell you that small press authors really cannot compete with that. Bookstores won’t stock the small press books unless it is returnable, and that very policy makes it impossible for the little guys to make any profit.

Yes, small press authors DO have a more level field on online booksellers, but they still have a very hard time reaching shoppers who aren’t sure what book they want, who want to browse. I have three small press paperbacks (a trilogy) for sale on Amazon, but the only way anyone would ever find them is if they already knew the title or did a search on my (other) name. Even if a reader did come upon them somehow, there’s a huge trust barrier to overcome. They have probably never heard of my publisher and for all they know, that publisher could just be me. Print-on-demand technology means that my book is 14 bucks. So, does Jane Shopper, who never heard of me or my publisher, buy a $14 book by an “unknown nobody”, or does she spend $10 on “The Hunger Games” which everyone is raving about?

Kindle takes some of the risk out of the equation. People are more willing to take a chance when the price is so much lower. Also, the Kindle Select program levels the playing field even more, letting Amazon Prime members borrow the book for FREE while still paying the author a rental fee (which is almost as much as a royalty). The “free” promotions allow the author to get their books in front of people who would never randomly find them otherwise, so the exposure is almost as good as bookstore shelves. Yes, you have to give away some books to sell some books. Yes, that’s sad. But so far I have found no other way for unknown authors to catch a break. Would I rather be J.K Rowling or Tom Clancy? Absolutely. Bad news is, I’m not, so I have to find other ways to sell books.

However, as well as the Kindle Select program is working right now for me, I suspect as more authors discover it and take advantage of it, that the amazing benefits will likewise dwindle. The pool of free titles at any given time will be so big that it will be no different than the vast list of all titles.

I do think ebooks are the wave of the future and I think more and more people will get ereaders because all the paperback stores will die out. When you’ve got to go online to shop anyway, you may as well get the best prices, and that’s usually ebooks. Not to mention, who can resist the immediate? If you buy paper, you have to WAIT and sometimes even pay shipping. Folks don’t want to do that. Ebooks offer instant gratification.

GM: Now we’re about to really bake some noodles—This series started as fan fiction to the Steven Spielberg produced TV show seaQuest DSV, right? I loved that show!

KJB: Yes, it did start as fanfiction. I LOVED that show too. I loved it so much I have written five novels worth of stories set in that universe. My stories have been popular with the other seaQuest fans on, but unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of fans around these days. We’re not talking about a huge fandom like Harry Potter or Twilight.

However, when I say these stories started as fanfic, I need to make sure everyone (especially Amblin Entertainment) understands that the books I am publishing have been CHANGED extensively, so that they ARE my own. Yes, I did imagine the actors from seaQuest playing these new parts, but isn’t that what actors DO? Just because Scott Bakula played Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap does not mean he was any less effective or believable as Jonathan Archer. Two of the main seaQuest actors are now deceased. They could not play my characters anywhere else but in the imagination. The submarines became spaceships, and that right there meant a HOST of other changes were also necessary.

GM: How did you first come to seaQuest? What was it about that show that drew you in?

KJB: You really could not miss it if you had a television in 1993. I mean, Spielberg doing TV? Big money. Big promotion. Big names. *sigh* I have always been a sucker for the sea. Sea creatures fascinate me and the idea of underwater colonies excites me. The show had likeable characters who worked well together and the setting was completely awesome. What was not to like? (Well, until season three…)

GM: I think SeaQuest’s biggest flaw was that, with every year, it struggled to find its identity. I imagine every SQ fan has a favorite season, since they were all markedly different. If you had to choose, which was your favorite: The more scientifically minded Season One, the more sci-fi Season Two, or Michael Ironside :p I think that, as a teen at the time, I gravitated more towards Season Two with its underwater aliens and hotter girls, but I suppose Season One is probably a better show :p Either way, Roy Scheider was awesome.

KJB: Season One was my favorite. I loved the exploration emphasis the best. I also loved Roy Scheider, and I think some of the tangents taken in the second season are what drove him away, so even had I been inclined to like the second season plots, I could only say that if I didn’t know what they would cause for the show as a whole. I did not like the third season, personally. Michael Ironside is a fine actor, but they changed way too many characters and made the show depressing. They took out all the wonder of the ocean and replaced it with war. All of my fanfiction is set in second season or an “alternate universe” where the last episode of season two got thwarted and the 2032 setting never happened. In my rendition, the best from both casts all end up in the new reality.  My crew includes all of season two cast, plus Dr. Westphalen, LtCdr Hitchcock, and William Shan (whom I promoted to ensign). I also have a lot of “cameos” of Ben Krieg.

GM: Why the decision to transform your seaQuest stories into an original tale?

KJB: They are no longer producing authorized seaQuest novels. I have the three books that were released back in the nineties. I think my work is at least as good as what got printed back then. So did my fans. However, there is no continuing franchise like there is for Star Trek. My understanding is that Spielberg considers seaQuest a flop and would rather forget it ever happened.

The fanfiction as I wrote it is still available for free on the internet. When I made the decision to try to rescue my original plots so I could sell them, I knew I had to purge all the seaQuest out of them. I am sure most people would not understand how much that hurt. I would pull my Phoenix books in a heartbeat if Spielberg would ever let me publish them the way I wrote them, as seaQuest stories. But that’s not going to happen.

The reason Gynocracy was the first book converted was simply that it was the easiest to change. I had set it on an underwater colony and I moved it to a moon colony. I imagined seaQuest actors playing spacers instead of submariners. I changed the uniforms and the names and I lost Darwin completely. Because it was already in a non-canon alternate universe of my own design, I had already changed quite a bit to fit my own vision, so they really are no longer anything you saw on TV. Just because I happen to imagine Roy Scheider playing my Captain Jason Armstrong does not mean another reader would need to know that to enjoy the story. Since seaQuest has been off the air for decades now, I daresay people won’t even guess the connection unless they are reading this interview.

GM: Did you find the adaptation process difficult?

KJB: YES. It hurt emotionally and it was a mental challenge as well, especially after the “easy” changes on Book 4. In my seaQuest version of Hard Time, I had seaQuest trapped in the Black Sea and the crew on an island in the Mediterranean. They built a sailboat to rescue the crew. How do you do all that in space? It wasn’t easy.

GM: I think it’s really neat that you’ve done this. Although the setting is different, being in space rather than sea, I believe that the spirit of seaQuest is alive in your stories, and I would think any fans of the show would feel right at home in your original series.

KJB: The fans that have read it have been mostly encouraging. A few think I have “sold out” and I suppose they are right. I spent three years writing all these books just out of pure love, but now I am “ruining” them in order to make a buck. Guilty as charged. If anyone likes seaQuest at all, please, PLEASE read the underwater versions you can read for FREE at instead of the space “sell-out” ones. I like the free versions better too. Mr. Spielberg, if you care at all, my offer still stands: I will GIVE you my novels for just a byline if you’ll give permission to publish them as authorized.

GM: Any parting words?

KJB: Some may ask why I am using a different pen name for these books than I used for the small press books. I have several reasons, but the biggest one is audience. Hard Time and Gynocracy would be rated “R”. There is bad language. No f-bombs, but not “clean” either. There also are adult situations. Gynocracy is set on a colony run by Dominatrix women in leather.

My traditionally published books are with a small press which does a lot of Christian Fiction. That press has it hard enough just because it accepts science fiction and dark fantasy (the black sheep genres in a mostly Romance and Historical business). By using a pen name, I distance myself from them, protecting them from having to explain their prodigal heathen author. Yes, anyone who knows me could probably guess who I am. But there’s a difference between speculation and being blatant in-your-face. 

GM: The mystery continues! That's all we have time for today. Ready to read more from K.J. Blaine? Head over to Amazon and buy an e-copy of Hard Time today. In the follow-up to this interview, Ms. Blaine informed me that she is already hard at work on making these books available in print, as well, for those who want them. And, as a special treat, Hard Time will be available for FREE on Kindle October 28 & 29, so mark your calendars! Thanks to K.J. Blaine for stopping by to talk up her new series.

And be sure to stay tuned to this very blog--I have a big announcement of my own to make on Halloween morning! Mwuahahaha! 


Mr Lonely said...

visiting here with a smile. take care.. have a nice day ~ =)

Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

K.J. Blaine said...

Thanks so much for having me, Greg, and for all your thoughtful questions. Oh, and throwing in that SeaQuest intro was a stroke of genius. LOVE it!

Dr. kold_kadavr_flatliner, MD said...

We wrote FOUR!! blogs which tell of the exxxcitement of Heaven; we ROTE {theeyebeam} to show a true story about sex in Heaven after we croak. C'mon, people. The Liar's a deceiver: absolutely no sex in Hell amid the flames, yet, puh-lenty of sex Upstairs for the length and breadth of eternity. God bless you. Meet me Upstairs.