Interview with Roland Hughes

Tell us your latest news? 

I’m currently working on two more titles. “Lesedi” which is a dystopian fiction story taking place between “Infinite Exposure” and “John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars.” I began this book as part of the NaNoWriMo project for 2013. While it definitely met the goal of 50,000 words in a month, the story is note quite “complete”. I hope to release it mid-way through 2014.

The other title I’m working on is “The Phallus of Agile and Other Ruminations”. Most fiction readers won’t be familiar with my geek book series “The Minimum You Need to Know”. These are technically higher level books than any of the “for <insert brain malfunction here>” family of works. One of the things people seem to really seem to like about the series is how most of the books end with a “Ruminations” chapter. For lack of a better description these are Yourdon like essays on the larger scope of life and IT. “The Phallus of Agile” will be the first time I put out a full book of such essays.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve always “written.” As a child my grandmother encouraged me to write letters to people. Her sister used to correspond with me. This was all by hand with pen and paper. We didn’t even have a typewriter. I got into the habit of both reading and writing stories. I admit I let it lapse for quite some time, but picked it up again in my twenties when I wrote my first two geek books for a publisher.

Working with a publisher rather soured me on the publishing world. That is really an experience I wish on nobody. Yes, I know you can find authors who love the experience they have with their publisher, but, I’m told you can also find inmates who love being in prison. I guess the secret to happiness is low expectations. Since I don’t have low expectations I self publish.

When did you first consider yourself a writer? 

I’ve never really worried about the title. This question reminds me of a debate on Linked-In in the Fiction Writers group I visit once in a while. Someone asked for the definition of “Published Author”. It quickly devolved into a fur ball since what he was asking about is a marketing term and we all know marketing never concerns itself with legality or ethics. The market is polluted with what many call “POD scams” and “vanity publishers” not to mention the entity I believe will one day destroy the human race, Amazon. Even though none of these publication avenues require a person (notice I didn’t say writer) to obtain professional editing from a non-family member prior to “publication,” every person who went that route demanded to be called a “Published Author.” Despite the fact many put out what amounts to an unedited blog post via the no money up front channels they demanded the title. This is also why you find an ever growing base of people who won’t consider purchasing Kindle or EPUB books which aren’t from a big name or large house because the electronic only market is nearing a toxic waste level of unreadable trash. I make no comment on the quality of the story or idea behind what they put out, I’m talking about the spelling, grammar and word choice issues which would have been clean up in one of the editing rounds. (Word choice means the wrong form of their/there/they’re and the like.)

While I may very well be a writer, I leave it to others to decide if I’m a writer, author or lunatic based on what they think of the work they’ve read. If they haven’t read any of it then they have no right to an opinion.

What inspired you to write your book John Smith- Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars

This particular book is one of those “happy collisions” writers wish for but rarely get. There had been quite a few people wanting a sequel to “Infinite Exposure.” I had been watching quite a few really good science fiction shows while contracting, both movies via BlockBuster DVD by mail (which sadly is no longer with us) and possibly the best rip-off series I had ever encountered, “Warehouse 13”. (Watch a 3 movie set with Bob Newhart called, I believe, “The Librarian” to see what I believe “Warehouse 13” to be based on.) The final vehicle in the collision was down time between IT contracts.

In the middle of that collision John Smith decided to tell his story and he would not take no for an answer. He needed someone to tell his story to and Susan refused to be turned away. That same annoying trait many see in her during the early chapters kept her there for the entire book. I honestly thought it was going to be a short story. A brief interview which quickly went somewhere else, but, I’ve been warned about thinking before.

People always ask “what inspired you” in some form or another. What they don’t realize is that people who write are a bit insane. Oh, most certainly you can find someone who rigidly outlines an entire book then mechanically applies every trick taught in some creative writing class to generate their work. Such work may find a market, but it rarely generates a rabid fan base or critical acclaim. The stuff which honestly changes people, possibly even the world, doesn’t come from an outline or the techniques found in creative writing classes. It happens when someone witnesses a story and writes it down.

All I did was watch and listen, then write it down. Yes, they said some things I had to look up so both I and the reader could have some frame of reference, but, for the most part I was a bit more stenographer than writer.

How did you come up with the title?

“the Microsoft Wars” was part of it from the beginning. Quite honestly John didn’t have a last name for much of the book. Who more unremarkable than a common man with a common name? It is during times of war when unremarkable men prove just how incredible they really are. Sadly most of us don’t find out about them until long after, if ever at all. In an odd way this book is really at least three stories. The story Susan was after, the story John wished to tell, and the story the reader takes away from it. Now what title would a reporter choose for that?

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 

Think! Don’t just follow the bouncing ball.

How much of the book is realistic? 

A massive amount of this book is actual recorded human history the reader can choose to look up and verify. Many have according to what I’ve seen on-line. Some of the best comments I see on the work are when people post about things they believed were complete fiction only to find out they were actual fact when searching for them.

What books have most influenced your life most? 

While I’ve read quite a few books I believe movies and television have influenced my writing more than any book. Science fiction shows like “Babylon 5,” “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica” were heavy influences for “John Smith”.

What book are you reading now? 

None actually. Given the death of BlockBuster DVD by mail, I’m not even watching many movies.

What are your current projects? 

“Lesedi” which fits the time line between “Infinite Exposure” and “John Smith” as well as another of my geek series “The Phallus of Agile and Other Ruminations.”

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. 

Software consulting has allowed me to write. I’m a traveling consultant. I go away for months at a time. Normally when I’m away there isn’t a lot to do on weekends so I can let my mind wander which invariably leads to something passing through the keyboard. If I had to use pen and paper I would never be a writer. My handwriting is attrocious and spelling worse. The real reason word processors exist is because geeks have horrible hand writing and we cannot spell.

Do you see writing as a career? 

I see it as my retirement career. What I mean is that I’m slowly migrating away from actual programming towards writing both novels and technical documents. I would have stayed with IT until fully retired, but the race to the bottom most companies have been in for the past decade means that IT isn’t a viable career path for anyone these days.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? 

I know there are authors out there who keep trying to change work once its been printed. I’ve even heard self published authors who only put out electronic books rave about how they make several changes per year to a given piece of work. I find that shocking. Once it is out there, it is done. Changing a work, other than fixing a spelling error or four, is the cardinal sin in this business. Think about it. Two people who purchased your work months apart meet and strike up a conversation about it. Eventually they get into an argument when one talks about chapters which aren’t in the other person’s book.

Probably the most shocking thing about people changing work after it is released is the fact they never give it a new ISBN which is required by the agreement you sign to get ISBN numbers. I guess it really is a testimony as to how many people believe things like laws and stop signs don’t apply to them.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? 

Not now. Readers can find promotional versions of my work on free-ebooks.net. It will only be a few chapters out of each work, but it is more than enough for them to know if they might like it or not.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Having both the time and resources to do it properly. When I arrive home from a contract I tend to have a few months to a year to work on something, at least I do once the “Rollie do” jobs which pilled up while I was away get taken care of. The final part of any writing project is where the resources really come into play. For general interest things like novels I send them out for five rounds of editing by professional editors, not friends or family. One really needs to get back to work when that process starts. You especially need to be back to work when it comes time for both marketing and arranging a print run.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

No. I travel for my IT consulting. Perhaps some things I see or hear while traveling make it into a novel but I don’t travel for novel research.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Professional editing.

Professional editing.

Professional editing.

Even your high school janitor is more qualified to edit your work than you are. Amazon is littered with “self edited” piles. It is okay for someone to hate your story. As I’ve told others, give a gruesome and scary Stephen King novel to a reviewer who only likes warm fuzzy love stories set in New York and I can tell you the content of that review before the person reads page one. What is not okay is for a reviewer to point out numerous spelling, grammar and word choice (their/there/they’re) issues. That means you didn’t do your job.

If you only put out electronic versions of your work and never print it, don’t call yourself a “published author” because that is putting forth a false image. No matter how many electronic copies manage to sell, the vast majority of the buying public associate “published author” with a printed and bound form of work they can hold in their hand. Don’t lie to them even if you think you can justify it.

Unless you are writing a work which is 100% fiction do your research. Today a writer doesn’t even have to leave their chair to look up basic facts. While people may be dumb enough to watch and believe political talking heads, those who buy physical books generally aren’t part of that crowd. While your story may leave them feeling a bit short changed either due to your skill level or it being a type of work they aren’t fond of, they won’t hate you unless they catch you lying to them. Don’t lie to them. Even if you think you know it look it up. Half a dozen words and a click in different search engines will lead you to corroborating or disproving sources.

Always put forth a bag of nuggets. Scatter these nuggets throughout your story. These nuggets can be either odd scraps of information they did not know or endearing little scenes. I know the “common wisdom” in the major publishing houses is to toss out every word which doesn’t move the plot forward, but that is really bad advice based on a business model not reader satisfaction.

Let me explain that last piece a bit. Chris Farley was an actor taken from us far too soon. I don’t even remember the name of this particular movie but I remember one scene clearly. He and a friend were driving his friend’s prized car somewhere and they stopped for gas. His friend parked too far away from the pump and told Chris to fill it up as he went inside. Chris backed up with the door open peeling the door off the car. Rather than stand there like a dope we later see his friend come out of the gas station and the door is set back in place. When he grabs hold of the handle the door falls off the car and Chris screams at him for breaking the car.

“John Smith” has been reviewed by people who didn’t like the format or the early portrayal of Susan. Every one of these people continued reading the book and recommended it, some highly. Why? One reviewer spelled it out rather succinctly. He instructed readers to read just a few pages per day, like someone who takes a train to work would do. He said you really needed to get to the end of one of John’s thought lines and let it simmer for a while in your mind. Many readers have found facts they thought they knew to be different, but when they looked them up found the book was correct.

How many movies have you watched that may have been good but you don’t remember today? Now ask yourself, how many movies have you watched which you only remember one or a few scenes from? How many are like that Chris Farley movie I only remember the car at the gas station from? That scene was a nugget. I suspect the movie had a great many nuggets for other people. Nuggets are those precious things people take with them. They aren’t the plot, story arc or even the genre. They are those wonderful little bunny holes people’s minds fall into. You never want to lose your reader, you want to allow your reader to get lost all on their own.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you for enjoying my works. The wonderful reviews you have posted are most humbling. Even good writers have to deal with a large quantity of negative reviews. Not every person will enjoy every book they read. One reviewer posted a lengthy review on-line spouting how much she hated “John Smith: Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars”. It went on and on as they vented, yet interjected multiple times how well written and edited the work was. At the end they summed it up with something like “American centric techno drivel” or some such slam. As weeks and months went by other reviewers posted, many on the same site, about how they enjoyed the coverage of Mayans, pyramids and the general global scope of the book. Many commented how thrilled they were to find a work of this genre which didn’t have massive battle and raunchy sex scenes. One reviewer from the U.K. went so far as to claim the work was just as important as Orwel’s “1984” and Alex Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

I suspect many of you reading this interview were forced to read “1984” in school. I will also wager many of you liked neither the book nor the movies which were made based on it. That does not mean the work was unimportant. “1984” was more than “referenced” in “John Smith” it was made relevant to the reader as were the nuggets John passes along while telling his story. This is not a Saturday action flick or a warm fuzzy love story set in New York.

Website:  http://www.johnsmith-book.com

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