Today, Donnie Lansdale interviews me on the podcast The Author’s Voice, sponsored by the Writers Forum Facebook page.
For those of you who prefer reading, I’m including a transcript.
Donnie Lansdale: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story.”— Zora Neil Hurston.
Welcome to the Writers Forum Facebook Group series: The Author’s Voice. I’m Donny Lansdale, a podcaster and audiobook narrator. I don’t profess to know what makes a writer right but, having narrated numerous stories in a variety of genres, I do know this: Nothing brings more joy to a writer than to have his or her story brought to life. Through this podcast, we’ll explore every aspect of the writing process. And with any luck, we’ll find out what makes the magic happen. Thank you for joining me.
I’m here with a very special guest: author Stephen Oliver. Thank you for being on the programme.
Stephen Oliver: Thank you for inviting me.
DL: You probably thought I was here to interview in regards to your vast collection of published works, but the secret; you’re a Reiki Master. It’s not like a massage.
SO: I should imagine trying to give yourself a shiatsu massage could be a bit difficult, but Reiki you can literally treat yourself, and I have done for years now. I used to suffer from one to two migraines a week. Pretty much every week, I had migraine attacks. Since I started doing the Reiki, I have had a total of six, and I woke up with five of them.
DL: So, it’s changed your life.
SO: Truly, it has changed my life. My father, when he had his migraine attacks, he used to have to take strong medicines, which caused hallucinations. That disappeared. You know, we’ve all been — it’s helped my family. In fact, occasionally I get a call from one member of the family or the other and said, “We’re not feeling well. We’ve got, I don’t know, upset stomach or terrible cold or so. Can you send us some Reiki?”
DL: Now that we’re friends, I can send you a text message and say, “Oliver, I need some Reiki.”
SO: You can do what they call absentee treatment once you’ve developed to a certain point, and that’s what I teach. I’m a master now. I can teach people to do that for themselves. Psychotherapy and all of these things, NLP, they’re great systems, but they do require you to sort of poke at the person to do a response. With Reiki, you just… literally, you treat them for an hour. They’re lying there. You place your hands on their body in various set positions and that helps loosen up the energies in their body and it can help on any level.
I know of one person who used to have dizzy spells, and she had migraine attacks like I did. After I taught her, a couple of months later, a friend of mine said, “I’ve just been talking to so and so” and I said, “Yeah, how is she?” The guy said, “Well, actually, she’s fine. I mentioned to her that she used to have these dizzy spells, and she went, ‘Oh my God, you’re right. I did used to have them.’”
They had gone so much that she couldn’t even bother remembering she had them anymore, And that was because she was treating herself. I wasn’t treating her. I taught her how to treat herself, and that’s what the Reiki Master has to do.
DL: You need not be close to perform this.
SO: I’m not sure about correlation, but one of the things you can do… I mentioned absentee treatment. If you, for instance, had a headache, I could treat you from here. Now, you’re in America. I’m in the UK. But I could still treat you.
DL: So, I’m a young writer just turning out. I have an idea, but there’s a block.
SO: So, if you have a writer’s block, you could use that with the intention of releasing the mental blocks. I don’t have writer’s block, but I know of people who do, and I would imagine, if they sat down and said, “I’m going you treat myself, and I’m going to have a look at my writer’s block, and let it work on that. It would do because that is a mental-emotional problem, which it can help with. Or it can be a physical problem.
I know one person who broke her foot, and they said, “You’re not going to be able to walk for three or four weeks. And 10 days later, she walked out on crutches.”
The whole healing process can be accelerated hugely, but as I said, no migraine attacks, despite the fact that my life actually got more stressful after I learned to do this for myself because I was dampening down, as it were, the stress. I was not letting the stress get to me because I could let it go out. An hour’s treatment of Reiki can be as good as two to three hours sleep, if you’re short of sleep.
DL: Reiki all night long.
SO: I can give myself a couple of extra hours effective sleep.
DL: What did you have at the time?
SO: I didn’t actually have anything as such and as part of the adult education course is, you have to design your own course. So, which means you have to make a concept. So, you look at the vision, how you turn the vision into a concept, how the concept then becomes a reality and so on.
DL: How can we go from science fiction to children’s stories and horror stories to fairy tales? I mean that that’s amazing.
SO: There is a saying when they teach you writing, they say, “Write what you know.” These are all things I know. These are all things that in my 60-odd years of life I’ve been reading. I was a great fan of Agatha Christie, for instance, and I dipped my toe from there into noir. You know, Sam Spade and all of those people. At the age of about 13, I discovered science fiction. From there graduated onto fantasy from there onto horror. These are all areas where I have already read quite extensively. I mean, Agatha Christie; I think I’ve read just about every book she wrote. In fact, I’ve been told by a computer system that I am very much an Agatha Christie-style writer because I have a lot of dialogue in there, for instance, the way she did. I’ve also been told I remind people of Terry Pratchett or Isaac Asimov. These are all people I’ve read. I’m not consciously imitating them or anything like that. What I am doing is, I’m taking my experiences, what I’ve learned as a reader of thousands of books, and I’m now turning it into something that others can read.
DL: Let’s talk about fairy tales. Dark, sensual fairy tales.
SO: When they talk about fairy tales, I like writing what I call twisted fairy tales.
DL: Is this when character development really takes a turn?
SO: A twisted fairy tale is, you take the original story, and as I like to say, you follow it down a dark alley, mug it and kick it while it’s down. So, I’ve got, for instance, Cinderella is the nasty one, and the two ugly sisters are not ugly sisters, they’re actually very kind people. How about Little Red Riding Hood is actually a homicide detective? She’s after an axe murderer, and her boyfriend is a werewolf.
DL: Take a fabled fairy tale. Add a new dimension. Create for that story, and now you can go anywhere you want. Little Red Riding Hood is what?
SO: I live in a weird world, I must admit. Sorry. My mother says I’m weird whenever she reads one of my stories
DL: Give us an example of one of the lessons you learned.
SO: Well, it all started out about six years ago. I had an epic novel that was going nowhere, and I wrote a single short story. When I finished it, I realised I’d got a whole universe there that I could play in and that I could go crazy in.
DL: So, what happened next, and did things snowball?
SO: And so, I wrote another story and another story, and before I knew it, I had a book. I then approached someone to edit it for me. And they encouraged me with the ideas and said, “Carry on.”
So, I wrote a second volume, which the publisher has, and then I couldn’t stop. And a third one, and a fourth one. I’m now halfway through the fifth one. And they are all stories based in a single place, which I call Paranormal City, which is the name of the series. And in Paranormal City, the supernatural, the weird, the unnatural, they all live with the normal people, but the normal people don’t always realise that they are there. The police may be in on it, but not all of them.
There’s a part of the town of the city I call Darktown, which is where all these tend to congregate. Although, as the story is developing, some of them have discovered the joys of living out in the suburbs, and so the problems are beginning to move out further. But the point is, it’s a world where I mix science fiction, fantasy, horror, humour.
Anything can happen there. I mean, one of my characters is a policeman who’s a magician, a psychic. But he’s also got computers inside his head because he has memory problems. Another one, another story, is a werebear, not a werewolf, a werebear who’s a Marine.
DL: A werebear that’s a Marine. Do we really want to talk about this?
SO: And, actually, he’s part of a scouting team with his wife, who is a werewolf. And they are after doppelgängers. And you know, just weird and wonderful things.
DO: When you say weird, let’s talk about that.
SO: What do you call weird? Not one of my werewolves or mummies or vampires is normal if you know what I mean. That they are… In fact, I’ve just written… I’ve just written one where I have a sweat vampire.
My mind, my mind just can pick up all sorts of things. “Give me a phrase.” That’s a challenge I do to friends, occasionally. I say, “Give me a word or a phrase you think I can’t write a story about, and I’ll write you a story.”
DL: So, we have Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella. You’re saying, “Give me the story, and I can twist it, and you still want to hear it.” Is that correct?
SO: Give me an idea, and I usually come up with a story.
DL: This is the Writer’s Voice Podcast. I’m Donnie Lansdale. We’ll be right back with author Stephen Oliver.
Authors, thank you for being a part of the Writers Forum Facebook Group. Your support for writers at all levels brings an added value for members worldwide. At the Writers Forum Facebook Group, you will enjoy discussing writing topics, debate burning issues related to publishing, to publicise your novel, and to seek support of every kind and helping you become a better writer. The Writers Forum Facebook Group is a proud sponsor of this podcast.
Stephen, let me ask you, do you try more to be original, or to deliver to readers what they want?
SO: Now, that’s an interesting one. I write… well, somebody said, “You’ve got to know who you’re writing for” and I’m writing for geeks like myself.
DL: Stephen, would you say there’s a thought process or pattern that describes your writing style?
SO: There is a theme. I didn’t realise this until my writing coach pointed it out to me. There is a theme that runs through so many of my stories, and that is the Outsider, someone who doesn’t completely belong to society.
For instance, a werewolf is pretty much an outsider, but they might become an insider if they join the army and work for the army. You might have… I don’t know. Oh, one story. Here’s one for you. He’s a young man, He’s in a school, and he’s very much an outsider because everyone’s a little bit worried about him because he’s so fragile. And it turns out, he’s the only human there, all the rest of the werewolves and vampires and so on. They’re worried about hurting him because he can’t heal the way they can or, you know, sort of unusual things like that.
Sometimes, like in my novel “Shuttlers”, the outsider does become a member. But it’s because of his outside experiences that he’s able to understand how to go about the problem.
There is a general theme people for who like to read about the outsider coming in. I’m reminded of another writer who was very, very strong on that. And that was Andre Norton. If you read her novels, almost all of her heroes are outcasts in some way. Mine aren’t outcast, but they don’t actually fit in.
To be quite honest, it’s a case of right what you know because much of my life I was the Outsider. My father was in the military, so every time he moved, we had to. I had to change schools. Then I went into a career where I was the foreigner, and then later a consultant. You know, always the one coming from outside to solve a problem or to do something. This is a theme that constantly comes up in my stories. I don’t consciously do it. I just notice it when it pops up.
DL: In fiction, you’re dealing with character development. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex, would you say?
SO: Now that is a very interesting one. I don’t try to write them as members of the opposite sex per se. I write them as a character who happens to be. I can tell you, one story I wrote, which has been published, the editors blind read it. They loved it, and they were surprised to see I was a man because they said, the female characters they could absolutely understand. Both the editors, by the way, with women. And they could both say, “This is a woman who really understands women.” And they were most surprised when I was turned out to be a man. So, I don’t think I have a problem per se unless I’m probably just trying to write it. I treat them as the characters that they are.
You have to understand I’m a pantser. So, my characters are telling me their stories, as it were. It’s not my conscious mind that’s doing that. So, if a character is a female and she works out very well as a female, it’s my subconscious that’s been doing that. My Muse, as I like to say.
DL: This is the author’s voice podcast. I’m Donny Lansdale. We’ll be back with more questions.
Stephen Oliver. Congratulations. Your new book is published now. What is your marketing strategy for making it successful? Here’s the thought I’d like to share. Hi, I’m Donny Lansdale. I’m a professional audio book narrator at audible dot com. You know some topics sell even more audiobooks than physical books. Many readers buy both the physical and the audio versions to read and listen at the same time. Or listen on the way to work, or read in bed at the end of a long day. Audiobooks involve an investment both in terms of finances and time. But they can be a great way to stand out from the crowd and ensure you maximise your book’s potential and possibly increase sales of your physical books, too. Audio is intimate. You’re in someone’s ear. It can be a great way to build rapport and build a dedicated fan base. And by the way, audio is also convenient because you can be doing other things while listening to something like my podcast or an audiobook, for example. The convenience factor is a huge part of the growth of audio, in general. You don’t have to read or watch, you can just listen. This adds a different level of ease when it comes to getting more people to your book marketing message. Selecting the right voice for your next audiobook is critical. Make the clear choice at HawknestStudios dot com.
Thanks again for my guest today. Stephen Oliver.
SO: Research. It depends very much on the theme of the story. For my book “Shuttlers”, for instance, I had to do a lot of research into the latest understanding of the multiverse, the megaverse, the metaverse, the omniverse, all of this, and how they all connect together. So, I did a lot of reading, got caught up with some horrendous mathematics of String Theory, which I managed to ignore most of the time. But I had to do… well, it was a couple of weeks in the end on that.
A lot of my research also is, make sure that I don’t steal somebody else’s name. If I create a name out of fresh cloth, then I make sure that it isn’t somebody has already got it, especially if it’s a copyrighted name from a game or something.
Basically, if a story is about… Well, in one story, I needed to know, what were the positions of parrying or attacking with a sword. So, I had to go off and do that. Spent half a day looking into what the terms were, what the people, how you do it, you know. If somebody attacks from here, it’s got to be, a prime, which means, basically, you’re stopping a sword slashing down on you. Or is it coming from the left? The right? Is it a lunge? I had to read up on that. So, I took about a half a day to look up on the Internet, what these positions were and learn a little bit about it.
For the most part, you don’t need to go massively into details because, unless I wanted to know exactly how cyanide can kill someone, then the FBI will probably be after me.
DL: Stephen, the Writers Forum Facebook Group, which is a strong supporter of this podcast. If you were talking to your own self as a young writer, what advice would you give yourself, starting out?
SO: Two things. One: trust yourself, because, if you’ve got this urge to write, it’s coming from somewhere. There is a well inside you of ideas that are coming out. It might be a single story, or it might be like me, you’ve got a monkey mind that goes in all sorts of directions. Trust yourself, your subconscious, as it were your Muse, whatever you want to call it, knows what it where you’re supposed to be going.
And the other thing, and this is perhaps even more important: discover how you write. I’m not talking about computers or paper or whatever. I’m talking pantser versus plotter versus plantser.
So basically, are you like me? You may have a phrase, or you know where you’re going, but you’ve got no idea how you’re going to get there. You just write the story, and you’re going to have to edit it to get it working. But you go.
Or are you a planner, a plotter, someone who has to have every detail already out? You know exactly at what point in the story your character’s going to pull out a red bandana and shock everybody because they think it’s blood. You know everything.
Now the weird thing is, although I’m a pantser and I write by the seat of my pants (Discovery Writer, as we’re called), my Muse seems to be a plotter. Because I wrote a short story, which I deliberately ended with a cliffhanger. It was 2,500 words long, and a friend of mine said, “You can’t stop it there. You’ve got to tell me the rest of the story. I love this character too much.”
So, I did, I added another 12,000 words. But at the end of the story, something happens that explains something that puzzled me at the beginning. I had a sentence. Somebody did something, and somebody else felt a little tingle of fear because they recognised something about this person. And as I wrote it, I thought, “Now why the hell have I just done that?” But I left it in, and then right at the end of the story, you get the explanation.
Now that means that, in the back of my mind, I’d already got the rest of that story written or at least blocked out. It’s just that it came to me in dribs and drabs, and it ran through out of my fingers as it were onto the keyboard. But the point is that in the back of my mind, that story might very well have already been written.
And because of that, I know that if I have quote writer’s block unquote, which I don’t, it means that story hasn’t been fully developed yet, and I switched to another one. So, that’s how I’ve got so many stories I’ve got. I have 30-odd short stories in various stages of completion and editing and revision and so on because I have… no, I’ve had to switch away. The story stopped dead, and I thought, “Right, I will leave that. I will come back to it later.” And I went on to another one. Maybe completed a third one, then came back to that story because I suddenly realised what should happen. And then it flows freely again.
This is how I work. This is how I get my stories written, and that’s probably why I have so many stories. Because I have so many traces and tracks going on in the back of my mind, which is great. It means that I will never, ever have to stop.
DL: Let’s talk just for a moment, Stephen, about writer’s block. This seems to be a common topic for postings on the Writer’s Forum for Facebook group. What is your writing Kryptonite, so to speak?
SO: Well, I’ve managed to get over that more or less now, and that is actually submission. I didn’t have writer’s block, I had submitter’s block. I was, you know, scared to put myself out there, quite honestly. I’d written something. I liked it, but I was scared to find out if other people liked it. And then my writing coach said to me one day, “The only way we’ll be able to work out if you’re doing the right thing, is numbers. It’s a numbers game. I want you to send out 100 submissions.”
So, I said, “OK, yeah.” So, I started submitting, and when I discovered it’s actually quite easy, once you have a flow and idea of what you’re doing. You can… Actually, it’s not so painful. The rejections are painful, of course, but I didn’t… I was scared ahead of time of a rejection, which actually wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. And as a result, I sent out, in one year 420, submissions. 100 for one novel which was accepted at the end, 100 for an anthology which was accepted in the end, and the rest were for short stories, of which 15 were published.
There are still some more to come, but I was… In a single year, I did that and basically… It was, I suppose, like when you’ve got an allergy, They’ve got this therapy they do to you where they expose you to it slowly and increase it. And it got to the point at one point where I actually was writing about 12 submissions a day.
DL: Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about this allergy. Do you want each book to stand on its own? Or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
SO: I’m not trying to build that, but that’s what’s happening. As I said, I’ve got these five books for Paranormal City, the five volumes. But there’s another seven books I’m writing, which belong in the same narrative universe, and occasionally one character will pop up in another story. There’s a pathologist, which has appeared in the detective stories, has appeared in Paranormal City, and has appeared in my fairy stories. Or a main character from one story may end up being a cameo character in another story about someone else. A detective, a police detective, might be the main character of one story, but in another story, he just helps the main character along the way, and so on.
So, I’ve got a world that’s building up in my head, that’s building up, that is complex, that is powerful, where things connect to each other. And there is a gradually evolving story among this dozen books. There’s a story that’s evolving over time as to how that world exists and what is happening within it.
And now I’m sure there’s character’s going to appear out of nowhere. The book I mentioned, “Shuttlers”; I’m now working on a sequel, which I never intended to, but that’s now coming. And I’ve got two characters who’ve appeared a couple of times, and I get the feeling that the final story in that collection is going to be them working together. Their storylines are converging as it were, so I’m not trying to do it. It is evolving of itself.
DL: My guest is Stephen Oliver. Stephen, before I let you go for this episode, and this has been so much fun. I really enjoy speaking with you.
Family is important. Family and friends in supporting young writers and what words of advice would you give in regards to that support. How important was it to you? How important do you think it is in general that you have support of other people as you go through this creative and writing process?
SO: As I said, I self-published a book 10 years ago. I did it all myself. The only thing I didn’t do was design the cover because I’m not a graphic designer, but everything else I did myself. I learned how to work with Kindle. I learned how to work with iBooks. I learned how to work with CreateSpace and all of those things. And that was hard work.
When I started on my second book, I got a writing coach and editor. They helped me along the way. And then, after a while, I realised you have to work with the publishers. It’s teamwork.
If someone who self-publishes. They may be lucky and be a great success, but I think you’ll find that they might have been an even greater success if they got a whole team behind you. It’s not something you can do.
Emotional support is also important. For a long time, the only people who were supporting me in this were my parents. My late father said, “You know, you do what you like. And you know, I will help you as much as I can.” My mother still loves to read my stories and listen to the ideas I have.
DL: Stephen, your thoughts on audiobooks as a marketing strategy to go with your published works?
SO: Actually, I love the idea of audiobooks. For many years, while I was a software engineer, I would have to drive an hour each way to a client. Actually, I got to the point when I was driving so much, it was actually easier to stay in a hotel with them, at their place. But the point is, I would listen to an audiobook because I find if I listen to music in the car, it tends to make me a bit sleepy, which is not a good idea. If I’m listening to a good book, not something that requires huge amounts of concentration, a good story, something you can listen to without it taking too much attention away from your driving. I think an audiobook is absolutely brilliant. And I must admit that the audiobook of Paranormal City I love that I had I actually had to do auditions for these people. I had seven people sent to me an audition of the same section. And I chose the one that I like the best. And he has done a brilliant job. In fact, I don’t know if you know the Imadjinn Awards.
SO: Yeah, you do. The narration has been put up for the best audiobook. And the book itself is up for the best anthology by a single author. That’s right for this year. So, it’s going to be interesting to see what the results are going to be in July.
DL: It’s wonderful when an author can actually narrate their own book. Finding that special voice is not always that easy.
SO: Well, I suppose the voice that I did choose in the end is probably very similar to the voice I have in the back of my head, anyway. I think as much as anything, it’s the narrator has to have a feel for what the book is.
I’ve seen people saying, “Oh, if you listen to a book, it’s not reading.” I’m sorry, but it is. It’s still going in your head. It’s just that it’s going in through your ears and not your eyes. So, I love audiobooks.
DL: Stephen Oliver Thank you so much for being a guest on the programme. We are very blessed to have you as a member of the Writers Forum Facebook Group. I hope that you let everyone know about the Authors Voice podcast.
SO: Well, you’ll be going on my blog. As soon as it comes out, I’ll be linking you up on my blog.
DL: This has been the author’s voice. My guest, Stephen Oliver. This is the Author’s Voice Podcast.
The Author’s Voice has been a presentation of the Writers Forum Facebook group. Writers and authors at any level may request membership at the Writers Forum on Facebook. The Author’s Voice is produced by Hawknest Studios in Casa Grande, Arizona. For information and registration to be a guest on the podcast, go to hawkneststudios.com and join host Donnie Lansdale next time for another episode of the Author’s Voice Podcast.