An interview with Fiona Mcvie

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AuthorsInterviews

Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

My name is Stefan Vučak. As for my age, I am afraid to count how many years have gone by! However, I am hoping there will be many more. I have further books to write.

Fiona: Where are you from?

I was born in Croatia, and when my parents immigrated to Australia, I faced a new world, a new language, and a totally new way of life. My parents found it particularly difficult to integrate, but for me and my sister, as kids, we took it in stride. I had devoured books ever since I learned to read, which helped my transition, but writing in English was a path filled with spelling and grammar potholes. It took me a while to master it, and I am still not sure that I have it all. Anyway, while at the university, still reading avidly, I turned my hand to writing short stories, thinking it didn’t look all that hard. Thankfully, some of my early experiments will never see the light of day, but the process did help me hone my writing skills. I sent some of my stories to U.S. magazines, but without success. One day, I told myself, I will get published.

Fiona: A little about your self (ie,  your education, family life, etc.).

My career in IT kept me busy, starting as a computer programmer, systems analyst, and ending up as a program manager working on several major projects. A two-year stint in the United Arab Emirates, followed by a year in Qatar, working on cellular phone systems, were some of the most satisfying. Back in Melbourne, more major projects, battling budgets, resources, schedules, clients. All the while, though, I kept writing. Discouraged by rejections from traditional publishers, I found success with several ebook publishers before turning to self-publishing. I loved my job, but I reached a crossroads where I had to choose: pursue my IT career or start being a serious full-time writer, and that’s what I am now. Writing is satisfying, but these days, I also provide editing and publishing services, and I am also a book reviewer.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

Actually, I just finished Lifeliners. It began as an idea for a short story on a long flight from Europe to Melbourne, Australia, my home. I always have my notebook handy, never knowing when inspiration would strike. Tired of browsing through inflight entertainment, I began jotting down notes to flesh out a story about an emerging new human able to draw energy from someone by touching them. Birthrates in Western countries had been falling for a while, accompanied by growing sterility. A product of our high-pressure technological lifestyle and high density urban living, explained the pundits. Nature decided that lifeliners were the answer who would over time replace the ‘normals’. As expected, this development was not received well by the general population, and governments everywhere began to blame lifeliners for failure of bad economic policies, introducing draconian laws to curtail their rights and freedoms.

Well, I wrote the short story, posted it on my website, and I thought I was done with it. Time to finish what was then my latest book project Legitimate Power. Once I had it published, I began reviewing ideas for a new book – and kept coming back to the lifeliners story. It was one thing to write a short story, but fleshing it out into a full-length novel was not something I had in mind, wanting to write another contemporary political drama/thriller. But the bug had bitten me and lifeliners began to haunt my days. The only way I would have peace was to write the damned book.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I always wanted to write. Well, not exactly always, but ever since I came across an illustrated book of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the printed word fueled my imagination. In high school and university, I breezed through essay and writing assignments, truly puzzled why some of my classmates struggled. Books, of course, particularly science fiction, got my ideas factory churning. If others could write short stories and novels, so could I. I first turned my hand to writing short stories. I yearned for the day when people would walk past a bookstore and see my books on display. Vanity? Perhaps, but the fire burning deep within me that urged me to write, also compelled me to share the products of my imagination. Regrettably, just making my way in the world, I could not indulge my passion. I had to find a way to live and support myself. Hence my IT career, but that fire never went out, although I did allow it to die down a bit, frustrated at not being able to find a publisher. Publishing is a savage game, as I came to learn, and publishers are not keen to publish my books just because I wanted to see them in bookstores.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

While attending university, I wrote short stories as an outlet for a fertile imagination. I guess that is when the writing bug fanned a smouldering flame to write something more substantial, a book. Thankfully, that effort will never see the light of day, but it helped me realize that writing was much harder than I imagined it to be. Pursuing a career did not leave much time for writing, but I kept at it, submitting stories to U.S. publishers and not getting anywhere. I filed away the stories and the books, knowing that as long as the flame of creation burned, I would keep writing and along the way, master my craft.

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

With Shadow and Thunder, which ended up as a series of eight Shadow Gods novels, started off as a whimsical draft, with me churning out notebook pages as I rode a train to/from work. In those days, the only thing I had was an electric typewriter to produce the manuscript. I guess my age is showing. Thank God for Microsoft Word! Anyway, having read a lot of science fiction, many of the stories taking place on Earth or the Solar System, I decided to create a totally new alien environment, political system, power jockeying, and dump my main character(s) into adventures. I cannot point to any single inspirational source for the novel. I guess it coalesced from the myriad of sci-fi books I read, movies I saw, and personal input.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

Terr had the misfortune to crash on a desert planet inhabited by the Wanderers. To regain his sanity and memory, he had to confront the gods of Death, but that’s another book. Betrayed by his Wanderer brother, Terr’s ship crashed and the U.S. authorities seized an opportunity to gain access to alien technology. He managed to escape, but reaching his ship would be a problem when everybody was hunting him. With the shadow of the god of Death in his hands, lightnings flashing, he faced his ultimate challenge. It did not take me long to put together the With Shadow and Thunder title.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?

I am generally a morning person where I do some of my best writing. However, I am not bound by this, and I write whenever the words strain to come out, but I rarely write in the afternoon. I first write longhand in a pad, then transcribe the material to the computer, doing minor editing along the way. When I complete ten to twenty pages of manuscript, I print them out and do a more thorough edit. This goes on until I finish the novel … then more editing! By the time I think the thing is ready for publishing, I am heartily sick of the book!

I am very organized with my writing. I plan, plot, and outline everything. Part of my IT training, I guess. The Shadow Gods books required some research to get my facts right, but that was not overly difficult. I was challenged when I started writing contemporary political drama/thrillers. Each book required a lot of research, some of it very exact. Most of the material never ended in the book, but the research gave me a comprehensive foundation against which I could write the novel with authority. Some aspect of every author’s personality, ideas, and bias creeps into his work, and this happens with me. However, I try to be true to the character and plot, which has presented me with an occasional challenge to stop myself from injecting my own views.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences-based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

As science fiction, my Shadow Gods books are obviously not real and do not reflect current reality. However, my characters and the political setup is sufficiently ‘human’ for readers to relate with. My contemporary novels, on the other hand, exploit current geopolitical scenarios and are much more ‘real’, hence the research involved for each book. I have never used a person I know as a character, but that is not to say that someone’s traits had not worked themselves into a book.

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

I don’t set out to write a book with a specific message. If one is inferred by the reader as a result of the main character’s struggle to overcome injected adversity, that is merely a by-product of the plot. Generally, I like to create satisfying endings, which does not always guarantee that the ‘bad’ guys will get their comeuppance.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

In 2006, I walked away from a very successful career in IT to pursue my passion as a full-time writer. It was a tough decision to make, as I did not anticipate being able to make a living being a writer. That meant having sufficient financial security to pursue what has become my second career.

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

Lifeliners took a while to plan and plot … and write. It is my longest work so far, and a departure from my usual writing style. The 2032 setting is near enough for the geopolitical landscape to be instantly familiar, yet far enough in the future for the plot to be ‘real’. Wold I change anything? Having edited, reviewed, and more editing, I really don’t want to look at it again!

Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?

That is an interesting question. In some way, every book I have written has given something back to me, whether a personal insight, or a broader view of people and the world around me. With Lifeliners, it was brought home to me that our thin veneer of civilized behaviour can be quickly stripped away when faced with natural or man-made adversity. I should not be surprised, seeing how many novels out there were written that exploit our frail hold on ethics and morality.

Fiona: Any advice for other writers?

If there is one thing I learned over the years as a writer, if anyone is contemplating taking this on seriously, he or she should be prepared to spend many lonely hours with a pencil and paper, and sitting behind a computer screen. There will be disappointments, frustration, angst … and moments of sheer exhilaration and satisfaction when the words flow and the creative process produces something wonderful. Writing is a gift, but it can also be a curse. However, once bitten with the urge to create, there is no cure.

These days, it is easy to self-publish, and outlets like Amazon and Smashwords are replete with good books. Unfortunately, they are also full of amateurish efforts, which has contributed to a negative reputation of ebooks. Most authors dream of finding an agent and being published by a traditional publisher. I have those thoughts myself. However, traditional publishers rarely take up new writers, always keeping an eye on the bottom line. They are running a business to make money, not cater to hopeful authors. It is tough, but that is the hard reality. Another tough reality is the ongoing need to market and promote my books. As I mentioned in one of my Tweets, ‘Writing fills my soul, and marketing empties it’.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

I am just about done with Andy Weir’s Artemis, set on the Moon. I loved his book The Martian, and the film, and I picked up Artemis in the hope that his irreverent writing style and cheeky characters have not deserted him. I was not disappointed. However, I hate him because he was picked up by a traditional publisher, whereas I am still looking for one! Yeah, life sucks. Grin…

Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

Wow. It may not have been my ‘first’ book, but the illustrated Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when I was still a kid barely able to read, stuck in my mind and forever hooked me to books. Guess where I picked up my love for science fiction!

Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?

Being a nerdy sort of person, I like classical music, particularly when editing and proofreading, or reviewing someone’s book. I have a fondness for Austrian and Bavarian folk music. South American folk music is enchanting and allows my mind to soar. I play golf, take long walks – too much chair parade not so good for the old body – and of course, I read, a lot. I like to travel, which I guess is a hobby I can afford and indulge in. It broadens my horizons.

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

These days, TV shows leave me unmoved. How many CSI variations are there, four? It is all about crime, reality shows, and cooking programs. Give me a break! There is too much reliance on computer special effects, which sacrifice genuine plotting and characterization. I believe that some of the TV shows from years gone by like Colombo and The West Wing will stand the test of time when others will quietly fade away. I enjoy movies that have a strong plot, powerful characters, and good direction. Sadly, directors rely too much on computer special effects, car chases, mindless action, to carry weak stories. However, occasionally, a memorable film does surface, which restores my faith in movies. I guess ‘Avatar’ will always have a soft spot for me, but I also enjoy something different like ‘The Age of Adaline’. The black-and-white version of ‘Jane Eyre’ with Orson Wells and Joan Fontaine gets me moody and thoughtful.

Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?

Readers can find out more about me, my books, and blog articles on my website, Facebook, Twitter: @StefanVucak, and LinkedIn.

My books are available from Amazon and Smashwords.

CREDIT: This interview appeared in AuthorsInterviews on September 8, 2018.

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