Toinette – Author Interview

Book interview

Author Interview-2

Greetings humans, half-breeds, and everything in between. A while back, I had the pleasure to interview my new friend, Stefan Vucak. He is visiting the ECS as a guest and sharing loads of interesting insights into his work. Be sure to lo around and see what he has to offer. Here are the results of our interview. A good time was truly had by all, and here’s how it went down.

Hi there Stefan! It’s so awesome to have you here at the ECS Universe.

So tell me, who is Stefan Vucak?

I am an award-winning author of seven techno sci-fi novels, including With Shadow and Thunder which was a 2002 EPPIE Award finalist. My Shadow Gods Saga books have been highly acclaimed by critics. My recent release, Cry of Eagles, won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award. I leveraged a successful career in the Information Technology industry and applied that discipline to create realistic, highly believable storylines for my books. Born in Croatia, I now live in Melbourne, Australia.

How very accomplished you are; I’m impressed and eager to learn more about you and your work. It’s doesn’t hurt that I’m a fan of sci-fi, so I’m sure we’ll have loads to talk about.

So whacha got for me today?

In All the Evils, a researcher in the Secret Vatican Archives uncovers a papyrus that claims Jesus was John the Baptist’s disciple and the second Messiah. To prevent the tractate from becoming public, seriously undermining church authority, the Vatican secret service engages an assassin to silence anyone who has knowledge of the papyrus. It is up to an FBI agent to unravel a series of murders and prevent the assassin from killing him.

Now that sounds like a good story, and forgive me if I offend, but an awesome conspiracy theory! I love these kinds of story because they force you to really think about history, what we know, what we think we know, and what we choose to believe…And not for nothing, but controversy is always a good sell.

So who’s starring is this 3-dimensional script read of All the Evils?

Father Garbaldi: Anthropologist working as a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, discoverer of the ancient papyrus.

Cardinal Belconi: Head of The Entity – Vatican’s Secret Service.

Tom Meecham: FBI Special Agent, assigned to track down The Entity assassin, and prevent further murders to keep the tractate out of public hands.

Bruce Wellard: FBI Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, an Opus Dei operative who helps plot Meecham’s murder.

Garry Strand: Special Agent in Charge for the Boston Division, helping Meecham track down the Vatican assassin.

Mark Price: Department of Homeland Security, an ex CIA operative, providing Meecham vital assistance enabling him to apprehend the assassin.

Even your characters seem intense. I love the choice of names and the complexity of the character’s involvement. If this were a movie, I can’t begin to imagine the ensemble cast that would bring this story to life.

Past, present, future, is there a rhyme or reason to your writing?

I always write into a notebook first before transcribing it into the computer where I edit, revise and edit some more. I tried writing directly into the computer, but it’s not the same. I must have the tactical feel of a pen – a clutch pencil actually – in my hand, scribbling away, trying to keep up with the torrent of words pouring from my mind. When it all clicks together and flows, I get a real buzz from the creative process that leaves me deeply satisfied. Of course, things don’t always run that smoothly, but I try not to dwell too much on those bits. Writing on paper allows me to fly and be imaginative. Once the stuff gets into the computer, I put on my editor hat and frown critically, looking for those grammar bloopers and story flaws, and I start chopping as necessary. That sometimes hurts, but the end result is more important than being wedded to an odd sentence or paragraph.

I plan my work in detail. I guess that’s part of my training as an IT professional. I work out an initial story plot, define my characters, do the necessary research – and that can be a lot, especially with my contemporary novels – write a detailed story outline, then start writing the book itself. That’s the easy part. The slog comes during the editing phase, and that really never stops. What I do is write a segment, edit it, write some more, edit that, and at some stage, go over the whole thing again. Then I print out the whole mess and edit it on paper. Amazing what the eye can spot in print that it misses on the screen. When I reach the end of the book, I go through it on the computer, then print the manuscript and go over it again, perhaps three times. It can be a drag.

There was never a time when I didn’t want to write. Even as a kid, clutching my first book, I was hooked. It didn’t seem all that hard – until I tried it myself. I’m glad my first effort is safely buried in my drawer. But that’s the learning process. After having written eleven novels, my latest political drama Strike for Honor will be released by Solstice Publishing next April, that learning process is still going on. Mastering the craft never stops, and I would like to think I have learned a thing or two along the way. I started off writing science fiction, one of my passions, but after seven novels in the series – Shadow Gods – I thought I’d give myself a break and do some contemporary stuff. Perhaps that would help me get into the traditional publishing market. I’m still trying.

I can appreciate your almost obsessive writing and editing ritual. I like that you are so passionate. I find myself to be a bit on edge when it comes to editing and even after I’ve gone through my whole story backwards line-by-line, I still pay my trusted editor to give the work and outside look.

What author(s) has most influenced your writing? Why or how?

Having been around for a while, a number of writers have influenced me. During my science fiction phase, two stand out: Roger Zelazny and Keith Laumer. When his writing was good and before he descended into sorcery and mysticism, Zelazny had an evocative, deceptively easy style that was a pleasure to read.

Keith Laumer had an irreverent, sardonic style that blasted my sensibilities and often amused me. Some of his stuff was terrible, but a lot was extremely entertaining. In the end, that was all that mattered. His writing style left an impression on me, as looking back, I find my main characters being slightly dismissive of authority and impudent, but still good at what they were doing.

Since my sci-fi days, I sampled writers from other genres, like techno thrillers. I like Stephen Coonts, at least his early works. After a couple of hundred books later, the techno thriller genre gave me a solid grounding into the workings of governments, spy agencies, the military, and war machinery of all kind. It was a good launching platform for my own contemporary novels.

I guess every author I came across must have left an impression, especially if I bought more than one of his works. They all talk to me from somewhere in my mind as I put my own words down on paper.

I find it difficult to truly follow the work of just on author and not because I’m easily bored. I find that there are so many authors I want to experience that I often settle for one, maybe two, of their works before moving one to someone else. That’s probably why my TBR is so long. It’s filled with all the unread works of author’s I’ve already sampled.

Whose brain are you just itching to scratch?

Coming back from the 2012 Miami Book Fair and participating in the Readers Favorite award ceremony, I bought a book by Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at CalTech. I’m into cosmology, nuclear physics and what makes the world go round. It’s like crunching on a crouton in a salad of fiction books. Anyway, it would pass away the long hours cooped up in an airplane.

After reading Brian Greene’s foray into string theory, multiple dimensions and parallel universes, latching on to Carroll was a no-brainer. Everyone looks on Einstein as a god, and his general and special theories of relativity were mind blowers, but he ignored quantum theory in his quest to come up with a grand unification theory and died an unfulfilled man. A lot has happened since then that he would be pressed to understand, and it is fun and intensely revealing to peek into the theoretical world cosmologists are opening.

Carroll is someone I would like to sit with over a glass of smooth bourbon and simply talk, clashing over ideas and sometimes outrageous propositions. That would be fun! Some of his ideas I find difficult to grasp, but they stretch the mind and provide a rich smorgasbord of material that can be put into one of my books somewhere in a galaxy far, far away…

I adore this answer. I can tell that you thought about this before, and instead of going with hype you’ve chosen heart. You want to spend time getting to know someone who not only shares your interests, but has already been an inspiration to you from afar.

Who is so you and why?

That’s a strange one, as I am not a single personality, but an amalgam of everything I accumulated during my life. Sometimes I find myself looking at the world from Mike’s point of view, a character in Robert Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land. People are funny, ridiculous … and so dangerous. I often wonder why we are so mean to each other and why dominance over other men still governs what we do, whether politically, commercially or militarily. Scratch a modern human and you find a club wielding primitive. We really haven’t advanced all that much.

Another character I can easily relate to is Klatu, in The Day the Earth Stood Still [the movie, 1951, 2008]. He came to Earth to bring a warning, and found himself perplexed and overwhelmed by human behavior. Driving on the freeway to the city, watching the antics of fellow drivers trying to save that second from their trip time by weaving through the traffic, or attempting to squeeze into an overcrowded train to hostile looks of passengers who don’t want me there, often leaves me bemused, wondering whether I am Alice and have fallen into some magical world that doesn’t make sense. Watching the American Congress at work, it really doesn’t make sense.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Klatu as well. The idea that he came to help a world that wasn’t ready to accept its fate and didn’t really want his help was so sad to me, especially considering it was the world I was currently living in. This is a strange world we live in.

What’s your ideal reading spot for your next highly anticipated read?

Armed with a tumbler of Elijah Craig bourbon, ice clinking as I maneuver myself into the bedroom, I glance fondly at the paperback of The Ethos Effect by L.E. Modesitt Jr, and figure the rest of the evening will make up for the pain I had to endure reviewing an ebook earlier. I’ve read Ethos before, but I am drawn to it this evening, eager to lose myself in its pages.

Van Albert is a character I understand and Modesitt crafts him to perfection. Desoll, Van’s mentor, is an enigmatic personality: complex, full of contradictions and life drivers, like all of us. Van could be anyone, but he is not. He is rejected by a service he loves because of his skin color, and realizing the evil that service is about to unleash on the worlds, he decides to do something about it. It is an easy book to get lost in, and I do, with relish.

More often than not, my bedroom is my reading hole. Oh, I read in my living room and my study, but it is at night when the world around me has stopped rushing about and silence reigns, that I let myself go and indulge in a good book. It is a far, far better thing I do than staring at the TV watching CSI or some other mindless, brain-destroying crap.

I find that as I get older I do watch less and less TV and read more. While I am and will probably always be a movie buff, it’s hard not to recognize that all the new movie ideas are coming straight from literature of some kind. The Ethos Effect definitely sounds like a new addition to my TBR list.

What was your favorite book or story, pre-teen years?

I remember like it was yesterday, attending my primary school on a weekend to see a puppet play. Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked and found myself in a small room that served as the school library. On a desk was an open picture book of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – and I was lost. Ever since then, Captain Nemo, the Nautilus, the fantastic forays under the sea and the battle with a giant octopus, colored my entry into reading. As you can guess, it was my indoctrination into science fiction, although I didn’t know it at the time.

What that book did was open my eyes to a universe I never knew existed, a magical world where I could be the characters I was reading, and experience adventures I never believed were possible. When I discovered the city library at the corner of the street where the school was – I walked by hundreds of times without noticing it – I was in heaven. Suddenly, classes in grammar, writing and composition took on a different meaning, and my desire to write unfurled like petals of a flower. I owe a lot to Jules Verne.

I must admit that 20,000 League Under the Sean has always held a special place in my heart as well. It wasn’t the book that opened up my world of wonder and love of reading and writing, but it certainly didn’t hurt. This is one of those stories that never gets old…Now this is where the questions get a little kooky; are you ready?

If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I have seen many fine movies across a landscape of genre, and a few horrible things, but one has to sample the bad to appreciate the good. Given that I would not be bored after a few thousand screenings, I could easily watch Avatar for a lifetime. That movie has done right what so many failed; bring a real story, and adventure to life, coupled with magical vistas and unbelievable backdrops. Some reviewers politicize and over-analyze the movie, forgetting that as a piece of visual art, it is unequalled.

Who cannot help being moved by the glowing night scenes, the flying sequences where Jake and Neytiri are soaring on their ikran, and the tragedy where Colonel Quaritch destroys the hometree. The accompanying music is truly magical and I am happy to lose myself in that world Cameron has created.

To say that I’ve seen a lot of movies in my life would be a ridiculous understatement, so believe when I say that this movie was truly astonishing and worth seeing at least once in a lifetime. This movie has so many layers of wonder and beauty that it is hard to describe. In many ways, it is easier to say that it’s just a cool movie with great effects even if it is really more than that. Whether there is truth in the latest controversy and hype surrounding this film or not, I don’t care. The finished product will always be worth my time to stop and watch.

What makes you geek out?

That’s an easy one – travel! Since my first trip to the States, Mexico and Canada, many many years ago, I was bitten by the travel bug. Years later, I have stood in the shadow of the pyramids, gazed on Machu Picchu, stared with wonder at Everest, sailed a tall ship over the deeps, stood among the sands Arabia, walked with the Maasai in Kenya, and the desire to see everything never left me. It is not only the pull of strange lands, natural scenery and man’s marvels, but the craving to see other people and glimpse a little of their lives. And some of those lives are hard indeed. It puts into perspective the material richness of our Western existence, but it also highlights something we seem to have lost – family cohesion and a satisfaction with what you have without needing that third car or muscular bank account. Different social norms, I guess. I wouldn’t mind standing on an ice shelf in Antarctica, and that might happen one day.

I dream of travel. Maybe one day I’ll have a chance to live it.

So what’s testing your patience right now?

I am working on my eigth science fiction book, Guardians of Shadow, where Terrllss-rr confronts the Celi-Kran who have taken Teena, his loved one. It’s been a project that festered in my mind for a number of years now, but it took a back seat while I took time off to write four contemporary novels. After agonizing over the plot, in a rush of writing that surprised me, I got the outline in a week of solid effort. There is a tiny bit that I’m still stuck on, but it will resolve itself in the fullness of time. I simply could not leave Terr as he was in the last book of the series, boldly heading into Orieli space with Teena and his Wanderer brother Dharaklin, Death held in check, always ready to be unleashed. It will take a while to get done, but in between, there will be books to review and read – accompanied by that tumbler of whisky.

Writing a series can test your patience. After spending so much time with a character and its development, you’d think it would be easy to see what the future has in store for them. I know all too well what it’s like to want to do a character, I’ve already put so much into, justice and having a hard time doing so. I have big plans for my character Giovanni, I just hope I am able to execute them well.

When the soundtrack of your life is playing in your head, what songs express your glee and what songs bring out your rage?

Showing my age here, I love the melodies and words of artists from the ’70s and the ’80s. They had something to say and said it well. I don’t know too much about today’s so-called singers and their half-naked gyrating bodies – sexuality barely suppressed. To me, that’s not art, although today’s teens clearly go for it. Michael Jackson sets my teeth on edge. I guess I’m just not switched into the modern cool scene. Give me someone like Neil Diamond, Abba, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, and I’m happy.

I don’t know if it’s necessarily a question of being “cool” more than it is a question of understanding, tolerance, and open-mindedness. All the artist you’ve listed as being fans of have publicly praised Michael Jackson for his talent and contributions to the music industry- oh and he’s from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m not going to argue the sad state of modern pop music because there is nothing to dispute, but as a music lover, I seriously wonder if it is Michael Jackson, the crazy person you have issues with, or Michael Jackson the musical artist. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished they were two different people…BTW, I love Neil Diamond!

What’s the most fun experience you’ve ever had, to date?

If I had to choose a really fun experience, sailing a tall ship from Auckland in NZ to Tahiti would be right up there. I was always fascinated with tall ships ever since I read C.S. Forester’s Hornblower books, I wondered what it would be like living on a windjammer. When an opportunity presented itself between jobs, I grabbed it. The ship was a brigantine, 110 long with a 23-foot beam. I and my fellow passengers were ‘crew’, supported by professionals, but we had to stand watches and work the ship, which included scraping and painting and cooking. At night, with the warm pacific water whispering at the bow, leaving blue-green phosphorescence in its wake, the blaze of stars arching overhead in overwhelming profusion, feeling the ship alive as I held the wheel, that was fun!

I never gotten into sailing much being land locked most of my life, but now that I live near the ocean the idea seems much more appealing. The closet I’ve come so far is kayaking, lol. One day I’ll surly graduate to a big girl sailing.

Remind me again how I was lucky enough to meet you?

As always, marketing my books, the publisher left that chore to me. I am good at many things, and maybe I can even write a bit, but marketing in today’s Facebook and Twitter environment is a challenge. A challenge I am far from mastering, but necessity prods me along. Lots of people are there to tell me how I should go about it – for a fat fee. Looking into what they produce, it turns out I know more about the game than they do! It’s depressing. It’s also depressing to see a crappy book selling well when I can’t get mine moving. A bummer.

I came across you, Toinette, from LinkedIn. After hooking into several author/writer groups, I bumped into one of your posts and decided to look into it. Your professional approach to blogging is encouraging and I looked forward working with you.

Ah yes, online social media marketing- just the words themselves sound daunting. I guess that’s why I decided to start this author series. It’s just one little thing I can to do to show my appreciating to all the writers out there taking a stand and striving to fulfill their dreams of authorship.

Not that you can see into the future, but in your opinion, what does the future hold?

Given what is going on in the world today, life can appear depressing. I believe Europe is heading for a major upheaval and the breakup of the Eurozone is inevitable. There are too many social and economic differences between the members for the one size fits all monetary philosophy to work, something the Brussels bureaucrats don’t seem to appreciate. I see the United States captured by partisan gridlock, where neither party is prepared to work for the benefit of the country, content to pursue unworkable policies that threaten ruin. The capture of the Republican party by the extreme right and the evangelical interests is of particular concern. Sometimes it’s not worth thinking about. They are all children who need a good spanking.

As for me, I guess life will be more of the same: writing, reading, editing, travel as much as my finances allow. I hope to break into the traditional publishing market one day, but my main driver is to share what I have written with others, regardless of the medium. My interests are changing as experiences and knowledge enrich me, and undoubtedly, that will be reflected in what I write. I have a few projects in mind and only time will tell which one of them I will decide to nourish.


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