The Official Blog of Iain Rob Wright: Jeff Carlson, bestselling author and pretty swell guy...

Friday, 24 October 2014

Jeff Carlson, bestselling author and pretty swell guy...

When I first published The Final Winter, I had no one on my facebook and no one to turn to for advice.  I was a naive loner just hoping for the best, and I felt like I had no right to try and call myself an author.  During that time I was writing some book reviews, and one novel I reviewed was Plague Year by Jeff Carlson.  It's an awesome apocalyptic novel (1st in a trilogy) about a nanovirus that destroys all biological matter (people) below 10,000 feet.  It is unique and a shit load of fun.  I suggest you all read it.

When Jeff saw my review he contacted me to say thanks.  He found out I was an author and offered to let me post on his blog.  He also sent me signed copies of the Plague Year trilogy.   It was overwhelming to have a bigshot New York Times Bestselling author give me the time of day.  It's because Jeff was such a nice guy that I forged ahead with my own career.  He made my struggle to become an author enjoyable and worth it.  If my first encounter with another author had been negative, then I might have shied away and decided that the whole thing wasn't for me.  Jeff's kindness is part of why I am here today writing books and making a living.  I owe him for that.

So it gives me great pleasure to do for Jeff what he originally did for me almost 4 years ago.  I am giving him my blog.  Authors and readers alike should be interested, for Jeff has a successful career in traditional publishing as well as the new self-publishing revolution.  He is a true hybrid author that knows what it's like on both sides of the fence.  Here's what he had to say.

Oh, and before we get started, you can check out Jeff''s books at his website:

Hi, Jeff, tell us about yourself.
Well, my official bio is fun because I’m not a formal guy, so I hope the humor bleeds through even my corporate thumbnail…

“Jeff Carlson was born on the day of the first manned moon landing and narrowly escaped being named Apollo, Armstrong, or Rocket.  His father worked for NASA Ames at the time.  His granddad on his mother’s side was a sci fi fan whose library included autographed copies of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.  Both men were strong, early influences — and in the high tech 21st Century, it’s easy to stand with one foot in reality and the other in thriller novels.”
How’s zat?

Could you tell us what work you currently have available?
Straight from the biography again!

Jeff is the international bestselling author of Plague Year, Interrupt, and The Frozen Sky, hailed by Publishers Weekly as “Pulse pounding.”

That’s only time PW had something nice to say about me, ha ha, so I cling to it.  My other PW review was for Plague Year, which was trashed by a frustrated Author with a capital A.  Plague Year was my first novel.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but PW reviews aren’t necessarily written by people who like the kind of book they’re reviewing.

This unnamed genius was moonlighting for PW because she hoped to parlay her byline with the famous magazine into opening doors at New York agencies and publishers for her profound literature.  She slammed Plague Year for being a post-apocalyptic genre novel full of sex and violence, which, to be fair, is an apt description.  I like blowing things up.  Helicopters.  Space shuttles.  Cities.  Blow ‘em up!  Aha ha ha.  And if that’s not your cup of tea, no problem, although I have to admit the pan still bothers me.  By any stretch, Plague Year was a commercial success.  Readers embraced it.  But she went out of her way to publicly sneer at the book.
Have I had too much coffee again today?  Hee hee.

To actually answer your question:  Plague Year is a trilogy.  Interrupt is an epic disaster novel and a stand-alone.  I also have a short story collection called Long Eyes, and I’m in the process of sequels to The Frozen Sky, which will become another trilogy.

Tell us about your latest release and why people should buy it.
Betrayed is the second book in the Frozen Sky series.  If I were pitching it as a movie, I’d say: “This story is Pitch Black meets The Thing with a strong female lead.”  By that I mean it’s a high-concept sci fi thriller with a smart, brave heroine.  No, she doesn’t pack a giant machine gun like Ellen Ripley.  Yes, she’s capable and resilient.

Also, my aliens aren’t mindless killers.  It’s true they’ll rip your face off and eat it if you let ‘em.  By the same token, they’ll become your fiercest defenders if you prove yourself worthy.

The Frozen Sky is a metaphor for the icy crust of Jupiter’s sixth moon, Europa.  Beneath the surface, the ice is ten to twenty kilometers thick.  In my story, it’s riddled with catacombs and volcanos and nasty blind eight-armed creatures who’ve never imagined a universe beyond the ice.  Not until the human race comes knocking.  The books are set 100 years in the future, so we have cool armored suits and mecha and AI, but we also have all of our usual weaknesses.  We’re divided.  We argue.  We lie and cheat.

When the competing Earth crews meet the savage alien tribes… well, let’s just say it’s a glorious mess.  Ambushes.  Ice quakes.  Monsters and robots and cyber warfare, oh my.  Even a dash of romance.  I’ve never had so much fun in my life.

For someone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your writing?

I hope I could say my writing style is compact and evocative.  Oh yeah, and my plots are freaking brilliant!  Aha ha ha ha.  I don’t write Star Trek­­-level sci fi with goofy-looking people in rubber ears or simplistic plots neatly wrapped up in an hour.  My goal is to bring the readers deeper than that. 

What else do you have in the pipeline?
Currently I’m busy with Frozen Sky 3.  After that, I’m on the hook for a few short stories.  After that, another big present-day thriller.  There are always nine or twelve concepts baking in my brain.  You know how it is:  More ideas than time.  Staying on task is half the battle.  Don’t let yourself be distracted.  Stay focused on the book at hand.

What writers have had the most influence on your own writing?
Some of these names may surprise you.  Frank Baum.  James Michener.  Jean M. Auel.  Stephen King. John Irving.  Wendy Pini.  John Varley.  Joe Haldeman.

Pini of course was the driving force behind the graphic novels of ElfQuest, which were more than pure fantasy adventure.  She gave her characters heart, even the bad guys like the trolls and Winnowill.  Great stuff.

Michener and Irving wrote real-world stories about the human condition, Michener on a wide scale, while Irving’s focus has been more personal and close to home.  Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series reads like alternate history on par with Michener’s epic tomes… and Baum, I’m sure, was smoking wheelbarrow-loads of opium while meandering through his diverse, wacky landscapes of Oz.

Especially the early King novels such as The Stand, Roadwork, and The Long Walk made visceral impressions on me as a kid.  Varley and Haldeman are gifted sci fi writers who brought dry, hard-eyed realism to some of my favorite adventures like Millennium, Steel Beach, The Forever War, Tool of the Trade, and the Worlds trilogy.

What was the last book you read?
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry, which was recommended by a friend.  It’s a YA novel, so I thought some of the story twists were predictable and most of the boy-girl dynamic was unnaturally restrained — I mean the fifteen-year-old hero was absolutely duh when it came to speaking to the mega hot, feisty, freckled heroine; just kiss her, you fool! — but otherwise the characters were awesome and Mayberry introduced several very cool new ideas about zombies, which isn’t easy to do.  The subgenre is such a well-travelled road.  I was impressed that he came up with fresh details about how the living dead might operate.

“Fresh!”  That’s a zombie joke!

How do you feel about the recent changes in the publishing industry, specifically the rise of the ‘indie author’ and the opportunities now available for traditionally published authors who opt to go it alone?
Oh, man.  Trick question.  Got, like, two hours?

I followed the so-called traditional path in writing.  When I was fourteen, I cranked out a million-word rip-off of The Stand starring a spunky bunch of teens straight out of Red Dawn.  The book was awful but it had soul.  Years later, I got serious, took some English Lit classes, and began writing short stories.  It is really, really hard to squeeze a whole plot and at least a hint of character development into the space of thirty pages, especially if you’re also explaining vampire dogs or cutting edge weapons tech.  Each story was also a new chance to experiment with pacing, voice, and POV.

Eventually I started selling short stories to small press publications, then to semi-pro and full-on professional magazines with glossy ads and decent pay rates.  Next I wrote Plague Year.  I found an agent.  Penguin grabbed the book after a small bidding war.  From penning the first sentence of the rough draft to publication day, nearly three years passed.  I think a few insanely determined people still become writers in this fashion even now after the e-revolution.
Late in 2010, I self-re-e-published the original short story of “The Frozen Sky,” which had appeared in the Writers of the Future 23 anthology.  My 99c electronic reprint sold 40,000 copies.

I’d always wanted to develop this concept into a full-fledged novel.  The setting is literally as large as Europa, which is a lot of room for new storylines, new characters, surprises and reversals.  My experience was in the traditional world, but I had been gabberflasted by the success of re-releasing the short story on Kindle, Nook, and iTunes.
Late in 2012, I self-published The Frozen Sky: The Novel.  To date, it’s found 37,000 readers.  For a hard sf novel, that’s a hefty number, much bigger than a non-big name writer would expect to reach through a Big 5 publisher in New York.  Japanese rights to the novel sold to Tokyo Sogensha, and I hope its ongoing popularity will lead to more interest overseas and in Hollywood.  Let’s face it.  The Frozen Sky is a cool idea, and far better executed than Europa Report.  (Also, my book came first. It’s smarter and sexier than Europa Report and offers non-cliché twists and turns.) 
As for the many different forms of publishing in our brave new e-world, these days I’m dancing on all sides of the fence.  Traditional publishing was good to me, and I would readily accept the right deal.  Meanwhile, Interrupt was published by 47North, one of the new Amazon imprints stocked with topnotch editors and publicists who were stolen from New York and set free of their corporate restraints.  These people are wild-eyed e-pirates on the photon’s edge of the future, dude! 

Collaborating with the teams at 47North was fantastic.  Interrupt did very, very well.  It isn’t accurate to say 47North is a traditional publisher because their focus is Kindle, but the process from first draft to final proofs was similar and I’m proud of being a triple hybrid now — a Big 5 author, a Seattle cabal revolutionary, and a self-published writer.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

Tinfoil hats!  Wireless microscopic retinal displays!  Genetically-enhanced NSA chem trace molecular compounds in canned banana cream pie filling and hot dogs!  Watch out!  They’re following us everywhere!  Even in the shower!

But we don’t have time to get into that now…   ;)


Again, you can visit Jeff's website at:
You can purchase The Frozen sky here:

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