Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interview with author Robert Appleton

Today, my guest is author, Robert Appleton. Mr. Appleton wrote Godiva in the Firing Line, which I reviewed this week. He has agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.

1.How long have you been a writer, and what made you decide to become a writer?

I was always a strong writer in school, but was never encouraged to pursue it. Talent is confined to the classroom; I quickly found, when I left, that motivation and ambition are far more marketable assets. So, being a shy lad, I was stuck in limbo for a while, doing anti-creativity jobs like serving popcorn or ::shudders:: administration. Thank God I woke up! In 2004 I started writing poetry, improved rapidly, and was soon published. That was the catalyst for my return to storytelling, what I should have been doing all along. But I’ve heard that from so many writers—it’s more of a calling than a canny career choice, and it finds you when you need it most. I consider myself lucky to have realized this dream while I’m still (relatively) young.

2.Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing life?

I’m between jobs at the moment, so I’m able to write full-time. But when I’m in a day job, I try to work as few hours as possible. I know from experience how destructive a 9-5 job is on my creativity—I’m dead when I get home. So I don’t mind scraping by financially so long as I can write often and unhindered. The rewards are worth it.

3.Please describe your writing process from initial idea to completed story.

That initial story idea has to be a survivor, because it has a LOT of competition. I come up with a compelling story arc first, then divide it into chapters, using the chapter headings as cues. I then flesh out each chapter until I have an outline a few pages long. At the same time, I agonize over character profiles, backgrounds. Those tools become my road map for the first draft, and it’s surprising how little the end result, even after multiple drafts, varies from the initial outline. Guy Fawkes should have hired me as a plotter. He’d never have been caught.

4.Do you have a military background, and how did you research Godiva in the Firing Line?

I don’t have any military background. The research for Godiva mostly involved conversations with my brother, who’s something of an amateur military historian. We decided that the relationship between soldiers and politicians fundamentally hasn’t changed since man first picked up spears. When it comes to recruitment, the soldier is made to believe he/she is indispensable; once the fighting starts, governments prove time and again just how little they care for their troops. Insufficient equipment, politically motivated rules of engagement, and, worst of all, a criminal lack of regard for veterans. Godiva’s story hopefully sheds a bit of light on that relationship.

5.You seem to easily slip into your female character. Was this easy for you and why?

I always enjoy writing female characters. It feels like exploring new territory after the reams of male-dominated stories I read growing up. And writing women in what are traditionally men’s roles—soldiers, survivalists (my Eleven Hour Fall trilogy), secret agents, etc—is even more fascinating. I have to try to imagine the differences in how a man or a woman might perceive the same dilemma, and then respond in character. It’s not always easy, but it’s always fun.

6.How did you create the world your characters inhabit?

I went for a kind of rough SF allegory of the Iraq War, but only because that’s the most modern scenario. One of the most interesting parts of the story, for me, is Celiba-C, the sexual neutralizing drug that all combat soldiers must take. With it being a mixed gender armed forces, the potential for irrational behavior under duress is deemed too high. The ideal soldier is a robot with human intuition, and in effect that’s what the top brass are trying for here. But Godiva worries about the knock-on effect of her “sex” being removed from the equation; will that affect her friendship with Dash, or even the camaraderie of the squad as a whole? Without that, her corps will be fighting unit without a heart. Maybe it will be better that way. Maybe.

7.That other types of writing do you do, which genre do you prefer, and why?

I’ve tried everything from space opera romance to a WW2 crocodile thriller (based on true events), horror, fantasy, time travel, historical, steampunk. But science fiction is my preferred genre because it addresses my favorite question of all time: “What if?” It’s limitless in scope and imagination. I’ve also written hundreds of poems, mostly metric verse, and many of those have speculative elements.

8.What are your thoughts about a writer having an agent?

I haven’t tried for an agent yet, but for e-publishing, you don’t need one. From what I hear, they’re harder to catch than Bigfoot, and they’re possibly as endangered.

9.What was your process for getting published with Damnation Books?

I knew the owner Kim Richards when she was on the staff at Eternal Press (before she bought it as part of her empire!!!), and was impressed with her work there. So when she announced her new publishing house for dark fiction, I knew it was going to be a class act. I first submitted a short, twisted horror story, Val and Tyne, which she accepted. The editing on that was first rate and the artwork intriguing, so I subbed something a bit longer— Godiva in the Firing Line. Kim really seems to like “different” in a story, because each of mine, and pretty much every title I’ve seen at Damnation, has its own unique flavor you won’t find anywhere else.

10.Where can people learn more about Robert Appleton and your work?

My author website is at and my blog is Recently I’ve been busy promoting The Mythmakers, my new space opera romance at Samhain. I wrote a fun blog piece for that over at SFF Insider.

11.Any tips for new writers?

Take small steps for a while. Learn your craft through feedback, revision and practice. Read as much as you can, not just your favorite authors but other aspiring writers as well. See where they’re going wrong and where you can improve. Don’t try to break the rules of craft before you’ve learned them thoroughly. And finally, when you think you’re good enough, and others (who should know) agree, aim high and keep writing. Don’t gamble all your hopes on one project. Waiting is a killer in this game, so always have something to be working on, no matter how small.

Robert, thanks for being my guest today and sharing your road to publication.


  1. worderful interview. Sounds like you did a great deal of research for your book, Robert.

  2. Your story is fascinating, Robert. I'm so glad you found your calling. Nothing like being/doing who/what you are called to. Congratulations!

  3. I'm glad I dropped by, Penny. Loved reading about Robert and really enjoy all the little extras this blog offers.
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick

  4. Hey Penny,
    I enjoyed this interview.One of the things I like about your site is that you are promoting others. We do that at Girlfriend Mentors and I would like to promote you there. I will send you an email this week to see how we can talk abouthow to promote your site!

  5. This is such a great interview! Robert sounds like a very interesting person and I think he offers some really sound advice for writers. I'm glad I read this blog because it's given me a lot to think about today, and now I have to go out and buy Robert's book. As an avid reader I am always thrilled to find a new author I like. Thanks Penny!

  6. Karen, thanks for stopping by. It always amazes me how much effort writers put into their creations.

  7. Yvonne, thanks for stopping by. Robert is off to a great start with this book.

  8. Carolyn, I'm glad you had time to visit and found something of interest here.

  9. Schall, Thanks for stopping by. I think it's important to showcase other authors and I especially like learning how they create their books. I look forward to learning more about your site.

  10. Allison, I'm sure Robert will be pleased!

  11. Thank you all for your comments! This was my first interview for Godiva in the Firing Line, and I was lucky to get some great questions. (Thanks Penny!) One of the best things about small press/ electronic publishers is their willingness to try offbeat stories like this one. And its length, too--novella--is difficult to place in the mainstream.

    That's what I always tell people who ask about ebooks. You'll find more variety there than anywhere else.

  12. A nice interview, Penny.

    I enjoyed reading about you, Robert. Your writing process is interesting. Best of luck to you.


  13. Hi Robert, This was fun. Thank you for the opportunity to review your book and discuss your writing process. I agree that eBooks are a great place for people who may not have a book suitable for main stream publishing houses.

  14. Hi Penny. You're right, this was fun. I really enjoyed the interview and your book review. Thank you for inviting me along! I'll spread the word about your blog.

  15. You sound like you're a bit more organized than me. I like the way you approach writing your book and wished my stories evolved the same way. Hope you have great success!

  16. Great interview, Robert. I appreciate you dedication to the craft of writing and how as writers we must read books to grasp a knowledge of writing books. Good luck with you book.

  17. Katie and Nancy, thanks for stopping by. I get so much from these interviews and I love it when other writers can too.

  18. Interesting interview. Good advice. I enjoyed reading it.

  19. Thanks for stopping by Dennis. Robert had some good information for other writers.

  20. Penny, great interview. And Robert, I appreciated your comments about trying to give the lion's share of your time to writing, even when you have a day job. I believe it is much more satisfying to do what you love, even if it involves material sacrifices. I also found your comments about writing female characters interesting. Glad to have met you both through the blog chain. -- Donna

  21. Donna, thanks for stopping by. I agree the blog chain has been a great way to connect with other bloggers.