The Write Stuff – Monday, April 23 – Interview With Alex Singer

Alex Singer lives in coastal Connecticut with her wife, two cats, and far too many books on Greek mythology. She is author of the ongoing webcomic, Sfeer Theory, as well as the illustrated novella, Small Town Witch. Her work has appeared in Fairylogue’s Valor Anthology, Empyreome Magazine, and Crossed Genres Magazine. Her YA Cyberpunk, Sci-fi/Fantasy novel, entitled Minotaur, was published by WordFire Press on March 3, 2018. This is its premise:

A futuristic retelling of Icarus, Theseus, and the Minotaur in a city run by artificial gods.
As daughter of the royal architect, Ikki set out to discover a new world the day she flew her homemade bi-plane up beyond Crete’s artificial sun. Instead, she crashed her plane and found herself on trial for a crime she didn’t commit. She is exiled to the Labyrinth—the city’s ever-shifting mechanical core—and she has seven days to find her way back out. If Ikki can escape in time, she will be declared innocent by the gods of Crete. But no one has ever returned.
Lost among the moving walls and pursued by a diabolical engine large enough to shake the floors, she soon realizes there is a reason that no one has escaped the labyrinth. Determined to clear her name, Ikki’s only hope for salvation lies in the very thing that is hunting her: a fearsome beast known only as the Minotaur.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

Minotaur is a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur starring a gusty female Icarus. It straddles a line between sci-fi and fantasy—a world where the Greek gods are recast as AIs managing a enclosed world. The big thing I want to get across is that it’s a story about being a truthseeker. And a girl who’s a truthseeker. I was a girl who asked a lot of questions growing up, and that’s a really hard thing to be. Boys are often encouraged to be bold inquisitive, girls are expected to behave. So I wanted to do a story about a girl who was bold and inquisitive to a fault. I wanted her to have the strengths and flaws afforded to a male protagonist. I wanted to tell a story about a girl who couldn’t really be shut down, and how that can get her into trouble as well as out of it!

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

I’ve always loved Greek mythology, but especially the monsters in Greek mythology. There was always something so tragic about monsters in Greek mythology. So often there was this aspect of them being lonely, misunderstood creatures who are victims of circumstance as much as anything. Medusa, the Minotaur—they’re tools of some higher power’s punishment, but they’re still suggested to be fully sentient, reasoning beings. That’s a pretty raw deal from their perspective. So I guess I always sympathized and wanted to save these creatures from their narratives. That’s what I set out to do with Minotaur. I took two characters that meet very messy ends in their original myths (Icarus and the Minotaur) and made them the protagonists, rather than the footnote to someone else’s story (Theseus).

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I’m bad at sticking to one genre.  It’s hard for me to stick to just sci fi or fantasy conventions. Combining genres in new and interesting ways is fun. Small Town Witch was a combination of fantasy and film noir. Sfeer Theory is fantasy steampunk with influences from American and British history.

Minotaur jumps between sci-fi and fantastical elements a lot. There’s gods—but they’re AIs. There’s machines—but they’re operated by Gods. There’s a minotaur—but he’s a genetically engineered monster. My friends have been referring to it as ‘greco-punk’—a word I like a lot!

What was your path to publication?

It’s been a pretty windy path! I haven’t really gone through conventional channels. I’ve written a few novels now but I’m very bad at sticking to one genre. I really enjoy shifting between sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve published a few short stories and there but most of my work has been in webcomics. I met my long-time creative partner, Jayd Ait-Kaci, as a freshman in college. Our first webcomic, Salad Days, was started when I was 19—it didn’t last very long. Our next one, Sfeer Theory, has published on and off for nearly 10 years. We’ve racked up quite a few independent titles, included Small Town Witch, our illustrated magical noir novella. I was promoting Small Town Witch at Connecticon when I pitched Minotaur to WordFire Press.

What are you working on now?

More Sfeer Theory! Along with the next in Ikki’s adventure. I’m also experimenting with serialized fiction—something you see a lot in webcomic format but still hasn’t yet found its way back to mainstream publishing. Which is a shame because so many great classic novels were once published in serialized form.

What is your writing routine?
I take the train from New Haven to New York a lot—visiting family and commuting. The train’s a great way to have an enforced period of time to write. The stretch between New Haven and Stamford is how most of Minotaur got done. Besides that, my wife keeps teacher hours, so I find getting up a bit early to get a few pages done is often a nice way to get my mind focused for the day. A little bit here and there regularly is the steadiest way to complete anything. I usually aim for about 2K a day at my best. 1K is acceptable when you’re busy. But the key thing is I try make a habit out of it—a bit like going to the gym. This is something doing a few goes at NaNoWriMo has taught me.

Do you create an outline before you write?
Depends on the story! I don’t write out traditional outlines, but I do often try to figure out what the last scene of my story is going to be before I write it. I think a key thing in any narrative is figuring out your starting point and endpoint. Once you know where you need to go, the middle isn’t quite as daunting. I’ve written novels where I’ve started with the last scene first.  I wrote Minotaur almost entirely chronologically. I didn’t have an outline, but I knew what I wanted the last scene to be—so I powered through in order to get to write it!

Why do you write?

Because I’ve got a thousand worlds in my head and I need to get some of them out of there. For me though, I really love sharing stories and ideas, and I find putting a narrative to them is the best way to communicate those ideas. That’s part of why I love sci-fi and fantasy in particular, the real world can be an exhausting place—fantasy and sci-fi a good way to create the world you wish you could see more of. I don’t believe in escapism, but I think idealism in sci-fi/fantasy is worth it sometimes. There are so many ideas that came out because someone saw or read about it in a sci-fi/fantasy novel. (R2D2 was the inspiration for Roombas, for example). I think that extends to social issues as well. So I like to tell stories because I like to hope for better things.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

Read. And read a lot. A good book is the best way to get excited about writing again. Sometimes I fall back on my favorite authors to calm my mind down and remind myself how much I love words. Diana Wynne Jones is one of them. Ernest Hemingway is another one. Both of them have very clear styles that are very refreshing. Sometimes I just need to be reminded how a sentence gets formed, and Hemingway especially was an expert at that.

My other solution is to find a very patient friend and talk out my stories.  Conversation and collaboration is a good way to solidify an idea in your head. I sometimes find explaining a plot or situation out loud helps me get past whatever was causing it to stall in my mind.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Self-promotion! Authors are generally an introverted people, and I’m no exception. Going to conventions and promoting my work is hard. I love talking to fans and hearing what they have to say about my work, but it takes a lot of courage! You have to talk yourself up before you can really sell what you do to other people, and that’s a huge leap of faith.

Tell us about your writing community.

I come from webcomics, and collaboration is part of what’s gotten me to where I am. I think some of my favorite ideas are the ones I’ve come up with while talking with friends about collaborative work. It’s a great energy to channel, and I’m lucky I’ve had friends and loved ones who’ve willingly lent me an ear.  My creative partner Jayd Ait-Kaci, who was always willing to bat ideas around for me. And my wife, Valerie, who has often helped me come up with some terrible pun to justify an entire short story.  I think community is a really important part of the creative process. I like reading other peoples stories, seeing them create their characters, watching them find narratives that suit those characters—and sending whatever encouragement again!

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

My grandfather was my biggest influence growing up. He was really supportive of my creative influences. He was also just a really cool guy. He was trained as a spy in World War II, and he wrote political thrillers. His novel, The Parallax View, had a film adaptation done by Warren Beatty. It had a bit of a cult following—but I never knew about that for years. Mostly he always sat by and listened to me tell stories about dragons. They weren’t very good stories about dragons, but he was always willing to hear them. He also once very gently told me to use less adverbs, something I appreciate as an adult.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

Just get back up! If I get rejection one short story I’ll send two more out that day.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

I’d have started submitting short stories for publication sooner! I let my fear of rejection hold me back for a long time. I used to share my stories only with my friends, I wish I’d been bolder sooner. I might’ve gotten more rejections, but I’d also have been putting myself out there sooner!

What is your greatest life lesson?

Don’t fear rejection. Don’t be afraid to fail at things. Someone might not like one story you submit, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good or it’s not a story worth telling. Even successful people fail sometimes. It’s not worth holding yourself back. Living in fear of other people’s judgment is living half a life.

What makes you laugh?

My wife Valerie. She’s good at saying something ridiculous to get me out of myself when I’m having the inevitable artistic angst. Octopus videos help, too.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Diana Wynne Jones, E.M Forster, Ernest Hemingway, and Leo Tolstoy

Thank you Alex for taking the time to share with us. Before I show our visitors an excerpt from The Minotaur and provide your social and book buy links, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Neurotic.

The one thing I cannot do without is: Sushi

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d have more time to write!

My biggest peeve is: Cynicism.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: My books/comics. I’m amazed I’ve gotten this far.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

Be sincere. Be fearless. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there about what you like. The best stories come from a place of emotional honesty, and if you hold yourself back, your reader can tell. So you may as well love what you do wholeheartedly, and don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself a little bit.

Minotaur excerpt:

 “Blue,” said Ikki. “I told you this. Blue. It’s blue. It came through in the feed didn’t it? You have the recording! You saw what I saw!”

Tierce frowned, very slightly. “No,” he said. “I’m sorry. I haven’t seen anything like that in my life. Everyone knows the sky is chrome.”

“But outside—”

“And outside it is the color of horrible deadly toxins,” finished Tierce primly. “This is something we all know. Certainly, Your Majesty, I heard the girl’s theory about this.”

He wont even look at me! thought Ikki, she started to step forward, but the captain grabbed her arm.

“And I was aware she had built a flying machine, but I had no notion that she would use it like this. Certainly, she decided to do so; it was on her own volition. I would never have thought it was possible to fly above the Helios lights. I told her as much.”

“But you said you’d be curious if it could be done!” cried Ikki. “Stop telling them only half of the story. You were there, I was talking to you. I’m not lying.”

Tierce gave a labored, sympathetic smile. “I understand that’s how you might feel, but just because you want something to happen doesn’t mean everyone else automatically agrees with you. I’m sorry for this misunderstanding, I truly am.”

Ikki wanted to punch him. She wanted to drag him down and strangle him. The captain pulled her back.

“I don’t believe you,” she said. “Tierce, the footage. You have it. What did you see?”

“Yes, what did you see?” asked King Minos.

Tierce turned his back on Ikki and held his hands out, gloved palms up. “Nothing, your majesty,” he said. “I saw nothing. I can see how what she says is awfully troubling, though. I know Ikki. She’s stubborn. If there’s something she really believes she won’t ever let it go.”

“Tierce—” started Ikki, and then the captain struck her across the face. He wore metal gauntlets over his huge, meaty arms. If he’d really wound one back he could have easily killed her. As it was, a light flick from his wrist left her head ringing. She fell to her knees, feeling the new pain hot over her right cheek.

“Show respect,” said the captain. “You are speaking to the House of Minos.”

“I know that,” whispered Ikki. He’d hit her. He’d really hit her.

“As you see,” said Tierce. “Stubborn.”

Minos II growled: “We knew this already.”

Minos III said: “I stand by my original verdict.”

“I’ve got one better,” said Tierce, “The Minotaur.”

Those who would like to follow Alex online can do so here:

Website:         https://alextsinger.weebly.com/
Twitter:          https://twitter.com/sfeertheorist

You can purchase The Minotaur here:

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Minotaur-Mechanical-Myth-Myths-Machina-ebook/dp/B07B6GGLHM
Kobo:              https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/minotaur-17

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