A bit behind the curve of other indie art forms, indie publishing is starting to make a move, with more and more authors turning to it as traditional publishing becomes more difficult to break into. I had the opportunity to chat with indie author Kelly Sedinger, who just released the third book in his Forgotten Stars trilogy.
Sedinger is a hard working author who is also an aficionado of overalls. With a list of influences that is as varied as his collection of overalls, Sedinger is working on projects in several different genres and subgenres. Here’s our conversation.
GKV: Tell us a little bit about you and generally about your writing.
KS: I live in Orchard Park, NY, and my day job is in facilities maintenance at one of our large local grocery stores. As for writing, I’ve been drawn to storytelling all my life, with creative writing being an occasional hobby of mine until I started getting serious about it in the late 1990’s. That’s when I started working on what became my big “trunk novel” (that’s the bad novel that every writer produces, which then lives out its useful life stashed in a trunk) and when I started submitting short stories and ‘honing my craft’. Personal-life difficulties led to a pause in my writing from about 2005 to 2010, which is when I realized that it was time to get going again.
GKV: Who are some of the major influences on your writing?
KS: My favorite living writer is Canadian fantasist Guy Gavriel Kay. He’s an amazing storyteller with enormous gifts for creating a believable world, populating it with fascinating people, and creating very emotional situations, “the feels”, as the kids say. I’m also influenced by Stephen King, Lloyd Alexander, John Bellairs, Jacqueline Carey, and many others. JRR Tolkien is huge! So is Alexandre Dumas.
Other influences on my storytelling are filmmakers like George Lucas, Joss Whedon, Hayao Miyazaki, and Peter Jackson; and composers like Berlioz, Wagner, Rachmaninov, Williams, and Shore. I cast a REALLY wide net when it comes time to look for influences!
GKV: You just recently released book 3 in The Song of Forgotten Stars trilogy. Tell us a bit about the trilogy as a whole, and this third book.
KS: Well, we’re not stopping here! The Song of Forgotten Stars is essentially my love-letter to just about everything I just talked aboout! It’s a space opera series that starts with two young Princesses, 16-year-old Tariana and 10-year-old Margeth, who are on their first space voyage when a disaster befalls their ship and they have to flee. They’re separated from their mother and have to escape with the ship’s navigator, Lieutenant Rasharri. In a desperate move, Tariana has to take the control and try to escape into hyperspace, but when they come out of it, they find themselves landing on a mysterious planet on the other side of the galaxy, hundreds of times farther than they should have been able to go. Their goal is to find their way home, but the planet they’ve landed on has its own agenda.
The planet is called Xonareth, and it’s the planetary equivalent of those Japanese hold-out soldiers, the ones who lived on deserted islands in the Pacific after they crashed or something and never learned that World War II ended. Xonareth was once a member of the Arrilori Star Empire, but they did something ten thousand years ago to earn the harsh punishment of being forbidden to travel to, or be visited by, any other world. So they’ve waited that long to be freed, and now that the Princesses and the Lieutenant arrive, it turns out that their arrival literally frees the Xonarethi from what they called “the Interdict”. But the Arrilori disappeared completely thousands of years ago, and nobody in the galaxy now even remembers them.
This story — the “planet that’s been waiting for the old Empire to set it free after ten thousand years” part of it, anyway — actually started forming in some STAR WARS fanfiction I noodled around with in the late 1990s. I set that aside when I decided it was time to do my own original work and stop monkeying with fanfic, but this kernel idea stuck with me, and I adapted it to this new universe.
GKV: This book is about 3 strong women, two of them young. You are not a young woman. What inspired you to write about those three characters?
KS: I knew I wanted two characters, siblings, to be the ones who crashed on this planet. I also knew I wanted an age difference, which would give a handy way of differentiating their perspectives, and I knew that siblings would allow for some really intense conflict later on in the story. I did NOT want brother-and-sister, because that’s kind-of been done a whole lot — Luke and Leia, the kids from Escape to Witch Mountain, and so on.
The biggest factor, though, was when I discovered the movies of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli with my daughter, when she was just a toddler. My Neighbor Totoro is about the adventures of two young sisters, about six years apart, as they find themselves living in a strange place. So I decided to go with two sisters.
More recently, as I’ve been writing this series, I’ve noticed that I’m increasingly drawn to strong female characters. The lead in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan (which happens to be my favorite book of all time) is an amazing woman, and there have been so many others of late. I have issues with The Force Awakens, but Rey isn’t one of them. And Wonder Woman has just opened and is doing huge box office. So I like to think that I was plugging into something that was coming when I started this.
GKV: I’ve seen you refer to this as a space opera. What makes a space opera, versus just a cool sci-fi story? What elements does this trilogy have to classify it as a space opera?
KS: Space Opera, to me, is about scale. It’s BIG emotions, BIG stories, BIG consequences, BIG actions. It verges on melodrama (or, at times, wallows in it!). Ancient interstellar empires, big spaceships, exotic planets — that’s what Space Opera means to me. When people ask me what kind of books the Forgotten Stars stories are, I tell them science fiction, and then I clarify by saying that I’m playing at the Star Wars end of the pool.
I often have the experience of having people tell me that they don’t like science fiction, and then they list a bunch of science fiction things that they DO like, which makes me ask, “If you like all those, what’s wrong with admitting that you like science fiction?” I don’t get that.
But I’ve had space opera in my blood ever since I was five years old in 1977 and I saw a movie called Star Wars.
GKV: Other than a really great read, what do you want your readers to takeaway from these books?
KS: I want the characters and the emotions of the story to linger. That’s what I want most of all. I want to hear that certain moments moved readers to tears, or that they couldn’t put down the book when they got to the last act, or that now they want to know what happens next. I’m on Tumblr a lot and I’ll see readers there post snippets from their favorite books, and I want to be one of those!
I’m not trying to send a message or necessarily ‘say’ anything. A good story, well-told, is a worthy thing in itself. I try to avoid ‘message’ for the most part. I’m a fan of the saying, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”
GKV: You share on your social media pictures of the spread sheet you write with. What’s that all about?
KS: Stipulating first off that what works for me (in terms of writing process) might not work for everyone else: I am a firm believer in approaching writing like it’s a job. I mean, I WANT it to be a job, so I should ACT like it is. And that means the work has to get DONE.
So, when I’m actively drafting a book, I set daily quotas for word count and I religiously track my progress in a spreadsheet. This is very important to me. Stephen King likens writing a novel to building the Great Wall of China: ultimately it’s one word at a time, just like the Chinese were laying one brick at a time. I believe in tracking the work. It’s a tool for self-accountability. It’s too easy to fall into the “I’m not feelin’ it today so I’m not gonna write” trap.
Obviously, not all writing is drafting, so there are gaps in the spreadsheet when I’m editing or prepping a release. I’ve tried to keep drafting even when editing, by reducing the quotas, and I find that this ends up being too much. So now when I’m editing I’m not drafting. (Most times, anyway.)
GKV: You published these books independently. What have you learned about publishing through this process? What advice would you give to other writers who are thinking about jumping into the self-publishing game?
KS: Cultivate relationships online! Talk about your writing and your project with others, and pay attention to the lessons of other indie writers. It’s much much MUCH more than just finishing a draft and uploading it to Amazon. I mean, it CAN be that, but for best results you’d better do the work. A good book is a good book, and a good book needs just as much effort put into it whether it’s traditionally published or independently published. You still need to edit and revise and work work work!
I know that there is still something of a stigma around independent books, which I still don’t really understand, except to note that the mechanism for mass indie publishing hasn’t really existed until just recently. That’s not the case with indie music, indie film, or even indie comics, which is why there’s not nearly so big a stigma about going indie in those arts than there is with regard to writing. I think and hope that’s changing, but there’s a long way to go.
Oh! And pay attention to book design. If you’re producing a print book, pay attention to things like margins and how chapter beginnings look and typefaces and curved quotation marks. This stuff can make a HUGE difference in how a finished book ends up looking and feeling.
GKV: What are you reading right now, and what do think of it?
KS: Ahhh! I’m active on Goodreads, by the way, if anyone wants to keep up with my reading! I’m working hard to step up my reading game in 2017 after a pretty lackluster year on the reading front in 2016. Currently, I’m reading The Chasm by S. Usher Evans, which is the second book in her Madion War trilogy. Evans is another indie writer who works harder than just about anybody, and her stuff is really good. This trilogy is fantasy, I think — there’s no magic in it and the technology is roughly on par with the late 20th century, but the world is entirely fictional.
I’ve just finished the second volume of The Fifty Year Mission, which is an oral history of Star Trek, all the way from when a young TV writer named Gene Roddenberry thought up a show that would be Wagon Train to the Stars to right now. Good stuff, if you’re interested in Star Trek, and it’s not hagiography by any means, and it turns out the history of TREK involves a LOT of axe grinding.
I’ve also been reading a lot of comics and graphic novels this year. I recently binge-read all of Saga up to its current point. This is a space opera comic that I characterize as Game of Thrones meets Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s a lot of heart and humor and space-based wonder, but there is also a lot of darkness and sad stuff. The last arc of SAGA was so dark and depressing that it left a bad taste in my mouth, honestly.
And last week I read The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, who is most famous for his wonderful nonfiction graphic novels Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. The Sculptor is about a young man, a sculptor, who has his art’s version of writer’s block. Then he meets Death, who gives him the power to do anything with his hands in any medium, with the price that he will die after 200 days. What art would he make if he had limited time but NO limitations on skill? This book WRECKED me. It’s quite long, and I read it in one sitting and then sat staring out the window for a while afterwards. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
GKV: What’s next? You’ve wrapped up this trilogy? Onto a new project all together? Will we see more of Tarianna, Margeth, and Penda?
KS: Oh my! I’m nowhere NEAR done with the story of the wayward Princesses and their trusty navigator. Believe it or not, I’m projecting this series to extend to nine books! I even have titles chosen for five of the remaining six. I’ve conceived the series as three arcs, each comprising its own trilogy — three acts of one large story, each individual act divided into three smaller acts, and each of THOSE acts (the individual books) having three acts. I’m a big fan of three-act structure. It will be a while before I start working on FORGOTTEN STARS IV, though. I want to plan this next larger arc out in much closer detail than I planned this first three, and before I do that, I need to re-read the first three and make notes as to what I want to do moving forward. I have a general idea of where the story is going, but it’s not detailed, and I threw a LOT of details into the first three books that may (or may not) turn into seeds for story elements down the road.
My next published work will almost certainly be The Chilling Killing Wind, which is the first book in a series of supernatural thrillers. I’m currently finishing up my second run of edits on that book, and then I’m going to farm it out to a few beta readers. I want to have that one out by year’s end. I’ve also already drafted its sequel, but it’ll be some time before I get around to revising it.
I also have a one-shot dark fantasy story that tells the story of an ill-fated kayaking expedition down a river in the Yukon. I’d like to have that out sometime in 2018.
What else? Well, there’s a fantasy duology that’s another idea that I’ve been cooking around for quite a few years. I’ve written the first volume, but I haven’t yet been able to decide if I want to revise Volume One or write the second and then revise the entire thing, since it will really tell one big story. This book is my love letter to Lloyd Alexander and Alexandre Dumas, and it’s really a historical novel that takes place in a land that never existed. No magic in it, but a lot of adventure and villains in big hats with feathers in them and the like. I’ve since learned that there’s a subgenre called “flintlock fantasy”, which is what this may well be. That one’s more long term.
And finally, I’ve started drafting, but set aside for a little bit, another space opera, which will be set in the same universe as the Forgotten Stars books but will be completely different in tone and flavor and likely won’t cross over with the other series at all. I’m reminded of Lt. Uhura’s reply to Mr. Scott when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were missing in the episode “Metamorphosis”, and Scotty says that they’ll have to look over every planet, one by one. Uhura cocks her head and says, “It’s a BIG galaxy, Mr. Scott!”
Kelly Sedinger is active on social media, on Twitter, Tumblr, and Goodreads, or you can find him on his official website: ForgottenStars.net or his official Amazon Author page. I, personally, have read the first two books, before I was offering reviews on the Geekiverse, and I will be adding those reviews into one big trilogy review after I finish Amongst the Stars.
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