The Zoo By Matthew Staggs

By Matthew Staggs

The old man leaned heavily on his cane as he slid his feet forward across the polished wooden floor, one at a time. His old and ragged sweater fit loosely on his withered frame, but did its job in keeping the man warm against the artificial cold. The thin remains of the hair on his head and the straightened beard were white with many tired years, and uninhibitedly long without the desire or need to cut it. He paused a few feet from the chair by the kitchen table that had been turned toward him, inviting him to sit down. Catching his breath, he turned and gazed out the kitchen window. The trees and bushes that surrounded the house were bathed in red-tinted sunlight, and it reminded him of images from Mars, from the days when there had been a space program that had anything to do with people.

The man continued forward and, bracing himself with one hand on his cane and the other on the table, lowered into the wooden chair and leaned back, grateful that the ordeal was over. He let out a weary breath and laid his cane across his lap.

“All right,” he said in a gravelly voice, “what would you like to know?”

Seated across from him was a Walain. More importantly, the last Walain ambassador to the humans that remained. It, for Walains did not have genders, slouched forward as it had been trained to do by its predecessors, in order to make the Walain’s noticeable height difference less pronounced. Had they been standing next to each other, the Walain would have had to perpetually crane its neck downward to look at its human counterpart. Its dark, smooth skin was covered in clothes that resembled what a human might be wearing: a white, long-sleeved shirt and dark blue trousers, and specially fitted shoes to cover its wide, flat feet. Again, all to make the old man feel more at ease. Over its face, it wore a clear mask connected to silver canister, normally worn on its back, now slung onto the corner of the chair, which allowed it to breath its own air.

“Thank you, Kellan Adams, first of all, for agreeing to meet with me. I haven’t yet had a chance to meet you in person, despite the fact I have been able to monitor you extensively through our surveillance system for some time.”

The old man raised an eyebrow. One thing the Walain had never been able to master was the ability to censor themselves from telling the absolute truth. It wasn’t that they didn’t know how to lie, or how to use tact in conversation, but with only a hundred years of contact between the species, they have never fully grasped what was or wasn’t appropriate to say to the indigenous population.

“So you’ve been watching me sleep and use the bathroom, is that it?”

The Walain cocked his head ever so slightly for a fraction of a second. While the Walain may not have been able to detect when a human was uncomfortable, Kellan had always been able to pick up on their nervous ticks.

“I apologize, Kellan Adams. I did not mean-”

“Forget it. I know what you meant. And you can just call me Kellan.”

“Of course, Kellan.”

“And what do I call you?”

“You may call me Rin.”

“Tin-tin?” The Walain cocked its head again. “Nevermind. It was before both of our times.”

“I understand.” Kellan knew it didn’t. “May I first ask you a personal question?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“I could not help but notice the difficulty with which you are moving, a condition I have observed increasing over time. We have offered to enhance your body with reinforcing implants, and nanogene therapy to repair most of the natural damage that is associated with aging, but you have refused such treatments. Would you mind telling me why this is?”

Kellan folded his arms across his chest. “I’m in a unique position, Rin. I am completely sure you are aware I am the last living human. What you see before you is literally all that’s left of my species that exists outside of recordings and written records, as sad as a sight as it is. You’re right, I could have accepted the implants and treatments to keep me going. In all likelihood, I don’t doubt that your people could keep alive forever. But at a certain point, I had to stop and ask myself whether I would even still be human? Humans are meant to die, as are all living things. We have a lifespan, and it isn’t eternal, though we’ve been chasing it for nearly our whole existence. No, Rin, if I’m going to be the last man alive, I will be the last to die, and I will die as a man.”

“I understand, Kellan.”

Kellan huffed. “Do you? Do your people even die?”

“We certainly die. Although our experience of time is much different from yours, as we make frequent use of stasis to offset the great amount of time of travel between planets, and even to ensure that long lasting projects are seen through to completion.”

“Why don’t you want to live forever? You’ve mastered traveling the stars; I’m sure eternal life must be a breeze for you.”

“Our need for death is exactly that, a need. We simply do not have the resources to have all of our species living indefinitely. There simply would not be room.”

“Exactly.”

“Kellan?”

“Room. There’s never enough room, is there?”

“Is your living area not large enough? I am sure I could speak with the facility overseer about having your home expanded.”

“Since you bring it up, it is not large enough. And quite frankly, it will never be large enough.”

“There are limitations to the accommodations we are able to provide. We could not expand the facility to cover the entire planet.”

Kellan leaned forward with a hand resting on the table. He squinted as he talked. “Where did you come from, Rin?”

“I represent the inter-species ambassadorial-”

“No, I mean, where did your people come from?”

Rin paused for a moment, pondering not his answer to the question, but the possible meaning behind the question. “We came from our home planet, Walai, several light years away from this planet.”

“Why’d you leave?”

The alien hesitated again, and placed its hands flat on the surface of the table. It stared down at the empty space between them, and began to describe the history of its planet. Kellan listened intently, like an old composer listening to a playback of one of his oldest compositions. He found similarity in the alien’s story to those of so many great civilizations that rose and fell on Earth. Whole lifetimes passing from the beginning of a society to its often fiery demise. Rin spoke of wars, peace, overpopulation, invasion, a civilization that fought to come to terms with its own successes, and struggled for survival as it was dashed to pieces. Kellan opened his eyes as he sensed Rin coming to the end of his story. As composed as the Walain typically presented themselves, there was no mistaking the hint of grief and heartache that seeped through Rin’s words.

“And that is how we came to find this planet, Earth. Although the atmosphere was not a perfect match for our physical needs, it contained many of the elements that we generally need, and easily adaptable to suit our physiology.”

“And so you settled in.”

“Your governments were very accepting of our arrival. We considered ourselves lucky to find a planet where the inhabitants were so accepting of our proposal of cohabitation.”

“I’m sure they were. Do you know why? Tell me, do you have creativity in your culture? Do people tell stories?”

“Oh yes, entertainment has been a part of our culture for much of our existence.”

“Ours, too. One of our most popular genres was called science fiction. A lot of that genre was dedicated to imagining what would happen if we ever came in contact with aliens. Pardon the term, but that’s what we considered the Walain.”

“It is not offensive to me, Kellan.”

“For some reason, those stories always went badly for us. It was never a peaceful meeting, and it always involved a battle or conflict of some kind. Typically, a lot of people died whenever the two species met. I guess my ancestors always liked the idea of the apocalypse because it seemed so far away, too far to be a reality but shocking enough to be entertaining.

I imagine our leaders welcomed you with open arms when you didn’t start blowing up everything in sight the moment we met. We were always afraid our stories would come true, that the first aliens we met would come to conquer and eradicate us. When that didn’t happen, our fascination with meeting aliens for the first time took over, and we were finally able to answer our age-old question of whether or not we were alone in the universe.”

“You are indeed, far from alone.”

Kellan chuckled. “Right.” The short laughter reminded Kellan that his throat was rather dry, and he began to cough and wheeze. “Rin,” he said, trying to catch his breath, “would you mind getting me a glass of water?”

“Of course!” Rin popped out of its chair and began heading toward the kitchen, almost forgetting its breathing canister, still hanging from the edge of its chair. It slipped its arms through the straps and walked briskly over to the cabinets. It bowed its head forward, not out of a sense of propriety, but because it was now unconsciously aware of the human-appropriate ceiling being so close to its head. It returned quickly with the glass of water, and placed it on the table next to Kellan. Kellan sipped the water, now used to tasting the heavy presence of chemicals needed to make the water drinkable, and placed the glass shakily back on the table.

“I’d like to tell you about my people, my planet.”

“I am very well versed in the history of Earth. I have done extensive research into your historical records, and I am pleased to say that I may very well be something of an expert on Earth and humans. In fact, after my role as the ambassador to humans comes to an end, I will become an official Earth historian!”

“Uh-huh. And how long will it be until that transition?” Kellan peered suspiciously at Rin with one eyebrow raised. The Walain’s head twitched noticeably.

“Well, since you have refused any treatments or enhancements to prolong your life, I am fairly certain that you will not be here to witness it.”

Kellan gave Rin a hard look, wondering how the alien was feeling about mentioning such a sensitive subject for a human. The look quickly melted and Kellan laughed out loud, with such enthusiasm that it brought about another coughing spell. After catching his breath and taking another sip of water, patted his knee. “Well, I will be damned. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of things in my life, but that is the absolute first time that I have ever heard one of you Walains crack anything resembling a joke!”

“I apologize if my comment was in bad taste.”

“Don’t be sorry. Death is no fun, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can’t laugh at anything.”

“Kellan?”

“Yes, Rin?”

“I wonder if I might now ask my real question.”

“Fire away.”

The Walain composed itself, Kellan noticed it shifting, and its head twitched more than once. He could feel the atmosphere of the room changing, thickening. The weight that had been lifted by Rin’s joke was now settling back in. Maybe the Walain weren’t so bad at setting the mood after all. But now it was gone.

“There is no denying what has happened on this planet. While there are many among us that do not feel that what has happened is necessarily tragic, but merely a matter of circumstance, there are others who feel…badly…for the way things have turned out. I believe the human English word that is most appropriate is guilt.”

Now it was Kellan that shifted uncomfortably in his chair. It was not out of guilt for making someone else feel badly, but in anticipation of what was to come next.

“I do not think that anyone has thought to ask this question, or if they have, there is no record of it or its response, though I believe I can anticipate the answer.”

“Go on, Rin.”

The alien looked Kellan straight in the eye. Its yellow eyes looked more human now to him than any time before. “Do you hate us, Kellan?”

The old man stared back at the Walain, and pursed his lips as he thought of his next words. He looked down at the cane in his lap, and after a moment strained to his feet with the cane’s assistance. Without looking at Rin again, he walked to the stone fireplace in the living room. On the mantle above was a picture frame with a short video that played in an endless loop. It showed two people, a man and a woman, dancing and smiling at each other. They were older, but not quite as old as Kellan was now.

“These are my parents, if you were wondering. Or they were my parents. Long since dead, now. They were the last human father and mother on planet Earth.” Kellan shifted his weight, and continued to watch the couple move about the dance floor. “You ask me if I hate the Walain. You want to know if I resent your people for taking our world, a good world, the only one we’ve ever known, and turned it into your home. You want to know if I’m angry for having watched everyone I have ever known die, leaving me undeniably alone in an unnatural enclosure.”

Kellan turned awkwardly to face Rin, who had turned in his chair to watch the human as he spoke. “Yes, I do hate the Walain. For all those things. But I don’t have enough time left to let my life be consumed by it. There is anger in me, but I’m not angry.

“Believe me, if I had any capability to go back in time and warn our leaders about what was going to come, I would. We thought that the expanse of the Saharan Desert and the empty tundra of Russia was going to be enough. A small sacrifice to be able to live side by side with real aliens,” Kellan said as he smiled like he was opening a present. “We didn’t know that your terraforming of those areas would bleed over into our territory. Maybe you didn’t know, either. But in the end, there was nothing we could do. We lost more and more of our land, and were crammed into smaller and smaller spaces, until eventually it was all gone.

Kellan cracked a half smile. “I suppose I should thank you, in a way, for keeping us alive for as long as you have in these zoos. But I don’t think that you will ever have to experience the humiliation of being kept alive like a wild animal.”

Rin’s twitching was unavoidably pronounced. Its whole body spasmed with the intense discomfort with what it was hearing. It had expected to get a negative response, but the extent of detail Kellan was able to give was a shock to its system.

“I…am sorry, Kellan.”

The old man smiled. “I know you are. I know. And I don’t want you to feel responsible. You had about as much to do with making it happen as I did letting you do it.”

“Thank you, Kellan. Thank you for speaking with me today.”

Kellan took a step forward, then stopped, looking at the alien with curiosity. “Rin, does your supervisor or supervisors, or whoever you have to report to, feel the same way that you do?”

“I have never asked. But those are typically sympathetic to the human condition are rarely shy about their views, and I have never heard any of my supervisors mention anything about it.”

“Well then I want you to tell them something for me.”

“Of course, Kellan.”

Kellan hobbled forward nearer to where Rin was now standing next to the kitchen table. He stopped close to the alien and stretched his neck upward to look Rin in the face. Breathing heavily, but controlled, “Tell them, ‘You killed us. And now we are gone.’”

Rin stood motionless, unable to think of what to say, or if it was supposed to say anything at all. Kellan continued on past the frozen alien into his bedroom, and closed the door behind him.

Review of Railhead

Review By Ty Black

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When small-time thief Zen Starling finds himself being pursued by a drone, he thinks it was sent by the owner of the necklace he just stole. However, soon Zen’s getting pursued by an entire trainload of soldiers which no necklace vendor could have sent for him, and he finds himself caught up in a high-stakes game of interplanetary politics.

While Philip Reeve is known as a children’s author, and Railhead is being marketed as YA, it’s engaging enough for an adult to read, too. It’s also a book so unique it’s hard to classify: It’s a kind of space-opera-cum-science-fantasy with humans, god-like artificial intelligences, androids, and sentient piles of bugs all living together on a landscape defined by an interstellar railroad system powered by sentient locomotives (at least one of which is criminally insane), and it’s got a rare kind of out-of-left-field creative spark.

The one thing I found that felt slightly off was that I didn’t connect well with the protagonist, Zen Starling. There were many supporting characters with enough depth that I felt a lot of sympathy for them, from humans to robots to sentient locomotives to piles of bugs. Despite that, Zen Starling still struck me as shallow, and it made the book difficult to get into for the first few chapters, before we got to know the others. Still, Railhead’s worth a read, and I give it four out of five stars.

Philip Reeve is an author from Brighton, England. His novel Mortal Engines won the Smarties Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award and the Blue Peter ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ Award. His novel A Darkling Plain won both the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and his novel Here Lies Arthur won the Carnegie Medal 2008.

Railhead
353 pp. Capstone. $16.95

Review of Lightless

Review By Ty Black

In a future dominated by surveillance, a totalitarian government will stop at nothing to stifle dissent, even if that means depopulating entire worlds. When a known criminal and possible terrorist is captured breaking in to top-secret experimental spaceship Anake, the government sends intelligence agent Ida Stays to interrogate him. Meanwhile, his partner made the Anake’s computer go haywire before evading capture, and ship’s mechanic, Dr. Althea Bastet, doesn’t know how to fix it.

Space opera Lightless is author C.A. Higgins’ debut. To paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock, stories live and die on the strength of their villains, and while there are plenty of bad guys to choose from in Lightless, Ida Stays is one of the best villains I’ve seen in a while. She’s ruthless, self-assured, and most importantly she believes in the horrible things she does.

I found the beginning quarter of Lightless hard to get into: Althea spends a while being stumped about how to fix the ship and Ida’s interrogation spends a while going nowhere, and it felt like that action was stalled. That said, Higgins was setting up some surprises for later which made it worthwhile. There was also just a bit more purple prose than the story could sustain, and the narration felt stilted in places.

Once the book reaches its climax, the body count spikes sharply and the pieces Higgins set in place so carefully come together in rapid-fire in a series of surprising ways. I won’t give any spoilers, but the book’s last lines were intriguing enough to ensure that I’ll read any sequel.

You know there’s actually going to be some “sci” in “sci-fi,” when a book uses the laws of thermodynamics for its epigraphs, and Higgins, who was a runner-up to the 2013 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing for her short story, The Changeling, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics. That (naturally) led her to a job in theater, and this is an author I look forward to seeing more from. I give Lightless three of five stars.

Lightless
304 pp. Del-Ray. $25

Jason Kucharik Interview

Welcome, readers. This is David Stegora, Editor-In-Chief of Dark Futures, here with our first interview in a quite a long time. Today I will be interviewing Jason Kucharik. People reading this already familiar with Jason likely know him as the author of V.O.K. or the guest judge of our current writing challenge. He also has an Indiegogo campaign going on right now. We’ll talk about that a little during the course of this interview but you can take a look at it here. Thanks for doing this, Jason.

Let’s start out simple. Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. I’ve had a love for movies and video games ever since I was a kid. My dad had an Atari 2600 that we used to play on and he liked to stay up to date on technology, if we could afford it. I got into computers after that, playing text games and basic 2D stuff. When I was thirteen my parents got me a Playstation and my whole world changed. Metal Gear Solid was the first game that I really fell in love with. I like movies that made me think and was surprised at how deep the story in Metal Gear Solid was. In between games my dad liked to share all the 70s and 80s action, sci-fi, and horror flicks that he really loved: Star Wars, Aliens, The Thing, and so on.

After that I focused more and more on movies and games that would get the wheels turning in my head. I dabbled with some art in high school but ended up staying away from it due to a few select, arrogant teachers. I did a year a local community college studying photography and graphic design before transferring down to Full Sail University in Florida to study 3D animation. It was geeky heaven, haha. Everyone loved all the same stuff that I did, they were passionate, and excited to share their ideas. That’s where I really flourished as a person and a storyteller.

I graduated, life happened, and I got away from animation for a while. In 2010 I was looking at joining the Army, did everything short of signing papers, but got in contact with an old friend from school. I got back into animation, and moved out to San Diego with two suitcases and fist full of hope. My friend was working in the industry since school, had made a name for himself, and planned on mentoring me back into the industry. After about a year I decided that it just wasn’t for me.

A few months after making the decision not to continue freelance animation, I overheard two colleagues at work talking about bucket lists. Seeing as I had no personal goals at the time, I decided to make my own. First on the list was writing a book, and second was completing a triathlon. I completed both within a year and became addicted to writing. It’s definitely been an eye opening and crazy ride since that day. I never really read for pleasure so there’s a lot that I learned that first year, and there are things I continue to learn every day. I do read now, haha, thanks to the pressure of my editor. Pretty much nonstop in fact, I’m just trying to catch up on everything I’ve missed. There’s a different sort of appreciation for other people’s work when you understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it. Plus it’s still one of the best ways that I’ve found to better yourself as not only a writer, but a person as well.

What is V.O.K.?

V.O.K. is my third book and the first one to really get some attention on Wattpad.

V.O.K. is written from the perspective of an Alpha, the universe’s most skilled special operations soldiers, who act as the High Order’s eyes and ears in every corner of the universe and, when necessary, its unflinching reapers. LT, a stoic combat veteran and his sarcastic Sergeant, Bill, are engaged in a seemingly simple recon mission on the scorched surface of the now abandoned Earth. Upon discovering that they were once human and the history of their species, the Hemosapiens is a lie, the very people they’re meant to protect turn against them.

An honor bound warrior species known as the Thyr spread across the universe preparing for war, as LT and Bill are pulled across worlds, expected to quell the threat of their home galaxy’s destruction. Meanwhile, a Hemosapien-made plague selectively spreads across the universe turning people into blood thirsty, powerful, animalistic echoes of their former selves. As everything goes to hell, LT and Bill trust in their skills, sarcasm, and the bond of blood to dismantle the increasingly corrupt High Order.

There’s a lot of action, a lot of sarcasm, and a lot of intrigue going on behind the scenes. I wrote V.O.K. as if I was making my own movie. It has a great deal of influence from a wide array of video games, movie and books.

Who or what would you say influences most in your writing? What about for V.O.K., specifically?

So, so many things. Videos games, movies, books, conversations I have with people, inside jokes between friends, people’s characteristics, relationships I’ve been in, my own life decisions, you name it, it goes into my writing, no more so than in V.O.K.. I actually have a document that I’ve been putting together that’s a list of Easter eggs in the book. People always ask what influences my writing and I figure that would be a cool way to show how much truly went into the story. There’s dialogue that’s a nod to things as obscure as Zack Braff’s character, JD, in Scrubs, to more similar stories like Pacific Rim, Lord of the Rings, Aliens, and many other influences. Some are really subtle, like my shout out to Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn who I had the pleasure of meeting at San Diego Comic Con a few years back. He is an inspiration. A very creative, and talented man who fought for years to get the rights back for his book after the animated movie was made. Some are more in your face, like a chapter about a third of the way through the book where my characters express their views about a very popular group of vampires that sparkle in the daylight, haha.

V.O.K. is inspired by more things than I can remember. In fact, there are still times when I’ll be watching a movie or talking to a friend about something and just go…Ohhhhhh, that’s why I wrote that line that way. It happens all the time. It is a compilation of all the creative works, people and events that have inspired me to write and do whatever I can to better my own work. I don’t think anything I write from here on out will be even close to what it’s like in that sense.

What made you want to write V.O.K.? Was it something that was just in your head and you had to get it out, or did you spend time and effort developing and planning?

V.O.K., which now stands for Variable Operations Knowledge, originally stood for Vampire, Ork, Kiaju. V.O.K. came about, kind of on a whim and as a way to challenge myself. I was finishing up Fear Your Fate (my first book) and Project Aspire, which I wrote with Taran Matharu, Stephan Landry, and Penegrin Shaw; three other authors on Wattpad.

Stephen had posted something on Facebook, wondering if anyone would be interested in watching a movie with vampire space marines, using lasers to fight orcs and kaiju in a forest. The debate livened up, people traded ideas and he added zombies to the mix. The universe quickly started taking shape in my head. Haha, the idea itself is totally ridiculous and I think that’s why I was so interested. At the time, I had been planning on writing a gritty, more grounded vampire novel that pretty much threw out all the traditional archetypes and formed something new. This was the perfect chance to prove that I could do just that. I wrote the first chapter, posted it on Wattpad and didn’t really plan to go back until I was finished with Fear Your Fate, but the readers on Wattpad had other plans.

I’m a pantser when it comes to writing, which for anyone who doesn’t know, means that I write by the seat of my pants. I write chapter to chapter. I have a very vague idea of where I want to take the story, like the beginning and generally the end, what I want the characters to feel like or certain scenes I see in my head that would look cool…but I don’t plan. I don’t map everything out, write character bios or spend time charting plots. Maybe I will in the future, I don’t know, but for now I love the fluidity of writing chapters as they come to me. It worked very well for V.O.K., so I’m hoping it continues to work in the future, because I really enjoy doing things that way. There’s something so fun about having a sudden epiphany about what your next chapter should be and seeing the readers react to it only a day or two after you’ve conceived it.

I think getting to see how people respond so soon after you write is what draws a lot of people to things like Wattpad. As you’ve said, V.O.K. was originally published on there and it was quite successful. I understand it reached #1 in science fiction and #2 in fantasy at one point. Congratulations on that. Can you explain what Wattpad is for any of our readers who don’t know?

Thank you, I appreciate it. Wattpad is, for those who don’t know, a website where people can read free work or, as an author, post their work for free for others to read. I commonly refer to it as Facebook for authors. You can vote on peoples’ work, leave comments, add things to your reading lists, and have conversations in blogs with other like minded people.

Wattpad has over 40 million users daily, 77 million unique stories, and V.O.K. made it to #1 in Sci-Fi were it bounced between the first few spots for months. It made it to #2 in Fantasy (when Wattpad still allowed stories to have two categories) and Wattpad reached out to me to make it a featured story. At the time of writing this, Wattpad analytics says that I’m only missing readers in 22 countries across the world. Wattpad tracks readers’ location, along with age, and sex, so you can see who your work appeals to.

That being said, every time someone brings up V.O.K.’s success on Wattpad, my response is usually…Eh, it’s done alright. Truth of the matter is, I’ve had a hard time seeing my experience on Wattpad as a success just because of how early I am in my career. Especially compared to authors who have tens of millions of reads and have secured publishing deals that will set them up for life. I see it as a good start, not bad, not great, but good. I hope that V.O.K.’s activity on Wattpad is an indication of how successful I may become in the future, but that is yet to be seen.

Success is perceptual, and while I had goals when uploading V.O.K. to Wattpad, I didn’t and don’t want to become complacent with where I am. When are you successful? Fifty thousand reads? Five hundred thousand? Five million? Writing is a very tough business, especially if you want to do it full time, which I plan to do in the future. So I think it’s important to take a moment to enjoy whatever goals you’ve reached, then accept the fact that you’re not successful and set new goals. When you reach those, you do the same thing. If you do that, success will come on its own and you probably won’t even realize it. One day you’ll wake up on a boat somewhere, writing and sailing around the world and you’ll post something on Facebook about how you can’t believe everything you’ve achieved in life. If I can reach Hugh Howey status, I’ll consider myself successful. Boat not required.

What made you decide to publish V.O.K. on Wattpad? Would you recommend it to others?

Wattpad started as a platform to test my ideas. I really just wanted to know if people were interested in what I wrote. Was it engaging, did they like the characters, did they care what I had to say? It’s been overwhelmingly helpful in that aspect.

I would certainly recommend it to others. I have a very supportive family, a lot of them read my work before anyone else sees it, and I get feedback from that, but some people don’t have that. Often times, even if you do, it’s hard to tell whether family members actually like your work or just want to be nice.

Wattpad fixes that, or at least it did for me. Readers on Wattpad want a quality story, and I don’t necessarily mean grammar. They want to be engaged, connect with the characters, and enjoy what they’re reading and they have no qualms about telling you whether or not it’s bad. If the story is good, a lot of them will look past the grammar, or help you fix it, which is also nice. I love staying connected with my readers and they’re very passionate about my stories and offering ideas to make my writing better. Wattpad itself has also been awesome in helping me succeed. They’re now offering a new program which helps pair some of their more popular writers up with paying promotional work for books or movies, which is really nice.

Since you did so well on Wattpad, what advice would you offer to other writers who want to try to use it?

There are two very important aspects about writing that I believe are integral in helping someone connect with readers. They go hand in hand and they’re not just for Wattpad.

First and foremost by a long shot, and this is important, so if you’re reading this, please, really understand what I’m saying.  Learn how to take criticism, any criticism, and view it constructively.  I won’t lie, it’s really F’ing hard. I learned it over a few years of studying art in school, but not all authors have that background to begin with. You’re writing is a piece of you, any art is, and it’s so easy to take things personally when people say something about your work that hurts or you don’t agree with. You need to get past that. I’m going to say that again because it’s so very important. You NEED to get past the emotions attached to criticism. You need to remove the emotion from the situation as best you can, take a step back and say, “What made them say that?”  Even the really nasty stuff, “What made them say that?”  It will help give you some unknown perspective and allow you to grow as an author and as a person. 

Second, learn to sell yourself.  It’s very easy to put your work out there and remain anonymous or work behind an alias so people don’t know who you are, but I don’t believe in that. Once again, your work is personal and you’re asking people to spend a lot of time and, in some cases, money to read your work.  You’re saying TRUST me, you’ll enjoy this, it’ll be worth it. Great writers are a dime a dozen, now more so than ever due to social media and technology, so you need to give your readers a reason to care. You need to give them something to connect with and that all starts with you. I spent hours, sometimes up to twenty hours a week in the early days, responding to each and every comment on my story and personally thanking every person that read or voted. Whenever you try to sell something (even if they don’t pay for it) the biggest factor that comes into play is how much the customer trusts the person selling the product. This could be themselves, based off of their own research, (they sell themselves on the idea of buying a book) or you, based off of what you’ve written about it. Give someone a reason to trust you, and they’ll support you, and the way you respond to criticism, greatly affects how people think of you.

As we already mentioned, you’ve currently got an Indiegogo campaign going. In part, it’s for getting V.O.K. released in book form but it’s also for something more than that. Can you explain what that is?

Yeah, so an organization I’m in the process of creating is actually the focus of the Indie GoGo campaign. V.O.K. is the first book to be a part of that.

Authors For Change is about self-published authors who are looking to get the word out about their work and do some good in the process. I’m working with authors that I personally know for the first round of books that will be available. Authors involved in the program will donate 100% of the proceeds from their first thousand copies to a charity of their choice, and then a continued percentage after that for one full year. We’ll all use our networks and the charities networks to spread the word about our work and what we’re doing.

As self-published authors, we all understand how it’s likely that you’ll reach a very limited audience, unless you’re really good and equally lucky like Hugh Howey, haha. But we keep at it in our free time, get used to sleepless nights and spend less time being a social butterfly because we love what we do. It has a hold over us that nothing else rivals. I’ve always been raised to help others whenever you’re able and that’s what Authors For Change is about, using my talents, and helping others to use their talents, to do some good in the world. There’s a lot of work ahead, sleepless nights, and failures abound, but I’m up to the challenge and so are the people I’m working with. We believe in what we’re doing and it has to start somewhere, so we’re starting it.

The Authors For Change Indie GoGo will be available all the way through October so any donations or spreading of the word is greatly appreciated. Since it’s still in the very early stages, V.O.K. and V.O.K. related swag are available for perk prizes.

That’s all we have for now, though we may look to touch base with you again in the future and see how things are going. Thanks for your time. Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Please let me know, this has been a lot of fun and I was more than happy to do it. As far as final thoughts are concerned, I would like to touch on communication in general.

If you’re a reader and you enjoy finding new authors out there, I would just like to say feel free to reach out to those authors. I absolutely love hearing from readers and I’ve actually made a few friendships that way. I know a lot of other authors feel the same way. If you have a critique for someone, please do your best to do it in a constructive way as there is so much that goes into creating that product that you or anyone else will never see, know, or understand. Stuff that goes well beyond sleepless nights and good old fashioned hard work. It effects who we are as people and the actual relationships that we have on a level I’ve never experienced. They say actors have to keep their emotions just under the surface so they can access them at will. Authors are very similar except, often times, we’re living the lives and emotions of several different people at once and trying to fully understand and feel what they’re going through in order to convey that to a reader. It’s not always pleasant. Please keep that in mind before taking a few minutes to destroy a piece of work with your opinions. We want to hear from readers, we want people to talk about our work and we want to learn and grow, but try not to be nasty about it.

To authors or aspiring authors, I’d say keep at it. Keep your head down and moving forward, keep writing even when you don’t feel like it. Read other peoples’ work, network, stay connected with your readers and do your best to be polite and not get emotional when people get nasty. People are buying a piece of you, so remember to pour your heart and soul into it, then learn how to become detached when people start critiquing it. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, but if you really love writing and want to get better, then you can see why that’s so important.