Well folks, we are in for a treat. Joining us for today’s interview is none other than Zachary Bonelli. Some of you may know him from the Google+ Science Fiction Writer’s community, where is he one of the moderators, or from his upcoming serialized novel called Insomnium, or from his publishing imprint, Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. I’ve had the privilege of reading episodes of his current science-fiction serial Voyage Along the Catastrophe of Notions, which actually introduced me to a whole side of the genre I had never before experienced. Yes, it had me running for Wiki explanations (quantum theory, anyone?) but really, what a cool discovery! So, if you are brave enough, I invite you to take our hands and embark with us on a voyage into the brilliant mind of Zachary Bonelli.
1) Zach, can you start us off by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m the author of the ongoing Voyage Along the Catastrophe of Notions series and the upcoming serialized novel Insomnium. Voyage is about the adventures of a young man named Kal as he travels between alternate universes. Insomnium is more fantastic—the escapades of a man named Nel and his friends as they seek to escape a dream universe that has trapped them all.
Six months ago, I started up my own independent publishing house, Fuzzy Hedgehog Press. What started out as just a name on my self-published ebooks quickly grew into a fully-fledged self-publishing outlet.
2) From having read some of your work, it’s pretty clear you’re a very smart guy. Voyage, for example, is packed with science, tech and philosophy. How did your interest in those subjects contribute to you becoming a writer?
Thank you. I’d say my favorite elements of those you mentioned are philosophy and ethics. I’m fascinated by human psychology and sociology, as well as the development of human civilizations. Cultures fascinate me. I spent my twenties exploring various parts of Asia and the Pacific.
Voyage definitely contains a lot of my sense of wonder and my fascination with both real and hypothetical configurations of human cultures. Big questions in my works include topics like what our purpose is as individuals here on Earth. What are we doing with our lives? How do we distinguish important endeavours from frivolous ones?
3) What forms of writing (short stories, poetry, novels, etc.) and genres do you prefer to read and write? Why?
I have a strong preference for fantasy and science fiction, but I also read a lot of non-fiction. Aubry Andersen, the illustrator and artist for Voyage (whose artwork and writing you should totally check out!), taught me to read Wikipedia articles to find the seeds of story ideas. I’ve gotten a lot of traction from that technique.
Within science fiction, I’m a big fan of slipstream and new weird. China Mieville and Neil Gaiman are two of my favorites. I don’t know that I have any particular preference on format. Give me just about anything that stretches and challenges the present limits of my imagination, and I’ll gobble it up.
4) I’ve read books which annoyed me to the point where I wanted to throw them across the room. As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What is it that makes you want to stop turning pages?
I have a bachelor’s degree in English literature, and while that program did teach me a lot about how to write and think critically, I feel that the vast majority of everything I read for that program failed at the level of narrative engagement. My professors insisted that the elements I viewed as lacking—plot and strong characterization—were “pedantic” and “shallow” and that “good literature” shouldn’t have them.
Since beginning my adventures in independent publishing, I’ve come to meet the other extreme of this argument. Some writers make plot and characterization the entire focus of their story, to the exclusion of theme, motif, and metaphor. Description and mood and setting are torn away entirely, and the only thing that matters is moving the characters through a plot.
Both extremes irritate me immensely.
What I strive for in my writing is something in between. You don’t get engagement with people’s emotions unless you have a plot and vivid characters, but you lose out on depth if you forgo metaphors, themes, and motifs. I believe a great novel weaves all these elements together.
5) As a writer, what elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I’ve heard many writers say this, and I’ll join their ranks—all of my characters, even my antagonists, are all small shards of myself. To draw a character I care about, and who I hope my audience will care about, I have to understand them, and the way that works for me, is to reflect on myself.
I think this will especially come through in Voyage: All Hallow’s, which is scheduled to be released this October. Partly it’s a goofy, “festive” side-story, but there’s an element of reflection on the psyche there, too.
As far as strengths and weaknesses, my biggest strength, I think, is my imagination. It always has been, and I suspect it always will be. My biggest weakness? Well, all my other skills as a writer will be forever playing catch-up with imagination, I suspect.
6) Who are your favourite writers and why?
Norton Juster is my favorite author, and The Phantom Tollbooth is my favorite book. So many of the novel’s elements resonated highly with me—the search for purpose and meaning in a strange world, the use of setting itself as a metaphor for the characters’ struggles, even the idea of a trio of heroes adventuring through a strange land together. Readers will find all of these elements throughout my work.
7) Can you tell us about Fuzzy Hedgehog? What other projects are you working on?
When I went to publish my first ebook back in November of 2012, I made up the publisher “Fuzzy Hedgehog Press” to put on the copyright page and in the “publisher” field on various online vendors.
Since then, I’ve started a website, even registered FHP as a small business. I’ll be working with Lightning Source for the print versions of my books. In other words, I find myself occupying a strange place between independent author/self-publisher and independent/small publisher.
In terms of writing, I’m wrapping up Voyage: Embarkation. Currently ten episodes have been released, with four more and a side-story on the way before the end of the year. I’ll also release eight episodes of my new serial Insomnium before the end of 2013, starting in October.
Of course, there are four more Voyage arcs to come. The next one, Windbound, will be released throughout 2014. And I’ve got two other ideas brewing, which I’m pretty sure are standalone novels, not serials.
8) What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?
Finding time to do everything. That’s been one my biggest surprises, actually, since I started this adventure over a year ago.
Early in 2012, a lot of the advice about how to start e-publishing made it sound like you’d just write up something in your free time, throw it up on Amazon, and then your bank account would just start exploding.
This presumes a lot of things. It presumes you’re going to put together a slapdash cover yourself or hire someone to do it quickly on the cheap. It presumes you’re not going to spend very much energy on editing or getting feedback (just enough to be sure your work isn’t universally hated). And it presumes that you don’t care that much about the format or presentation of your work.
Well, I do care about those things. I can’t do anything slapdash, and I don’t want to release anything until I’ve made it as awesome as I possibly can. My rough metric for determining how much editing I need works like this: my time from concept to publication is one month for every ten thousand words minimum. And I should have read over the entire work at least half a dozen times, and at least once out loud, before publishing.
Does this “slow me down” when you compare me to some other independent authors? Yes. Do I think I’m reaching a higher quality bar than I would have otherwise? Yes. Do I think it’s worth it? Absolutely.
9) What would you want your legacy to the writing world to be?
I’ve given this a lot of thought. I think, when people see all of Insomnium, and especially when Voyage is complete four years from now, my perception of how I’d like to be perceived goes something like this: “Here’s a guy with a lot of heart, who’s experienced a lot of joy and a lot of pain, and when he looks around at the rest of the world, he sees the beauty of the human condition, but also a lot of suffering, and though he realizes he’s not without his own failings, he hopes the world is a little bit better of a place for his having been here.”
10) How can readers get into contact with you?
You can reach out to me by email at email@example.com. You can also find me on my blog, Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.
All of my books are available from the Fuzzy Hedgehog Press website.
Zachary, it was great to chat with you today. You have such incredible and ambitious goals ahead of you, I can’t wait to see how they all turn out. Readers, please go and visit Zachary at Fuzzy Hedgehog Press, and take a look at the different projects he’s got brewing over there. Let’s support each other!
Until next time!