In the world of fantasy and science fiction, you hear several names thrown around as writers who juggle multiple projects (e.g. Brandon Sanderson, Kevin J. Anderson, Daniel Abraham, etc.). Bryan Thomas Schmidt has a legitimate argument to add his name to that list. He edits, does freelance work, blogs like a fiend, and hones his social media skills all while managing to produce new fiction in multiple genres.
Please take a few minutes to check out my interview of Bryan as well as some of his current works (available in the links below).
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A: I am writing this last and realizing I already gave you four pages, so I guess I’ll keep this short. It could easily rival Roots, since I’ve had a pretty busy and complicated journey. Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the son of a surgeon and nurse, a twin, animal lover, and a multi-talented creative who dabbles in prose, songwriting, music composition, web design, theatre, screenwriting, and many venues. He’s worked in Hollywood in professional television and film and he’s worked in nonprofits teaching people in disadvantaged countries as a volunteer. He’s taught masters classes and basic ones as well. He loves to laugh and entertain but also to constantly learn. He’s an explorer, a risk taker, and a man of great passions and compassion combined. And wow, that sounds like I’m full of myself so I’ll stop and say, the last two are things people say to describe me so I threw them in. Bryan’s also a man who is constantly questioning himself and his world and trying to understand and identify mistakes and learn how to not make them again, a neverending struggle.
Q: How did you get into writing?
A: As my mother tells the story, I never played with a toy the same way twice, and I’d get frustrated when the toys wouldn’t do all the things I could imagine them doing in my head. So I guess you could say I was making up stories at a young age. I used to organize my friends on the playground into these elaborate role playing scenarios. We might act out scenes from Emergency!, my favorite TV show in the 70s, or from a movie or something else. We played Wizard of Oz with a favorite babysitter, my siblings and I each taking our favorite role and attempting to get the dog to play along. Imagination has just been a big part of my life as long as I can remember. So also around that time, I began writing fan fic for The Littles books by John Peterson with my friend Chris Marshall. We wrote our own books. Eventually I moved on to making up episodes of shows like Miami Vice and Hill Street Blues and then created my own TV series, the pilot of which won me writing awards in high school.
Q: Who are some of your biggest influences and what are some of your favorite books?
A: Well, I grew up in the church, so bible stories have always been among my favorites. I also really enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the Seuss books. But then Star Wars blew my mind and world wide open. When I discovered The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings and Narnia and then Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg and Thomas Covenant by Stephern R. Donaldson, my fate was sealed as I fell in love with the possibilities of speculative fiction. Ironically, I departed from it during school as I studied screenwriting and filmmaking and read lots of nonfiction research type books about anthropology, culture. Etc. All of that stuff now informs my writing, but when I came back to SFF a few years ago and started catching up, it caught fire again and it’s most of what I read these days.
Q: Last year, you published your first novel, THE WORKER PRINCE, with Diminished Media Group. The follow up, THE RETURNING (available in pre-order at barnesandnoble.com), came out this month (June 2012). There is also a short story available in ebook form within the same world titled RIVALRY ON A SKY COURSE. Tell us what you can about the series and who your target audience is.
A: Well, I had the idea for this when I was a teenager and held onto it for 27 years until I wrote the book and it was published. My goal all along was to capture the feel of Star Wars: A New Hope while employing elements of Moses and writing the kind of heroes who inspired me as a kid. I wanted something the whole family can enjoy together. I didn’t want anything preachy or too heavy, so I wanted lots of action, character banter and humor and fun locations, ships, guns, aliens, etc. And in beta reading, my 34 year old friend and his 8 year old son both enjoyed it. Athiest and Agnostic friends enjoyed it as much as Christians. So I feel like I did well.
A: Well, although most people told me The Worker Prince’s religious content was not preachy—it is a story about ideological bigotry, after all, being in part the Moses story—I think the mere mention of that scared some potential readers away. People in SFF tend to be very biased about real religions. So I wanted to tell a story where that was still involved by less of a focus and get to other aspects of the world. I also was telling a middle story, which meant, I knew going in that the ending couldn’t be very final. It had to set up and make people want to read the following book. So I set about to up the stakes and tension to a level where I could do a cliffhanger that, in a sense, closes that chapter, but leaves people ready for book 3, while also leaving them happy to have a brief reprieve to breathe. It’s a very fast-paced book with tons of action, the kind of tale where you’re not sure who may die or be attacked and how it can end.
Q: Diminished Media Group is a small press publisher. Can you give us some insight to what it’s like working in the small press world?
A: Well, it’s got unique challenges in the sense that promotion budgets are almost nonexistent. You really do have to plan on marketing yourself and spending some money on it, and, because your advance will be tiny compare to traditional publishers, that’s really tough. You also are dealing with people who are often slower about making decisions than you might like and you are dealing with the issue of distribution. Because most small presses don’t take returns, it’s hard to get your book in bookstores, even when, as mine did, it makes a Barnes & Noble Year’s Best list. Stores just won’t buy books they can’t return. Some independents will do consignment for you but it can take time to sort all that out, so you can have a slower momentum launching a book and have to expect slower sales rather than a quick surge upon release or reviews. Additionally, you have to compete with the big boys so artwork and pricing becomes that much more important. And sometimes, when you’re doing marketing, you have to wait for publisher approval on things which come up very last minute and don’t always happen due to their response times, so that can be frustrating. Now, that’s not to say they’re not good people with the best intentions, mind you. But you asked about some of the issues, so there you have it.
For positives, they tend to only contract for books they are passionate about. They tend to give you higher profit percentages and more control of artwork and subsidiary rights. They also have a small staff so you’re dealing with a very focused group of people and can build meaningful relationships, rather than dealing with a lot of people you only know by name in departments you didn’t even know existed. So there are both advantages and disadvantages, and you just need to know that going in.
Q: I know in previous interviews you’ve stated that you feel a more traditional publishing route appeals to you right now in your career. Do you have any plans in the future to dip your toes into the independent publishing waters?
A: I will continue to work with small presses as long as they will have me, but I do feel that my books could reach a larger audience and I’d like a chance to prove that. Being in bookstores and having bigger promotional opportunities is very important, so I really want to try placing some bigs through an agent with traditional publishers. Also, frankly, being a freelancer for two years now, I have real financial concerns and could use a bit more solid advances to live on as well as exposure to expand my client base. And I also want to see my book in hardback and with that level of exposure I dreamed of, like all authors, which makes it feel like you really did it. You really got published on that larger scale, you know?
Q: You recently edited your first anthology, SPACE BATTLES: FULL THROTTLE SPACE TALES #6, which came out in April 2012 by Flying Pen Press. How did you come to work on the anthology? What can readers expect from it?
A: It came about from my pitching some anthology ideas to different publishers, and, although the one I had didn’t work for Flying Pen Press, David Rozansky and I began throwing around ideas and he thought one or two might work for his FTST series. Ultimately, Space Battles was the concept we settled on. I recruited my headliners, Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen and Jean Johnson first, and then it was off to the races. You can expect a lot of action packed, fun stories, with some surprising twists in theme and approach. We have stories from Jean’s Philip K. Dick nominated novel universe Theirs Is Not To Reason Why, a story set 20 years after my Davi Rhii books, and actually Resnick, Torgersen, and Patrick Hester are all current Hugo nominees, so I think there’d be something for everyone in there.
Q: What’s it like to edit an anthology? Biggest surprises? Anything you would have done differently?
A: Well, it’s a real feeling of responsibility. You want to do write by the writers and you also really hate to reject anyone’s story because you know how it feels, so you work harder mto consider what works and doesn’t, at least one the first go around, and maybe even work harder to develop stories with potential than you might if you weren’t a writer yourself. Also, you have to read the stories again and again and maintain objectivity. You also have to figure out how to make the anthology flow as a unit and do a lot of the editing and layout writers aren’t normally concerned with. Do differently? I think there are a few stories I wish I’d helped the writers with a bit more, based on some of the critiques. I glossed over some issues which could have been easily fixed that a few reviewers noted. That makes me feel like I let writers down, although, ultimately, each writer had final say on their stories. They didn’t always accept all of my changes. Big surprises were some of the stories and their diversity as well as the talent of some people I knew but had never read. Also the reactions of taste by readers has been so diverse. You, as editor, have your favorites, even though it’s secret, and when publisher and readers have totally different choices, it’s interesting to see that.
Q: You recently posted a great article at www.Bookwormblues.net about your struggles with ADHD. I was diagnosed with it as an adult myself. Since I follow you on Twitter, I know you usually get a lot done each day: blog posts, writing/editing multiple projects, etc. What helps you stay so productive?
A: Well, for one, deadlines and goals. My sense of professionalism makes me push myself to be on time. Occasionally things happen, but I know others are counting on me and so I have to be timely. In addition, I do set a lot of goals for myself to accomplish. Again, doesn’t always happen but I get more done with goals than without. I also have many irons in the juggling loop at one time. If I get stuck or bored with one, I can switch to another and work on that for a while. That helps with ADHD focus issues. I also know my best times of day for creativity, editing, etc. and try and plan my work time to really focus on doing the appropriate tasks at the appropriate time of day.
Q: What do you like to occupy your time with when you aren’t working on your writing career?
A: Well, I’m freelance and haven’t had a full job in over two years. Looking for something steadier sucks up free time. I also do enjoy writing and playing music , reading, movies. I like to play with my dogs, take them for walks, visit family. Honestly, writing is the majority of my time along with job hunting. I’m so passionate about being creative that I never seem to have enough time in the day.
Q: What can we expect next from Bryan Thomas Schmidt? Pimp your future projects.
A: Well, I have a new SF series started called Falcone Files which is a detective noir story involving time travel. I also have a sword & sorcery book half done about Belsuk, the Half-Orc. But both of those have to wait while I finish Duneman, Book 1 in my Dawning Age epic fantasy series and then write The Exodus, the concluding book in my Saga Of Davi Rhii space opera trilogy after The Worker Prince and The Returning. I am trying to also finish my North Star Serial short story serial with 12 more episodes (10 more to writer) that run in Digital Dragon Magazine online. I will eventually combine all 25 stories into a serial novel, probably for 2013. But I want to get the stuff done that’s either close or under contract before I spend too much time on new series like the time travel and s&s. It will allow me to have stuff market ready on a steadier basis. Also, I am pitching some anthology projects I’ve packaged with various writers and hope to edit two or three of those in the 2012-2013 timeframe as well.
Thanks to Bryan for graciously agreeing to be interviewed. Bryan is currently promoting his most recent novel, THE RETURNING which is set for a June 19th release date.
You can check out more about him and his work by visiting his website.