Author Interviews, Blog, Sci-Fi Fantasy Blog

Author Interview: E J Fisch, Science Fiction

Hi! I’m EJ Fisch—author, artist, gamer, and overall nerd. First and foremost, I write science fiction, but all of my sci-fi has a thriller twist. After all, they say you should write what you like to read, and those are my two favorite genres.

I most recently published Embers (Feb. 22, 2022), the fifth installment in my character-driven space opera/spy thriller series. It felt SO good to finally get to share five books’ worth of character development with readers and bring the series to a satisfying close…for now, at least.    

From Planning to Published

When did you start writing and why?

Author: I’ve enjoyed telling stories for just about as long as I can remember, and I dabbled in writing as long ago as elementary school. I started writing more seriously in junior high; a couple of friends and I had a goofy Star Wars roleplaying game going via AOL instant messenger, and I’d take the transcripts from our chats and type them up as actual prose. Star Wars had already sparked my love of sci-fi many years earlier, so it was at that point that I started wanting to develop deeper, more complex stories in this genre where there were virtually limitless possibilities and my imagination could run wild. Ever since then, I constantly have new characters and ideas brewing in the back of my mind, so writing (and subsequently publishing and sharing those ideas with others) is a perfect outlet.    

If you’ve published, how long did your first book take?

Author: I want to say my first book took me about 10 months to write. Back then, I was writing totally for my own enjoyment and had no plans to ever publish, so I didn’t keep track of time very well. I actually wrote the majority of it during my senior year of high school and into early college. Then it sat and gathered dust until the spring of 2014, at which point I’d already completed the second book in the series and was well into plotting the third. It finally struck me that I’d put all of this work into these stories only to hide them from the world. That was when I decided to pursue publishing; I took a few months to go back and revise and spruce up the first book (it needed some MAJOR work), and then dove in.    

Are you indie, traditional, hybrid, or vanity, and why?

Author: I am 100% indie. Self-published, to be exact, and not afraid to admit it. I saw a post on Twitter the other day asking self-pubbed authors whether they went that route solely so they could just get their work out there. Not gonna lie—that’s definitely part of it, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I chose to self-publish so I could maintain complete control of my work. Not only am I guaranteed to be able to share my stories with other people (even if readership is low), but I can stick to my own schedule. I can design my covers how I want. I can format both my ebooks and physical copies how I want. I can market how I want. I can tell the story I want to tell, and I can keep producing regardless of how a given book performs. Yeah, it takes a lot of extra work, but I can’t imagine leaving those things in someone else’s hands. I’m a strong advocate for eliminating the stigma surrounding self-publishing. There are a ton of incredibly talented writers out there who have chosen to go this route for many of the same reasons I have.   

What platforms do you use to publish your works?

Author: I started out publishing exclusively on Amazon and made use of their Kindle Unlimited program. Then about 3 years ago, I made the switch to wide distribution. Now, my work is available at all the major retailers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play—as well as a number of smaller international retailers. KU/Amazon-exclusivity is so great in some ways and so limiting in others; I’m glad I made the switch.   

Lieutenant Aroska Tarbic is an agent with the revered Haphezian Special Police. He’s lost a lot in a short period of time; the other members of his squad were killed in a tragic accident, and his younger brother was wrongfully convicted and executed for a crime he didn’t commit. Just when Aroska thinks he’s starting to piece his life back together, he’s assigned to a joint task force with a special operations team. It seems like a unique opportunity, at least until he learns his new commander is none other than Ziva Payvan, HSP’s finest operative…and the assassin who killed his brother.

Marketing

How do you define success as an author?

Author: Personally, every single sale is a small win for me. I started this little venture just wanting to share my work with others, so each sale represents a new person to share it with. It’s an even bigger win if those people enjoy the story and leave a nice review, or even better, when they reach out via email. No joke, I’ve had a few people send me a simple, quick email over the years just letting me know they enjoyed one of my books, and without fail, it makes me cry (never underestimate how much it means to an author to hear directly from a reader!). This happened most recently after I published Embers, which was already a very emotional project for me, so the simple message meant even more. I think I’d rather have 50 close-knit, enthusiastic, engaged readers who love my characters and stories than 50,000 random strangers who read the books, aren’t impacted in any way, and just move on with their lives. Of course not every writer is going to define success the same way, but that’s my definition.

And then I know I’ve really made it when people create artwork of my characters unprompted, or when people tell me my MC has showed up in their dreams (welcome to my life), or when people leave 5-star reviews saying they were traumatized by one of my book endings and will need to seek professional help 😉

About Your Work

What genres and subgenres do you write in?

Author: I write sci-fi with a lighter, more space opera/space fantasy feel. Not only is that what I’m more comfortable writing, but it has ended up making my books more accessible to people who don’t always read sci-fi—you don’t have to be a hardcore science fiction nerd to understand and enjoy them. I also like to incorporate thriller elements into my sci-fi settings. The main characters in my series are members of a superhuman race who form a special operations team for the primary law enforcement agency on their homeworld, so it ends up being kind of a cross between spy thriller and military thriller. You’ve got your space travel, futuristic weapons, and advanced technology, but also assassins, espionage, conspiracies, and so much more. It has been a really fun combination of genres to work with. One of the future stories I have planned takes place in the same universe as my main series but will have a little bit more of a post-apocalyptic flair.      

What is your author brand (genre, mood, image, theme, message, etc)? How did you decide on it?

Author: When I first started out, I almost exclusively let my books define my brand, which I eventually learned was a mistake because series grow and change over time. It wasn’t long before my banners, logos, business cards, etc. were outdated, and I also didn’t want to be limited to just one story/series. A couple of years ago, I began using a new, more generic logo that consists of simple shapes and colors but still has a very “spacey” look. Space-related backgrounds set the atmosphere without detracting from whatever is in the foreground. I use a lot of reds in my designs, partially because red is my favorite color, and partially because it’s very befitting of my series namesake character. When paired with my logo, my tagline—“Imagination At Work”—elicits the idea of an expansive, exciting universe, but that phrase itself doesn’t limit me to any particular sub-genre. I use the same font for all my logos, book titles, chapter headings, etc.—it’s strong and crisp and has an adequate futuristic look while still being clear and readable. The idea was to create consistency across my whole platform—everything from the books themselves to my website and social media—while avoiding constraints that would warrant another re-brand a couple of years down the road.

How many works have you published?

Author: I’ve published 5 primary works. My Ziva Payvan series consists of a main trilogy (Dakiti, Nexus, and Ronan) as well as a duology (Fracture and Embers). While technically books #4 and #5 of the overall series, Fracture and Embers are kind of a collective sequel to the trilogy and can serve as a jumping-in point for new readers. The journey the characters go on throughout the series was so much fun to engineer. All 5 books are available in ebook and paperback formats, and excerpts from each are available to read on my website.

I’ve also published an ebook-exclusive omnibus that includes the first 3 books as well as some character interviews and sneak peeks. Dakiti is also featured in Forged from the Stars, a collection that also includes first-in-series sci-fi novels by authors G.S. Jennsen and Tammy Salyer.       

Can you tell us a bit about your most recent publication?

Author: Embers was released this past February and is the final book in the current story arc (the plan is for all my future work to take place in this same galaxy, but everything will either be brand new material with the same characters, or a completely different spin-off). It’s very much a culmination of everything that has happened since the start of the series and has a huge emotional payout for the characters (and readers too, I hope!). Ziva, my main (anti)heroine, goes on such a journey over the course of the story, and it felt so good to bring that journey to a realistic and satisfying conclusion. In the book, she and my other characters find themselves caught up in what is essentially an interstellar gang war, all while hashing out the issues that have plagued them for the last couple of books and dealing with their own personal demons    

Name some common elements in your writing: villains, magic, red-herring twists, the unfortunate ensign, mysterious phenomena, asyndeton, sentence fragments etc.

Author: I of course try to make each of my books unique in their own way, so the characters aren’t always facing the exact same problems, the antagonists don’t always have the same motivations, etc. But in general, my work always includes very strong—and often somewhat complicated—character relationships, regardless of the nature of those relationships. Trust is a major recurring theme throughout the series.

In terms of the writing itself, I’m not ashamed to admit I use a lot of sentence fragments for stylistic purposes—emphasis, dramatic effect, replicating the way people talk, etc. As you may have noticed throughout this interview, I’m also a huge fan of em dashes 😉

What was your first goal when you started your journey to becoming an author? Has that changed?

Author: When I first started, my one and only goal was to simply share my work with others and quit keeping it hidden. On the whole, that’s still my primary goal; if a few people out there enjoy my stories and fall in love with the characters, that’s a win for me. I think every author—especially us indies—wishes they could make more sales and reach more readers, and I’m no different in that regard. But if I ever find myself getting frustrated with lack of sales and lack of reach, I just remind myself why I started doing this in the first place. A few extra bucks in my pocket is nice, but that wasn’t the initial goal. And like I mentioned earlier, I can keep writing and creating regardless of how many sales I have.    

Have you always read in the genre you wanted to write in? Do you think that’s made it easier or harder to create new stories?

Author: Sci-fi and thrillers are the two genres I’ve primarily read over the years, and in many cases (especially on the sci-fi side) that has been really helpful for me when it comes to creating my own stories. I tend to not enjoy reading really heavy, hard science fiction as much, but I also don’t care for it if it’s overly simplified. That has helped me kind of find a balance between the science and the fiction in my own work—I can write the level of sci-fi that I’m comfortable with and that I enjoy reading. Plus, since sci-fi is such an age-old genre, I have a lot of material to draw from in terms of what classic tropes I might want to include, or which clichéd ones I might want to avoid.

On the thriller side, reading that genre has helped more with overall story structure—the way problems are introduced, how a conspiracy unravels, etc. It’s a good way to study pacing.  

What is your writing process, from idea to polished work? Pantster? Plotter? How long does that typically take you?

Author: I am 100% a plotter. I’ve given pantsing my best shot and failed miserably. Whenever I have new ideas brewing, I always start by just jotting down some rudimentary bullet points. Just recently, I experimented a little with writing things out in a more prose-like manner (“So there’s this planet…”) as if I were explaining the ideas to myself. I ask myself questions and branch off if I’m not sure which direction I want the story to go. Eventually I’ll end up with basic bullet points for the entire story, at which point I’ll start breaking them up roughly by chapter get a little more in-depth with my outline. I often continue building on the outline even after I’ve begun drafting, especially if I have notes for continuity-related details I don’t want to forget.

This will sound terrible, but I actually have no idea how long all of this takes. The outlining for my early books took place back when I wasn’t keeping track of time at all (I can’t remember if I even used an outline for the first book), and my last 2 books have been written in the midst of my day job, so everything moves at a snail’s pace. It never fails that the outline comes together fairly quickly, especially if I can gain some momentum, and then it takes me forever to actually write the story.      

Where do you network most with other writers, authors, and creative types? LinkedIn? Wattpad? Twitter? Facebook? Somewhere else?

Author: I’m definitely most active on Twitter. I do a little networking on Instagram, and a little less on Facebook, but Twitter is where the majority of the meaningful interaction takes place.    

Struggles

Do you have any tips or recommendations for those who want to go the final step and become authors?

Author: I can’t speak for the querying/trad-pub process, but if you’re opting to go indie, and especially if you’re wanting to self-publish, my biggest piece of advice is to take your time. Do your research. Build your platform. Make sure your work is the absolute best it can be. If you want/need to hire an editor and/or cover designer and/or formatter, ask around in the community to find people who are a good fit for you. If you’re going to be doing your cover and formatting yourself, study other well-performing books in your genre and see what makes them shine (fonts, color schemes, etc.). If you make friends and build hype in the writing community well before your book is out, chances are you’ll have pretty good readership right off the bat when you launch. Some of those new friends may even serve as beta readers who can offer feedback and help you polish your story.

I say all of this as someone who got way too excited upon finally deciding to publish and rushed things. Frankly, my first book was not the best it could be when I published it (luckily it’s easy to correct typos and upload a fresh document to Amazon). I had no platform whatsoever other than the few people I knew in real life who’d found out I was about to publish. In the intervening years, I’ve redone all my covers and formatting, and I can’t help but wonder how much better all of my books would’ve performed if I’d done those things from the start.

So in short, I know it’s exciting, and it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and the hype. But step back, take a breath, and have patience—take the time necessary to create the most professional product you can, and you’ll be so much better off. Start strong.  

Are you a driven & self-advocating author, a gun-shy promoter, or a total marketing procrastinator?

Author: I’m definitely somewhere between “gun-shy promoter” and “total marketing procrastinator.” I LOVE creating spiffy promotional graphics for my work and sharing them, but I hate feeling like I’m being obnoxious. If I’m running a sale, I tend to post a fun graphic with all the relevant info and links, pin it to the top of my social media, and then sit back and simply hope people see it. I’ve always hated saying, “Hey, buy my books!” (no matter how nice I try to make it sound LOL) even if that’s exactly what I want to happen.   

Fun Stuff

What do you listen to while you write?

Author: I usually don’t listen to anything while I write—I don’t mind some ambient noise, but any type of music tends to be too distracting. Music usually comes later during the revision/proofreading process. I love instrumental music like movie scores, Two Steps From Hell, and Audiomachine, but at this point I’ve listened to all of that stuff so often that my brain forms associations with too much of the music and it’s just as distracting as lyrics would be. I do really like Ambience Lab on YouTube—there are a bunch of genre-specific ambience videos so it’s really fun to find some sci-fi related ones and get totally immersed in my work.    

What have you learned about yourself from the writing and/or authorship process?

Author: I’ve known for a long time that I’m the World’s Biggest Introvert™, and I was just musing the other day about how that means I want recognition for my work and accomplishments but still hate being in the spotlight at all. I imagine I’m not alone in this—it seems like the vast majority of writers tend to have introverted personalities. This whole publishing adventure has forced me to maintain a certain level of self-awareness; in order to see any success, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone to varying degrees over the years. It can be challenging, and sometimes it’s not very fun, but I think it’s been good for me nonetheless.

What is your favorite writing snack and drink?

Author: I tend to like hard candy that I can suck on absentmindedly while mulling things over—Jolly Ranchers or Gobstoppers are a solid choice on that front (pro tip: don’t eat an entire can of Ice Breakers mints in one sitting or your mouth will be raw for days). If it’s the weekend, you can bet I’ll have an ice-cold Dr. Pepper within reach—otherwise, it’s usually flavored water or Gatorade. In the colder weather, no writing session is complete without a mug of hot chocolate with a melted candy cane in it!    

You can find me on all the major social media platforms—I’m most active on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Hit me up! I always love chatting with readers and other writers, even if it’s about non-writing-related mutual interests like video games and movies.

Visit my website—www.ejfisch.com—to find everything you need to know about my work. Read excerpts from each book, find retailer links, check out concept art, and more.

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