Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Conversation with Jason LaPier, author of 'Unexpected Rain'

Born and raised in upstate New York, Jason LaPier lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and their dachshund. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew. He is always in search of the perfect Italian sandwich.
His latest book is the space age noir murder mystery, Unexpected Rain.

For More Information

Can you tell us what your book is about?

In a domed city on a planet orbiting Barnard's Star, a recently hired maintenance man has just committed murder.

Minutes later, the airlocks on the neighborhood block are opened and the murderer is asphyxiated along with thirty-one innocent residents.

Jax, the lowly dome operator on duty at the time, is accused of mass homicide and faced with a mound of impossible evidence against him.

His only ally is Runstom, the rogue police officer charged with transporting him to a secure off-world facility. The pair must risk everything to prove Jax didn't commit the atrocity and uncover the truth before they both wind up dead.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

There are two main characters. Jax is just an operator who works on life support systems inside a domed city on a distant planet. He's kind of an underachiever, a little lost and directionless, going through the motions of life, and then everything is turned upside down when a whole block loses oxygen while he's on duty and he's arrested for the murder of the residents. Runstom is a law officer in a corporation called Modern Policing and Peacekeeping - essentially he's a cop for hire. He's been around a while and should have been promoted to detective, but because of his background, he's been held back. He seems to be the only one willing to question whether or not Jax is guilty of the crime and has to make a choice of whether or not to risk his career to dig deeper.

The third point-of-view character is an assassin called Dava. She's a significant character, but her arc is tangential to the murder plot that drives the novel and so she doesn't get as much "page time" as Jax and Runstom. As a child, she was "rescued" from the deteriorating Earth, only to find herself dropped into a dome on another planet and orphaned. As a teen, she was recruited by the criminal outfit known as Space Waste. Her role will increase dramatically in Unexpected Rain's sequel.

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?

I used to do a kind of partial plot and then just start writing by the seat of my pants. This is what led to two dead-end, unfinished novels. I discovered that for me to be successful, I need to plot from beginning to end. Now, let me clarify: my outlines always have a beginning, middle, and end, but they usually have a _lot_ of wiggle room in between. I understand the value of pantsing, the freedom to allow the story to evolve on its own. Personally, I need a minimum amount of structure to keep my momentum going, but I appreciate a level of flexibility.

Is it hard to promote a sci-fi book and where do you start?

I find it very difficult, to be honest, specifically when you're not writing Young Adult fiction. In this age of social media, any noise I make feels like I'm shouting into a windstorm. On the other hand, there was a time when no such outlets existed and the only way to get your words in front of people was through the gates of the media.

Right now I feel like sci-fi is making a comeback. Geeks are cool, and our culture is becoming more and more accepted. Sadly, this translates to film and TV more easily than it does the written word, but we're getting there. The great thing about SF readers is once they get a taste of a story, they want more, more, more, especially if you manage to create an immersive world for their imaginations to thrive in.

Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

Oh, absolutely. A book is a long journey. Sometimes you're going to get bored, distracted, stuck, lost. Those are the times that you need the next thing to pull you forward. Sometimes revisiting my outline helps - and it might mean re-writing some of that outline. Sometimes freewriting a piece that won't actually be part of the narrative helps too; I've on occasion taken a step back and written from the perspective of a non-POV character, such as a villain. The freedom of writing something related to the story, but not actually going into the book, can jumpstart creativity and get that momentum back. Lastly, when I just can't get a scene going, I draw it out. I'm no artist and I would never show those sketches to anyone, but there's that creative freedom again. It gets the gears of the imagination working and helps me get lost in the story again, which is where I need to be to get beyond the block.

What do you like to do for fun?

I read a ton, of course, and being a sci-fi lover there are loads of films and TV shows to consume as well. I try to get outdoor time when I can; my wife and I love to garden and to hike, and we live in the Pacific Northwest, so there is plenty of great hiking. In my day job, I'm a software architect, which is actually pretty fun too. Stressful sometimes, but mostly I really like it.

What do you like the most about being an author?

I've always sought a creative outlet. For a long time this was making music (first metal, then electronic), then it became game design. I'd dabbled with writing on and off but when I was writing quests for an RPG that I'd been developing in my spare time, I found I really enjoyed it. It was in 2005 that I started working on a couple of novels (neither of which ever got finished) and some short stories. I had the bug, and within a few years I was attending workshops and devouring books on writing and just getting more serious about it in general. What I like most about writing as opposed to my other outlets is the freedom I have to control the process on my own terms. Sure, I take feedback and work with editors and things like that, but the vision from the beginning is mine, and there's something empowering about that.

What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life?

I think I had several. The first time I completed an entire novel - after a few false starts with other novels - I felt like I reached a new level. It was proof that I was capable of going the distance. Shortly thereafter, I was a finalist in a very competitive short fiction competition. That was proof that I had talent.

But just knowing I had the capability and the talent only went so far. I struggled with being unable to get my work out there, into the hands of agents, publishers, and readers. I was getting to a point where I thought I might do something drastic... like, shelve everything and start anew or something. And then I got the call from HarperVoyager telling me they wanted to publish my book. That changed everything.

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?

Persistence is key. I have known some talented writers who became too frustrated to continue because they just couldn't keep the momentum going. Your best shot at success is to keep at it, day after day. I work a full time job - a demanding job - and I still find the time to write novels and short stories and blog articles and whatever else. It's daunting sometimes, but you'll be amazed at what you can build over time with just an hour or two a day. At first it will be slow going, but the more you keep at it, the easier it gets. And then extend that persistence from the act of writing to the act of putting your work out there - submitting it to contests, magazines, anthologies, agents, and so on. Never take rejection personally and instead see it as an opportunity to turn around and share that work with someone else.

No comments: