- Why writing science fiction allows us to explore the human experience.
- Self-publishing and being part of the entire publishing process.
- There’s a new way to watch television which can help us improve our writing.
From initial conception to publishing the first volume, it was a seventeen-year journey.
Welcome to the nineteenth episode of Interviews from the Void, where I interview writers about their writing process, discussing the mechanics and physicality of the craft.
In this episode, I chat with science fiction writer Amy (A.K.) DuBoff about self-publishing and finding our own writing voice in the science fiction genre.
Arthur: You’re a prolific writer. Tell me about your journey to becoming a writer. When did you start writing and how did you get to where you are today?
Amy: I can trace my first real writing project back to fourth grade. We were given a writing prompt (“It was a dark and story night…”), and I began working on a middle grade horror/mystery/adventure novel that was starting to turn a little sci-fi/fantasy before I abandoned it. I might go back to that project eventually, but I’d need to figure out where it was going since I had no idea at the time!
I really started writing in sixth grade, when I was about 11. I’d been kicking ideas for the Cadicle series around in my head for several months, so I wanted to get words on the page. I wrote the first few chapters of what eventually became VEIL OF REALITY, and throughout the rest of middle school and high school I fleshed that out into a complete book. In college, I took several creative writing classes where I wrote short fiction and also got into screenwriting. Though I worked on Cadicle on and off—including a prequel novella that eventually expanded into ARCHITECTS OF DESTINY —I ultimately became distracted by real life and writing fell by the wayside.
It wasn’t until I met my husband in 2012 when I began writing again in a more serious way. I went back to the first two Cadicle volumes and tried to structure the series as a trilogy. It worked for a bit… and then I broke everything apart further into seven volumes (and then later combined the first three into Rumors of War as the series exists today). Around the time I was thinking about my publication options, a friend of mine suggested I try self-publishing, so I went that route. I was the best decision I could have made career-wise.
From initial conception to publishing the first volume, it was a seventeen-year journey. Since I published Architects of Destiny in 2015, I have written twelve more novels. Each book is a learning experience, and I like that there’s a new challenge with every new project. Being a full-time writer was always a distant dream I thought maybe I’d be able to do in my retirement years, but to have been able to make this transition now is amazing. I love my job!
Arthur: What draws you to writing science fiction?
Amy: There are a few aspects about science fiction that I really appreciate.
First, I love that there are “rules” in a sci-fi universe. I am a stickler for internal consistency, and sci-fi demands a higher level of rigor in that regard than fantasy, generally speaking. Now, those rules don’t have to be actual, real science (I certainly make up my own universal laws!), but they should be there within the story universe.
Second, I love that sci-fi is driven by a “what if?” scenario that’s within our real world. While fantasy allows you to explore other worlds, sci-fi lets us think about other worlds that might exist concurrent to our own, or the future we may have. This grounds it for me in a way that makes the genre an excellent platform for exploring the human experience.
Finally, a lot of science fiction involves space, and space is just plain cool. I was always one of those kids with the glow-in-the-dark stars in my ceiling and nebula posters on my wall. Looking back on my young self, I’m not at all surprised I was drawn to space opera as my primary sub-genre.
I love that sci-fi is driven by a “what-if?” scenario that’s within our real world.
Arthur: Science fiction – along with fantasy – has its challenges when it comes to describing a scene. Here, in VIEL OF REALITY, you’ve done a great job describing the passing of a ship into a rift:
“The Vanquish glided forward into the spatial distortion, passing through the event horizon without even a shudder. A wave of blue-green light slowly rippled across the domed expanse of the Command Center as the cameras around the ship progressively captured the transition into the rift. For a brief moment, the entire view was filled with the swirling color, and then faint stars began to show through the dancing ribbons of light.”
For this scene and others like it in your writing, how did you learn to do this? How are you able to translate the massiveness of space into writing?
Amy: Thank you! Describing scenes takes practice, and I’m certain the original version of this scene I wrote as a teenage wasn’t eloquent! My writing methods tends to involve describing the movie I see playing in my head. The clearer that mental video, the easier it is for me to translate it to the page in words. A lot of my process involves mentally hanging out in a location to get a feel for it, and then adding the specific action in afterward.
As for describing the massiveness of space, I try to keep things on human-scale as much as possible. If we were to describe things as they really would happen, ships would never see each other and there wouldn’t be that same “prettiness” factor as you’d see in a Hubble telescope photograph. Fiction books are an escape from reality, so I try to bring that romanticized view that is beautiful to behold, even if it’s not scientifically accurate.
Arthur: There’s a lot of genre tropes. Do you have a strategy for setting your writing apart from the rest of the science fiction genre?
Amy: I try not to chase trends, and when I’m working on a project, I strive to bring in my own “spin”. Most of my projects tend to break the mold a little with genre. Cadicle, for example, is set concurrent to modern-day Earth, which most space opera isn’t. With my upcoming Dark Stars trilogy, I took inspiration from the LitRPG idea and made “Final Fantasy in space”, but it doesn’t have the leveling and stats one would find in the LitRPG sub-genre. While these variations make the books more difficult to market, I think my readers have started to get a feeling for the “DuBoff brand” and know what to expect in terms of a character-driven book that will be a little different than mainstream.
Because the setup for my books is often different, I do tend to include some genre tropes that ultimately get turned on their head. ARCHITECTS OF DESTINY opens a lot like DUNE, but Cris is running away from his royal life, not embracing it. Wil is the quintessential good-at-everything genius hero, but he’s severely emotionally damaged for much of his journey. The character arcs drive the story more than external plot points, and that makes for different storytelling.
The character arcs drive the story more than external plot points, and that makes for different story telling.
Arthur: In your writing career, we’re there small successes and small failures that you learned from?
Amy: Many! In short, relationships are key. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today without my fellow authors, and I’m so thankful to be a part of the amazing writer community.
Arthur: Are you mostly self-published? Have you published traditionally? What are important lessons you learned either process?
Amy: I am mostly self-published with a few shorts through small press. In projects that were not self-published, I have learned that I really enjoy having control over all aspects of the publishing process, haha! I have come to cherish being able to design my covers, control the editing/proofing, manage the marketing… Okay, I’d be happy to outsource the marketing part. But, my point is that I enjoy having a hand in producing the final product. I want to know that readers are getting the best package I can produce, so being a part of each steps enables me to make sure the book is delivered how I want it to be presented.
Arthur: How do you promote and publicize your work?
This is something I’m still trying to do better. Right now, I mostly rely on Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and newsletter swaps with other authors.
I want to know that readers are getting the best package I can produce.
Arthur: Do you have an editor? Do you have any affordable editing resources for self-publishing writers?
Amy: This will sound bad, but I actually don’t use an editor for most of my writing. Before you blacklist me for poor form, let me explain… I have found that there is no substitution for multiple sets of eyes, whether that be for spotting typos of identifying plot holes. Instead of having one editor, I have a team of beta readers (for characterization, plot structure, etc.) and another team for proofing. Between these dozen people reading and commenting on the book at its various stages, I feel I can produce a higher-quality produce than I could with one or two editors. This process isn’t for everyone, but it works well for me.
Arthur: How do you approach character development?
Amy: I try to get to know the character as well as possible, including placing them into other contexts beyond the book plot so I can think about how they would react. This exercise helps flesh out their quirks in my head so I can layer in those idiosyncrasies. Once I have their general personality, I think about their starting emotional state and where they’ll end up, then bridge that transition with the plot points of the book/series. Many of my characters become good friends—or even a sort of extended family—in my head, and it’s fun to be able to breathe life into them. Now I sound like a crazy person talking about hanging out with the voices in my head. Such is the life of a writer!
Arthur: If you’re not working on your current project, how do you hone your craft? Do you have exercises that you perform?
Amy: If I’m not writing, I’m probably marathoning a series on a streaming service. Since I got serious about writing, I haven’t been able to watch movies/shows in the same way. Whenever I’m watching something, I try to be actively engaged in a way I didn’t used to be when I watch TV—now, I look for plot beats, character arcs, foreshadowing, and then analyze what worked for me and what didn’t. I try to learn from the good and bad to bring those positive elements into my own work. Earlier, I mentioned that I write as if there’s a movie playing in my head. Well, I overlay my book concepts into those internalized frameworks from what I have watched and let it play out from there.
I try to be actively engaged in a way I didn’t used to be when I watch TV. I look for plot beats, character arcs and foreshadowing.
Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing your writing wisdom with us here in INTERVIEWS FROM THE VOID. Be sure to check out her website and science fiction books. Looking forward to the next story!