Friday, December 10, 2010

Dishing it up with Jason Halstead...

Hi folks, Today I have the pleasure of having fellow eXcessica author Jason Halstead on my blog.

JET: I understand you have a release with eXcessica this month, can you tell us a little about the book?

Jason: The book is called Human Nature, which is ironic because it’s science fiction and there’s more than just humans in it. The American culture has a history of movies and books where humanity is on the defensive and overcomes long odds, especially in the science fiction genre. Well what if, I wondered many years ago while watching “Independence Day,” the aliens came and righteously kicked our butts?

A year later, after the aliens came and left less than 10% of the Earth’s population behind, the survivors are trying to recover and reform civilization from the ruins. Not only are they squabbling with each other but they also have common enemies in the many alien species that were left behind. In the midst of all this, a young woman with nothing left to lose has to come to terms with her own humanity. Rediscovering that is not only the key to her own survival, but the only chance the band of vagabonds she’s befriended has remaining.

JET: Your writing crosses several genres from erotica to fantasy, which one is your favorite to write and why?

Jason: Interesting that you chose Erotica and Fantasy as the boundaries. I used to write Erotica, but I grew disillusioned with it. Oh, the people who read it enjoyed it and praised me for it, but most of them were not after full-fledged plots and stories. I’ve even counseled some younger writers as they struggled to find their voice and almost without exception I encourage them to downgrade or get rid of the sex unless it advances the story or the character(s) in some way. With that said I still have plenty of adult situations in what I write, but I prefer sensual to visceral.

I don’t like the thought of being hidebound by a genre either. A long time ago, I wrote fantasy exclusively. These days most of my stuff has a science fiction flavor, but I’ve got another book coming out with Excessica in March of 2011 that is romance. My fantasy roots cannot be escaped either, as my Dark Earth universe blends fiction with fantasy and, in several novels I have in the works, a healthy dose of science fiction as well.

It was such a simple question too, why did I have to do this to you? The long awaited answer is I don’t have a favorite genre. I write about characters, not genres. I like possibilities and engineering situations that people can enjoy and identify with. Whether that takes place on a hostile alien world or while forced to lay down on the floor of a bank in the wild west while it’s being robbed is irrelevant to me.

JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?

Jason: Would I get in trouble if I said answering these questions? Just kidding, of course, this is fun.

The most challenging part of getting published was getting published. Truthfully, I haven’t put in the time and effort to deserve it. I don’t have hundreds of even dozens of rejection letters. I have a couple handfuls, between publishers and agents, so don’t think I escaped the wrath of the publishing industry. Still, I was fortunate in finding Excessica while doing research and thinking, “Wait a minute, if that story was published through them, why the hell can’t mine be?” And so I tried one out. I was rejected! To Excessica’s credit it was a shorter story, but I still think it was a fine piece of work. My finest piece of erotica, in fact. Go figure.

So I tried again with something I really enjoyed but felt certain stood no chance of being accepted. It was a fantasy novel with a few touches of science fiction, but twisted purely into a fantasy setting. It was fun for people interested in that niche, but I wasn’t sure there were more than a dozen people outside of myself who enjoyed said niche. It barely even had a touché of erotica in it, and Excessica seems to flourish on such titles. I stood no chance and resigned myself to forget about it while I waited the obligatory 4 – 8 weeks. Barely over a week later I received email that it was accepted.

Moral of the story? Beats the heck out of me – I’m still trying to figure it out! That was six books ago and I still don’t know why it was accepted – it just doesn’t seem economically viable. Many since then I think deserved it though, so I take my hat off to Excessica for taking a chance on me.

JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?

Jason: Aside from reading that initial acceptance letter, I’d have to say the most lasting moment for me had to be my first editing experience. It was not enjoyable, at least not at first, but it was traumatic. That same infamous first book and a certain editor who is sitting on the other side of the table. She raked me through the coals and called me everything except a heterosexual white man. But she did it with an angry style that brought out a writing style in me I didn’t know I had. The end result was something I was proud of, prouder than the original, and I learned a lot in the process. In fact, thanks to a couple of abusive sessions with her now I recently had a book accepted that required no editing aside from my own review.

JET: LOL – you make me out to be some kind of editing dominatrix - not sure whether to be honored or insulted *wink-wink*. Actually, Jason and I have a great writer/editor relationship and I am honored to be a part of his Voidhawk legacy.

Now back to the interview... Can you tell me which authors had the most influence over you growing up?

Jason: There are too many to name off, but I’ll see if I can hit the highlights that I remember. Tolkien, of course, but he wasn’t my favorite. Terry Brooks was an inspiration because he started out very young. Piers Anthony amused and captivated me with his Xanth novels. There were so many others (Lloyd Alexander, R.A. Salvatore, etc.) but I think my favorite author growing up had to be Raymond E. Feist. That man can spin a tale.

JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?

Jason: I’ve always wanted to take the plunge, I just never knew how. My mother still has things I wrote as a child. About seven or eight years ago I underwent a personal change – no, I didn’t become transgendered – and decided to take control of my life again. I went back to school, became a power lifter, and quickly learned that if I put my mind to it I could accomplish just about anything.

I often take a slow and methodical approach to accomplishing my goals, doing plenty of research and thinking my options through thoroughly to make sure I’m optimizing my chances of success. I think that may be why I didn’t use the shotgun approach to getting published but instead researched my targets and developed a strategy to approach them.

JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?

Jason: The thing that is great about fantasy and science fiction is that I get to make stuff up! Now with that said I’ve still done plenty of research, but generally I consult the all knowing Oracle of Google. Not very exciting, but the things I look up seldom are (medical conditions / symptoms, specifications on firearms, etc.). It also helps that I’ve lived a fairly diverse life and I have a personal treasure trove of useless trivia in my head. That helps with perspective and allowing me to dabble in many areas and skill sets.

But we all have something surprising, cool, or disturbing that we’ve stumbled across. For me it involved researching the myostatin gene and myostatin inhibitors for physical development. Cool stuff, to be sure, but even cooler is the living breed of cows that already exemplify this. Check out the Belgian Blue via your favorite search engine to see what I’m talking about.

JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite? Why?

Jason: Whichever one I’m working on at the moment. I can finish something and move on to the next one, then down the road go back to edit the first and fall in love with it all over again. Or sometimes my mind works in reverse. Just last night I was cooling down after working out and a bunch of great ideas rushed into my head for my next book in my Dark Earth setting.

It’s not a setting that captivates me, it’s the characters. Call it my God complex but I just love screwing with my characters and seeing what they can overcome. So far so good, nobody’s failed to recover and become a better fictional person because of it. Then again that just pushes me to work them harder.

That’s nothing, you should see what I do to the people I train in the gym…

JET: Any advice for the novices out there?

Jason: Lots of people encourage people to write for x amount of time every day or crank out y many words in a day. I’ve tried the former, on the written advice of R.A. Heinlein, but not the latter. In either case, I don’t see the point. If it’s there for you to write, then write it. If it’s not, don’t force the issue and crank out pure crap. Sure, I’ve made myself focus and come up with something when I knew I needed to do just that, but generally after a few minutes of corralling my brain into the right area it takes off on its own.

I think the best advice is to read as much as you can and send feedback to people. Critiquing other people’s work helps you develop the tools needed to view your own work with perspective. Along those lines try to butter up people to read your work as well and offer critiques. Take nothing personally, that’s a key component to improving. Yes, what we write is very personal to us but sometimes it’s horrible and needs an overhaul or worse, a funeral pyre. Remember that being successful as a writer requires an audience. Not listening to that audience and giving them something they like will make it even harder to get into the business.

JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten. . . starting with Paper or Plastic?

Jason: Why not canvas or burlap? They make those for carrying stuff. Reusable, environmentally friendly, and less prone to ripping when 10 pounds of crap is shoved in a 5 pound bag.

But plastic is cheaper and easier, and less prone to ripping often. Bad news for drinking and storing food in thanks to the things that leech out of it and into the food or drink, but we often don’t have a choice.

Do I have a preference? Indeed I do, and it’s to move on to the next question…

JET: Steak or Tofu?

Jason: Steak. I pick up heavy things for fun and meat is a cornerstone of a high protein diet for a weight lifter. The fact that it’s darn tasty doesn’t hurt either. As for tofu, that’s just all kinds of bad for anybody, but especially those of us who are proud of our testicles.

Hormonal concerns aside, eating meat and learning to cook it is postulated to be what allowed us to become intelligent, civilized, and essentially human. Granted, many news headings from day to day make me doubt the intelligent and civilized claims, but that’s me being flippant. A recent article in the BBC shows research and theories done by many scientists about meat and cooking, in all its glory.

Vegetarians need not take offense to this - it doesn’t mean their brains are shrinking or that they are spending their entire day foraging for food. Our society has managed to create all sorts of calorically dense non-meat based foods. Doughnuts or French fries, for example.

JET: Beach or Mountains?

Jason: Right now I live in Utah, surrounded by mountains. It’s pretty and offers all sorts of great hiking and other wilderness adventures. But, with that said, I enjoy the beach as well. In fact I had to sell my boat when I moved out here due to lack of many decent bodies of navigable water.

JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?

Jason: Country these days is not the country I grew up being forced to listen to by my parents. I love my parents, don’t get me wrong, but I grew up hating that stuff (with the caveat of John Denver and some bluegrass - go figure). So rock and roll is where my heart is, and while there is some good stuff these days the 80’s will live forever.

JET: Classics or Modern?

Jason: I’m not sure. I enjoy both to an extent. It would help if I could narrow this down to a topic though. For example, 9 times out of 10 I think black and white photography is a waste of time. We have the technology to do color, why not use it?

Other classics will live on forever (e.g. The Princess Bride or even The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Classic Dukes of Hazard versus the recent remake? I’m not sure - I had trouble watching the movie I kept being distracted by Jessica Simpson. (interesting bit of trivia, my first pet was a wonderful puppy that earned the name Daisy in honor of the original series).

JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?

Jason: I usually avoid both, but on rare occasions I will go for the B movies out of a desire to be amused by the sheer badness of it. As for silent films - you’d have to tie me down, drug me, and hold a gun to my head (not necessarily in that order) in order to make me watch one.

JET: Zombies or Demons?

Jason: Zombies are cliché. Mindless and slow, they’re not good for much of anything except overwhelming with sheer numbers. Demons, on the other hand, possess a talent for wickedness and cunning that makes them wonderfully sadistic. Not to mention their otherworldly qualities that make it very difficult to harm or banish them. And don’t get me started on the wonders of the succubus…

JET: Paper or Digital?

Jason: Digital. My day job is that of an IT professional. I build my own websites, write my own programs, plan and administer my own networks and domains. Paper is handy occasionally, such as during a power outage.

Given a choice between an ebook or a print version I’ve recently switched over to preferring ebooks. I have an e-reader (iPad - which in my opinion is overpriced and serves very little use outside of being an e-reader or something to watch movies on) and my recent book purchases have taken place via that. Far more convenient than going to a book store or even ordering one online and waiting for it to ship.

JET: Salty or Sweet?

Jason: I’d love to say I prefer healthy. I can say that, and I do. But, given the recent Halloween and the fact that my kids raked in a good sized bucket of loot during their wanderings I have to be honest. I do great until I walk by that damn bucket sitting on the counter. Once I see it I lean over and poke around, looking for something tasty and sweet.

Another answer that satisfies both cravings is a bowl containing a mixture of salted peanuts and candy corn. Try it, you’ll be hooked.

JET: Coffee or Tea?

Jason: Coffee, though only occasionally. I had a bad experience with some green tea a few years back. I don’t dare touch the stuff since. It wasn’t even the tea’s fault but the powers of association are mighty.

JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?

Jason: Working on a freebie, actually. It’s a shorter story (15,000 - 20,000 words) that I plan to make available for anyone interested. It’s taking place in my Dark Earth universe and while it is not necessary or even attached to any of the existing storylines, it does tie some things together and explain some behind the scenes details that people might find interesting.

Of course one of the real reason I’m writing it is to try and pull in some interest to my books and, in particular, the Dark Earth setting. The other reason is because I thought the premise was a neat idea - a man haunted by his past in an unusual way. That and I felt I owed it to my other characters to tie this in and help them have some closure in their own fictional lives.

JET: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog. Folks, you can find out more about Jason Halstead and his work at the following places:,,,

Jason Halstead works by day as an IT Professional, developer, and database administrator. From time to time he puts on a few other hats as well.

In his spare time Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, writing, and lifting weights. He enjoys reading and responding to fan mail as well, so if you liked any of his books, don't be shy!

Until next time…


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