Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Paradox Initiative Author Q&A with Alydia Rackham

Alydia Rackham, author of
The Paradox Initiative and
other novels and assorted
Happy Hump Day! Today, I've got a lovely Q&A with Alydia Rackham about her original novel The Paradox Initiative (following up on the review I did on Monday) and some of her other works including a little bit about her fanfiction, which I'll be doing a blog post about on Friday since that was how I was first introduced to her works. But for now, grab a drink, pull up a chair, and join us for our little chat.


Thanks for joining us on Drink Read Love, Alydia. I’m a huge fan of your work ever since I discovered your Lokane (Loki/Jane, for any readers who don’t know) fanfics when I was googling Thor and Jane . :D Eventually, that led me to your original novels on Amazon and now, here we are.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks so much for asking me to do this! What fun! Yes, well, I’m a full-time writer living in McPherson, Kansas—I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from McPherson College. So far I’ve written eight original novels, and quite a few fanfictions, too!

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I love being in musical theatre—at the moment I’m in rehearsals for “Into the Woods,” in which I’m playing Rapunzel! I also enjoy drawing, antique shopping, reading, gardening, singing, going on long walks with my dog Jack, and making films with my-brother-and-my film company Brilliance Films.

How and when did you get started writing?
I started making up my own stories before I could actually write! I did a picture book when I was very little called “The Girl Who Turned into a Mermaid” because I didn’t like that Ariel from Disney’s “Little Mermaid” decided to live on land! Once I could write by hand, I remember composing stories about Native Americans, and about lions, and horses. When I was in the 6th grade I wrote a Star Wars fanfiction (I didn’t even know what fanfiction was!) about Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker. Not long after that, I wrote my own rendition of “The Phantom of the Opera” called “The Opera Ghost.” When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided to make a go at writing my own, original work, not inspired by anything else at all—and I turned out a MASSIVE sci-fi novel called “The Stars Are Waiting.” Really, I think it’s about 400 computer pages long.

What inspired The Paradox Initiative?
It’s so simple, and odd, because it’s never happened like this before or since—but I was inspired by a picture of Garrett Hedlund. It was in GQ magazine, and it’s a black and white photo of him smoking a cigarette. I’d seen him before, in the film “Eragon,” and his character there actually inspired Oleron in my two novels “The Beowulf Seeker” and “The Riddle Walker.” But he looked so different in the GQ photoshoot—rugged, weathered, and a little sad. And of course, smoking a cigarette. Which, as we all know, isn’t healthy. I went on a walk by myself with these pictures of him swirling in my head, and Jack Wolfe strolled into my mind, almost fully formed. And I knew, to explore him correctly, I had to set the story perfectly, to make him a man out of time—and then gradually peel back his layers.  

What was your writing process like?
I outlined pretty heavily. I also had to write out my own Paradox Theory, which, I’ll admit, is similar to my theory of time in my “Weaving of Time” stories. But it makes sense to me, so I thought I’d use it. My outlines basically are bullet points with summarized plot points such as “They wake up, go down to cafeteria and eat. Wolfe doesn’t feel like talking. Kestrel is worried about her family.” Then, I just work down through the plot points. The writing of “Paradox” also included a lot of listening to various kinds of music. I made a very specific playlist. For the beginning third of the story, I listened to pretty much every song from the soundtrack of the new “Tron” movie (another one Garrett Hedlund is in, incidentally). From there, I also listened to the soundtrack from the new “True Grit” movie, the theme from “Legends of the Fall,” instrumental guitar renditions of “Shenandoah,” “A Thousand Years” by The Piano Guys—oh, and a great song by Corb Lund called “I Wanna Be in the Cavalry.” Go listen to that one! I am also a very visual person—I love writing in a cinematic style in which you can really see things, and people—and so I like to allow characters to be inspired by actors. I loved Emmy Rossum’s look, and so whenever I’d needed to “get into character” for Kestrel Evans, I’d watch an interview with Emmy Rossum. Whenever I needed to get Jack Wolfe into my mind, I’d pull up his photoshoot video for Men’s Health Magazine (it’s on youtube), put it on mute, and then play the song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” from the “True Grit” soundtrack. Even if I watch those two in combo now, years later, it snaps me right back into the world of that story.

Was The Paradox Initiative difficult to write? Did the story ever kind of take over and insist on going a different direction than you had originally planned or did it go how you had figured?
The only time it ever got a little difficult was when I think I felt like I was rushing the relationship between Kestrel and Jack a little bit. The traumatic nightmare scene came too early in the story, and when I started writing it, it felt wrong. So I cut it out and pushed it back, and rhythm was restored. But no, this story didn’t really prove very difficult. It was so different from the fantasy and swashbuckling that I’d been writing before it. It was refreshing—and I always loved spending time with Jack Wolfe.

What was it like writing a book set in the future, where you got to imagine the technology and all the changes that have happened, but based from actual US history and locations?
Interestingly, my first sci-fi, “The Stars are Waiting,” took place in a similar future! They were living initially on a space station on Mars, but they were all from Earth, there were no aliens, just advanced human technology. But I wrote that a long time ago! I’ve actually always loved reading, writing and watching science fiction (Star Wars is a great and deep love of mine, and I’ve also fallen in love with the new additions to the Star Trek films!). For this book, I drew upon my own travel experiences, through large cities such as Chicago and New York, on airplanes and cruise ships—and I heightened all of them. I accentuated the creepy feeling you get on an unfamiliar city bus at night, or walking into a dance club that you’re not sure you should have entered; and I put the usual airport security on steroids. I definitely modeled The Exception after a 5 star hotel experience married with a cruise liner—again on steroids. Oh, and my brother and I have always discussed that someday movies will be completely immersive, and wow, won’t that change the rating system! A movie like “The Almost King” that Kestrel and Wolfe went to could easily be PG-13 right now, in our cinemas—but if you had to STAND there and be SHOT AT by British troops…yikes! It was very fun just creating technology that could possibly exist someday without explaining how it came to be, because Kestrel is just so used to it all. It’s everyday life for her! 

Do you have a favorite character?
Oh, I love Jack Wolfe. He is so very interesting, and even now he isn’t fully revealed. He feels so very real to me, even more so than many other characters I’ve written.

What was your favorite scene to write?
The scene when they go into the pub that isn’t open yet—when the musicians are rehearsing, and they let him play the guitar. It’s right there that you realize that there is potentially FAR more to this man than you could imagine. That he has a gentlemanly side to him—something old fashioned, and genuine. Mysterious, yes—but good.

One of the things I love about this book is the complexity of the characters, and I especially noticed that with Dr. William Jakiv. Would you call him more of a villain or an anti-hero?
Jakiv is sympathetic due to what happened to his wife. We can all identify with loss and heartbreak, and he certainly isn’t out to conquer the galaxy and set himself up as an emperor robed in black. I did that on purpose, because I get very bored with antagonists who just cackle and dream of taking things over and destroying them. But I do have to say that, in my mind, Jakiv is a villain. He has no morality whatsoever. He loves his wife, yes—but he is not thinking of her when he does anything he does. He is thinking of himself, and his own pain and loss. He considers people who disagree as merely obstacles to be eliminated, and others who have talent are his tools and weapons. He doesn’t care what he has to do, what he has to become, in order to achieve his ends. Right and wrong are irrelevant to him—he actually doesn’t even consider such things. He is honest about that, with himself. And that’s why he and Wolfe are such polar opposites. Wolfe and Jakiv have undergone very similar losses. But each man has become something so drastically different, because of choices made. Wolfe has held fast and desperately to his true, deep-down character. Jakiv has thrown it all out. Which makes him an incredibly dangerous man. I will also say that I didn’t want to give him the appearance of evil AT ALL. So I allowed him to be inspired by a golden-haired version of Tom Hiddleston, to show, as Little Red Ridinghood says in the show I’m in now, “Nice is different than good”!

Jack and Kestrel kind of remind me of Wolverine and Rogue from the XMen movies, in some ways. Was that intentional?
Ha! Interesting! No, actually, I didn’t try to mirror that dynamic, however I can say that Wolverine is, in some ways, similar to Wolfe—his ruggedness, his scowl, his penchant for smoking and his leather jacket!—but peel away the layers and Wolfe is a southern gentleman who actually would rather not have all that prickliness and scowling and roughness. Kestrel, also, is a bit more of Wolfe’s equal, though refreshingly innocent, I hope! (I DO really love Wolverine and Rogue, though! They’re one of the strongest things that pulled me into the Marvel fandom!)

Do you think you might write a sequel or prequel (or both) to The Paradox Initiative?
I actually have a complete outline for a sequel. It would merely be called “The Paradox Initiative: Phase 2.” Because William Jakiv is not done with them. Even beyond death, he set plans in motion to influence them and to change what happened. This time, Wolfe and Kestrel are to be sent back in time, to Wolfe’s ORIGINAL time—and his wife is still alive.

Are you planning on releasing the sequel or is that sort of a wait-and-see thing?
I do want to write that sequel. I’ve had a few people ask me for it—if I hear more and more people ask for it, the higher it gets bumped up on the priority list!

Did you do any research into PTSD in writing The Paradox Initiative?
Yes, I certainly did! I researched symptoms, causes, and treatments. I definitely wanted that to be a part of “peeling away” Wolfe’s layers, and making him whole again. Underneath all that, he’s got a tender heart, but it’s been covered in scars and callouses. The nightmares are actually a turning point/breakthrough for him. He’s starting to face his past.

Is your writing process different for fanfics and novels?
Oh, only in one aspect: I don’t have to world-build or create characters when I write fanfictions. But other than that, I do still outline heavily, I follow the bullet points, and I listen to inspiring music.

What inspired your Lokistone universe fanfics?
A single line in the Thor 1 film: “What has made you so soft? Don’t tell me it was that woman! Oh! It was! Well maybe, when we’re finished here, I’ll pay her a visit myself!” After the second time I saw that movie, and discovered that Loki wasn’t dead and was somehow influencing Erik Selvig on Earth, I thought “How poignant it would be if Loki were to bump into Jane Foster, and use her to try to get near the Cube…but then he fell in love with her. Her, the one who loves his brother. Gosh, that’s just a perfect recipe for drama!” 

Did you start with an idea or list of the various installments of the Lokistone series or did you just start with one and find that it took on a life of its own?
The latter. I decided two things: 1) I would allow myself to be inspired by the films and 2) I would work it out so that ALL of my Loki fanfics had to be connected to each other. It provides much-needed structure in a series that long. 

I know you said on The Frozen Heart that that was your last Lokistone/Lokane fanfic, but do you think there’s any chance you’d find inspiration and add in some more later, especially with new movies?
Sadly, no. Now, I may feel like writing a little more backstory for Loki, considering that there’s 1000 years of lifetime to play with. But as the Lokistone has been used up to re-start Loki’s heart, it can’t travel that way anymore. I really did construct “Frozen Heart” to be a crescendo and a finale, pulling all the details of the series together. I loved doing that! I am just so, SO hoping that “Thor: Ragnarok” finds some way to do justice to the brotherly relationship between Thor and Loki. I adore that dynamic, and so far they have been screwing it up. I desperately hope they do better!  

How did the Lokane pairing come about?
My first thought was, as I said, that line about Loki visiting her out of spite, or some other motive. But then I thought to myself “What exactly do Jane and Thor have in common?” and I couldn’t think of one thing. Other than their impulsiveness, I guess, and that’s not really something that you can talk about over coffee. Jane and LOKI, on the other hand—I got the sense that they were both very intellectual, hard-working, and neither of them were getting the recognition they deserved. Both felt like professional outcasts, neither had been able to achieve what they really wanted, neither had been given the accolades they needed to feel good about themselves, both of them had daddy issues (Jane’s father being dead, and Loki…his are obvious). Both were rather rootless, and both were generally thought of as weirdos. Those are very fundamental things that can cause people to be drawn together, sympathize with each other. 

Fairly recently, you switched over from publishing finished novels on Amazon to publishing them in a serial format on Patreon, where people can pledge a certain amount per chapter to support you and receive rewards based on level of giving once the book is finished. How do you like that format vs. publishing a book once it’s finished? (for anyone who’s interested, I’ll include the link at the end of the blog post).
I’m really liking it so far—but I would LOVE more patrons! I enjoy the conversations I have with readers chapter by chapter, plus it provides me with a steadier income. Also, as the story progresses, it shows me if there is interest in this story or not! If there is, then I proceed with making it into a hardcopy when it’s finished. If there isn’t, then I don’t take the time to do that, and I move to something else! It’s very valuable. But yes, I really do love hearing from people as the story moves along, much as I do with fanfiction!

Do you have any tips about picking a publishing platform, editor, etc.?
I have tried almost everything concerning publishing. I started out writing letters to publishers, and then tried sending queries to agents. I’ve been rejected more times than I can count. So I decided to publish myself, in various forms. Right now, I’ve discovered that I really like Patreon rather than Kindle (Kindle books are sold too cheaply for it to be worth all the work) and I use Createspace and Lulu to make my paperback and hardback books. Createspace has grown easier and easier over the years, and it’s free to publish there, if you can do your own formatting—which has simplified greatly! I edit myself, using what I learned as an English major, and many times I’ll have a friend read my stories for flow and coherency. I would say that’s a wise thing to do: pick a friend who loves you who will tell you if any parts confuse them, and what parts they really enjoy. A reader who is critical and desires to change your style will ultimately not be helpful to you, but more likely be discouraging. If someone says they like some particular way you write something, do more of that. Read books about your craft. But yes, I edit myself, and if there’s a stigma about that—I don’t know, but it’s certainly possible to do it and do it well!

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading Scales[1] as you’ve written it. When do you think it will be finished on Patreon?
Thank you so much! I’ve really, really had a fun time writing that one! So close to my heart. The last chapter of that one will post  March 9th !

Do you have any other novels in the works? Do you think you’ll try to stick with one novel at a time or have multiple ones going?
Yes, at the moment, I’m writing a novel in the span of a month. I’ve never set that challenge before myself! It’s called “Amatus,” and it’s the story of a young man named Crispian who is missing an eye and a hand, and he lives in a land where the sky is dark all the time. One day, he meets a young woman with no scars at all (which is very rare) and she befriends him—but almost immediately the two of them are attacked and pursued for reasons Crispian can’t understand. The girl tells him a place where they can be safe—but it happens to be a place where Crispian has been told he can never, ever go.
I have found that I need to stick with one novel at a time. Which is why I have a goal to finish “Amatus” before I need to pick up “Bauldr’s Tears” again and begin posting it on Patreon to see if people want me to keep going with that!

Do you have any other projects you’d like to tell us about?
“Bauldr’s Tears: A Retelling of Loki’s Fate,” is going to be put on trial on Patreon—and if people enjoy that, then I will continue with it until it’s in hardcopy! I also have in mind “The Mute of Pendywick Place: A Victorian Mystery Series” (which Sherlockians will LOVE), and “The Rooks of Misselthwaite: Sequel to The Secret Garden,” and also, as I said, “Amatus.” I’m still deciding how I want to release that one to readers. I may post the whole book as one giant post on Patreon, and then in paperback on Amazon. I still haven’t decided! OH! And our feature-length film “Inkfinger” (in which I acted, and I also wrote the screenplay) is in the post production stage where the composer is writing the score and the sound-mixer is tweaking the sound—and it will soon be submitted to film festivals all over the world! Keep an eye out to see if it’s in a film festival near your home!

Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d like to tell your readers?
Only that I would truly love it if all of you would join me on Patreon! Four chapters a month, for just a dollar a chapter. But there are awesome rewards (like signed copies of finished books) if you pledge $5 or $10! My readers on that site are really enjoying themselves, and have had a great time reading “Scales.” I have so many more adventures planned, and I want all of you to come along!

Thank you for chatting with me!

Thank you so much for having me! What lovely questions!

[1] Scales is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is being released in serial format on Patreon, Head on over to Alydia's Patreon page and sign up to support her and read her novels! While you're there, check out the free chapters of Bauldr's Tears.