Today's Interview is with Indie Author Thomas Harwick - Author of the Science Fiction/Horror Novel Sons of Heaven: The Haunted - released in August 2012.
Thomas Harwick is a twenty-eight-year-old Christian, writer, poet, and musician/songwriter. He was raised, and has lived most of his life, in the desolate wasteland of Southern California’s Mojave Desert. It’s no mistake that much of his debut novel takes place there.
Sons of Heaven: The Haunted is Thomas Harwick's debut novel. Right now he is working on his next book project: A mystery novel titled A Shot in the Park.
Interview with Author Thomas Harwick
Thomas Harwick: I’ve actually been writing ever since I was nine years old. Most of my friends growing up were artistically inclined in some way. I’ve never been able to draw anything more than stick figures, so my ability showed itself in music and poetry. I wrote songs and poems when I was just a wee lad, and had published some poems by the time I was twelve. In my teenage years I learned to play bass. I played with, and wrote songs for several bands, but never saw it as my future. I’ve spent most of my twenties learning to write actual stories, and discovering that writing is what I want to do with my life. It is my calling.
I took a few classes, and wrote some stories and articles, while working a job in retail. I published a Christian Devotional article with Mustard Seed Ministries, did some promotional E-mail work with the Pocket Testament League, Published another poem, but for the most part I still wasn’t giving my writing career 100 percent. A year and a half ago I spent some time praying, and talking to my family, and decided it was time to take at least one good, all or nothing shot at my dream.
I left my retail manager job, moved back in with my family, and have spent my time writing. Out of that came my first full length novel Sons of Heaven: The Haunted, some exciting projects with animation company Utmost Studios, and what has become a crash course in marketing and self publishing. It’s been a ton of work, but a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to the future.
Who are your favorite writers, your favorite book, and who or what are your writing influences?
I am a big fan of the classics. As a result, I probably don’t read as many contemporary Authors as I should, but I do have a few favorites. George R.R. Martin is a favorite of mine, especially the Song of Ice and Fire series. Ted Dekker is another favorite, as well as frank Peretti. I’m a mystery fan, and I think Michael Connelly is my favorite modern mystery writer. Rex Stout will always be my all time favorite for his Nero Wolfe series, and I pattern my mystery style after him, and Raymond Chandler.
Robert Louis Stevenson is also a big favorite of mine. Treasure Island is my favorite book, but I also love The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Suicide Club stories among others. Edgar Allan Poe of course is a big influence, and Bram Stoker whom I consider a master at writing in different voices. The Brothers Grimm have been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, as well as Hans Christian Anderson. I could probably go on for awhile on this subject, so I guess I’ll stop here.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
I have two different routines sadly. One is the routine I try to have; yard work in the cool of the morning, and writing during the hot hours of the day, followed by more work in the cool of the evening, and marketing and promo work at night.
The second is the routine that I tend to fall into a little too often; waking up late thanks to a long night playing virtual goalkeeper on FIFA 11, staring at a blank screen for a few hours before giving up and checking my Facebook, and then hiding from my two year old niece who sees any time I am on the computer as an opportunity to force me to watch the Gummy Bear song at least a hundred times, and then a late night of Minecraft and more FIFA.
"[It's hard] having the discipline to sit down every day..."
What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
I’ve always been more of an idea man, so crafting an idea for a story has always come natural. What I find hard sometimes is having the discipline to sit down every day and pound out the details of those ideas. Sometimes I get so excited about a certain scene in my head that I’ve already run through it several times in my mind while trying to type it out on the page. I get so ahead of myself that it’s hard to keep working on that scene because my brain has already moved on to the next one.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I guess I already covered this a little. I have had the passion since I was young, but was in my twenties before I really saw writing as a career.
Thomas, please tell us a little about your debut novel 'Sons of Heaven'.
The story is being recounted by the Main Character Isaac, who is a survivor of an event known as the “Haunting.” After a virus unlike anything the world has seen before leaves major cities in several countries quarantined, a mysterious corporation sweeps in with a revolutionary treatment based on alternative stem cell research techniques. The treatment allows the body to revert and reformat existing cells and use them to combat the virus. As you might expect in a story like this everything appears to be going even better than expected, and then it all goes terrifyingly wrong. Communications in and out of the quarantined zones are restricted, and the public is not given much of an explanation. When the military begins escorting researchers and medical personnel into the quarantined areas the only reason given is that the treatment has had an unforeseen reaction to the virus, and they are working towards correcting the problem. They claim the treatment can still fight the virus, and the situation is under control.
Since this next part gets a little more complicated, and since I usually mess it up when I try to tell it, I’m going to let Isaac tell it. This is his story after all. I would introduce him better, but even I knew little about him, for reasons I will let him explain.
“My name is Isaac. I was forced to kill my own wife to keep her from becoming a monster, and I have spent all my time from then until now determined to make those responsible pay for their actions. Those are all the facts about me that are pertinent. A friend once told me that everything we once were died when the Haunted took over. What we did, who we were, who we knew, all was irrelevant now. Because of his words I won’t waste time telling any of my personal history. Instead you will hear only of our history from the time of the Haunted on. Everything else is just the distant dreams of a different time.”
“Zombies - that is how they describe them, but that is not what they are. This is not the movies, and this is no zombie apocalypse, this is something far worse. Those of us surviving still in this nightmare have taken to calling them the Haunted. The name is in reference to the beginning symptoms shown in those who turn. It begins simply enough with recurring nightmares of past trauma, or things you wish you could change. The nightmares persist and eventually you stop sleeping, but they don’t go away. Next you begin to hallucinate. This stage is The Call. It is followed by heightened physical abilities. You become faster, stronger, more aggressive, and self healing. Your body begins to regenerate tissue, even bones and organs, and at an astonishing rate. Bullets, knives, fire, nothing kills you, but you feel every ounce of pain.”
“Some think that the mind is unable to comprehend the idea of immortality and suffers a break with reality. Others theorize that there is a physical change that alters the mind; either way those who reach this stage begin inflicting harm to themselves, usually by cutting. The more they try to harm themselves, the more they see the futility of it, and the deeper they sink into the break until reality is no more. What happens next is also a topic of some debate.”
“There is no way to know why they become violent because at this stage speech, and it appears rational thought, is lost. Whatever the reason is they do become increasingly violent, although bloodthirsty is probably a better word for it. These are not stumbling corpses ambling about feasting on brains as in Hollywood, or some teenager’s video game. These are possessed shells of former loved ones intent on killing. They are stronger, faster, and more aggressive than us, not to mention self healing.”
“The Corporation assembled teams of scientists and medical personnel to cross into the quarantined areas around the world to study the new disease, and administer new treatments. They sacrificed themselves to help us at ground zero, but no one told us that many of our supposed saviors were the very ones who had damned us from the very beginning. Whatever they told you happened here is a lie. This is no virus, no random disease, not even divine wrath. The cure is the disease, and it was very man made. Worse yet, as I have recently discovered, everything has been going more or less according to plan.”
|Click to Read an Excerpt|
What inspired you to write the book?
Well, that is actually pretty interesting. This book was originally two separate stories, formed from three different ideas. I will try to sum them up in a non convoluted manner.
The first story was inspired by an article I saw on stem cell research. This was way back when the debate about using embryos for stem cells first started raging, or at least when I first heard about it. I read an article about researchers who were looking for an alternative source. Basically what they came up with was a way to revert existing cells in the human body back to their T cell stage. From there the cells could be programmed, so to speak, into being any kind of cell they needed, including stem cells. Well, as a writer the first thing I asked myself was how could I make this go completely, horrifyingly, wrong?
Originally I had a conspiracy story about a secret society that used this process to make its members more or less immortal. They used the cure to all disease as leverage to force themselves into positions of power, and then triggered a chain of events that led to an apocalypse... yada yada... long story short that idea got shelved for years.
Years later my friends and I became huge fans of the zombie apocalypse scenario. We talked so much about what we would do, where we would go, who we would team up with, that an idea popped into my head. What if a group of people wanted to be in a zombie apocalypse so bad they created one on purpose? I didn’t want any old zombie apocalypse though; it’s been done too much. I remembered my stem cell story, and I started working the two ideas together. But I still hadn’t met Isaac.
The idea for Isaac came from, of all places, a Louis L’Amour western. The book was called Flint. In the beginning of the book the main character Flint finds out that he has a terminal disease, and the book moves on from there. I thought that was a very cool, dark way to begin a novel. I wondered what it would be like to start a zombie story with the main character already infected, and trying to hunt down the people responsible. This of course morphed over time, and instead of Isaac being infected from the onset, I started with his wife being infected and starting to turn.
The ideas changed, and evolved somewhat since I put all three of them together, and eventually I got Sons of Heaven: The Haunted.
Who do you see as your target audience and where can we buy the book?
You can purchase this book on Amazon, both as an E-book and a paperback, and also on Smashwords Premium.
What is my target audience? The thing about this book is that there are two story lines running through it. Any fan of horror or suspense will love watching Isaac make his way through the carnage of the Haunted, the gang infested city, and biker controlled freeways, and heavily guarded research facilities; all while unraveling a twisted conspiracy that could bring an end to everything. The obvious demographic would probably be the 18-30 year olds, especially gamers.
There is a second, deeper thread running through the story however that appeals to a completely different audience. I am a Christian, and that tends to make its way into my writing. I try not to push my Christianity into my story because it will ring false, but I don't want to suppress my beliefs either because that will too. I try to let the good in with the bad and be honest. I believe in original sin, and the fact that man's sinful nature usually takes his most noble intentions and turns them to crap. But I’m not afraid to have the doubts, and confusion that I have felt in my own walk seep in too. I have shown this story to not only my family, but several Christian men and women of different ages ranging from 20 all the way to mid fifties, and they all loved it! One of the ways I managed this is I don't bother writing a Christian world, because I don't live in one. I don't even write a Christian story per se. It isn't an allegory either (though I have no problem with those). Rather I spend my time creating a few strong Christian characters, and letting realistic things develop between them and the other characters.
Isaac is not a Christian, but his wife is. She dies in the first chapter and he is left with conflicting feelings. He always semi mocked her faith, but now he finds the strength she found through it to be one of the things he misses about her. He can't understand a concept like Heaven, and would dismiss it as absurd, but now he wishes he could believe it because he misses his wife. That conflict becomes a second story of sorts as he keeps coming difficult choices between faith and vengeance. I believe that Isaac’s inner turmoil combined with a vivid world, rich characters, a twisted plot, and terrifying monsters, makes this book appealing to a wide variety of age groups and demographics.
How would you describe the success of your book so far? (Sales, Awards, Reviews)
It’s early, but I’ve been pleased. I published on the 18th of August, and really haven’t marketed very heavy yet. I wanted to take my time learning the ins and outs, and building contacts, before I really started putting it out there. Even so I’ve managed to sell more than a few paperbacks and E-books. Aside from the great work you have been doing for me, I also have just completed a promo video on Youtube, and have several other promotional wheels turning. I believe in this book, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
As far as awards, it was a semi finalist in the “2012 William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition.” That was pretty exciting, because the deadline to enter came before I was able to edit my story properly. It is encouraging to know that the rough version of my book was enough to semi final.
"This book was actually my entry in last year’s NaNoWriMo..."
How long did it take it to write the book?
This book was actually my entry in last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but I’d be lying if I said I wrote it in a month. I wrote over half of it that month, took a break for a while to work on other projects, and finished it in a couple months. Editing and proofreading, plus having a focus group read and comment on it, plus adding a few extras for my supporters, took the time to probably 6 months. I plan to cut that time down on the next projects if possible, but I will never sacrifice quality for meeting a deadline... that’s what is nice about being indie.
Please, tell us where you self-published the book.
I published on Amazon, both as an E-book and a paperback, and also on Smashwords Premium. Because I published through Smashwords you can also find it on Ibooks and several other sites.
How smooth went the self-publishing process? Any issues? What are things to look for when self-publishing a book?
It actually did go pretty smoothly, but it was still quite the learning experience. My biggest thing with the E-book portion was getting out of the paperback mode. What you have to remember about E-books is that they are designed to be read as if it is one continuous page. If you try to make your chapter heading always be at the top of a new page, or you have excessive line breaks, or your chapter headings are very large, these things show up wonky on the e-reader. There will be large gaps, or even whole blank pages, and just a slew of things that might bug the reader.
Did you hire an editor and/or Cover Designer for your book?
No actually. This is one area where God blessed me with a major advantage over many other indie writers. Those artistic kids I mentioned growing up with in an earlier question, they grew up and started an animation studio. The Cover was done by Douglas McCalebb, who is the incredibly talented concept artist of the group. The touch up work, and back cover of the paperback was done by Matt McCartin, the computer animator, and CEO of the company. They also put together the amazing promo video I mentioned earlier. We even used a piano piece I wrote that was recorded, and arranged by Matt’s younger brother Jonathan.
I also had editors, and again was blessed with them ahead of time. My mother the teacher, and decorated officer of the grammar police, is my spelling and grammar editor. My Aunt Maggie, who went to school to become a librarian, is my form and style editor. And my Uncle Jeff, the Air Force computer whiz, is the guy who lectures me on all the technical things I get wrong in my books. I.e. Calling a pistol’s magazine a clip (dear Lord, I’ll never do that again.)
After my three editors chewed it up and spit it out, I went through the book a good three more times just to make sure.
"... take [your] time and do it right."
Can you give some tips for other Indie Authors regarding the writing and self-publishing process?
It can get a little tedious, but I would encourage anyone doing it to take their time and do it right. Smashwords had a wonderfully comprehensive tutorial for the process, and I would encourage anyone self publishing to go read that first. It helped me a ton. After that I would just say, don’t be afraid of sounding stupid, ask lots of questions. I found people in the writing community who were just amazing at answering my questions, and helped me a lot.
Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
Certainly! I have many projects floating around waiting for that spark that gets them going, but there are a few I am actively working on. I am currently working on the sequel to Sons of Heaven: The Haunted called Sons of Heaven: Shadows. The first chapter is actually included in The Haunted, and I hope to have it done and published before the New Year.
I also am about halfway through my mystery novel A Shot in the Park. It is another idea that was shelved for awhile but has recently taken shape. I don’t want to give away much, but I will say that it follows a bounty hunter and a small town cop as they try to solve the murder of a bum who turns out to be more than he seems. It has small time crooks, big time crooks, hired guns, a runaway bookie, and a lot of twists and turns.
Are you planning to move forward as an Indie author or are you looking forward to have one of your next books to be traditionally published?
Hey, I won’t lie, the idea of having a publisher behind me was very tempting early on. I would never rule that out, but it would have to be the right one. Being part of the Indie scene is amazing, and it provides a lot more freedom, but a lot more responsibility. That suits me though. Having the final say on your book, not having to wait on someone else’s timetable, being able to set up a nice long term marketing plan, and not having to worry about your novel being pulled in 3-6 months if it isn’t selling through the roof, those things are priceless. I never like to rule out anything, but I will say that it will have to be one heck of a publisher, with a sweetheart of a deal. I love being an Indie!
"...that’s what is scaring publishers."
Where do you see the book market in 5 or 10 years? Will there be only eBooks and will book stores disappear like record stores disappeared?
I don’t think so, not at all. I think the landscape might change. T.V may have killed the radio star, but it didn’t kill radio. The internet has caused Newspapers to try and utilize the web more, but I don’t think newspapers will ever be completely dead. I don’t think physical books, and bookstores, will ever disappear. I do think there is a shift in the landscape happening though.
Believe it or not, I don’t own an E-reader. I have always preferred a physical book. There is something about holding that paperback in your hands that a Kindle just can’t capture. My love of paperbacks caused me to be against E-readers initially; until I started seeing them more as a supplement, or maybe more appropriately, a different kind of library. When I am paying hard cover, or even paperback, prices for a book I tend to stick to known authors. I don’t always venture out into untested waters as much as I should as a reader; but you lower that price down to E-reader prices, and suddenly I am much more willing to take a chance on an unknown. That is how the landscape is changing, and that’s what is scaring publishers.
That being said, if I find an unknown I really like, chances are good I’ll want to display them on my bookshelf. I want to support them. I want to lend that tattered old book out and make my friends read it. That’s why you can still listen to the radio, read the newspaper, and buy a CD. That’s why I still publish paperback... but I still e-publish too, I’m not a dummy!
Do you write full-time or do you have a day job?
Well, as I mentioned earlier I left my day job to write full time. It was a scary proposition leaving the security of a good job for the hope of a dream, and I wouldn’t recommend that path to everyone, but sometimes you just get that now or never feeling and you have to give your best shot; even if you take some shots along the way.
I do have an exciting business opportunity in the works however. Very few people have been privy to this, so you are getting a bit of an exclusive here. While Matt from Utmost and I were working on my promo video, we had two interesting observations. The first was that I had to go to so many different places for my services while marketing this book. The editing, publishing, marketing, cover art and video, everything was a different service.
The second observation was that between me, and all the connections I’ve made, and Utmost Studios, we have the ability to do every one of those things. I have a heart for Indie Authors who are in the same place I was not too long ago, and I would love to help them with what I have learned so far. So Matt and I are taking the next six months to sit down and iron out an actual business model, and basically just figure out all the details. If it all works out we will be providing a one stop shop for Authors that will be akin to how we all wish publishers worked, but you will keep all the rights and pay us a one time fee.
So, currently I have no day job, but something is in the works.
How can readers connect with you?
Readers can keep up with all my latest projects and news at my website and connect with me via Twitter [see Links below]
Thank you so much for the Interview, Thomas.
About the Book - Sons of Heaven: The Haunted
A virus unlike anything the world has seen before hits major cities in several countries around the world, killing millions, and causing an immediate quarantine of the infected cities. There is no logic to the infection pattern, and very little is known about the virus, except that it appears able to mutate and adapt to any treatment designed to stop it. The situation grows darker, until miraculously a cure is found
A mysterious corporation comes forward promising a cure, not just for the virus, but for disease in general. While attempting an unusual form of stem cell research they have stumbled upon a treatment that allows the body to break down and reformat cells, and use them to fight the virus.
The cure appears to work even better than anyone could have predicted, and then the quarantine zones go dark. The only information released to the public is that the cure has had an unforeseen “reaction” to the virus. Communications have been severed to avoid panic, but the situation in under control. Rumors abound, stories about superhuman creatures, and the dead rising. When the military escorts teams of scientists and medical personnel into the quarantine zones words like apocalypse, and zombies, begin to be whispered, but no one truly knows what is happening behind those barriers.
Isaac is a survivor trapped in the Southern California Quarantine zone. The story is told from his perspective as he retells his story, starting from his wife’s death, through his discovery of the terrifying truth of the “Haunted”, and the mystery behind a secret society known only as “The Sons of Heaven”.
Links to the Author and the Book
Link to Thomas Harwick's Website
Connect with Thomas Harwick on Twitter: @ThomasWHarwick
Link to the eBook Sons of Heaven on Amazon with Excerpt