5-STAR Fantasy / Sci-Fi

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Indie Author Interview: Ray Vazquez

Indie Author Interview with Ray Vazquez - Author of the Dystopian Satire Fiction Zeratopolis.

Interview with Ray Vazquez

Author Ray Vazquez
Author Ray Vazquez
Alan Kealey (Indie Author News): What is your (writing) background?
Ray Vazquez: I’ve been writing since I was seven or eight years old. In my youth, I mainly played video-games, like Mario, Mega Man, Contra, and the like, not to mention watching cartoons, like TMNT, Sonic The Hedgehog, Batman: The Animated Series, and Japanese anime installments, like Vampire Hunter D, Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, Akira, and Ghost in the Shell, among many others. I would get ideas for stories from playing games, watching shows/movies, and even reading game magazines, newspapers, books, hell, even the dictionary. Back then, I didn’t have much concept of distinction and originality, and just wrote stories for the fun of it, not caring if the material I ‘borrowed’ was mine or not. I remember I carried A LOT of notebooks, you know, the ones with the coils on the sides. Being a lefty, it sucked when I tried to write with a pencil, especially with the coils in the way. I’m really grateful to have a laptop, and not seeing tons of erasure marks on the page.

Who are your favorite writers, your favorite books, and who or what are your writing influences?
One of my favorite writers was S.E. Hinton, who wrote one of my all-time favorite novels called ‘The Outsiders’. I used to go to the library a lot, or whenever I was in a certain room or place with books, I’d just read nonstop. The Outsiders was one of those novels, and remains as scathing, picturesque, and trailblazing as it was since its release in 1967. It focuses on Ponyboy Curtis, a teenage boy who is part of a gang called the ‘Greasers’ (they have slicked-back hair, listen to Elvis Presley/Johnny Cash, and so forth), and they cross paths with the ‘Socs’ (kids with sweater vests, nice cars, and a hefty case of hubris). The novel featured quite a bit of violence, and even addressed death throughout, which really opened my eyes. Another incredible aspect of this novel is that it was written by a woman; most women at the time, from what I read, wrote about pretty girls doing pretty girl things with their pretty girl lives. Hinton’s novel was way different, and in a damn good way.

Another awesome writer is Ralph Ellison, who wrote ‘Invisible Man’, another fantastic novel. It revolves around a nameless African-American man dealing with life amid going to underground prizefights, rampant racism and discrimination, and even a Communist rally. Personally, Ellison’s portrayal of social and racial strife, not to mention his mastery of vivid, poetic descriptions, were what sold me on his perspective and writing style. For all the credit Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and other writers receive (and nothing against them as individuals or their legacies in particular), I felt he communicated the issues with more genuine brutality, honesty, and less soap opera-ish, postmodernist tendencies than Morrison, Hurston, and others academics like to champion in college English classes (also, I read Invisible Man on my own, like many novels I’ve read in my youth until the present day). Also, Invisible Man was published in 1952, so the history and timing of publication couldn’t feel anymore genuine and appropriate. Honestly, it’s one thing to discuss ongoing human-made problems when it’s relevant (like J.D. Salinger addressing his experiences during WWII in his prose), but when someone in the 90s, 00s, or even the 10s (2010 onward) focuses on a period that is long gone, it strikes me as not only unnecessary (since there are SO MANY writers who do so), but there’s this aura of pretentiousness and speculative whimsy (i.e. ‘What if I could go back in time and punch Hitler in the face, like Captain America?’) which prevents people from understanding what happened back then, and moving forward to solve problems plaguing humanity today (human trafficking being one of them).

As far as ‘influences’ go, I personally feel there is some difference between the words ‘inspiration’ and ‘influence’. To me, inspiration is more of the drive and willingness to perform some sort of action (i.e. reading about a public activist who strives to make a difference in bettering humanity, like Ralph Nader and the auto industry, for example); granted, I may not be a politician (and I hate politics with a passion), but that drive and willingness to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in my own way (via my written words/style) is more appropriate. Plus, I’m not a huge fan of automobiles (too expensive and I don’t drive), but I do love writing, anime, wrestling, and going on long walks around town.

As for the word influence, it’s more about people, say, watching Star Wars, and loving the different worlds, light sabers, ‘the force’, but tweaking pre-existing concepts into their own writings (basically, borrowing elements from other installments and putting your own spin on it, which is what many writers do; I mentioned my childhood and how I ‘borrowed’ stuff to write my stories while answering the previous question). Another example is the spawn of darkly violent comics after Alan Moore, another of my favorite writers, released Watchmen. Most creators only focus on the visual, exterior details and imitate the blood, sex, and angst, as opposed to fully invest in Moore’s perspective about government, the economy, and justice and UNDERSTAND why he wrote the way, and in the methods, he chose to.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I guess a better question would be: When did I start taking my writing seriously? As I mentioned before, I read S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders’ (many times, mind you), and paid close attention to the brutality and honesty generated from young people living in an adult-oriented world, a world not protected by rainbows, bunnies, unicorns, and raining sprinkles. I spent a lot of time beforehand writing several novels (only completing one or two), trying to appeal to a wider demographic. For example, I wrote a few novels under a series called ‘Dueling Dragons’, which was a fantasy/science-fiction mess full of foreign worlds that are eight to nine syllables long, filled with high-octane fireworks and planet-quaking explosions, and lame, generic dialogue uttered in most cheese-tastic action movies. I was big into Final Fantasy, specifically 7 and 8, at the time, and combined that with Dragon Ball Z, a classic anime series I dearly enjoy (flaws and all). Bottom line: the stories sucked, the sentences went on forever at times, I took too much from what I watched and played (even writing in power levels and all that unforgivable garbage), and nothing worked.

I tried my hand at writing a mainly sci-fi tale called ‘Atomeca’, which focused on two teen girls, Andrea Palmer and Charity Fauggozi, who were in a relationship, but again, the narrative felt criminally unsubtle, the emotions felt forced, the interstellar conflict was so formulaic, and again, nothing worked. My next attempt at a novel was Zeratopolis, the story that I spent the most time writing, and at the time, I started to realize that generic, mainstream, pop-culture fiction just didn’t feel right to me. I know I could do better, and I decided to challenge myself with the novel that would cement my foundation as an author.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Speaking of ‘influences’, the first major story I recall writing was called ‘Zodiac Warriors’. It focused on a group of different individuals who harnessed different elemental properties based on signs of the zodiac. For example, one character, named Colin McTaylor, was a guitarist of some band (forgot the name, but it doesn’t matter), but he mastered electricity; his sign was Taurus. He was quite stubborn and impulsive, while another character Claudia, harnessed wisdom (basically, she manipulated her aura into shadowy clones and such). Her sign was Gemini, so she was creative and unconventional. I was fascinated by the zodiac, but at the same time, I borrowed from another pre-existing, though lesser-known, property called Psychic Force. One of my all-time favorite fighting games, each character floats around in a cube, tosses energy/elemental projectiles at one another, and engages in combos and grabs in close range. Zodiac Warriors was more of the same Saturday-Morning-Cartoon, villain-of-the-day mentality, and therefore, not up to my current standards. But hey, one has to start somewhere, right?

Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a writing routine?
My process consists of a lot of reading, brainstorming, and some novice voice acting. I know it sounds weird, but basically, while I’m working on one novel, I’ll have random thoughts of series I’ve seen, games I’ve played, stuff I’ve read, etc. However, I make sure to read and research a bunch of creative media; say, for example, I want to write a zombie-related story, but I also want to set my story apart from many others. I would examine what traits/formulas are common among zombie stories (things like post-apocalyptic wasteland, deadly virus, societal breakdown, dark halls/areas, and so forth), but also, look at elements that might not be present (for example, how often do we see a human interacting with a zombie character, or rather, a person who can transform into a zombie and back into a human, some ideas like that). I used to be a huge proponent of copying others (and willing to do so), but nowadays, I do my absolute best to avoid imitation in every conceivable way (I’m sure someone will point out similarities in my work to something else they’ve seen, so it’s bound to happen no matter what).
Amid my reading, I brainstorm characters, plot points, locations, the flow of the story, and other elements. This process can take from a few days, to one or two weeks, even months on end. In addition, I often voice random portions of dialogue with different tones; for example, if I’m going to feature a strong, grizzled man, then I sound gruff and worldly, and if I’m capturing the appeal of young, spunky girl, then I sound squeaky and happy. This helps me get the characters and their personalities down pat, and it gives them a genuine sense of reality.

As for a writing routine, the majority of my story, characters, and dialogue remains in my head. I don’t have an outline, nor any notes, which I follow. I write whenever I can, and I like to listen to music while writing (Metallica’s Master of Puppets/And Justice For All, some Slayer, Pantera, Black Sabbath, and even video-game soundtracks, like Mega Man, Madworld, and Guilty Gear help me get those words on the screen in record time).

Please, describe your desk/workplace.
My desk is a little messy, I will admit, but functional. I’ve got empty Mountain Dew cans to the left of my laptop and around my lamp, which is always active whenever I’m at my work station. I’ve got napkins to the right of my laptop, usually for whenever I eat food nearby, not to omit some plastic bags for my garbage can not far from my desk. I also have my two external hard-drives plugged in (to help save my stories/files on a consistent basis, since you never know when/if your computer will ‘ride the lightning’, as mine almost did a few months ago). I keep my MP3 player on the right-hand side and just type as the music plays.

"The easiest part about writing is executing my style."

What do you find easiest about writing? What the hardest?
The easiest part about writing is executing my style. After years of trial-and-error, sporadic feedback, and research on others’ styles, it’s easy to craft sentences together. I have a tendency to mix descriptions with the constant-moving action, balancing substance with style. Here’s an example from Zeratopolis:
In the furnace area, another silhouette, with molten peach pupils, strode forth. Foreign flames of energy danced from multiple scars along a small, bony frame. After a few of the silhouette’s attacks, wires and sinew parted from the figures. A single word flared on the screen, which dampened the heart generator and armor lungs.
It’s intense, fast-paced, and pre-dominantly past-tense with active voice. I show A LOT in my narrative, though the dialogue portions are flexible with tenses and details, as shown here:
“My ears are losing the little precious hearing because of your friggin’ voice. Hit the road!” growled Jabez.
I enjoy creating imagery, but I have to be careful not to overload sentences to the point where things get cluttered and difficult to decipher. As for what’s hard about writing…mainly finding the time and motivation to write. Sometimes, I’m not up for writing, but I force myself to write through listening to music and lose myself in the fold.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Hoping that not only people read my work, in its entirety, but share it with others, and hopefully, make an impact on people (i.e. having people mention me as an inspiration for them to write, program, compose, or do whatever they wish in their lives).

Ray, please tell us a little about your Novel ‘Zeratopolis.’
The novel revolves around four pre-teen boys who died (due to different circumstances) and end up in purgatory, a silvery realm between the ivory skies and ebony seas. There, they gradually lose their humanity, gain cryptic, outlandish abilities (like one boy slows down time and summons an army of broadsword-wielding warriors, and another boy unleashes a black hole-type energy field with strong magnetic currents), and battle ‘illusions’, the physical manifestation of human-made ideals, beliefs, dreams, etc.
Zeratopolis is a satire/dystopian tale which exposes/confronts the ills of idealism, while tackling issues like conformity, survival, violence, and children living in a merciless, adult-oriented world.

Zeratopolis (Ray Vazquez)
Click to Read an Excerpt

What inspired you to write the book?
Aside from S.E. Hinton’s novel ‘The Outsiders’, I cite my long-lasting love for Japanese anime (and Western animated) installments (the good, bad, and in-between), in addition to 80s/90s rock/metal music, pro-wrestling, and certain childhood experiences (like being bullied by other kids, held back in special classes during my youth, and other things I personally didn’t experience but saw on TV, read about elsewhere, and felt appropriate putting in the novel). The same way Hinton’s seminal 1967 tale made strides in fiction, I wanted to contribute a story, which balanced humor, insight, and entertainment, and confronted issues which bothered me for the longest time (in this case, the abuse of human idealism to prevent progress from occurring, forcing children to correct their predecessors’ mistakes, etc).

Who do you see as your target audience and where can we buy the book?
People in the 16 to 24-year-old demographic, but like any other piece of creative media, there are those who are younger or older who will stumble onto my novel. As for where people can purchase Zeratopolis, I have a paperback and Kindle version available on Amazon. (See Links below)

"[...] called my style ‘a graphic novel adapted to words’."

What makes your book special?
This will feel like overlapping questions, but my novel comes equipped with a distinctive writing style (one person called my style ‘a graphic novel adapted to words’, which I have to say sounds very bad-ass and awesome), a plot that’ll blow peoples’ expectations (and separate it from all the revenge, family dysfunction, and saving-the-world BS populating the best-sellers list), the ability to explore topics (like idealism, conformity, and violence) with brusque, brutal honesty, and the potential to inspire a future generation of creative-minded folks (especially those dedicated to creating their own distinctive works, just as those in previous generations have done).

How would you describe the success of your book so far?
Not many sales, and attempts at further exposure have proven difficult to impossible (I use Facebook, I’ve e-mailed people to review my work, and have used word-of-mouth to the fullest). Though it is tough and can be troubling, I’m asserting maximum patience and confidence in my novel.

How long did it take it to write the book?
Ten years. After the failure of ‘Atomeca’, I started work on Zeratopolis back in mid-2003. After writing eleven or so pages, I put it down and did other things, and it wasn’t until a year or later that I picked it up again; the idea seemed too complicated and macabre for my youthful mind to comprehend at the time, but I returned to Zeratopolis and typed up the rough draft. I completed the initial draft in 2006, but due to the crippled prose, mixed tenses, and unnecessary descriptions cluttering the text, the novel endured three total rewrites, not to mention a constantly evolving style. This is the longest period of time I’ve spent working on my novel, and after numerous failures of getting published, bouts of frustration in dealing with the Writer’s Market guides, and mild strokes of depression from time to time, I was ready to give up. Then one day, early last year, I remembered there was a site I signed up for a few years prior called Createspace. I read testimonials about people fed up with not getting their works accepted by traditional publishers, which echoed my sentiments like a mirror, and after reading about their successes with self-publishing (especially with Createspace), I decided to proceed forth and prepare my final polished version. On September 14th, 2013, Zeratopolis was officially released on Amazon. No words, no amount of emotion, and no shortage of flailing limbs could express my deepest elation in seeing my own novel (which I spent my late teen/early twenties crafting and building) available for sale.

"Read…a lot. And don’t stop."

Can you give some advice for other Authors regarding the writing process?
Read…a lot. And don’t stop. Absorb every word, every syllable, and every trope, but here’s the trick: DON’T follow what’s being presented! Look at what’s ABSENT. Like my example of zombie-related stories, ask yourself what kind of element/approach to the genre/particular title you’d want to see, but isn’t present? Maybe a world where zombies rule, and humans are the targets? Maybe a little girl warms up to a lone zombie, and treats him/her like a friend? Maybe focus on a zombie who doesn’t crave brains?
There are many alternatives that aren’t tapped by the majority of writers, which is most unfortunate. I’m not saying those alternatives are not present; take the 2003 Park Chan-wook film Oldboy, for example. The man stomps the decaying concept of revenge on its rear-end, and creates a bad-ass, unique, and unpredictable tale. Also, Rian Johnson’s 2005 film Brick, which is a hardboiled noir story featuring high-school students. Awesome! Relating to stories, though, there’s Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Albert Camus’ The Plague, most of Edgar Allan Poe’s catalogue, Sir William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and others.
When working on your particular story, reach out to your friends and family, and have them read a sample (or the whole thing, if you wish). Also, have your friends and family spread the word about your work; as far as publication goes, unless you have connections in the mainstream publishing industry, I’d highly recommend self-publishing your work. You have a lot of freedom and ability to customize your narrative, the appearance of said narrative, and a network of people ready to purchase copies (that is, if you’ve talked to others first and mentioned beforehand…if not, it’ll be tough to gain exposure without social networking).

Are you working on another book project? Can you tell us a little about it?
Yes, I’m currently working on my second novel called ‘Virtue’s Ronin’. It focuses on a man, named Kaiser, who is born in ancient Mesopotamia (he’s royalty), and one day, he’s led down a hall toward a lone chamber, which contains piles of a mysterious blue ore called ‘Omnistar’. The crystals have liquid eyeballs swimming around, and emit a powerful, pungent energy current; Kaiser ends up bonding with the ore, which allows him to resurrect into different bodies (man, woman, or child) throughout time (either in the East, West, wherever). He spreads his ‘influence’ across the planet until the present day, which in the novel, is around 2051.
The novel, like Zeratopolis, satirizes a long-problematic, human-made invention; in this case, it’s religion. Kaiser builds an artificial paradise called Virtue, and gathers the masses to ‘protect them’ against ‘The Threat’, but like Zeratopolis, there’s more to the story than what is shown on the surface.

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?
Five to ten years from now, I see eBooks becoming more dominant (more so than right now), and the environment is definitely a huge concern at this point. That’s not to say that paper media won’t die out…there’s always a need for relics, similar to VHS tapes, cassettes, and vinyl records. But I think digital media will grow and become the focal point for future creative media, not to mention there’s plenty of potential to expand and bring out the best in said media via cyberspace. Not only that, but accessing any type of media from a search engine is easier than sifting through indexes at a library or other establishment.

What is your e-reading device of choice?
I don’t have an e-reading device, but I do have the Kindle app on my laptop. I use my laptop for EVERYTHING: writing, playing games, networking, the list goes on and on.

Do you write full-time or do you have a day job? When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I wish I could write full-time, but like many others in this world, I have to make my daily bread.  When I’m not writing, I like to watch anime/cartoons/wrestling matches on the internet, play video-games, and go for lengthy walks around my area. It helps fill those empty, heated spots on my life battery.

How can readers connect with you?
I have a Facebook account here: Link to the Author's Facebook Site
I also have a fan page for my writing (and other projects) here: Ray Vazquez Fan Page on Facebook
I’m on Twitter as well: @TheLavaBuster
and on Blogger: Link to the Author's Blog

Thank you very much for the Interview, Ray.

About the Book Zeratopolis

Zeratopolis (Ray Vazquez)
Click to Read an Excerpt
Four pre-teen boys died and found their way to purgatory, where they lose the faint remnants of humanity, and acquire cryptic, outlandish abilities.

Whether in the sky, amid the shadows, or beneath the sea, an audience of men and women, led by four distant, iron-fisted kings and a swollen, flesh-dependent queen, are focused on the departed children as they duel against endless waves of 'illusions', human-made dreams/beliefs/motifs made into physical manifestation.

Themes, like the ills of human-made idealism, repression, brutality, and manipulation, will be showcased.

Links to the Book

Link to the Paperback Zeratopolis with Excerpt on Amazon

Link to the eBook Zeratopolis with Excerpt on Amazon

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