Our guest today is Jason LaPier, author of the space age noir murder mystery, Unexpected Rain. Jason talks about his publishing adventure with Harper Collins and how he divides his time between writing and developing software, gardening, hiking and drinking microbrew.
Thank you for this interview, Jason. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
Jason: I’m a professional computer geek by trade, but I’ve always sought a creative outlet. For a long time this was making music (first heavy metal, then electronic), then it became game design. I’d dabbled with writing on and off but when I was writing quests for a role-playing game that I’d been developing in my spare time, I found I really enjoyed it. It was in 2005 that I started working on a couple of novels (neither of which I never completed) and some short stories. I had the bug, and within a few years was attending workshops and devouring books on writing.
I love space age noir murder mysteries. Can you tell us what your new book, Unexpected Rain, is all about?
Jason: Jax is just an operator who works on life support systems inside a domed city on a distant planet. He’s kind of an underachiever, a little lost and directionless, going through the motions of life, and then everything is turned upside down when a whole block loses oxygen while he’s on duty and he’s arrested for the murder of the residents. Runstom is a law officer in a corporation called Modern Policing and Peacekeeping – essentially he’s a cop for hire. He’s been around a while and should have been promoted to detective, but because of his background, he’s been held back. He seems to be the only one willing to question whether or not Jax is guilty of the crime and has to make a choice of whether or not to risk his career to dig deeper. The pair must outrun corrupt cops and bloodthirsty gangbangers to prove Jax didn’t commit the atrocity and uncover the truth before they both wind up dead.
How did you get the deal with HarperCollins? Did you go through an agent?
Jason: In late 2012, HarperVoyager, which is a sci-fi/fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, was looking to add new authors to their digital-first initiatives. They held an open submission period for two weeks in October, 2012 and invited all speculative fiction authors, with agents or not, to submit. They were flooded with over 5,000 manuscripts during that time and it took them a full year and a half to select the fifteen they wanted to publish, and Unexpected Rain was among them.
Do you feel it was the right choice for you?
Jason: Absolutely. The deal helped breathe new life into a novel that I knew was good, but had trouble getting it out there. I sensed that HarperVoyager would ask for a series, and in my heart I always wanted to expand Unexpected Rain into a trilogy. So when they asked if I had plans beyond the first book, again, it gave new life to the story, a second chance to bring the full arc to fruition.
If you could offer your best tip on getting a deal with HarperCollins, what would that be?
Jason: I’m going to start with what everyone says: start with a good book. If you don’t put the time in to learning the craft, the time into properly revising and editing your work, you’re not giving it a real shot at getting noticed.
Second, with HarperCollins in particular, there are genre-specific imprints such as HarperVoyager that are looking for new authors, sometimes with or without agents. In any case, these imprints are engaging in digital-first releases. “Digital first” simply means releasing an ebook first, then releasing a physical book later. It gives the publisher an opportunity to drive marketing efforts directed at ereaders, as well as take a risk on unknown authors without printing up thousands of books. If you can find an agent who is keen on the digital-first initiatives, there are a lot of new opportunities for emerging writers out there.
Can you tell us one thing you have done that has resulted in one or more sales?
Jason: My ebook release was very recent (May 7th, 2015), so at this point sales are hard to measure. I can say this at least: I see a bump in sales whenever I do a guest blog post, or I do a post on my own blog that is interesting enough to share. Also, even though we’re living in an increasingly digital world, don’t underestimate the power of real world personal interaction. I’ve done a few events where I put fliers in the hands of people that I spent time talking to about my book, and I’m confident at least some of those people took that flyer home and made a purchase.
Do you have another job besides writing and, if so, how do you divide your time?
Jason: I’m a software engineer at a mid-sized startup. It’s a very challenging job, and it doesn’t always stay within the 9-5 confines. Weekends are big writing blocks for me, in particular because that’s when I have the most time to plan things out. It’s key for me to get _something_ done during the week, especially when I’m working on the first draft of a novel or short story. When I’m in that mode, I make sure to give myself an hour of uninterrupted time for pure writing every weekday. It’s not much to ask, and the value is in the momentum. Plus, when I do my planning on the weekends, I usually have an idea of exactly what I need to work on during the week, and it’s just a matter of consulting my notes and then writing. When I’ve left myself enough hints to overcome writer’s block, I can easily write a thousand words in that hour.
Also, I never go anywhere without a Field Notes or a Moleskine notebook. Being able to capture those fleeting thoughts on the current story I’m working on at any point during the day is essential.
What’s the perfect writing retreat for you?
Jason: To be honest, I do my best writing in cafes and bars. I absolutely love nature and don’t get nearly enough of it on a day to day basis, so if I were to “retreat” to someplace like the woods or the beach, I would be so distracted by my surroundings, I’d never get anything done. Now if someone invented a “retreat” that included cafe/bar-hopping – well, that’s something I could get onboard with!
What’s your personal writing space look like?
Jason: This kind of goes along with the previous question: I do a lot of writing outside of the house. I have a tablet computer with a keyboard attachment, and I have a bluetooth keyboard for my smartphone, and between them I feel very mobile. And of course, I have my notepads. But the mobile setup really works best when I am drafting. When I need to make outlines or revisions, I prefer to do that in my home office, with the big monitor. I have this ancient NetWare keyboard with the big chunky keys that I love. I can’t believe it still works, it’s about 20 years old. Other than that: a corkboard, a couple of whiteboards, a tall and overloaded bookcase, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar (when it comes to writer’s block, anything to get the creative juices flowing), and this great old poster of “The Stars and Planets”, from out of a NatGeo magazine in the 70s.
What’s next for you, Jason?
Jason: I’m currently working on the sequel to Unexpected Rain, which will be followed by the conclusion of the trilogy. Aside from that, I’ve been working on an unrelated book: a modern day private-eye thriller with some mind-bending sci-fi twists. And I’m always working on various short pieces – short fiction is where I allow myself to branch out and experiment.