Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Nathan Lowell – Nathan Lowell has been a full-time self-published author since 2012. He currently holds the position of Chief Financial Officer for the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Thanks so much, Nathan, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Nathan Lowell: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I don’t know that I’m good at it yet but I keep trying to improve.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
NL: I had a poem chosen for a middle school anthology in the early 60s. It compared yesterday and tomorrow because you couldn’t go there. You could only be in today.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
NL: No, because my published work is closely related enough that I don’t worry about cross polination. If I were to branch out into something vastly different, I’d probably pick a pen name.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
NL: “You’ll get there.”
JSC: How long do you write each day?
NL: Until recently, I only wrote when I had a story to tell. I’m trying to train myself to write 2k new words every day before I do anything else. That means I have to line projects up so I have a new one to jump to when the current WIP goes to second draft.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
NL: I used to read them all the time. I don’t anymore. They’re only a measure of my marketing reach and don’t reflect in any meaningful way on my work. I’m pretty sure of my reach no so I focus on just putting new books out.
When I felt bad about my reviews, I’d go read Nora Roberts or Steven King 1-stars. It helped me realize they were meaningless.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
NL: First draft is about 100 hours of writing (I draft at 100 words an hour). Second draft is about 20 hours. Beta readers have it for 3-5 days. Editor for 2-3 weeks. Final draft takes a couple more days. If I’ve done my work correctly, I’ll have the cover by the time I get to final draft and I publish it.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
NL: All ideas are equally brilliant. Execution is what matters.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
NL: I started writing in space opera because I objected to the nearly 100% overlap between military SF and space opera. I wanted stories that weren’t military but were still recognizably space opera and about characters who weren’t rich or the captain.
I started writing fantasy as a NaNoWriMo challenge in 2009. That year I had three challenges: 1) 50k in 15 days, 2) fantasy instead of SF, and 3) female main character.
I took the standard fantasy trope of girl getting puberty and magic to save the world and turned it so that when the woman lost fertility she gained magic and had to save herself.
Balance? What balance?
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
NL: Old people. While a lot of my books feature younger characters, they don’t get interesting to me until they’re older and have a few gray hairs.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
NL: Full-time. It’s my day job. I’m terrible at discipline and tend to let story ideas fester under the rationale of “development.” I’m trying to get better.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
NL: Generally I don’t know what the plot is until the characters interact in a setting and it develops. I’d LOVE to be a plotter but what I’ve discovered is that if I take the time to write an outline, I’ll toss it within the first 5,000 words because the story on the page is better.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
NL: Generally it’s a theme, but my current (The Wizard’s Butler) came from a fan suggestion that I write a story about the guy who keeps the Wizard’s tower clean.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
NL: I self publish. No rejections involved.
JSC: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
NL: 100 hours
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
NL: “Thank you for easing my late spouse’s last hours.”
JSC: What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
NL: Humility, empathy, persistence. It always amazes me how few writers have all three.
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
NL: “The End.” I almost never know what it is until I write the last sentence.
JSC: What are your favorite parts of publishing?
JSC: What are your least favorite parts of publishing?
NL: Formatting paperbacks.
JSC: What advice do you wish you’d had before releasing your first story?
NL: “Almost all advice is wrong.”
JSC: If you had a grant to write any book you wanted as a freebie without worrying about sales, what kind of story would you like to tell?
NL: No idea. I don’t worry about sales now. I just write the book I need to write.
JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?
NL: I’m always looking for artists who have the aesthetic I want and I ask other authos who did the cover for their works.
JSC: What was the most valuable piece of advice you’ve had from an editor?
NL: “This book isn’t publishable.”
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
NL: It’s almost always the one I’m writing now. I love the new book smell. Then they mold a little and get funked up until they get published. Then I start a new one and it’s my favorite!
JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?
NL: Not sure I do. Everything winds up in a book somewhere but it’s kinda like a stew. I don’t put fish in beef stew or lamb in a chowder.
JSC: I understand that your next book out will be “The Wizard’s Butler.” How did you choose the topic for this book?
NL: A fan suggested it when I asked my newsletter subscribers what I should write next that wasn’t “the next book in the series.” I got something like 80 suggestions but this one spoke to me.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
NL: I believe in them.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in “The Wizard’s Butler,” and how well do you feel you achieved them?
NL: I wanted to see why somebody might decide to be a butler and what it would be like if the master of the house was actually a wizard. It’s coming together.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
NL: Deciding on the setting and figuring out the characters. I went with contemporary fantasy (Urban Fantasy) because I didn’t want to write about a wizard’s tower or stuff. I wanted to imagine a modern day wizard. What would he do? What would his life be like if he needed – of all things – a butler. Then I needed somebody who’d agree to be the butler but rather than pick somebody who already was a butler, a character off the street who has to learn how to be a butler.
Wind them up. Let them go. See where they fall of the table.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
NL: John Ward. It was pretty easy. He gave me art. I told him what I wanted changed. He changed it. He read the first few pages when I wrote them so he had an idea of the vibe I needed.
JSC: Tell us one thing about them that we don’t learn from the book, the secret in their past.
NL: The butler was a sniper in Afghanistan.
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
NL: I’ve learned to listen to the characters. I haven’t had a character fight me since 2010 because I always give in.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
NL: The idea tickled my creative bone. It was specific enough to give me a story box to fill with a novel but general enough that I could find the themes to bind the pieces together so they’d fit.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
NL: Tanyth Fairport. She’s a 50 something itinerent herbalist with a body count. Seeing how we approach change in the later stages of our lives when most people think all their decisions are made was fascinating.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
NL: I always wanted to be a writer but my parents convinced me I needed something I could make a living at. I thought computer programmer would be good because they work in clean, temperature controlled rooms.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
NL: I spent 5 years in the US Coast Guard when it was still part of the Department of Transportation. Being at sea in a ship helped me really understand what working on an interstellar freighter must be like.
Most of my day jobs convinced me that corporate inertia is the single biggest failure of capitalism, perhaps bigger than the sea change the occurred when people who understood the businesses they were in got replaced by finance people who understood money.
And now for Nathan’s latest book: Cape Grace:
Son of the shaman is a shaman.
But what of the daughters?
When Otto Krugg’s daughter follows in his footsteps, he’s faced with the task of changing a century long rule that will force her to make decisions no one should have to make.
When Jimmy Pirano gets tasked with enforcing that rule – no matter what – he goes down the rabbit hole to try to find out who established the rule. And why they can’t let it go.
Jimmy found the restaurant by following the aroma of fresh bread and brewing coffee. A sandwich board on the sidewalk read “Fresh Coffee – Made Weakly!” A bell jingled when he pressed through the glass door.
A woman wearing a white bib apron and a welcoming smile looked up from behind a counter along the back. “Howdy. What can we do you for today?”
Jimmy took a quick survey of the room, mostly empty except for four women plying knitting needles and crochet hooks at a corner table. They surveyed him in return with variations on interest, concern, and a smidgeon of challenge. He nodded. “Ladies.”
He crossed to the counter and took a stool in front of the woman. “I heard Eunice Winston makes a damn fine apple pie.”
“You come to check yourself?” the woman asked, putting a hand on her hip and leaning on the counter.
“I’m willing to risk it,” Jimmy said.
“You want somethin’ with it?”
“Coffee smells good.”
“Tastes better,” she said. “You want some?”
“You want something with the pie?”
“Like what?” Jimmy asked.
“Scoop of ice cream? Slab of cheddar?” She shrugged and gave him a crooked grin. “Bowl of chowder?”
Jimmy’s stomach grumbled and he nodded. “Sold.”
One of the women at the corner table cackled. “Way to upsell him, Eunice!”
Jimmy glanced in that direction but all four of them had their heads down.
The white-haired woman on the far side of the table looked up from her needles, giving Jimmy a steely-eyed stare. “Not every day we see the big boss here. Makes me wonder what he wants.”
“Bet it ain’t pie,” the woman to her right said, shooting a side-eyed glance at Jimmy.
“Don’t mind them. They’re just bored,” Eunice said, pouring a heavy china mug full of coffee and sliding it onto the counter in front of him. “One tick. I’ll get your chowder.” She bustled off through a swinging door.
The faint sounds of crockery clattering came out of the kitchen interspersed with the clicking of knitting needles from the corner.
Jimmy looked over and saw the white-haired lady gazing at him, fingers working her knitting without looking.
“We know who you are, Mr. Pirano.”
He nodded. “I’m not surprised. Not everyday somebody drops a flitter on the pad, is it?”
A brief smile twitched at her lips. “Nothing travels faster than gossip,” she said.
“What’s the gossip say about me being here?”
Her fingers paused their task for a moment and she glanced down, pulling up some loose yarn before picking up the stitch again and staring him in the eye. “Says you’re fishing,” she said.
Her answer surprised a short laugh out of him. “True enough, I guess.”
“For what?” she asked.
Jimmy shook his head and sipped his coffee. “I don’t really know.”
She snorted. “Damned poor fisherman, if ya ask me.”
The brunette next to her snickered but kept her head down.
Eunice came back with his bowl of chowder and a plate of biscuits. She slid it in front of him with practiced ease and a big grin. “Get that in you. See how you like it.”
Jimmy leaned over the bowl and took a whiff. The blended aromas of onion, bacon, and thyme wafted on a breeze of fresh seafood. He looked up at Eunice. “Smells great. Thanks.”
She nodded at the table in the corner. “They giving you guff?”
Jimmy glanced in that direction and shook his head, grinning. “Not at all. Thing is, she’s right. I’m a damn poor fisherman.”
Eunice looked at the group in question and her eyes narrowed. “That seems like an awkward thing to say to the boss.”
The white-haired lady stared right back, never missing a beat with the needles.
“She’s right,” Jimmy said again. “I have no idea what’s in the water, no clue as to how to catch it, and nothing to use for bait.” He shook his head and stuck a spoon into the bowl in front of him. “That’s a damn poor fisherman. No argument from me.” He took his first tentative taste of the chowder and forgot about the audience for a tick while he gave the bowl some well-earned attention.
“Lemme check the pie,” Eunice said. “Rate you’re going through that bowl, you’ll be needing it sooner rather than later.”
The group at the table laughed but it seemed that maybe—just maybe—the ice had begun to melt.
Nathan Lowell has been a full-time self-published author since 2012. He currently holds the position of Chief Financial Officer for the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.