Tuesday 20 February 2024

An Interview with Christopher D. Schmitz

February’s FTRS featured reader is Christopher D. Schmitz, the author of several Science Fiction and Fantasy series, including 50 Shades of Worf, Wolves of the Tesseract, and Curse of the Fey Duelist, which includes his most recent work, The Crow and the Troll (TreeShaker), a dark fantasy about “a contract killer, a gorgeous victim, and a mystic garden hidden beyond the Winter Court.” He is also the author of The Indie Writer’s Bible Workbook

The Final Thursday Reading Series takes place on February 29 at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There will be an open mic at 7:00 p.m. (bring your best five minutes of original creative writing). Christopher D. Schmitz takes the stage at 7:30. The featured reading will also be simulcast on Zoom. Click HERE to register for a link. 

Interview conducted by Jim O’Loughlin. 

JIM O’LOUGHLIN: Though you write in a range of genres, a lot of your books have been Science Fiction. Can you talk about what drew you (and continues to draw you) to Sci-Fi?
CHRISTOPHER D. SCHMITZ: I’ve always loved Science Fiction. I was watching a YouTube channel just this morning run by a guy roughly my age. He claimed the 90s were not some golden age of anything except for Science Fiction television. He’s definitely wrong, except for Sci-Fi being great TV programming in that decade. Not only was I watching it, but I was also reading it. I read lots of Golden Age and Silver Age stuff and more modern books. And not just Sci-Fi but also Fantasy, which are often lumped together in the same larger genre category. I picked up a library discard when I was in the third grade and I was hooked. Around that same time, I discovered some post-apocalyptic fantasy stuff that also really spoke to me and I started reading a lot of space opera as well. 

JO: You’ve also carved out a writing career in which you are heavily involved in publishing and promoting your books. Can you talk about how you think of your work as a writer/publisher?
CDS: I have really thrown in on the independent side of the industry. I’ve been published traditionally as well as independently and really prefer the latter. Some of my author friends are big names in the SFF writing world (like guys with major movies and TV deals), and they are doing both based on their needs. I really like being in control and being able to shift when the market says shift. I travel to a lot of events every year and get on the ground level with my readers, meeting new people almost every week at comic book conventions as well as meeting return readers who have come to buy something else for me. (Although I am not entirely opposed to traditional publishing house deals, and I am in talks with one major Science Fiction publisher right now about one of my unpublished series.) Being an independent means you are also taking on the roles a publisher should (although what those expectations are has largely shifted in the last two decades.) That means I’m always promoting something, and I’m always looking for new ways to get in front of people. It started out of necessity, but I discovered I enjoy certain aspects of it. 

JO: One of the things you do is produce an author newsletter. What has that experience been like, and when is it something you would recommend for other writers?
CDS: I provide author coaching, teach at panels and workshops, and I’m currently developing some new author courses drawn out of my forthcoming expanded Indie Author’s Bible… but this is a piece of information I will always give away for free. Having a newsletter is one of the most fundamental things you can do. Not only do people follow you because they want to stay in touch with your particular brand or stories, but they want to be connected to you as an author. Giving access to ourselves as authors is something that the big traditional publishers cannot do. It’s what sets us apart qualitatively from the major publishers. Not only does that provide an element of access and quality, but it is effective and mostly irrevocable. What if your favorite social media site shuts down or deplatforms/shadowbans you or loses favor with your audience. All of those things have happened within the last couple of years. But even when things aren’t so drastic, your newsletter is still better. Email has higher open rates and if you want to switch from one email provider to another, you can take your list with you. You can also use it for other marketing things like creating custom advertising algorithms. Also, it costs you nothing to send an email. Do you want your Facebook followers to see your latest update? That’s going to cost you if you want more than a small percent to know you just did something neat. I have resources I recommend and highly endorse the book Newsletter Ninja. It’s written for authors, but I recommend it for anybody wanting to learn how to effectively use newsletters for your industry. 

JO: Are there any other tips you have for emerging writers?
CDS: I’ve gotten ahead of the curve on a few things including using Kickstarter and crowdfunding to launch books. Part of it is that it’s helped me find my people who love my kinds of books, and another part of it is that in researching how to harness that side of the business well I have joined several online groups to both learn and share, and it’s helped me find more and more like-minded people. It’s important as an author to surround yourself with voices you’ve allowed to be critical of your own work and methods and also to build a peer group. I really enjoyed watching interviews between Stephen King and George RR Martin. Those two used to travel around to shows to autograph books and meet people just like I do along with several other friends I have met on the author circuit. They value each other as peers even if the stuff is pretty radically different in many ways. That’s how a lot of author friendships are. I have friends who write radically different genres, but at the end of the day a lot of the challenges are the same and it’s important to have outside voices to challenge and grow you as a writer and also as a business owner …because that’s what being an author is in today’s day and age: it’s a melding of business and creativity. 

JO: You and your wife also run a business, Waterloo’s Weis Mansion Bed & Breakfast. How do you manage the balance between finding time to write and having another job that demands your time?
CDS: With great difficulty. I try to manage my schedule well. Luckily Kelly does most of the operational side on the bed-and-breakfast. I often split time between writing and marketing endeavors and break up my day with painting or property repairs and that sort of thing. I live and die by my calendar alerts.

Sunday 21 January 2024

An Interview with Catherine DeSoto

2024’s first Final Thursday Reading Series featured reader is Catherine DeSoto. DeSoto is the author of Lies of Omission: Algorithms versus Democracy (Skyhorse), a study of the impact of algorithmic curation of social media on divisions within the United States. Dan Kovalik writes of Lies of Omission, “this book will make you question what is true and factual in the world, and whether you have a viable path for discerning such things.” DeSoto is a professor of Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa. 

The Final Thursday Reading Series takes place on January 25 at the Hearst Center for the Arts in Cedar Falls, Iowa. There will be an open mic at 7:00 p.m. (bring your best five minutes of original creative writing). Catherine DeSoto takes the stage at 7:30. The featured reading will also be simulcast on Zoom. Click HERE to register for a link. 

Interview conducted by Jim O’Loughlin 

JIM O’LOUGHLIN: While there has been a lot of media attention focused on the impact of social media on individual behavior, you approach this issue as a psychologist. How has that allowed you to view this issue differently?

My background in neuroscience and psychology allows me to characterize what is happening in the brain when one receives certain kinds of information, and then link this to social psychology research on preferring agreement over disagreement. In all, this makes our little pocket gadgets, and the way they work with the background algorithm, the perfect storm for increasing polarization. There is actually a lot of relevant research and knowledge that explains why society is splitting. Basically, human beings have a powerful innate love to be right; it is hardwired in the brain, and this allows us to understand the addictive nature of modern social media. 

JO: Lies of Omission details some of the information gaps that exist in how social media presents information on controversial topics. Can you give an example of how algorithms feed people with different views different versions of the world?
CD: The divergent media feeding really began 15-20 years ago. By 2016 all major feeds were changing content based on what articles the user had been clicking and pausing upon. The book goes into detail, but for example, Neighbor A will opens her phone and see an article vividly describing the details of immigrant who committed a horrible crime, while Neighbor B opens her phone and is provided articles depicting a mother fleeing violence along with pictures of her young child with braids and a doll in her hand, stuck camping on the US border for nine months. Views on immigration problems will further diverge. Specific research on the algorithms' effects will be overviewed in my talk, and is well detailed in the book. 

JO: While you are concerned about the effect of social media on individuals, the subtitle of this book—"Algorithms versus Democracy"— also points to your concerns of the political impact of these developments. What can be done to stop the corrosive impact on our politics?
CD: I wish I had a good answer. I like to hope that increased insight and awareness might help in some small way. 

JO: In writing this book, what were the pleasures and challenges in taking scientific data and presenting it for an audience that may include specialists as well as general readers?
CD: Very hard to do; and I am sure I failed to strike the right balance at times. For the second part, I earnestly sought to give a strong and accurate overview of what a person who holds the opposing view might say and focus on. I hope that it is hard to tell my true view after reading the pros and cons of a topic. If that happens, I feel I succeeded. That is what I was going for. 

JO: How, if at all, has writing this book affected your own use of social media? Do you do anything differently after spending so much time on this subject?
CD: Yes, actually. Like everyone I do not want to have holes in my knowledge about issues I care about. Often, I try to look for specific content by name, and not let the media feeds (Facebook, Youtube, my News feed) select articles for me. I am aware that what is served to me is algorithm driven and will automatically work to keep some information from me, as well as buffer me from opposing information. I don't want to let that happen, or at least I wish to try to limit it. Another thing I do: I try to click on and pause on articles I do not agree with, even if I don't read them.... I do this to try and keep my feed from being too catered to my own viewpoints.