Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’m based in Calgary in Western Canada and am an author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children and young adults, including The Alchemist’s Portrait, The Sorcerer’s Letterbox, The Clone Conspiracy, The Emerald Curse, The Heretic’s Tomb, The Doomsday Mask, The Time Camera, The Sphere of Septimus, Flashback, Future Imperfect, Twisted Fate, and the Shadowzone series. I’m also the author of The Time Traveler's Guide, The Children’s Writer’s Guide, The Working Writer’s Guide, The Social Media Writer’s Guide, almost 100 nonfiction books, and many articles on a wide variety of topics.
I offer a wide variety of presentations, workshops and author in residence programs for schools and libraries, covering such topics as the writing process, editing and revision, where ideas come from and how writers turn them into stories, character development, historical fiction and historical research, story structure, the publishing world and more. I’m an instructor for adults with the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University and offer a variety of online workshops for both children and adults. I also offer a number of services for writers, including editing, coaching, online and in-person writing workshops, and consulting, plus copywriting services for the business community.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
The Shadowzone series involves the discovery of a grim dystopian version of Earth that’s ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship, the threat of a deadly virus, and a race against time to save the lives of millions. Here’s a synopsis for each of the novels.
While watching intense flashes of lightning during a violent storm, Ben experiences mysterious and disturbing visions of another world, one very different from his own. In the chain of events that follow, Ben encounters Charlie, a girl from a dark version of Earth, a planet doomed by the effects of environmental catastrophe, where the leaders will stop at nothing to complete their deadly mission.
Into The Web
On a doomed version of Earth, the sinister schemes of the Ministry are moving ever closer to completion, with dire consequences for the inhabitants of two worlds. For Ben and Charlie, an unlikely alliance, unexpected reunions, and the mysterious prophecy of the Chosen One offer a glimmer of hope, with the ever-present prospect of betrayal, as they embark on an unpredictable journey into the unknown.
In a dark parallel world, following attacks by its most determined opponents, the Ministry has been forced to change its plans. Yet the ruthless Director-General is prepared to sacrifice anyone to achieve an entirely new beginning, no matter what the cost. In a deadly race against time, as events spiral out of control, Ben and Charlie must risk their lives in a desperate attempt to save two worlds from destruction.
The original idea was about someone capturing mysterious images on a video camera of a person that no one else could see. It was around the time that a local hospital was about to be demolished. I imagined that my character was filming the event and captured the image of the person stepping seemingly unharmed from the rubble as the building came down. The idea of capturing unexplained images on film was something that I’ve continued working on and it also inspired me to write The Time Camera, which was published in 2011.
For a while, that’s all I had and it was one of those ideas that I was never sure would come to anything. It was early in my writing career and I put it aside and worked on other stories, but I’d periodically add another element to the story about the camera and the mysterious individual. At one point, I decided that the person that the boy caught on film wasn’t a ghost but from another dimension or perhaps a parallel universe and they were attempting to contact him for some reason. I then began to add details of this other Earth and the reasons for the connection to our world, and it went from there. An initial concept involving kidnappings from hospitals didn’t quite work, so instead I developed the idea of a deadly virus, which was a good fit with the type of government running the other Earth. Once that was all in place, I was able to get to work.
Shadowzone was originally only one novel, but once I’d finished it I immediately realized that the story wasn’t over and that I need to write more. The final installment was written very quickly and in the process I knew that I needed to expand the earlier sections too, so in the end I had a trilogy.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I do tend to mostly write late at night but many writers do that, so I’m not sure whether that would be classed as unusual. I also sometimes go to coffee shops to work on outlines for stories, specific parts of chapters, and so on, or occasionally just to get away from the home office for a while.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
I read a lot of science fiction novels and collections of short stories while growing up, as well C S Lewis, Tolkien, other fantasy writers and ghost stories. I also read a tremendous number of comic books as a child, which were great for the imagination. At high school, I studied a great deal of history and have retained my interest in the subject up to the present day. I also read voraciously on ancient civilizations, mysteries, the supernatural, and the unexplained.
When I began my career as a writer I was influenced by the earlier books in the Harry Potter series. However, I didn’t want to write about wizards, dragons, or magic, but rather about the things that I was interested in, such as time travel, the paranormal, superheroes, ancient mysteries, or history. I was also influenced by Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, along with some other excellent fantasy and science fiction works.
What are you working on now?
I always have a current project or two and right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel for young adults set in the turbulent era of the English Civil War in the 1640s. The novel’s about half finished, but I still have a lot of work to do.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I have a website, blog, and am very active on social media and while these are very effective I still find that promotion in person seems to be the best method for books written for children and young adults. I do a great deal of teaching and conduct writing workshops for both children and adults, which helps to promote the novels and other books. I also do many book signings at local bookstores throughout the year. This not only helps to sell books but also to promote my other services for writers, such as editing, coaching, or online workshops and courses.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Writing is in some ways the easy part. It can be a very long process not only to write a book, but also to get it published. A book is a marathon measured in years rather than weeks or months. Don’t be afraid to revise and revise over and over again. Most authors go through many revisions before their work reaches its final format. Remember too that your book will never be to everyone’s taste, so don’t be discouraged. A firm belief in your own success is often what’s necessary. After all, if you don’t believe in your book, how can you expect other people to?
Read as much as you can and write as often as you can. Keep an ideas file, even if it’s only a name, title, sentence or an entire outline for a novel. You never know when you might get another piece of the puzzle, perhaps years later. You also mustn’t forget the marketing. You may produce the greatest book ever written. However, no one else is going to see it if your book doesn’t become known to potential readers. Be visible as an author. Do as many readings, signings and personal appearances as you can. Get your name out there and hopefully the rest will follow. Especially for newly published authors, books don’t sell themselves and need a lot of help.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Probably to keep writing, read as much as you can, and always be open to new ideas. After all, you never know when you’ll get a really good one.
What are you reading now?
I’m always reading a wide variety of things, either online or in books and magazines. Sometimes this is for research purposes or during the editing process for clients but at other times purely for pleasure, either fiction or nonfiction and either new material or books in my own collection that I refer to every now and then.
What’s next for you as a writer?
As I mentioned, I'm working on the English Civil War novel, but the third part of my paranormal Flashback trilogy will be published early next year so I’m sure I’ll be tinkering with those stories in the coming months. I also hope to start work on two sequels to Future Imperfect, published in 2016. The novel has proved quite popular so far so I want to explore the possibilities of further adventures for Alex, Stephanie, and the other characters that appear in the novel. I’m also considering at least two potential sequels to my fantasy novel, The Sphere of Septimus, which was published in 2014.
What is your favorite book of all time?
I don't think I really have one, since there have been so many over the years.