Interview With Author Briane Pagel
Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.
Here is my biggest, and possibly only, regret in life: that I never became a pole vaulter. I wanted so much in high school to be a pole vaulter on the track team. Being seriously overweight and unathletic was a big impediment to that; when I tried out for the team, they put me into shot put and discus, where I failed to excel. I do still remember (kind of) how to shot put, but that hasn't been terribly helpful and isn't awe-inspiring the way it would be if I could say “Oh, yeah, I was a pole vaulter.”
Other than that, my life has progressed more or less exactly the way I have intended: I spend most of my time being a consumer protection litigator, and the time I don’t do that I spend with my family (5 kids, ages 8-27, and a grandkid already, too!). My hobbies (aside from writing) are pizza (You read that right. Just: pizza), music (I play guitar and piano but haven’t done either in a while) and trying to learn to draw.
Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, the sci-fi novel, Codes?
Codes is easily the best book I have ever written, and I’m not just saying that because it’s true. Codes is a thriller with enough twists and turns in it to make it as a carnival ride. Set in the near future, it focuses on Robbie, who has a run-in with a beautiful blonde woman that results in a murder (or is it?) outside his apartment. Suddenly everyone seems to be after him, and he keep seeing posters and website with mysterious code-phrases, and having strange encounters. Eventually he learns that both a corporation that has learned how to clone humans and imprint them with computerized personalities, and a group trying to stop that, are all looking for him. None of them are sure why Robbie’s so important, but they all know he is important, and whoever figures it out first is certain they’re going to have the upper edge in this fight.
You've also written several other books. Care to share any tidbits about them?
My favorite book, after Codes, is Eclipse. Also scifi, it’s the story of Claudius, an astronaut who wanted to go into space, but might have gone mad instead. It’s the literary equivalent of a hall of mirrors, and I enjoy people guessing in their reviews as to what really happened. (I won’t tell.)
Also, I really like the After, which is about a woman named Saoirse who dies in a plane crash, then finds herself in a strange sort of afterlife where William Howard Taft asks her to help him find a way out. It sounds like a silly setup, but the way it works out it’s surprisingly touching.
I've also written some humorous scifi, and a collection of horror stories, as well as one well-received literary novel.
As well as novels, you write short stories. Do you prefer writing short fiction to penning novels, or do you find they have equal merits?
I like writing both, and I never really set out to write one or the other. I start writing a story, and it’s over when it’s over. Codes, for example, I meant to be a short story originally, or at least I thought it would be. I started writing it, figuring it’d end up being about 10-15 pages. At page 50 I thought Well this just kept on going.
I think a story needs to be as long as it ought to be, and no more. If there’s a lot to tell, tell it. But I have begun experimenting with writing short short stories, too, as a way to practice writing.
When did you realize you wanted to start writing professionally?
I wrote some short stories in college in the 90s, but then didn't do much writing for about 10 years while I finished law school and got going on my career. When I went back to writing, it was as a hobby and I posted stories on blogs. I sent some stories to publishers from time to time, but got tired of rejections. Once indie publishing came along, with the Kindle and Lulu, I decided to try to sell my books myself. I've been doing that for a few years now, but when I wrote Codes I thought it deserved wider dissemination than I've been able to get for my own books, and so I decided to find a more traditional publisher for it. Golden Fleece seemed a perfect fit for me.
I know that doesn't answer the question very well. I guess to shorten it up: Codes is the first thing I've written that I think engages my own interests in unique storytelling, and yet has commercial potential. Before I wrote Codes, I never gave much thought to selling books. But Codes seemed like it might be the breakthrough. So I would say: I first began thinking I might do this as a profession about as I finished the first draft of Codes.
Has anything surprised you about the process of writing your books? Any characters or plots that took unexpected turns?
EVERYTHING has. I usually start out with a slim idea for a story, sometimes just a quick thought or a line I found catchy, and then start writing and see where it goes. Or I will take a theme and write a bunch of stories about that, like 10 short stories in a row about robots, or the time I wrote a series of shorts each based on a different noble gas in the periodic table of elements.
I like writing that way: I never really know where a story will end up or where it will go. I just pick up an idea and begin spreading it out in every direction, mulling over all the interesting parts of it. Writing, to me, feels like exploring.
What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
Focusing on one thing at a time. I have so many ideas that I’d like to try, but I have to be disciplined and finish them. So I've developed a system: each day, I work about 30 minutes or so on my current project, and then if I have more time (I usually do my writing from about 8-9 at night) I might tinker away at a side project. That lets me finish one project while still messing around with writing short stories or coming up with new novel ideas, or blog posts or the like.
Having now published both as an indie and with a more traditional publishing company, do you have any advice for writers looking to be published?
Persistence. And rewrites. When I finished the first draft of Codes, I decided that I would send it to a minimum of fifty publishers before putting it out myself. While I was going through the process of sending it out – one a day, usually-- I was editing and rewriting the book. So by the time I got to Golden Fleece Press, the book was already well into a second round of (re)writing, which was at the time unusual for me, as I hate editing and rewriting. What was different here was that, , like I said, this was a book I really believed in and knew could be very well-received, but it needed that extra push. So the extra push came from within, through the rewriting, and from without, through help from Golden Fleece Press.
In the end, I didn't even get halfway to fifty, because Golden Fleece was pretty quick to say yes. (So quick that I got a few rejections from people who were slow to respond, after Golden Fleece Press had already accepted it. It stings less to get a rejection for a book you know has already been published.) They helped me re-edit and make the book even better, which I found an excellent tool to improve the story even more.
Having indie published some books before going the traditional route, too, I knew what I was looking for from a publisher. My goal wasn't just “get this book on the shelves,” since I knew I could do that on my own. Instead, I wanted help reaching a broader audience and improving the quality of my book. Those are tough things for a solo writer to do.
Knowing those were my goals, I was able to focus on looking for publishers and agents who could help me further those. By going with Golden Fleece Press, I got an editor and publisher who were invested in making my book the best, and helping to sell it. I don’t think I would've gotten that at one of the bigger publishers, where I’d be dumped into a pile of other small authors to die on some bookshelf somewhere.
What’s next for you?
I've begun working on a sequel to Codes, tentatively titled The Watson Protocol; like most sequels, it expands on the first by adding more villains and changing the main characters a bit, as well as building on the events of the first. I won’t say who’s in it, because that might spoil what happens in Codes. Codes can still be read as a stand-alone, but I figured there was more to tell, in that world.
I've also got a collection of short stories, written over the course of a year, one per day. Each story is one word shorter than the one prior, so the first was 365 words, the second 364, and so on.
There’s a lot of other ideas I've had, but those two will take up the bulk of that first 30 minutes of writing each night.
Then, who knows? Maybe I’ll see if there are any adult pole-vaulting clubs around Middleton, Wisconsin.
For more about Briane Pagel and his books you can check out these sites:
His Blog - Thinking The Lions: http://www.thinkingthelions.com
You can find Codes at: