This week we have a treat! Joshua Dalzelle is the USA Today bestselling author of the Black Fleet Trilogy and the Omega Force Series. He kindly agreed to do an interview for us, and I enjoyed getting to know him better. I’m sure you will too. Check out his books on Amazon.
Zen: As with many science fiction writers, you have both a science and a military background. How do you feel that has served you in your writing?
Joshua: The biggest advantage I’ve found is that a comfortable familiarity with the terminology and jargon helps when creating a believable character, especially where dialogue is concerned. A firm understanding of the science you’re using to create your technology is a must, even if it’s self-taught, but I always try to keep in mind that nobody picks up an adventure sci-fi book to get a dry lecture on particle physics. If it’s something that’s crucial to the story I’ll find a way to have it explained in a way the layperson can at least accept and move on, otherwise I try not to bog things down. I lot of the tech we describe, while loosely based in reality, doesn’t even exist yet so sometimes a less-is-more approach works better. The military background is also enormously helpful when creating worlds and characters in a military sci-fi setting in that I don’t have to concentrate to build what I think is believable.
Zen: What gets you all revved up and eager to start writing?
Joshua: Ideas that will come to me at random times get me the most excited, sometimes they’ll be related to a current work, sometimes not. I’ll be sleeping or running and something will pop into my head and I have to race to a computer or notebook to capture the idea and maybe even flesh out a full scene just to see how it feels. Like almost everyone else in this business I’ve been writing in one form or another most of my life, it’s always exciting to create a new world on paper that had previously only existed in your own mind.
Zen: Did you grow up reading science fiction? What were your earliest influences?
Joshua: “Armor” by John Steakley is easily my favorite sci-fi novel, one I’ve read more than a few times over the years, and was a huge influence on my writing early on. I also read a lot of other genres that have had an impact on how I write and construct stories. Fantasy author David Eddings and the incomparable Michael Crichton were two authors I read often that adjusted my view of what a believable character should be like, a critical quality since I was putting them into unbelievable situations and settings. Beyond that I also really loved Asimov’s “Foundation” saga and I loved the non-Star Wars work of Timothy Zahn. I also read his Star Wars novels, but only because he wrote them, I’ve never really been able to get into the licensed fiction that was adapted from mainstream films or television.
Zen: Do those early influences continue to have an effect on the stories you tell, or are you more influenced by recent science fiction works?
Joshua: Recently, before I knew that indie publishing was a thing, I would devour anything by BV Larson, Ryk Brown, Evan Currie, and a few others. Once I began to become much more prolific with my writing, completing up to four manuscripts a year as opposed to one every few years, I found I read less contemporary science fiction. It’s not that I don’t still enjoy it but after spending hours each day working on my own story it’s nice to grab the Kindle and read something completely unrelated. I love finding a new post-apocalypse series that’s well written. Usually the first three books, when the protagonists are dealing with the initial outbreak of a crisis, are great escapism. There are also a few paranormal adventure series I love and I’ve been getting more into historical fiction lately. I do have a big pile of newer sci-fi that I’m hoping to dig into on a long vacation.
Zen: What are some of your favorite science and literature podcasts? I hear you’ve guested on a podcast or two, yourself.
Joshua: I’ve had to really pare down my listening list lately so a lot of the podcasts are comedy. On the business side of things I listen to Rocking Self-Publishing, Author Strong, Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing and then the rest is rounded out with the Adam Carolla Show and Nerdist. I do have a TON of random episodes from podcasts I don’t subscribe to because I saw a guest I liked while browsing. I have been asked to be on a few writing podcasts which have been great. I’ll still get readers that reach out to me and tell me they grabbed a couple books after hearing an episode I was on.
Zen: Do you have plans for any books with a woman as the protagonist?
Joshua: The book I’m getting ready to release actually has a woman as the main character, a starship captain that had been a supporting character in the Black Fleet Trilogy books is now the focus of the first book in a new trilogy. It was always something that I knew had to be done the right way or not at all. Just changing the pronouns and names of a character that was written as a male, and by a male, wouldn’t fly with the readers and it would be a fairly transparent ploy. The character in this book is a military officer so it made the POV a bit easier for me to write but there still some apprehension of releasing a book with a female lead since I have no experience being a woman in the military … or at all. You want your characters to be authentic so there was definitely a challenge in that.
Zen: All books have some amount of trope in them. What’s your least favorite trope?
Joshua: Relating to the above question, the damsel in distress, when it appears in a military sci-fi book, is one of my least favorite. I’m not especially sensitive or politically correct, but I cringe when a character that is supposedly a professional and qualified to be in her position suddenly has to be “saved” whenever running into any real adversity. My next least favorite, near and dear to my own heart, is the clichéd military officer, both blood thirsty and stupid, who refuses to listen to the nerdy scientist or young kids and is only obsessed with killing everything in sight.
Zen: What qualities of a book get you hooked?
Joshua: I personally like being tossed into the action from the first line and then being caught up as the story moves along. This may be a byproduct of growing up on the leading edge of what’s become a culture that wants instant gratification, but if the book takes too long introducing characters in detail and providing too much backstory it’s hard to keep plowing forward to where the actual story begins.
Zen: On the other side of the coin, what qualities of a book turns you off?
Joshua: The use of what people misidentify as a cliffhanger. More and more I read books that seem to hit a predetermined word count and just stop. I’ve actually gone and reloaded books on a device because I assumed the last chapter or two was missing. A cliffhanger ending still has to have some sort of resolution for the characters or all you have is a collection of words and not a complete novel. Introducing a new conflict right at the end is very different than just chopping the tail off a story and asking your readers to buy the next book to see what happens.
Zen: You’ve found success as a self-published author. Would you consider signing a contract with a trade publisher?
Joshua: I would definitely consider a trade pub deal if it was something that was beneficial for both me and the publisher. With last year’s success of Warship, and that trilogy as a whole, I’ve been approached by a few publishers wanting to buy all three books, something I’m not interested in even talking about. The eBook rights to an established series are valuable as they stand so having a publisher take them down and then relist them at a significantly lower return would be bad for me, bad for them. It’s not likely that re-releasing Warship would result in a huge influx of new readers, so the publisher won’t make the money they want from the book and I’ll lose control of it for the term of the contract. I do have a few new, standalone ideas that I think would be well suited for what the trade publishers do well. We’re discussing that so hopefully that moves forward.
Zen: Now we’ve come to the part where you tell us about your projects we should keep an eye out for in the near future.
Joshua: This year and next will likely be a continuation of the two series I already have published. “New Frontiers” should be out in August of this year and is book one in the Expansion Wars Trilogy, the follow up to last year’s Black Fleet Trilogy. I’m also committed to two new Omega Force books that will take the series up to book ten, at least that’s what I have outlines for and that will close out the second major plot arc for those characters. I’m working tentatively on a spinoff series that takes place in the Omega Force universe that I’m quite excited about but it’s still a bit premature to talk details.
Finally, let’s finish up with some word association. No thinking! Just say the first thing that occurs to you.
Blood— Iron (don’t ask me to explain that one…)
Many thanks to Joshua Dalzelle for visiting with us today!