We talk to the award winning writer of the We Are Mars Saga
In the podcast Cheryl talks about the joys of SF world building and her new novel We Are Mars
- Why you shouldn’t cut corners when you take the indie publishing route
- How Twitter writing communities can inspire and support you
- The one thing that writers do wrong on Twitter (and how to avoid doing it).
- Why doing hard research makes your world believable
- How to create a series
Today’s show is sponsored by Amazon Success Toolkit. Self-publishing expert Tracy Atkins has created an amazing set of tools and methods you can use to publish and optimize your book on Amazon—the right way. Updated for 2019.
Cheryl Lawson lives in Kamloops, BC, Canada, with her husband and son. Cheryl grew up in South Africa, moving to Canada in 2006 when her son was just a year old. They settled in the lower mainland of BC, before moving, in 2017, to Kamloops.
After a long career as a graphic designer, photographer and artist, Cheryl began pursuing writing, full-time, in 2014. She released her first non-fiction book in 2016. When she is not writing, Cheryl continues to pursue her passion for nature through her art and photography.
“We Are Mars” is Cheryl’s first fiction novel.
You can find out more at www.wearemars.com
You find Cheryl Lawson on Twitter here
Transcript Of Interview
Hi Cheryl, and congratulations on We are Mars. It’s a great story I’ve just started reading and I downloaded it.
Thank you. That’s great.
What was your inspiration?
I think that it all came about because I’ve seen a lot of talk on media, and I’m kind of a bit of a science, space buff myself. So there’s been an increase in activity around the whole idea of going to Mars, and establishing humans on Mars, particularly amongst the sort of private sector, SpaceX is leading that charge and I think, you know, NASA doesn’t want to get left behind. So they’ve got plans to get up there as well, not to mention the fact that they’ve got a bunch of rovers that they have been sending up for for a number of years already and it’s just become a topic, again, came to mind. And I thought, well, what happens once they’ve been a for a while? Where do we go from there? So the story picks up the thread, beyond the sort of established colony phase. They’re there for a while and the idea is that what happens to them now that they are there
So that’s a great setup. And of course, that’s the setup for every sci fi story isn’t it ‘what if?’
Yes, exactly. There’s that’s speculation about can they survive certain challenges and I throw everything in the book at them, you know, Book 2 that I’m busy editing at the moment, they face another whole new set of challenges and then I’ve got a final book in the series that pretty much brings a story to a close, but I put them through the wringer, these characters don’t get off lightly..
I’ve read some of the reviews you’ve gotten on Amazon already and it’s quite a lot of praise for your world building. Some fantastic reviews. One stood out for me. “It’s like she’s lived there for three years and come back and tell us about it” – how do you get that sort of authenticity in your sci fi?
A lot of research, and eat, sleep and breathe everything to do with Mars, and just kind of figure out how are people living. You know, it’s not just a drama playing out in two dimensions. It’s all around them. It’s everything that they experience. It’s the taste, the smells, the things that they touch them, the platforms of they walk on, everything is part of that experience, the suits that they wear, how they interact with each other when they’re in the suits. So it’s putting myself inside everybody’s head, because my book was written from almost like a narrative point of view. So I’m above everybody, looking at them and seeing how they interact with each other. The whole idea is to to bring to life, all of those experiences, everybody’s experience from their point of view. Things that that they smell, things that they touch, everything comes into it. I guess maybe that’s where it came from. I’m just trying to really live that experience.
Well, the research is obvious, and you deeply immerse yourself in that world. I have to declare I’m a bit of a mars geek myself and she had a bit of a tear when Oppy went silent.
Oh, I couldn’t stop! All those cartoons. I almost had to mute people, because I just didn’t want to see another cartoon about ‘how cold it’s getting and dark’ , and I’m like, No, don’t go there!.
We are Mars is of course part one, which you just touched on. Why did you want to make it a series? Was that a conscious decision to start out? Or did you just realize that as you started writing?
It came to be a conscious decision. Once I’ve actually plotted out the whole story, I realized there was too much for one book, you mentioned that you were writing a sci fi epic, I didn’t want to go the route of epic. Because this is my debut in Sci Fi. This is my first novel. And I thought I’ll keep each book, weave part of the story is more or less self contained, just from the point of view that it’s easier to digest in smaller pieces and I think from an audience point of view, I wanted to see what the reception would be.
Hopefully a phone call from Ridley Scott at some point!
I don’t know, you know, it would be great to have that sort of thing I think every writer dreams of those sorts of things but for me, it really, really was just a matter of ‘Can I do this’? I carried on going, got the rest of the way through and I’m like, ‘Oh, hey, I wrote a book!’. Now I’m busy writing the second one and I don’t know actually how I finished the first one.
How long did it take you to write from start to finish?
From concept, sort of fleshing out the concept all the way to my publishing date, which was middle of May last year, I would say about 18 to 20 months, somewhere in that range.
That gives me hope!
You know, it was kind of quick and dirty the whole thing, not to say that the book is poorly written or anything, it’s just, I didn’t, I didn’t fuss over it too much. Because the story came very easily to me. I mean, I had the concept pretty solidly worked out before I started the actual writing. So that part for me, was easy and I guess because it was my first go at it, I really didn’t have any hang ups about how to write it perfectly. I just wanted to write it, I just wanted to get it out and get it done. The second one is taking me a lot longer, it’s actually kicking my butt a bit. I’m probably about a month behind where I was this time, this time last year,
Tell me about your journey from artists photographer to picking up a pen and wanting to write science fiction.
It’s a very involved story. I mean, I trained and worked as a graphic designer for 20-25 years, I still do a fair amount of graphic design, although it’s mostly through our own business that we have here. I got to the point where I felt like I had a creative message to put out more to just kind of sort have my creative process for myself. So I wrote my first book about authentic creativity, which was like a manifesto of my creative philosophy and process. I published that one in 2016, also self published. It was more really about getting that out of my head. so I have space for other projects. I’ve decided to to try my hand at writing because the authentic creativity, it’s really given me the confidence to try to do creative writing. So it was about finding the idea and going with it and I like Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi has always been a passion. For me. It’s one of my favorite genres and I thought ‘Well, I mean, give it a try’. And you know the story about how I came up with the idea. So the rest is really just figuring out how to put it together. And because I had done authentic creativity, I had some idea of how the writing process and going through with an editor and everything else work. So why not? Let’s give it a try.
I’ m always interested in writers who undertake the self published journey, which you’ve done, what what advice would you give to somebody starting out on this.
As an indie author, I would say do your research. Research is critically important. Understand the industry, understand what your options are. Don’t cut corners, with costs, you’re going to have to pay for everything yourself. All your marketing. All your publishing costs, all of your production time, that includes writing, editing, revision, those are all things that you’re going to need to foot the bill for. Don’t go into it thinking you’re going to make money because I think to start with, you’re going to lose money. And unless your story is really good, and it’s really polished. It can be quite disheartening. So the whole thing for me was starting out as an indie, the reason I did it is I could maintain control over my process and that was important for me, because I needed to learn about the process, I needed to learn about writing and the writing industry. Being an author is something that I’m new at and kind of bootstrapped my whole way through, really just because I want to learn. And I’ve learned quite a bit. And one of the things, as I say, don’t try and cut corners. Because that’s just going to land you in a position where you are not happy with the results. You don’t get any readers, and then you feel like you failed. And failure is not bad. Don’t get me wrong, failure is not bad. But you don’t want to fail for the wrong reasons you don’t want to fail because you haven’t spent the money on an editor. You don’t want to fail because you haven’t spent the money on a cover.
Good advice. Failure is a very good teacher. It’s also my mantra with the podcast, and my business, which is Madhouse Media Publishing. Just do it properly. Just because you’ve written the first draft doesn’t mean you rush out to SmashWords and upload it.
You can if you try to get feedback on if your writings any good, or if your ideas are really good. What you shouldn’t be doing is publishing a whole book, that nobody else has looked at.
It’s a big journey, the self publishing journey. What’s the best bit of advice you received, either from people in your network or maybe online mentors, you’ve found and subscribed to?
Well. I’m part of the Twitter writing community, which I absolutely love and I would say probably the best advice that I kind of take to heart every day is don’t give up. Even on those days, when it feels like the editing is not going your way. You found a dozen plot holes, your Twitter account is lost 17 followers or 700 followers, whatever it might be. Your social media is basically lagging, you haven’t made any sales on Amazon. Nobody’s read it on Kindle Unlimited, don’t give up. Because tomorrow might be a completely different story. Things ebb and flow. And you know, being in that community on Twitter, you get that support constantly, you get that feedback, constantly telling you not to give up. Don’t don’t don’t fail yourself by saying ‘oh, well, I’m no good at this’. ‘Oh, well, I can’t do this’. ‘Oh, well, my book is no good’. ‘Oh, well, I haven’t made a sale. So it must be bad’. It must work sometime and the only way to do that, or any way to to reach that point is to give it time.
Yeah. And it’s a long game too, isn’t it? It’s not a short game you’ve got to kind of play the long game with this. I published a small book of short stories, so a couple years ago, and I always get a thrill when SmashWords drop some money in my bank account. It’s just a reminder that somebody actually paid for and read it. It mightn’t be much, but it’s like, wow, it’s still out there. You know, entertaining people.
I had the recent experience where I’d went down to Vancouver for a book signing recently at a bookstore. And I was kind of beside myself because I thought, well, if nobody comes to the table and says Hi, I’m just going to be sitting there the whole time and people going to be ignoring me walking past and obviously it was true. I have a whole bunch of friends down there, they came out to support me a bunch of them bought the book
A whole bunch of them already had the book. So they just came to say hi and you know, make it look like I had people coming to the table, the whole three hours I was there. What was great, was the bookstore bought, you know, 60 copies of the book, and they’ve put it all over the bookstore and I was thrilled because that to me is confirmation that it’s good enough to be there alongside those other the books. I may not have made a huge mass of profit off of the sales of those and you know, spend it all on gas money getting down there. But it was fun. It was a really good experience. And it’s it’s got marketing mileage.
And great validation as well.
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
We were talking about Twitter earlier and course the the Twitter community hashtag #writingcommunity, which I stumbled across, and I just think it’s the best thing I found on Twitter.
My question is, I guess, what do you think is the best thing for Twitter for writers?
What’s the worst thing as well?
I would say engagement is your number one thing you need to not worry too much about writing your own tweets, although, although you should and and I started doing a lot of the the very short story. So #VSS365, which is one of the micro fiction things, just so that I’m putting something out it more or less every day.
I asked valid questions like who’s writing who’s revising? Who’s doing what? And I did that today. I own a poll, and I had a fair amount of feedback on that.
Yeah, you’re very active.
Yeah, I talk about this small victories and I talked about those, those fears that people have in common, you know that that stuff that evokes emotion. But I also, I also engage other people’s posts, when I see someone who’s got a book launch coming up, I, you know, say ‘Best wishes have have a blast’. And somebody is having trouble with something, I’ll try and help if I can. So it’s engagement, it really is working that connection with people. Negatively? I would say don’t, don’t engage the trolls, because they’re out there. Those Twitter trolls come in various shapes and sizes, but the ones I find tend to really irritate me, and the ones that are tend to have a say about afterwards are the ones that will post on to something in a completely unrelated way, just to get a rise out of the person and their have been a couple of people that have done that sort of thing recently. There’s some negativity to the community and I would think that’s normal, it attracts good and bad elements. But don’t get don’t engage that don’t engage the bad element. Try to stay away from engaging the trolls. Don’t get into a discussion with them. So it really is about finding that balance for yourself what you’re actually after?
What do you think is the one thing that new writers get wrong when they start using Twitter?
Over promotion of their own stuff. Or they go in and buy followers. I would strongly advise against buying followers, you have to build organic feed, you have to be talking to people who know what you’re experiencing and have that in common as a writer. Don’t go and buy 10,000 followers because those are the bots that we see so often. That can’t speak English. Tend to block those straight away, but yes, build your feed organically build your following organically. Don’t over promote your book and help other people
I see that a lot of people to saying ‘buy my book buy my book buy my book!’.
That’s the reason you don’t want to answer the door when someone knocks on it. Same response you’re gonna evoke from them
I’ve always thought it’s a strange strategy for people to use in a writing group or community.
I think it would service them well to, to open up a little instead of just saying, Oh, this is my book, please buy it. Give people a reason to like you first. Ok, and if they like you, they might buy your book, but don’t expect them to be tied to each other. I mean, I have almost I’ve got 6800 Oh, no, sorry. 5800 followers on Twitter. I don’t know how. Don’t ask me how. I don’t ask them to buy my book every single day. I’ve got a pinned post. And if they want to buy it, it’s there. But I’m not putting my book every day. I’ll promote from time to time like if I’ve got a sale going. But I have found my most success in sales coming from Twitter because of reciprocal engagement. I’ll help someone or I’ve bought their book and then they’ll buy it for me. I’m always gobsmacked when someone buys my book from me.
It’s a good feeling
It’s a great feeling and I’m I never take it for granted. I mean, I’m still new at this. But you know, every every sale is a happy dance.
Yeah. And the glass of champagne.As a creative, independent writer, how do you manage your time and your goal setting. You’ve spoken about writing a series, you need to set goals for that. What’s your approach?
I try. You know my husband and I have been in business for so long that we are chronically overworked. We workaholics both of pushing 15-16 hour days, a lot of the time. I try not to spend more than about two hours and a lunch break on social media and marketing. Every day. There is a time writing or editing or trying to figure out what my covers going to look like. I work only on one project at a time. I don’t know how people manage to do more than one thing at a time, I can’t stay focused unless I’m working an exclusive project. I used to be able to juggle many more things when I was doing graphics and I had a workbook full of projects that I was working on. But as far as writing goes, if I don’t have absolute focus on one thing, I can’t get it done. And when it’s time to sit down and work, I normally start on the editing or the writing at about 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning. And then I will take frequent breaks because I can’t sit here for two hours solidly staring at a piece of paper with red marks. Yeah, it just doesn’t work for me and get to the point where I’m looking at it and I can’t understand what I’m looking at anymore. So there’s a lot of dilly dallying going on, fiddling with the cat, going and making more tea and eventually, I get through stuff. I don’t know how. I don’t know. I set loose goals for myself, ‘Oh, I want to publish and get it finished and out the door by August’. That’s it. That’s the only goal. I’m struggling at the moment because my editors got me or holding me to a deadline. And like ‘I hate deadlines’. I used to work to deadlines all the time and I have beginnings of an ulcer because of it. So..
I love Douglas Adams quote about deadlines. He loves the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.
We might wrap it up and thanks so much for talking to us on the eBook Revolution Podcast. But I got one final question. You obviously love sci fi and you’re fantastic sci fi writer, your book engaged me from the first few pages of just started reading it. You obviously love Sci-Fi. So who are your heroes? Who your sci fi writers that you look to for inspiration?
Well, you mentioned a few minutes ago, Douglas Adams. I love Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve got the seat of his books all in one black compendium.
Yeah. And I enjoyed many of Michael Creighton’s science fiction thrillers and I think that he’s been a huge influence on me. His books Micro and Prey and Timeline. All really good science fiction, speculative stories. Jurassic Park, obviously. Yeah, the book was better than the movie. I’ll say that. Although the movies pretty fantastic. A bunch of them Jules Verne is one of my sort of long time influences. And from a different perspective, I would say, you know, I’ve been influenced a lot by TV as well. I’m a big Star Trek fan.
Oh, yeah. don’t you love the new Discovery!
I love Star Trek. I’ve watched every Star Trek and I’ll watch them over and over again. I also enjoy things like Stargate and not the biggest fan of Star Wars alhough I’ve watched them all. I found they’re more fantasy theh Sci-Fi. Yeah, so there’s there’s plenty of those influences. And all the new sci fi shows as well, that you you get in these days is a big resurgence of that sort of thing.
There’s so much new stuff.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I wouldn’t I wouldn’t pass up a watching an Aliens movie again. You know, the alien movies with Sigourney Weaver. The Terminator, all of that stuff. That’s all there. It was. Part of that is coming through my fingers when I write science fiction.
What is it about sci fi that you like? Sum it up in one sentence.
The unlimited ability to imagine what is possible.
That’s fabulous. We’ll leave it there. Cherly Lawson. Thanks for talking to us on the eBook Revolution podcast.
Thanks, Geoff, was good to chat to you.