Publishing and Innovation with A.K. Alliss
A.K. Alliss is a talented author and all around great dude. He's a member of the #RedditWriters group on Twitter, and you might recognize his name because he's the very first short story you see in TL;DR, an anthology penned by a bunch of talented #RedditWriters (all proceeds go to charity, so if you haven't checked it out yet, jump on it!).
A.K. Alliss writes, anytime, anywhere. He mainly writes Cyberpunk Noir thrillers but is not against writing psychological mysteries, coming of age stories or Grimdark fantasy pieces. He enjoys challenging mainstream conventions of what stories should be. When he isn't writing he spends time with his family or procrastinates by playing video games.
What inspires you and/or why do you write?
I enjoy pulling apart the reasons for why things happen and why people do the things they do. I like to create stories that are believable but feel slightly off-kilter to how the world actually works. I feel that there are many stories to explore around technology and our interactions with it. I feel as if we treat all of these amazing inventions as common-place when really, they aren't at all.
Cyberpunk Noir is a mouthful! Tell us a little bit about the genre and why you love it.
I really like the cross-pollination of genres. I mean, Cyberpunk is kind of Neo-Noir already, but I really like to sharpen that edge of it a bit more than what is traditional. My love of Cyberpunk comes from reading Neuromancer when I was younger. It created this mythos about a world that was yet to come and I really enjoyed that sort of creation of a future history. Throw into that an unhealthy fixation with film Noir or Neo-Noir like The Maltese Falcon or Chinatown and Bodyheat and what's not to like? The characters are always flawed, the backdrops are just as flawed as the characters and the story is rarely straightforward. It's sort of lifelike in that sense. You don't have perfection in real life so why does it need to exist in literature?
I love your point about our technological innovations being commonplace when really, they're modern miracles. How do you get into the mindset and perspective to still be amazed by such things?
I was lucky enough to be born in that transition of the tech boom of the late seventies into the early eighties. But it was really going on before that. I can remember walking into an abandoned office building as part of a maintenance crew when we were stripping out and seeing this room-sized computer that had just been discarded. I liked the way that something that was only decades old had suddenly become a relic, but it also made me sad. With that sadness came a realization that we were on the cusp of this massive shift into something that people, if they really thought about it, would lose their minds over. So, with that new mindset, I began to force myself to witness each new innovation as this miracle of undiscovered potential.
Describe your process as best you can:
I usually let my characters inform my stories. I write a series of short stories for each main character (and even some of the bit players). I think this helps create a sense of the world that the characters live in and also what their stories might be. By giving each character a story of what happened to them before the story (or sometimes even what happened to them after) it gives them motivation and weight and makes coming up with a plot outline easier.
Biggest challenge for you, and how have you overcome it? (Or how are you working to overcome it!)
Believing that I could write a book. It took me ten years to write my first one and that was writing about myself. Once I had done it though, I realized that nothing is impossible. This seemingly insurmountable task had suddenly been reduced to nothing but a task that required a bit of dedication to achieve.
What do you consider your biggest strength? (Don’t be shy!)
I think that I'm quite a visual writer, which in turn helps my readers to really immerse themselves in the stories. I do a lot of the legwork in terms of setting scenes. In saying that, however, I'm not afraid to leave a few things open to interpretation, which creates a layer of secrecy over things and compels the reader to finish the book to work out what is happening.
Any other advice for authors, based on your unique experience?
Don't be afraid to experiment with different publishing options. I have published indie and also traditional, and I think there's a lot to be said in maintaining creative freedom.
Care to share any more about your publishing experience, both traditional and independently?
Well, I started out writing my own story, because I was too afraid to tackle fiction. As it turns out, that little exercise took me ten years to get down on paper properly. I stumbled my way through online publishing and made a tonne of what I like to call educated fumbles. After that, I was determined that if I could write and publish one book by myself, about something that I felt I needed to as opposed to wanted to write, then I could definitely write what I had longed, but struggled to my whole life. The result was my second book, 'Future's Orphans' which is an Australian set Cyberpunk novel about the slow decline of the world as we know it stemming from a photo that goes viral. I published that one myself and was lucky enough to get some exposure through the state newspaper.
This really made me think. If I could do that on my own, what couldn't I do? It was bigger for me than I could adequately describe, that realization. It pushed me further and further down the rabbit hole. I felt like Future's Orphans was the middle section of something and so that's what it became. I wrote it's prequel, 'Frame', set some 14 years before the events of 'Future's Orphans', about a content producer for a social media celebrity who finds out her client may be working for a terrorist organization responsible for her husband's death. In the course of her investigations, she employs two burnt out military contractors and an AI VR copy of her dead husband to help.
I had an opportunity to submit it as part of a manuscript assessment at a writers festival and the assessor told me to go out and get it published straight away. Don't change anything, just do it. So I did, or attempted to. Rejection ensued en-mass and I was on the verge of publishing it myself when I received an email back that changed my life as a writer. I had sent it out to bloggers in the hopes of getting early reviews before I self-published. This was real manual stuff, by the way, lots of earnest email requests written painstakingly and sent out (no such thing as a mailing list for me). I had to beg to get even a "not interested".
The blogger told me in their very kind reply that they loved my book and where could they write a review with a link to it. I told them that I hadn't had it published yet and they asked me if they could perhaps offer some names of smaller publishers that they knew. So, I played the submission game again and within a week, I had a contract for Frame. It was a real whirlwind, I didn't know what to think. I learned a lot from that process and used it when writing my next book.
I decided to finish my first Cyberpunk trilogy with 'Gravity's Truth'. 'Gravity's Truth' was my attempt to write a Utopian Cyberpunk novel. I wanted to capture a feel of what I like to call sun-drenched malice and paranoia. This goes back to my love affair with films like China Town, where the action is always taking place with long shadows drawn out by a blazing sun. Most, if not all, of the action happens in the sunshine of California. I wanted that feeling of industry, of things getting back on top after a long period of economic and societal downturn. But also, things were not alright beneath the surface of these political machinations. This was back to independent publishing, but to be honest, I feel like I'm happier living in that space. It fits the way that I work and my writing. I love sharing, I don't like being bound by restrictions on what I can and can't do.
With that in mind, next up for me a collaborative Fantasy piece called 'Dominions of the Sun'. It's about a Sorceress with Multiple Personality Disorder who holds the key to averting the ecological collapse of her homeland while being pursued by agents who seek to destroy her. I'm working with authors San Sul (@SanSul54n5u1) and Katy Grossman (@KatyG_unit). We will each write a different personality to maintain that inconsistency of voice and create a jarring effect between each personality's section. So far we've gotten through the world building and a couple of chapters but it's shaping up nicely for my first collaborative AND fantasy work.
I've also submitted to the Reddit Writer's Anthology, TL;DR, and am excited to see if my piece, Konichiwa Emoji has been accepted. (Editor's note: it has! Check it out here!) This is a quirky little story about inter-dimensional people trafficking to throw election results and what happens when that goes wrong.
Where can other authors or readers connect with you?
I absolutely love these perspectives and the incredibly valuable insight into A.K.'s publishing experience. Seriously, it's a treasure trove of solid information. If you'd like to check out more of his work (and you'd be crazy not to) check him out on Amazon and give him a little support!