Q&A with Timothy Burns plus a giveaway!

Q: I see that you write science fiction. For you, what is the hardest part about writing in that particular genre? (new worlds, new concepts, futuristic ideas?)

A: For me, the hardest part of writing sci-fi is making it believable. I mean, some stories are so out there that I find it hard to believe that what they describe could ever come about no matter how much technology and understanding improve. In my works I try to extrapolate from current tech to make something that could possibly be seen in some future. Sure, there are artistic leaps I make, but for a story to be entertaining to me it has to have some plausibility.

Q: What is your favorite pastime when you're not writing?

A: I have several hobbies. I am a tinkerer, so anything laying around that isn't working right gets the once-over (and sometimes even gets fixed!). I also like wood carving and have made several small sculptures; I read a lot, both science-fiction and hard science. One of my favorite books is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". And, in the interest of honesty, I must also admit to spending too much time playing computer role-playing games.

Q: Is writing something you consider to be a great passion or is it just a hobby?

A: I have been an avid reader practically all my life, so I've always admired authors. And in line with my philosophy of making the world a better place for everyone, I've found that writing stories that others enjoy reading is a way of doing that which I can do reasonably well.

Q: In your opinion, what is the best way to promote your work?

A: Get it plugged by Oprah. Other than that, I'm open to suggestions.

Q:Are you an independent author or are you traditionally published?

A: I've racked up a long list of rejections from traditional publishers yet I am determined to spread my stories around, so I have embraced the role of indie.

Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

A: Yes, I do. "If at first you don't succeed, suck something else." No, wait, the rest of that is "try, try again." Countless authors have been rejected by publishers both large and small, but if you have a passion for writing you will find a way. And if your first few, or few dozen, books don't sell well, keep looking forward to the day when you make it big time and all your earlier works do start selling.

Q How do you feel about your family and close friends reading your work?

A: I sometimes include certain topics which not everyone close to me agrees with, yet I encourage everyone to read my work with an open mind.

Q: How do you overcome writer's block?

A: In my heart I know that there is no problem that cannot be overcome eventually, so if I find myself stuck I try to approach the problem from a different angle, so to speak. And if all else fails, I do something totally unrelated to writing for a while and let my subconscious mull things over.

Q Do you get easily attached to your characters?

A: Yes, I certainly do. When I'm writing I think of my characters as real people whose story I am telling, not creating. I've laughed and cried with them, gotten excited for them and worried about them.

Q: Do you base your characters on people you know?

A: Not directly. I do, however, combine traits that I've observed in several different people. Although as an author I always have the option of "threatening" to include someone that annoys me as a red-shirt in my next novel.

Q: What inspired you to write your first book?

A: It was as a challenge to myself. I wanted to see how well I could combine two totally unrelated story lines into a coherent whole. If you want to see how that turned out, read my first book, "Outside of Space".

Q: At what age did you finally say to yourself, "This is it. I want to be a writer."

A: I was 24, which was about 18 years ago. I had read so many books by then, some of which I just couldn't believe actually got published, and I knew that I could produce better books than some of those. Those early manuscripts got lost along the way, yet they were invaluable experience for when I eventually chose to write seriously.

Q: If you had to put the main protagonist of your book against Lord Voldemort, who would win? (Feel free to be super creative and have fun with this question!)

A: Jared Miller, the talented psionic lead character in "Ghosts of the Void", would have no problem making Lord V. into a little kitten. Jared's two main abilities are psychokinesis, which is moving things with his mind, and psychosuggestion, meaning he can make anyone do what he wants while thinking it was their own idea to do it. Between these talents and Jared's keen analytical problem-solving skills, Voldemort wouldn't stand a chance.

Q: How long does it typically take for you to finish writing a book?

A: Since I still have to work for a living, I would say it takes me about a year to take a book from idea to publication. I suppose I could shorten that time a bit, but I have this strange addiction to food. It seems like I can't live without it and no-one is just giving the stuff away.

Q: On the Writer's Craft, Storytelling, and the Editorial Process:
What do you think of plot twists? Are they invariably hokey, or can good writers pull them off well? Do you think too many stories use twists as a crutch? Can a story with no twists hold your interest? Do you ever try to “surprise” your readers without going all M. Night Shyamalan on them?

A: If they are done right they are quite useful in holding the reader's interest. Of course, there are all too many writers who get carried away and use every plot twist known to man in their work, but I think that when used sparingly and at the right time they are invaluable and can turn a plodding storyline into something special.

Q: What do you think is the purpose of Science Fiction? Fantasy? Horror?

A: As a science-fiction writer, I feel that this genre is the one best suited to portraying a vision of either hopefulness or warning concerning our advancement (or lack thereof) as a species. Fantasy, I feel, is more a way of connecting with our dreams, and horror, nightmares.

Q: Now that touchscreens and space vessels are becoming things of science fact, what makes Science Fiction unique?

A: There is always room for speculation concerning future technologies and how they will affect the human heart and mind. Science-fiction stories have often given us a glimpse of what life might be like at some future time, and it is this that I feel that is its most valuable aspect, that of giving us a rehearsal for what might come.

Q: What's your main goal when putting the finishing polish on a story? Maximizing entertainment value? Raising thought-provoking questions? Other?
Do you find it difficult to write in an age of infinite distractions? How do you keep your focus on a story during the writing process?

A: I write mainly to entertain the reader, while at the same time providing food for thought. I believe that these two elements are necessary in any sci-fi story, and I try to make sure that I provide both in my novels.

On Your Stories:
Q: To what degree do your stories reflect your reality?

A: In most cases, not very much. In addition to writing so I can bring enjoyment to others, I also do it as a means of escape from my own life. When I am working on a book I can immerse myself in the lives and challenges of my characters, and in this sense I do imagine how I might respond in similar circumstances.

Q: How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?

A: Quite a bit, actually. I've been an avid reader since my earliest years, and I suppose I always knew that I would eventually start writing my own stories, so all along I made mental notes on what I liked or didn't care for in the writings of others so that when I did create my own books I would be better prepared to give others the distilled essence of what I myself enjoyed.

Q: How do you research your novels?

A: Google is every researcher's friend, of course. I always fact-check any current technologies or theories I include in my work. In addition, I am always reading articles about new work in science and technology, both for inspiration and to stay informed about the state of the art.

Q: Why are the names of the characters in your novels important?

A: I like to give my characters names that reflect their culture, whether it be human or alien. At the same time, I am not fond of extremely long or complicated names, since I feel that making the reader struggle over possible pronuncuation takes away from their enjoyment.

Q: Why are the titles of your novels important?

A: Although we are repeatedly warned not to judge a book by its cover, the fact is that this does happen. I feel that a title should give the reader some clue as to what the book is about.

Q: Who do you think of when you think of your readers? Are you telling your story to them, to yourself, or to something or someone else?

A: I tend to put myself in the place of the reader. If I think I enjoy reading a particular passage, then I can hope that others will also.

Q: How much of your own life do you put into your book?

A: It varies. If I am writing about someone whose ethics or skills line up with mine, I'll use my own instincts as a model for them. As far as including personal life events, I will only rarely project them onto my characters.

Life, Hypothetical, and Other Stuff:
Q: You believe that information should be free. Does that include fiction, why, and to what extent?

A: While I do think that information should be free, I don't hold that creative works, and the sweat and tears that went into them, should be. In an ideal world, artists would not have to struggle for food and shelter, but in our current society we have no choice but to demand compensation for our time.

Q: What is the most important lack in your life?

A: Without a doubt it is the lack of self-control. My impulsiveness has cost me my marriage as well as caused all sorts of other problems.

Q: Have you ever been in trouble with the police?

A: See the previous question.

Q: What are books for?

A: There are multiple answers to this one. Some books are pure entertainment while others encourage thought and reflection. Yet other types of books are invaluable for storing and passing on the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of others.

On Being a Writer:
Q: Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?

A: Been there, done that. No, I vastly prefer to be doing something creative, whether it be wood carving, writing or fixing some broken or non-working device in a creative manner.

Q: What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

A: Sane is boring. I think any good fiction writer has to be a little bit off of normal.

Q: While writing, do you take drugs, smoke marijuana or drink alcohol to beef up your creative imagination?

A: While I don't want to come across as condoning irresponsible drug use, I have found that toking up helps me to think creatively.

Q: How do you react to a bad review of one of your books?

A: I take it as a sign that I need to work on improving my skills as a writer. Of course, there is no pleasing everyone, so I never let a bad review get me down.

Q: Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?

A: I would have to rate lack of physical exercise a pretty bad one. When I get into writing I tend to sit for long periods of time when I should be up and moving around.

Q: What is the hardest lesson you've learned about indie, small press, or self publishing?

A: That no book sells itself. In fact, the real work begins only after the book is written and published. Successful marketing of a book is not an easy task.
Q: What is your name and where do you call home?
A: I am Tim Burns, and while I am from Alabama I now live in northern Mississippi.

Q: What is the name of your most recent book and if you had to sum it up in 20 or less words, what would you say?
A: "Ghosts of the Void" short summary: When the solar system passes through a cloud of dark matter all sorts of problems arise and the fate of two worlds hinges on a small group of friends.

Q: Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
A: My current WIP is unrelated to either of my two previous works, but I left "Ghosts of the Void" open for a sequal which I may write in the near future.

Q: What or who inspired you to start writing? And how long have you been writing?
A: Being an avid reader all my life has left me with a burning desire to create novels of my own which incorporate the best aspects of those classic sci-fi works. I wrote a couple of books when I was in my 20s but it took another decade and a half for me to get serious about publishing anything.

Q: Do you gift books to readers for book reviews?
A: I do if they will accept ebooks. Unfortunately, the cost of mailing paperbacks is beyond my nonexistant budget.

Q: How did you come up with the cover? Who designed the cover of your book?
A: I am very fortunate that my mother, Jean McMunn, is a professional graphic artist. While I came up with the original ideas for my covers, she took them and made them great.

Q: Which is your favourite cover of all the books you have written?
A: I would have to say the latest release of my first novel, "Outside of Space". My mother did an excellent job on its cover.

Q: Did you listen to any particular songs whilst writing your books?
A: No, I find it distracting when I am concentrating on writing. However, when it comes to editing and follow-up work, I enjoy listening to blues-inspired, guitar-driven classic rock. Led Zeppelin is my all-time favorite.

Q: Would you have different book covers for different countries?
A: No, I don't think so, unless my books were to be translated into a language other than English. In that case, yes, I would release a new cover with the title in that language.

Q: How did you come up with the title for your book?
A: Once I begin writing a book I let my subconscious mull over several possibilities until I find a title that I like.

Q: Do you prefer e-books, paperbacks, hardcovers or audiobooks?
A: I am still a hold-the-paperback-in-my-hand kind of person, but with the popularity of e-readers and the ability to sell ebooks much cheaper than print I feel that this format will only gain traction in the market.

Q: Are you a self-published / Indie author?
A: I most certainly am. I do not like to support big business in any form.

Q: Have you ever read a book more than once? And if so what was it?
A: I must have read Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" at least a dozen times. He was a pure genius.

Q: What is your opinion of novellas?
A: I prefer a more in-depth story than that which can be told in the shorter formats.

Q: What is your favourite book genre at the moment?
A: I have always loved science-fiction over any other genre and I don't expect that to ever change.

Q: Do you have any hobbies that aren’t related to reading & writing?
A: I like working with my hands, whether it be making small wood carvings or fixing something that is broken. I also spend too much time playing computer role-playing games, I have to admit.

Q: What else have you written?
A: My premier novel was "Outside of Space", which is a hybrid sci-fi/fantasy. By this I mean that the story begins with a science-fiction, space-based story that intermingles with what seems like a pure fantasy storyline. Eventually it becomes clear how these are related, but I don't want to give any spoilers here.
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