You should be warned, though, that there’s almost no gore or swearing, since my intent is to tell a story; not to shock the reader. Probably as a result, most of my readers so far have been women, and the most frequent comment I’ve heard is, “I didn’t expect to like it so much. When is the next one due?”
Nicholas Rossis – 2 January 2014
The Back Flap
Game of Thrones meets Dune
The handful of humans that crash-landed on Pearseus three hundred years ago, have now colonized a large part of the planet, rebuilding their civilization from scratch. In the process, they have created a dystopia for themselves, splitting into three competing factions: the Capital, the Loyalists and the Democracies, all embroiled in endless intrigue and constant warfare.
Peace of the Eclipse, an uneasy truce between the three parties, still holds – barely. While man turns against man, the First, Pearseus’ indigenous people, wage their own ancient war against a shadowy enemy; a war that threatens to destroy all of humanity.
The story unfolds through the eyes of its protagonists. Egged on by unseen forces, Styx, the increasingly paranoid ruler of the Capital, terrorizes her subjects. In a burst of cruelty, she murders General Parad’s son and feeds him to his father during a banquet. David, a young servant of Styx, accidentally finds out about the planet’s ethereal inhabitants and is forced to flee the Capital. Lehmor and Moirah, a recently married First couple, are caught up in humanity’s scheming. And in the Democracies, Sol becomes ruler of the city of Anthea, determined to lead it into glory.
As war looms ever closer, the protagonists find their lives in danger at every turn. Can love be found in the ruins of humanity’s civilization?
Pearseus is a page-turning science fiction adventure with strong space opera and metaphysical elements. It mixes blood-curling drama with psychology, religion, history and philosophy, to offer the reader an intense, thought-provoking tale with surprising twists. In the end, justice without compassion is but tyranny.
About the book
What is the book about?
The tale describes a dystopian society formed on a remote planet by the survivors of a destroyed starship. It picks up 300 years after the accident, when humans have split up in three competing factions, embroiled in endless intrigue and constant warfare. The planet also has a native population, as well as ethereal entities, all caught up in their own wars. It sounds complicated, but it all ties nicely together to form “an excellent read, from a new writer, that leaves you expecting more,” as a review put it (yes, I’ve memorized it).
I like to think of Pearseus as a page-turning science fiction adventure with strong space opera and metaphysical elements. It mixes drama with psychology, religion, history and philosophy, to offer the reader an intense, thought-provoking tale with surprising twists.
When did you start writing the book?
Most of my plotlines stem from various dreams I’ve had at times. In that sense, I started in my late teens, when I started keeping a dream journal. I wrote a couple of chapters a few years ago. These were left to mature nicely in my hard disk, then incorporated into Pearseus. Pearseus proper started late last summer.
How long did it take you to write it?
Less than I expected; about four months to complete a draft I was happy with (number four). I looked at it, beaming with pride, and sent it to be reviewed by Tahlia Newland (http://tahlianewland.com ). (Un)surprisingly enough, she failed to be as impressed as I’d hoped, and her comments made me realize just how much work my writing needed. So, it was back to the drawing board until October 17th, when I published it on Amazon.
Where did you get the idea from?
The concept came to me after I had read Martin’s books, followed by Jim Lacey’s The First Clash and Herodotus’ Cyrus the Great and Rise of Persia, which describe the fatal battle on Marathon between Greece and Persia in the 5th century BC.
Marathon Bay is a 20’ drive from my home, and I pass it every time we go to the beach in the summer. I’ve often visited the tomb where the ancient Athenians buried their dead, so I thought at the time, “wouldn’t it be great if someone did what Martin did for medieval England, only with the story of Greece vs. Persia? And in space? How cool would that be?” Then it occurred to me: what’s stopping me from writing it?
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Many! I read this great rant by Brian Regan the other day; it concerned his hatred of the expression “one thing led to another”. As he put it, “What kind of lazy writing is that? Isn’t that your job as the writer to tell me how this led to that? ‘Adolf Hitler was rejected as a young man on his application to art school… One thing led to another… And the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the sovereign nation of Japan’.” Sometimes you have a great idea for your beginning and ending, but you scratch your head through the middle part!
Also, I struggled a lot with the fight scenes, trying to make them believable. If I have to pigeonhole my writing style, I’d choose magic realism. For that to work, you need to focus hard on realism. I remember George RR Martin promising a couple of years ago a big battle for his next book. As a reader, I wondered what the big deal was. Then I tried writing one, and it was hell! I researched for months, and studied Rayne Hall’s Writing Fight Scenes to reach the desired level of proficiency.
Even so, the part that gave me the most trouble was the back story. I wanted to explain what had happened to the first survivors of the crash, but just as readers invested in the characters, they had to forget all about them and focus on their descendants instead. That, in fact, was the greatest complaint I received from my beta-readers.
I solved it by weaving sporadic mentions of the survivors’ tale into the narrative, and publishing the complete back story as a separate prequel to the Pearseus universe. Hopefully, someday I’ll manage to expand their story; I have so many great ideas regarding their struggles on an alien planet.
What came easily?
The best scene in my mind is the ride of Parad and Tang, and their dialogue there. It practically wrote itself. I find it easy to write up people’s dialogues, especially conflicting ideas and philosophies. That’s probably because I have so many of them in my head all the time. Huh? Who said that?
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Ah, you know that “any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental” disclaimer? I wish I could use it, but it’s just not true. The entire plot borrows heavily from ancient Greek history and the Persian wars (Persian, Pearseus… get it?). There really was a prophecy involving a boy named Cyrus, and a king named Astyax (Styx, in Pearseus), who had a general’s son murdered to be fed to his father.
Accordingly, Solon, Athens’ lawmaker, was the inspiration for Sol, and the history of Anthea mirrors closely that of ancient Athens, as anyone familiar with the expression Draconian laws will surely notice.
Even the Orbs and Whispers are closely related to real-life experiences. My grandmother was walking in the middle of downtown Corfu back in the thirties, holding her five-year old daughter by the hand. A mental patient grabbed a pair of scissors and disemboweled the little girl as they were crossing the street, later claiming that the voices in his head told him to do it. All I did in my book was give presence to these whispers, and tell their story.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
I love Philip K. Dick’s work, and am currently trudging through his Exegesis; a notoriously hard book to read, but incredibly rich in ideas and a goldmine of inspiration. I’ve found I share many of his obsessions, especially the constant need to look behind the curtain, to see what makes people – and the world – tick. Like him, I am fascinated with the limits of our perception, and have an underlying faith that there’s so much more going on than we can see; that there’s a plan and a reason for everything.
Do you have a target reader?
Since I published my work a couple of months ago, I’m at that stage where I wish Amazon would give me the personal details of everyone who has bought or downloaded my book, so I can go to their place and bake them cookies. Or pizza. Or pizza with crumbled cookies on top. Anything to show my love and appreciation.
As a bookworm, I have a dozen books waiting to be read at any time, so I know first-hand how hard it is to prioritize one’s reading material. That’s why I’m genuinely grateful for people who have decided to give my books a go.
Having said that, I’d like to think that Pearseus will be of interest to people who don’t normally read science fiction, as it focuses on character development and people’s philosophies more than battles and fancy technology.
I love suspense and I’m told Pearseus is a page-turner (quite a few readers confess to have read it on their iPhones, being unwilling to wait until they’re back home), so everyone enjoying a thriller should love it. You should be warned, though, that there’s almost no gore or swearing, since my intent is to tell a story; not to shock the reader. Probably as a result, most of my readers so far have been women, and the most frequent comment I’ve heard is, “I didn’t expect to like it so much. When is the next one due?”
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I know many say that writers should write every single day, but I don’t believe in compulsory writing. My life and workload are just too messy for that; I can’t promise x amount of pages every day. I do, however, believe in building my writing career on a daily basis. Whether it’s spending a whole day writing or five seconds replying to a reviewer’s tweet, it doesn’t matter, since they both bring me closer to my goal of becoming a full-time author. It’s a marathon (pun intended), not a sprint.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I paint the plot’s broader strokes with my wife Electra, often during one of our forest walks. We bounce ideas off each other, which is very helpful. I then jot them down, and write one chapter at a time. Most of my writing takes place in my head, just before getting out of bed. I rush to my computer and write it down first thing in the morning, when my mind is still clear and the phone’s not ringing. I edit in the evenings and at night, when all’s still again.
The problem with outlining is that, as I’ve come to realize, books write themselves. Characters have their own story to tell, and they can surprise you, so you should always be open to change. For instance, one of my characters in Pearseus suddenly died on me, despite having already sketched out their next moves! I’m trying not to give anything away, so I’ll only say that I was writing this scene, and found my fingers typing the description of that character’s death, although the notes before me clearly outlined their continued exploits. I spent days changing the plotline to reflect my unexpected loss!
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I edit constantly, both as I write and until I’m finished. And then I edit some more. It is what I love about self-publishing. If someone reports a typo, you can simply update the file to have everyone’s Kindle automatically reflect the change. The same applies to print-on-demand; any books printed afterwards will be perfect. Being slightly obsessive about quality, I find that very comforting.
Did you hire a professional editor?
I used Tahlia Newland’s pre-publication evaluation service, and she ended up helping me far beyond her small compensation, with both substantive and copy editing. For proofreading I used a small army of skilled beta readers, and they have my eternal gratitude. At the end of a book, I promise a free desktop background to anyone reporting a typo (or reviewing the book), so I’m trying to turn all my readers into editors!
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
I know this is really uncool of me, but when I listen to music while writing, I prefer classical music, especially Mozart and Vivaldi. When I really need to focus or get inspired, I’ll use http://www.noisli.com/ – a brilliant little site with white noise like brooks or seaside, easily mashed into unique combinations.
Right now, I’m listening to a wonderful Romanian choir from a monastery called Camarzani. I don’t understand anything they say, but I find the melody and singing inspirational.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
Absolutely, I submitted it to half-a-dozen agents.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
I was debating the pros and cons, then decided to submit it to agents and publishers, while I mulled it. Most rejected it, some haven’t got back to me yet. People say you should keep trying until you succeed, but I hate waiting for months for someone to reject me, and the thought of self-publishing started making a lot of sense.
Then, success! A publisher made me an offer for one of my children’s books. They loved it, and yet the terms were crushing; they pretty much kept all rights and 90% of the money. It sounded just crazy, and it was then that I started seriously considering going Indie. Whatever the risk, I figured, it’s best if you fail or succeed on your own merit.
The final push was Jessica Park’s article, How Amazon Saved My Life. It made me realize just how many people were in the same position as me, including successfully published authors like her.
A few days later, I took the plunge.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
Since my Clark Kent persona is a web developer, I designed a couple of covers myself. I liked them well enough, but then I was discussing the cover with Electra and Irene Baka, my number one fan (literally; I’m still trying to find a second one). We came up with the idea of a “logo” for Pearseus; a set of scales carrying a rusty sword and a bloodied book. My illustrator friend Dimitris Fousekis, who’s illustrating the children’s books, kindly offered to draw that, and I was gobsmacked when I saw it; I absolutely loved it. I have used it since on everything from t-shirts to desktop backgrounds, and it’s brilliant.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
Here’s where my day job is particularly helpful. As a web developer, I do a lot of marketing for my clients, and have a pretty good idea of how to promote something on the Internet. In a nutshell, it’s all about people, about building a network. Sadly, I have a great network when it comes to the web, a decent one for startups, and a non-existent one when it comes to books. So, I’m currently very busy amending that, and I’m grateful to you for helping out!
What I’ve realized from almost 20 years of marketing experience is that, if you have a great product, it may still flop. Remember if you build it they will come; that old saying from Field of Dreams? Well, in my experience they probably won’t. Products don’t sell themselves; people sell them to other people.
So, authors need to build a community and interact in an honest and personal way (yes, I’m glaring at the ads promising to spam hundreds of thousands of innocent mailboxes with our books right now). We have to reach real people; introduce our work to them; make them care about our characters, stories and books. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it’s hugely rewarding to meet similarly-minded people; people who share your passion, whether they’re writers, fans or enablers like you.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
The thing that’s shocked me most in my life, is the realisation of just how free we really are. If you think about it, there’s very few limitations on us, but the ones we place on ourselves. Of course, one has to pay the consequences of one’s actions, but that’s only fair, right?
What usually stops us from doing all sorts of crazy things, is fear. Now, fear can be a great thing and a useful tool. However, it can also strangle us, stifle our creativity, steal away our life. So, if someone decides, even for a second, to ignore the fear of failure, ridicule and loss, they may realise that life is far richer and filled with beauty and potential than they could possibly imagine.
I don’t know whether I will succeed or fail; my destination is still unknown to me. All I know is that this journey is the most fun I’ve had in decades! So my advice is to risk it and go for it. Write your book, edit it, send it to reviewers and beta testers, edit it some more, and publish it. Then, feel free to edit it even more, as your skills grow. Find your own path and follow it.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Athens, Greece. My parents seem to be severe agoraphobics, as they move every time there’s more than half a dozen neighbors around them, so I grew up in a forest north of Athens. I remember 1982 particularly vividly. I was 12 at the time and we had just moved to a half-built house. It had no electricity, running water, phones or even a road for a year (I had to walk half a mile to where my school bus would pick me up). Lack of water was the worst; we collected rain water in a huge tank and heated it up using a gas stove to shower (hence my fascination with showers in Pearseus. They’re small miracles of engineering!). Then, one day my dad showed up with a monstrous US Army generator, and we’d have power for a couple of hours each day. That was a spectacular year; we had the worst snowfall in decades, plus a killer earthquake. The irony is that I went to a pretty posh school, so my friends would talk about horse-riding and skiing, and I’d be like, “yeah, and I have to go back home to study under a gas lamp”. It didn’t do wonders for my social life…
There is an upside to all this of course; living miles away from all your friends as an only child with no neighbors and no TV can really build up your reading skills! To this day, I love books (and hate camping).
Where do you live now?
After studying and working in Edinburgh, Scotland, I returned in 2000 to Greece. I now live near my old house, still in that forest, although we do have all the amenities nowadays.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Erm, anything? I have this schizoid personality; on one hand I love my privacy, on another I love making friends. So, if you let me, I’d probably be emailing and chatting all day long with everyone with an interest in books. Especially my books. 🙂
What are you working on now?
I’m on page 100 of the next installment on the Pearseus series. I’ve also written half a dozen children’s books, and am in the process of illustrating the first of them. After that, it’s back to self-publishing and promoting them.
I’m also planning an Indiegogo campaign to help cover the promotion expenses for my books, particularly making promo videos and going to book events. I’ve paid for everything out of my own pocket so far, and there are so many things I’d love to do, given the chance!
End of Interview:
For more from Nicholas, he has an extensive web presence, as you might expect from reading the interview. On social media, you can like his facebook page or the page for this series. You might also follow him on twitter or visit his Tumblr page. For even more, he has a Tumblr page for the series, and three different websites, one personal, one for this series, and another for his children’s books.