Tuesday

Kindle Author Interview: Carmen Webster Buxton

Carmen Webster Buxton, author of The Sixth Desciple, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Sixth Discipline?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: The Sixth Discipline is far future science fiction. It's set entirely on Haven, a world that has been colonized by disparate groups of people who all left earth for their own reasons. They certainly have technology that we don't have now, but the story is more about the culture that has developed than about how things work. The protagonist is a man from a more primitive society, technologically, than is found on most of Haven, and he has to cope with suddenly finding himself in a setting in which nothing makes sense to him. The woman he meets has as much trouble understanding his values as he has understanding hers.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: For me, story always starts with the main character. In fact, I sometimes create the setting to provide a logical background for the protagonist as I envision him or her. I always try to create a full back story for each significant character. I don't necessarily put any of it in the narrative, but I keep a file on all the characters, purely for my own use, with information on what they look like, where they are from, and what kind of family did they grow up in. As for differentiating them, speech is a big part of that. One or two characters might have a different speech patterns from the others, possibly even different grammar, if they are from different geographical areas. Reading a draft aloud really helps; once I hear the dialog, I might notice that people sound too much alike and change the speech patterns on a specific character because of that. Even the narrative tone needs to change when it's from a different point of view. And names are important. Fast readers, especially, will tend to confuse characters who have similar-sounding names.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: A voracious one! I think my work would appeal to someone who prefers speculative fiction, but doesn't insist on hard science fiction. Also, as someone who wants an emotional connection to the main characters when I read a book, I like to think my work provides that to my readers.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: I wrote a (very bad) novel right after college, while I was unemployed, but somehow I never saw writing as a way to make a living. I dabbled with writing over the years, but it wasn't until after I had worked at a couple of different jobs, gotten married, and had kids that I returned to writing and worked seriously at finishing books and learning the craft. I took a writing class, joined a writers' group (I still belong to it), and discovered the painful but necessary process of getting feedback and figuring out what needed to change in a story.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: I always have a specific scene in my head to start with. By the time I am done, that's not always the first scene in the book; in fact, it's not always even in the book! Usually, after I get the first scenic straight, I just mull over in my head what I think will happen in the story and start writing once I have a direction to take the book. I don't formally write an outline, but I do keep a notes/plot file where I jot down ideas as they come to me. I keep a to-do file for when I think of something I need to change, so I don't have to stop writing to go back and change it. I make a time line file to record events as they happen in the plot. As I write, I am always adding to my notes, time line, and character files. A lot of people think of writing a novel as purely a creative process, but it actually take a decent level of organization if you expect the story to make sense.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: Neil Gaiman, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula LeGuin, S.J. Rozan, and Georgette Heyer are at the top of my list. I enjoy a huge number of writers. There is a lot of good stuff coming out these days.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: There are a lot of books I wish I had written, but the one I envy most is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett. I love that book, partly because it's such a perfect expression of childhood in a specific time and place, and because the characters change so much, right before our eyes.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: I have to say marketing is much tougher than writing, at least for me. I am working on asking for reviews and interviews from bloggers (like you!). I also post on ebook user forums. And of course, I spammed family and friends with an email announcement! It''s important to note that pricing is a part of marketing. I picked The Sixth Discipline as my first Kindle book because it has a sequel. I have priced The Sixth Discipline at 99 cents because I see it as a promotional price. No Safe Haven, the sequel, will be out soon at $2.99. I have a third book that is waiting for its cover to be finished that should follow within a few weeks or months; it's unrelated but I think having three books will help me stand out more, and I have a few other manuscripts that need a little work if I decide to keep going. And finally, I have just created a blog, and I plan to post often about ebooks and publishing as well as about my own work.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: The Kindle has ignited digital publishing like nothing before it ever did. Sony actually had an e-ink reader on sale before the Kindle came out, but they didn't have a decent bookstore or wireless delivery, so it pretty much went nowhere. Amazon was the first to offer both sides of the equation: good, easy-to-use e-ink reader and a great selection of ebooks. Everyone else has jumped on the bandwagon, and publishing is going digital at an astonishing speed, but at this point, the other platforms are playing catch-up to the Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

CARMEN WEBSTER BUXTON: Don't just write a book and slap it up on the Kindle platform! In fact, you might not want to think about publishing until your third or fourth book. Absolutely get some good feedback, and I don't mean from your mom or your friends. Find other writers, either in person or online, take classes if you can, and work on getting good at writing and story telling before you put the book out there. And once you feel you are ready, do some homework on ebooks. Get help with editing, proofing, and with the cover. If you rely on Amazon's conversion, be sure you proof your review copy and correct any formatting mistakes. There are conversion houses out there if you can afford them who will make your ebook look much prettier than it would otherwise.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carmen Webster Buxton has been reading and writing science fiction and fantasy for years, but only discovered ebooks in 2009. She attends both writers' conferences and science fiction and fantasy conventions. She lives in Maryland with her husband, her daughter, and an elderly beagle who has his own pet cat.

Read her blog.

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