This week we sit down to ramble on with author Neil Ostroff.
In Neil’s own words: “I’m an author of dark, noir thrillers, romance thrillers, and middle grade sci/fi and paranormal novels. I was raised in a rural town outside of Philadelphia and have been a published author for more than twenty years. My science fiction and fantasy stories have appeared in numerous presses, zines, and websites. I have several published novels available at all online booksellers under the name N.D. Ostroff or Neil Ostroff. I am an avid boater, gardener, and poker player when not working on my novels.
ANTHONY: Hi, Neil. Thanks for stopping by to ramble on with us for a bit. In the interests of “full disclosure” I suppose we should start out talking about what we have in common: our years at Elmira College. I was an English Literature major, you were a Psychology major. I know how the EC English department influenced my writing — how did the Psychology department influence yours.
NEIL: Hi, Anthony. Yes it’s been a long time since those days. Learning psychology and how the mind works and how we interact with others is a huge help when creating characters. My serial killer character Cody Larson from FROSTPROOF was literally born out of my abnormal psychology classes. I also interned at social services so I got to see a lot of crazy personalities and behaviors that also helps when I decide on the personality traits of some of my strangest characters. Like the clairvoyant, psycho-killer prostitute in my novel, PULP.
A: Great, now I’ll be picturing Professor Rick Wesp when I read FROSTPROOF. Moving on … you’re one of those writers who can’t be pigeon-holed into a single genre. You’ve got several Young Adult sci-fi/fantasy novels, but you also write gritty pulp/noir thrillers and have at least one book that I would call “mainstream/literary fiction.” Does your writing process differ from one audience/genre to another? And if so, how significantly and how intentionally?
N: I don’t like to stick to one particular genre and usually write what I want to write. This drove one of my former agents, Gary Heidt at Signature Lit. crazy. He first tried to sell me as thriller writer, than a YA sci/fi writer, and then the literary novel finally drove him over the edge. My audiences do differ with my books but I think this draws more diverse readers. Emotions play a large part in what project I’m going to start next. For instance, my literary novel, DROP OUT was written after a friend died of cancer only eight days after his diagnosis. That was a powerful event that shaped the novel to be.
A: Lots of authors feel that they need to fall into one camp (YA) or the other (adults). Rick Riordan, for instance, has completely stopped writing murder mysteries to concentrate on his mythology-based YA series. Do you ever feel the pull to fully commit to one or the other?
N: Yes. My first novel FROSTPROOF is a noir thriller and I wrote two more noir thrillers following that one. DEGENERATES and PULP. Like I said before, my agent really pushed for me to continue with this genre, but I also had YA sci/fi fantasy stories that I wanted to tell. I wrote a three book middle grade sci/fi series after the noir thrillers and committed to that genre for a while. Then, of course, my friend’s illness happened and I changed genres again.
A: I am always fascinated by how each writer I talk to starts the process of a book, story, etc. What do you find most often kicks off a new work? Do you start with an image, a piece of dialogue, a specific character?
N: Most of my books start with ideas I’ve had for years in my head. Usually, I get an idea for a novel and let it fester in my brain. I start to jot down notes of how I want the story to go. Eventually I have enough notes to actually formulate an entire novel. Then I write a few chapters and see if the story takes off. If it doesn’t, I scratch it and move to my next idea. For every three novels I start I usually complete one. The maturation process takes another few years or so. I’ll let the first draft sit for a month and then give it a re-read. Then I’ll let it sit again and then do another. Eventually I read it through and find that I have nothing more to add. That is when the book is complete.
A: Your most recent adult novel, DROP OUT, has its roots in the September 11th, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the iconic image of smoke billowing from the Towers is a part of the cover art. Did you set out planning to write a 9/11 novel for the 10th anniversary? What has reaction to the book been like?
N: As I said, DROP OUT was written in response to my friend’s death. I incorporated the trauma of 9/11 to make the story universal in its theme. I started researching what others experienced during that event and became fascinated with tales of survival. The initial escape scene in the beginning of the book is a culmination of these stories. The reaction to the book has been pretty intense. I’ve received emails from total strangers saying that the book had a deep impact on how they see the world and gives them a greater appreciation for their time in it. The first draft was written four years ago, so its release was not really planned specifically for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It just happened that way.
A: The proliferation of e-readers has been decried as “the end of the publishing industry as we know it.” As an author whose books are primarily available in that format, what effect has e-publishing had on self-publishing?
N: It’s only the death of the big publishing conglomerates. I believe this is the most amazing time in history for writers who want their work available for world purchase. The internet and ereaders have made possible for any writer to make a living at their craft. Personally, I hope every person in the world buys an ereader. When else in history can an author like me, from nowhere Pennsylvania, sell books in London, France, and Australia, which I have done? Or sell books all over the country, which I have done? Selling books these days is all about market and promotion. Find a couple of good websites and social network and you can sell thousands from sitting at your desk.
A: You recently blogged about “voice recognition software” turning everyone into a writer but not necessarily an artist. As technology makes it easier to write/create, what challenges do you see for yourself as a creative person getting your books to the largest possible audience, and what do you think the pitfalls will be for readers?
N: I received a lot of responses when I posted that. Most people agree that voice recognition will not make writers out of everyday people. A good story takes thinking, and plotting, and pacing, all which are very hard to get right the first time. Perhaps, voice recognition is a good way to write a very raw first draft, but it takes countless hours of staring at the page to get things right. The only pitfalls I see to readers are that there is probably going to be a lot of junk out there and readers will have to sift through it to find the gem novels.
A: It looks like you have two YA titles coming out soon: DREAM TRAVELER and INSECTLAND. Tell us a bit about each of those and when we can expect to see them.
N: INSECTLAND is due out in about two weeks. It is the second book in the middle grade series I mentioned earlier. Here is the back cover copy:
Be frightened! Be very, very frightened! Tiny, dragon-like creatures hidden in our homes will harm us. They will shrink us to the size of rice, enslave us, and turn our world into their own lethal military base. But there is hope. Legions of robotic insects intent on stopping them have recruited high school student Dan Larson to help. Thrust into danger on an alien planet, Dan risks everything in a desperate attempt to prevent an epic battle that could change the balance of power in the galaxy forever.
DREAM TRAVELER is the last book in the series. That should be out sometime early next year. Here is a quick summary:
200,000 years in the future. After centuries of conflict, human spirits called Phelastians, who live on a magnificent floating city in the clouds, are finally making peace with Dwellers, ape-like creatures who live on the decimated planet Earth. Formalities require that a twenty-first century human be present as a witness to the treaty. A Phelastian travels backward in time and recruits Jamie Richards, a geeky, everyday teenager. Core, a Dweller overlord, is pro-war and sabotages the celestial link connecting Jamie to her own world. She vanishes from the signing, crumbling the negotiations, and sending her on a series of mind-bending, alternate-reality adventures that shatter the boundaries of possibility.
A: And now my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to convince someone who hasn’t read it that they should read it?
N: I actually have two favorite books that influenced my writing career the most. The first is LESS THAN ZERO by Brett Easton Ellis. It’s old, and dated now, but that novel greatly influenced my noir style. The second is THE STAND by Steven King. I love the way King has multiple characters and stories and weaves them all together into one mega plot. My book DEGENERATES is styled after that one. I also believe that every wannabe author should read Steven King’s ON WRITING. It is simply the best book on the craft ever written in my opinion.
A: Thanks, Neil!
N: Thanks, Anthony.
Neil’s work can be found on his website, through Smashwords, at Author Den, and through the usual e-reader suspects like BN and Amazon. Neil himself can be found on his own website, on Goodreads, on his blog and occasionally on Twitter.