Author Spotlight: Erica Lindquist & Aron Christensen
Friday February 24th, 2012

The first time I read a story by Erica Lindquist was almost a year ago in the June 2011 issue of Efiction Magazine. It was a short story called Fireflies and I loved it. Seriously, it had been a while since I had something that the idea was the main focus. While I loved the characters, and thought the story was wonderful, it was the idea of it that struck me. It felt like I was reading something that Ray Bradbury could have included in The Martial Chronicles, seriously, it was that good. I began to communicate with Erica via Twitter, and when Kit and I decided it was time Volume II of Cifiscape, I immediately thought of trying to get Erica to be a part of it. Admittedly, Erica and Aron don't reside in Minneapolis, and while that may stretch the bounds of our premise, I felt that the quality of the writing was enough that I had to try and get her in Vol. II. Well, long story long, she and Aron were happy to submit a story that they had previously published in their own collection of short stories called In Odder Words. We were happy to accept it into this Volume, and we're even more excited about getting to share it with you soon.
However, we are here today to learn about Erica and Aron, so, I am proud to present the Author Spotlight for Erica Lindquist and Aron Christensen:

Did you guys always want to be authors?
Erica: I never even considered it when I was a kid. I was always an avid reader, but I never wrote much of my own. I went to school for another profession entirely, but when the writing bug bit, it bit hard.
When I finished Anvil of Tears, I was still in college. I went on to internships and a couple of jobs in journalism, but rewrites and beginning work on my next book took up more and more of my attention. Eventually, I was laid off from my job. While unemployed, I could write full-time.
I loved it! As the weeks rolled by, I spent more time writing and less time job-hunting. Finally, I asked Aron if we could get by without a second steady income. We considered a while. We had to tighten our belts a little, but we could make it work. I have been a full-time author ever since. In short, writing is a new dream of mine.

Aron: When I was younger, I wrote myself little adventure stories. Nothing serious, just fun stuff for myself or my friends that I never intended to go anywhere. In school, I always enjoyed any assignment where I got to write. My writing was usually a little more creative than it was supposed to be, but humor was how I got by in school so I kind of got away with it.
I can’t say I ever wanted to be an author, though. Erica started writing books and I was her first editor, beta reader, and fan. When she got stuck, she talked out the plot with me. I actually resisted being called her co-author for a long time because I didn’t think that my contributions were equal to the work she put in, certainly not enough to put my name on the cover with hers. I just slowly got more involved until I admitted that I was actually writing the books with Erica. Now I love it.

In your bio you say that you weren’t classically trained in writing,
could you expand on that?
Has that affected the way that you guys craft your stories?
Do you think it has helped or hindered your writing careers at all?
Erica: When I say that, I don't mean in the sense of a musician who might reference classical as a kind of training. I mean that I haven't been trained at all. I have no idea what I'm doing. None. I majored in English for one very, very short semester in college. I grew quickly tired of reading plays – I remember having to read Wit in two separate classes – and changed majors. I have never taken a creative writing class. I've read a few books on writing, but not many. What education in writing I have is from reading the novels I love. A lot of them aren't classy and even fewer of them are classics.
As to how that's affected my career, it's hard to say. I'm unsure how much impact my lack of training has had. When I first started writing, I was lucky enough to be friends with a New York Times bestselling author. When I talked to her about my seedling ambitions, she had a lot of advice for me.
I had every reason to listen, but I didn't. She told me not to write about writing, but my first novella took place in an author's mind. She warned me not to make my first novel part of a series. My first book was the beginning of a trilogy that I still haven't finished! (Though I'm hoping to this year.)
The point is that I didn't follow the advice given to me. What I've finally learned about writing came only through experiencing it for myself. I don't know that advice from teachers would have helped me avoid those mistakes.
That's not to say that teachers wouldn't have helped me. While I might have made those particular mistakes anyway, a good writing professor doubtlessly would have helped me with my admittedly rough prose. I've tried to learn from my favorite authors, but trying too hard to sound like them means diluting my own voice. Maybe learning from someone who knew how to teach would have helped me through that.

Aron: I don’t have any formal background in writing either, but I am a long-time role-player. I’d say I love running games more than I like playing them. Every role-playing game calls that person something different, but the title I prefer is Storyteller. I approach my role-playing like a book or a movie and try to tell a dramatic and exciting story with a clear plot arc. When it comes to writing actual books, I think that my role-playing experience taught me a number of things that I bring into the writing process.
One of the things that I am known for among my role-playing friends is my non-player characters. My players really enjoy the variety and depth of my NPCs and I usually populate my games with them pretty heavily. Fleshing out secondary characters in our novels is something that I usually take care of.
The other thing I do is outline. I’ve run games with no plan and just embarrassed myself hideously. Thankfully, when I screw up in front of a role-playing group I’m only embarrassed in front of a half-dozen people. The same mistakes in a novel would have a much wider audience for my screw-ups! So I learned to outline and think ahead and as we’ve applied those methods more and more to our writing, I think our books have improved.

Where did the idea for Little Hawk come from?
It’s connected to one of your full-length novels, correct?
Erica: I don't quite remember why I first wrote Little Hawk. I have a hard time writing short stories, so I don't often write them. But at some point, I must have decided that it was a good idea, or else that I just wasn't going to be able to sleep until I wrote it all down.
Logan, the protagonist of Little Hawk, is one of the characters of our first book, Anvil of Tears. In that novel, he is a cop who turned heartless bounty hunter. But Aron and I started talking about how Logan might have turned into a cop in the first place. His planet is a hard, harsh place where the average citizen has a pretty loose grasp of the law. How does a little boy on a world like that grow up to be a cop? And so Little Hawk was born.
You don't need to read Anvil of Tears to get Little Hawk and vice versa. Each of them is their own story. Someone who reads both might have a little extra insight into Logan, but I certainly wouldn't want to obligate anyone read an entire novel just to understand Little Hawk!

Aron: I think Erica was just in the mood to write a short story and we started thinking about ideas. When we mentioned exploring Logan’s childhood to our friends, they got all excited so we started working with the idea. We knew how Logan had turned from cop to bounty hunter and that part is explored in Anvil of Tears, but we wanted to develop the man before he was either.
Little Hawk is a short story about a boy growing up in a hard city and the choices you have to make to survive and it sheds some light on who Logan was, who he is, and maybe hints a little bit about his future… if that’s not too much of a spoiler.

What were you guys doing with your lives before you stepped into writing?
Erica: As I briefly mentioned before, I was in journalism. I had gone through nine majors in college (including criminal justice, art and anthropology) before finally settling into digital communications. My mentor was a journalism professor with a keen interest in updating the field for the digital age.
So when I graduated, I went to work first with the local newspaper and then one of the associations that works with all of the papers in California. But I was young and new to the field. I had very little to contribute and even those small ideas were generally met with disinterest or outright hostility.
As the newspaper industry fell on hard time, I was laid off. But by then, I was already writing novels.

Aron: I’m the one with the day job. I work as an analyst in the healthcare industry and make sure we can pay the mortgage and get healthcare. Some people wonder if I’m resentful to be working while Erica spends most of her time writing. Even Erica worries sometimes that I sacrifice too much for her. So here’s the deal on one of us working while the other focuses on writing: If neither of us wrote, I’d still be working this job. We need it, and I like my work. So I’m not resentful that I have to keep a job. If we ever make it big and it lets me shift to full-time writing as well, I’ll be grateful, but I’m not waiting for that day. I’m just going to keep living my life and doing what I love. If we needed the extra money, Erica would work. We both know that, but as long as I can pay the bills on my own, I’m glad to give her the time to do what she loves. I come into the writing when I get home and we communicate constantly by email to keep me in the project. We've made it work.

Is it helpful having a writing partner that you are married to?
Does that affect the way you have to critique each other’s work?
Erica: I love being married to my co-author. It means that I have pretty much constant access to another brain, one that I have a great deal of respect for. I'll admit, though, that it can be tough sometimes. I occasionally do freelance design and website work. When clients tell me that they don't like my artwork, I can shrug it off. I'm not invested in their opinion. But I care a great deal about what Aron thinks of my work. Not only do I give great weight to his opinion, but I love him. I don't want him to hate what I do, especially when he invests so much of his own time and effort in the results.
When we first began writing books together, there were a lot of arguments and hurt feelings. We both stuck with it, though. Like most things, it's gotten much easier with practice, and the results are well worth the effort.

Aron: The only drawback to my co-author being my spouse is that it can be a little hard to keep feelings out of it. My style is to generate a lot of half-baked ideas and throw them on the table so we can pick and chose. If we go too long without any of my ideas working, I can get frustrated.
But being married means we that know each other well and we know how to communicate, and as soon as we focus on the challenge we’re trying to resolve in the book instead of on each other, it works. It sounds strange to say that we need to keep our feelings out of it when we’re married, but being married taught us how to do that.

Aron, I know that you’re working on a story telling guide for tabletop role-playing games, what was the motivation behind that?
Do you play tabletop role-playing games?
Aron: I am a huge gaming nerd. I’ve been role-playing since before I can remember. I know that I was young enough that I used a very simplified, almost paperless system, and grew into the more sophisticated games as I got older. I like being a player, but I also really enjoy running the games.
My gaming group was the motivation for a book on the subject. One of my players actually requested that I write one. I’m told that the way I run games is very different from anyone else and I have a lot of unique ideas. I’m always very open to criticism and suggestions and I try to treat each game like a learning experience. I keep the things that worked, jettison the things that blew up in my face and create the next game with those in mind.
I didn’t really think that I had anything unique to say about role-playing, but when we started talking about all the little things I do, it added up to a good-sized pile. I figured I may as well share the things that I learned. If people want to read it and use what I learned in my games, then maybe they can avoid some of the mistakes I made and profit from some of the lessons I learned.

Any more short stories coming out?
Erica: Well, we're working on an ongoing short story serial, The Dead Beat. There are twenty-nine stories all together. We've written out the first twenty, so that leaves nine more to go. I've got a post-apocalyptic short collecting some dust that I'd like to find some time to finish.

Could you tell me a little bit more about that Post-apocalyptic short?
Erica: Sure. Let's see... It doesn’t have title yet, but it is set in the future of the American midwest. There are desert bandits, old nuclear silos, lost technology and, in the end, a tragedy. It's not finished yet - we've been too busy with Sword of Dreams and The Dead Beat - and we have no idea what the story's publication fate will be.

Are you working on any more full-length novels?
Anvil of Tears by Erica Lindquist and Aron Christensen
Anvil of Tears - Reforged Book 1
Amazon paperback
Amazon Kindle edition
We're just finishing up Sword of Dreams, the second Reforged book, and hope to have it out in the middle of this year. After that, we'll be working on the final book of the trilogy, Hammer of Time. It going to feel strange to finally finish the Reforged trilogy! Anvil of Tears was my first book and the series has been my permanently ongoing project for several years now. It's been fun, but I think I'll be sticking to single novels for a while.

Have you guys ever considered trying to get published by a publishing company?
How has the self-published experience been?
Any trial and error stories that you’d like to share?
Erica: When I first wrote Anvil of Tears, I spent about sixteen months querying it to agents and publishing houses. All I ever got back were rejections. To be fair, I knew even less about the querying process than I did about writing.
After I ran through every agent on my list, I shelved Anvil of Tears and got to work on my second book, In the House of Five Dragons. I sent that one out, too, and received the same response. By then, I was getting frustrated. I just wanted people to read our stories. So I cleaned up our books, edited them a few more times, and put them up online as webfiction. The response wasn't overwhelming, but it was a response. People actually read our books and commented! It felt great!
Eventually, maintaining the website became so time-consuming that it was biting into my actual writing time. That was when we moved over to paperback and ebook releases. It's been working pretty well for us ever since.
Trial and error stories? I've got lots of those. Like I said, I'm entirely self-taught. It's nothing but trial and error.
One of the first painful lessons I learned was that I'm not a seat-of-my-pants writer. I tried. Oh, how I tried! Aron told me that I should probably outline my books, but I told him that I had no interest. If I outlined, then I knew exactly what was going to happen. Where was the fun?
As it turned out, deleting hundreds of pages because the plot wandered in pointless circles was far less fun. Some authors do an excellent job of letting their stories and characters grow naturally, with no plan. I'm not one of them. Without an outline, my characters end up staring into mirrors and moping about their lives. Not exactly riveting reading…
I've been advised many, many times not to write a lot of dialect. Unless you're Stephen King, it's just going to make your prose and dialog unreadable. Well, as I had so many other wise bits of advice, I ignored this one. The first draft of Anvil of Tears contained an accent so thick that, when I went back to edit the manuscript, I couldn't understand a word I had typed. It was one of the main characters. Rewriting every line of his dialog took a week. I was miserable.
I had never heard this one before I started writing, but I wish I had: Don't write main characters with a lot of secrets from the readers. Maybe one secret or one mysterious character could have worked, but Anvil of Tears had three. Their back-stories wound up so convoluted and secretive that the characters barely made sense. It's hard to like a character whose motivation has no apparent logic. I revealed all secrets by the end of the novel, but as lot of bitter reviews remind me that it was far too late for many of them. They had already stopped reading.
When writing In the House of Five Dragons, I learned to never surround a telepathic main character with villains who need to keep secrets from him. It quickly gets tough to come up with excuses as to why the protagonist doesn't just dip into their brains to discover “The Evil Plan”. I think that it all worked out in In the House of Five Dragons, but I'll never try to write a character like Rikard Mazrem again.

Aron: Fortunately for me, Erica handled the whole publishing side of our books so I had some distance from the pain of querying and rejection. My main role was to keep Erica sending the books out. I just wanted to share what we had done and I’m persistent enough to keep at it. That really started before ebooks took off so it was a lot harder. With the explosion of ebooks, it’s now very easy to self-publish and that’s what we’re doing with everything. The hard part now is getting noticed by enough people to get them reading!

Here's the one we ask everyone:
Do you listen to music when writing or editing, and if so what do you listen to?
Erica: I listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of movies when I'm writing. I find it essential to maintaining the mood of a scene. A good soundtrack helps me feel the dramatic tension when I might otherwise get bogged down by the process of the writing itself, which can sometimes be a little tedious and difficult. When I'm editing, I don't need the music quite as much. By then, I've put together enough of the story that it draws me in and holds my attention. I'm less likely to get distracted by wording and grammar. But I keep the soundtrack playing… It doesn't hurt!

Aron: I don’t listen to music while writing very much, I find it more helpful to have a movie on in the background. When we’re writing Reforged I put on some sci-fi, when we wrote In the House of Five Dragons, we watched Rome, I, Claudius, and Gladiator a lot. I’m a very visual person and I find that being able to look up and soak in some imagery is more helpful to me than just music.

If you want to keep up with Erica and Aron you can find them posting regularly on their website as well on their Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you for visiting for another edition of Author Spotlight. We'll be doing this every week. Keep coming back to read them all. Also, Cifiscape Vol. II will be out in mid-March, so look for more news as it gets closer and closer to being finished.