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Ocean of Stars - Interview with John Dodd

Ocean of Stars is out April 12, 2022. Cover Art by Rodrigo Vega.

Pre-orders will open February 15, 2022.

Order online on our website or in all the usual places.

Watch the YouTube Launch here, from March 31, 2022.

Let’s start from the beginning. Who were the writers who inspired you to become an author?

William Gibson, Victor Milan, James Herbert, Willard Price, Nigel Findley. I loved well written action that had characters that you could care about, not just that they were heroes and heroines, but that they had a compelling character arc. I love new ideas and ways in which they can be taken in all different directions, but I also love compelling characters and adventure.

What is the very first piece of fiction you ever wrote?

Short stories. I started way back in my junior years, I had no idea what I was doing, and there weren’t so many books on how to write stories back then, so it was mostly make it up as you go along. The first novel that I finished was Midnight in Old London, written for a London around the turn of the century with a time traveling scientist who took all the legendary parts of London and brought them into a world all on his own without thoughts for the consequences of what he’d done. Two-headed dogs and sentient rats that could band together into biogenetic titans against Victorian scientific insanity.

What is the hardest part of writing, in your experience?

Not letting the book run away in a direction you weren’t expecting. It’s good when the story gets its own head and moves forwards, but sometimes you need to rein it in and make sure that the story it’s telling is the one that you want it to tell. Ocean of Stars very much got away from me when I first tried to write it, and then again when I was finishing it, leading to a whole new third act.

Tell me about your book. What was the inspiration behind it?

I love the notion of exploring, I play roleplaying games and have done since an early age, so going out into wild, uncharted lands are what I thrive on. What I wanted with Ocean of Stars was to show that there can still be adventures in places that you may have been to before. It’s not so much about the vast and varied universe, but what you do when you get out there. I never thought I would tire of seeing vast open landscapes, and then a million people filming themselves in those places changed my mind. What I came to realise is that I didn’t tire of seeing those things in person, and I wanted a story where the main characters went out into the universe and did things, rather than hoping they could.

Is there a particular character in the book? What makes it so?

The main characters are only as interesting as the characters they come up against. Godstorm remains the foil throughout the book, even when he’s not on the page, you know he’s in the background doing things, and he only serves himself, not because he has to but because he wants to. In the UK today, I should be grateful that I didn’t write him with a bad haircut speaking worse latin, because people would think that I just copied that person, but I assure you all, Godstorm isn’t that person. With the other villains in the book, they have motive and purpose beyond wealth and power, what makes Godstorm dangerous is that he’ll cross anyone, kill anyone, and do anything to get what he wants. When a villain will do anything and everything, you can’t predict them, and that makes them interesting.

Think back at your debut book. How did you approach the ‘getting published’ process? Any tips, resources that you can share with our readers?

Talk to agents, talk to publishers, every bit of interest I’ve ever had in publishing was after talking to someone. Ocean of Stars came out of conversations with Francesca Barbini of Luna Press, at Eastercon, and all the other books I have in consideration were asked for when I’d spoken to the agents in person. It’s the most difficult part of being a writer, you have to put yourself on the page, and when you’ve done that, you need to put yourself out into the world. When you’ve got several books under your belt, maybe agents and contracts fall from the sky (I hope), but when it’s the first books, you need to be out in the world, you may have the greatest book in the world, but unless you can go and tell people that you have, the world may never see it and that would be the greatest shame of all.

How did you find the publishing process, in general?

With Luna? Easiest I’ve ever known, the editing was swift and effective, the communication was constant, and the encouragement was always there. I’ve self published, and I’ve been published in the games industry, neither of which offered anywhere near the encouragement that was offered here. To know that someone not only likes your book, but wants to read it and help you make it better? It’s what every writer dreams of.

What do you think is the status of publishing today? I’m referring to issues such as representation, diversity, etc.

It’s in an infinitely better place than it was years ago, and there’s an understanding now that the world finds interest in stories that aren’t the ones that were available forty years ago. I look at the books on my to-read-pile, Catriona Ward, Charlie Jane Anders, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lorraine Wilson, and when I see more books coming out, in the fields that I read, the field is far less middle aged white men, but I’m aware that there’s still a lot more of us than there are most other represented authors. I hope that that balance one day will be even, and that it will be the words that tell the story, not the writers socio-economic background or privilege, but it’s going to be a fight that continues for some time. Most wars are won on attrition, and I think that the battlefront is changing as more people want the stories that they’ve never read before. We don’t want a story that goes by the numbers and fulfils The Writers Journey again, we’ve seen that, we’ve been seeing those since forever. What we want are stories that come to us unexpected from places that we never imagined, from people that we’ve never known, and the more they are available, the more they will be wanted, which in turn will bring more demand, and in the end, the war will be won.

What is your take on social media, when it comes to being an author? Do you think that an author should have at least one channel of communication with the readers?

I have three different channels, facebook, twitter, and my personal website. I don’t tweet as much as I probably should, I try to put a post up every day, and as I’m currently working on writing another million words this year, getting the amount of words on the page isn’t the problem, spending the time to work out the different ways you can communicate (and be able to respond on) is the key. I know that there are authors out there with far more people on their social profiles than I have, and I have no doubt that that increased reach helps book sales. It’s all about putting yourself out there and having people respond to what you do and who you are (while making sure you get everything else done while you’re at it.). I think it’s more important to be able to keep the social media at a level that you can respond to, but I’d bet that that’s the wrong answer when you’ve got a million followers.

What do you think about Awards in publishing?

Unless awards have a particular judging panel, then they’re a popularity contest. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that the prizes for the most part are decided by the book that had the best marketing combined with the best writing, which in turn was why it was picked up. Some prizes require contributions for those books that are shortlisted, some require that the book is available in major book chains and/or supermarkets, a thing which isn’t easy to achieve when you’re not a major publishing house. Every author loves to win awards, but they should always be thankful for the team behind them that made sure they were seen first and foremost, because without that team, no one wins anything.

What are you working on at the moment?

Several things, Red Sword at Night, a story of an alien species launching an invasion on a magically active world, concentrating more on the human element rather than massed battle scenes. Apex, a novella about an exploratory team out in deep space assessing new planets when they encounter something that may well be more evolved than they are. Finally, I’m also working on 1.5 degrees, a horror story based on a floating tanker after climate change has reduced most of the world to isolated archipelagos, and the crew find themselves trapped on an automated bio-barge that has more than plants living within it.

If you had to recommend an author and/or a book, who would it be?

Anna, by Sammy HK Smith, one of the hardest hitting books I’ve ever read, truth burning through every page without remorse but full of compassion, and This is our Undoing, by Lorraine Wilson, not all monsters are monsters, not all humans are human, beautiful prose and riveting in it’s nature.

Ocean of Stars is out April 12, 2022. Cover Art by Rodrigo Vega.

Pre-orders will open February 15, 2022.

Order online on our website or in all the usual places.

Watch the YouTube Launch here, from March 31, 2022.

About John Dodd:

John C Dodd works conventions, that’s what he does, that’s all he does…

Co-Area Head for Mimo for Worldcon 2019, Committee at Eastercons since 2020, Director of Dragonmeet, Front of House at UK Games Expo, RPG manager at Airecon and UK Games Expo, Director of Longcon. He enjoys building events where everyone can have a great time, and even now in times when everything is not as it once was, he still looks for ways so that others can have a good time

He’s a Swordsman, a Devotee of the Iron Church, a preacher of handwriting, and a writer of games, publishing his own RPG, Quest, in 2018. He’s been line developer of SLA Industries and has written for several different games companies, including Cubicle 7 and Modiphius Entertainment.

He also wrote a million words in 2014 and has never stopped since then, writing is what keeps him sane…

Find him on Facebook or by typing in Millionwordman into any search engine in the world. Here is John's Goodreads Link.

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