Lela Markham Presents
Fellow Breadwater Harbor Books author Ted Cross is my guest today. Ted is the author ofThe Immortality Game, a science-fiction dystopian fantasy, and about to publish a second book The Shard.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
First of all, thanks so much for doing this, Lela! I was born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised mainly in Tucson. I graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in Russian Studies in 1992, and the next year moved to Moscow, Russia to work in the embassy. I met and married my wife there–we’ve been married nearly twenty years now, and we have two sons, ages 16 and 14. Besides reading and writing, my hobbies are chess, guitar, photography, soccer, basketball, and traveling. I’m allergic to most cats and dogs, so we just have a pet parakeet, named Sheldon after the character on Big Bang Theory.
What was the first story you ever wrote?
An epic fantasy novel called The Shard. I started it while living in Beijing in 2006 and completed it in Iceland in 2009. I’ve never quite been satisfied with it, so I keep tinkering, and I’m hopeful I can publish it next year.
What in life really motivates you?
Other than taking care of my family, I love creativity and I have a desire to do something that people will enjoy. The Immortality Game touches on the theme of immortality, and that has long been a motivation of mine. I’ve long been very aware of how short life is, and I admire those people, from Michelangelo to Mozart to the Beatles, who create something that lasts far beyond their own lifetimes. I dream of doing that.
So, I’m going to strand you in a remote Alaskan cabin for a month (in the summer, so you don’t have to worry about stocking the woodstove, and you have sufficient food, ghiardia-free water and plenty of bug spray). Do you spend the time hiking around or do you bring a collection of books to read? If you’re bringing books, what are they?
I would love to visit Alaska! I got to live in Iceland for two years and it was fantastic, it had no real trees. I’d love to go hiking in those beautiful forests you have. But I’d have to have books with me, of course. There are shelves full of great books that I long to read but haven’t been able to get to yet, so I’d love to bring many of those. Then I also like to re-read old favorites, so I’d bring the Rome series from Colleen McCullough, the Earthsea series from Ursula Le Guin, Tolkien’s various books, the Song of Ice and Fireseries by George R.R. Martin, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and Patrick Rothfuss’s Kvothe series.
What are the major writing influences in your life?
Tolkien was the biggest early influence, as he is with so many fantasy writers, but the one who actually got me to sit down and start typing out my first story was George R.R. Martin. I loved his gritty realism as applied to fantasy, and I liked the method he used of rotating chapters between POV characters. I mimicked that in my fantasy novel, but I found that wouldn’t quite work in The Immortality Game. It’s a thriller, so it’s too fast paced for only a single POV per chapter. I had to switch between characters too often to be able to create a satisfying chapter arc.
Tell us about the Immortality Game.
I got to know Moscow and the terror of the Russian mafia very well while living there for four years in the mid-90’s. I’ve long wanted to convey that in a story but couldn’t figure out how to make it work for a whole novel. Later I had some ideas for some twists on old sci-fi tropes, and I realized I could make the story work by combining these ideas with my old mafia tale. I really wanted to take a couple of normal, innocent people and throw them into absolute hell–sort of a Quentin Tarantino story done in Moscow–and make them either sink or swim. I wanted them to face their horror like we all would, and come very close to giving up, but though of course it doesn’t make for a good story if they don’t find some inner reserve and choose to fight for their lives.
What gave you the idea for this story?
Besides what I already mentioned above, I had a wizard character in my epic fantasy with a fascinating backstory. He had been a Russian scientist from Earth who arrived with the first mission to colonize a planet outside of our solar system. The new planet has a moon made of an element that isn’t present in our solar system, and this element works on the body in a way that can seem much like what we call magic, but it doesn’t work on the natives of the planet, so only those who arrived from Earth end up being ‘wizards’. As I fleshed out this character’s backstory, I used the previously mentioned elements, and his backstory became so intriguing to me that I ended up having to write it.
Given the subject, is there any sort of message in it?
I am not huge on deep messages, so there’s nothing in the book that purposely conveys anything deep. If it’s in there, it’s a byproduct of having a full story with characters that feel real to me. Of course the story touches on many themes, from what technology may be doing to us as humans to wondering if there limitations we should impose on ourselves, if we could. I happen to believe that if we CAN do something (as a race), we will, regardless of the consequences. Wishing we could stop certain things from developing won’t work, because even if we (the USA) decide not to do something, someone somewhere else in the world will still do it.
Oh, so true! How did you develop your stunning cover?
I have long loved two particular living artists, Alan Lee and Stephan Martiniere. I have Martiniere prints on my wall at home. I didn’t even check with him initially, because I assumed it would cost far too much for me to afford. So I checked with other artists, since I really wanted a cover that would follow my vision for it in a high-quality way. In the end I got bold enough to ask Stephan, and he was more reasonable than I expected. He was also a pleasure to work with, and he really nailed what I was after. I did worry that it might have too many elements in it, making the artwork too busy, but it actually turned out great. I don’t know if you’ve pulled it up to larger size, but there is so much to see in there. The Pyramid and twin hotel towers are the mafia base. The air cars in their various lanes are all over in my future. You can see Zoya crouching on the right side, with a nice cathedral behind her. And there are flurries of what look like snow but is actually poplar seeds, a symbol throughout the book and something I wanted in the story since poplar seeds are a big part of each Russian summer.
It’s a great cover, Ted! Well worth the effort. What are some of the pitfalls you’ve encountered as an indie author?
The biggest one is simply getting noticed. The development of indie writing has opened the floodgates, meaning that while there is good work out there, there is far more mediocre to bad work, and this tidal wave has made readers wary. They look to the already famous authors for the most part, and they are very nervous about paying their hard-earned money for someone they have never heard about. That’s part of why I insisted on paying for such a high-quality cover–I needed to demonstrate to readers that I have a commitment to quality, and I hope they will believe that this commitment extends to my writing and not just the cover.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a bunch of stories ready to work on, and while they are all set in the same ‘universe’, they are all meant to be able to stand alone while still contributing to the particular flavor of my universe. I plan on some characters appearing in each novel so there will be some continuity, but I don’t have plans for a traditional trilogy with a long single storyline.
Anything else you would like to add.
I’m truly grateful that Scott Toney and Cara Goldthorpe built Breakwater Harbor Books and allowed me to join! Indie writing is tough enough without doing every last thing on your own. Having a support group is tremendously helpful.
I feel the same way. I was very pleased when Scott invited me in. I think a cooperative imprint is the best of both possible worlds for an indie author.
Ted’s book The Immorality Game was released a few months ago.
Moscow, 2138. With the world only beginning to recover from the complete societal collapse of the late 21st Century, Zoya scrapes by prepping corpses for funerals and dreams of saving enough money to have a child. When her brother forces her to bring him a mysterious package, she witnesses his murder and finds herself on the run from ruthless mobsters. Frantically trying to stay alive and save her loved ones, Zoya opens the package and discovers two unusual data cards, one that allows her to fight back against the mafia and another which may hold the key to everlasting life.
Facebook page: Ted.Cross.Author
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9846871.Ted_Cross