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Interview with DJ LeJeune

He sends his readers on near and far-future Science Fiction adventures, blended with a dash of thriller and a lot of character. Grand Prize winner for the Short Fiction Break Writing Contest, he minored in Creative Writing in college and is finally using that forgotten degree. He's a father who enjoys gaming, tech, and Donatello because he's the MVP of the Ninja Turtles.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
I used to work on cruise ships as a social host. So I was one of the people hosting Karaoke, Bingo, and the men's sexy leg competition. Fun times.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Yes. I'm working on the sequel to Path of Relics now. I plan to release it later in 2023. I also have several flash fiction stories I'll attempt to publish this year.

Q.3 What inspired you to write Path of Relics: Aether Shard?
The story is science fiction, but more specifically, it's in a subgenre called Gamelit or LitRPG (Lite). Think along the lines of Ready Player One or Sword Art Online and you're getting close. Anyway, that genre interested me because it combines so many of my interests. Technology, escapism, gaming, virtual reality... My inspiration came from telling a story that allowed me to dig into all those fun concepts.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Getting the small details right, especially the character's internal way of looking at the world. I'm still learning this part of it, I feel. In my experience, men and women are mostly the same in their motivations and outlooks on life. What tends to make more of a difference is the individual's personality. Are they introverted or extroverted? What is their history? Do they think logically or go with their gut? I try to focus on those types of qualities first. Then I hope my Beta readers will point out anything that doesn't ring true in my female characters.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I tend to work on a 6-Act formula for my novels. It's much easier in my opinion than using a simple 3-Act, Story Circle, Hero's Journey, etc. Thinking of the story in 6 acts gives me a specific direction to point my characters throughout the entire story.

For my main characters, I tend to use Michael Hague's method of defining their wound and fear and such. This informs what type of situations they'll have to face in order to push their buttons and make them grow.

Q.6 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintains its independence or intertwine with other literary genres?
I think science fiction already intertwines with other genres. If you look back at some of the Robot series from Issac Asimov, he combined sci-fi with good old-fashioned detective novels. Or if you consider a movie like Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, that's just a romance in an action/sci-fi setting. 

Science fiction is one of those genres that encompasses all the others. But as far as the future of sci-fi, I think it'll feature artificial intelligence much more. AI is entering the public consciousness in a big way nowadays, and there's a lot of uncertainty around it.

Q.7 How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My first book took me about two and a half years. The sequel will likely take about one year. So at least I'm getting faster! I still hold a full-time job outside of writing, but I think I may be able to get to two novels a year, eventually. And if I'm able to become a full-time writer, dare I hope for three novels a year?

Q.8 What’s your writing schedule while working?
Every M-F morning, I do several 25-minute writing sprints. Currently, I'm aiming for about 10,000 words a week while working on the first draft of the sequel. If I don't hit my word count goal for the week, I'll catch up over the weekend.

Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the key aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
Yes, very different, I feel. Classic science fiction tended to be more about the “idea” of the story. What would it be like to go to Mars? What if there was a time-traveling bureaucracy that controlled human affairs over the centuries? What if a giant alien object showed up in the solar system?

On the surface, that sounds similar to modern sci-fi. But older science fiction took its time on the awe and wonder aspects of those scenarios. What it often lacked, however, was character development. Much of modern science fiction doesn't quite hit the sense of awe of those older stories, aiming to use the speculative scenario more as a backdrop for action and character drama.

There are pros and cons to both, right? Older stories can drag at times and I can't think of too many characters I really connected with in those. But many modern stories tend to gloss over the cool larger-than-life science fiction concepts I want more of. If I'm able to hit a balance of the two in my own works, I'll be happy. But it takes work.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularizing the genre?
Science fiction is popular for many of the reasons I mentioned above. It allows readers to escape into situations that just aren't possible in the real world. To experience those larger-than-life stories that provide a sense of awe and wonder. At the same time, sci-fi creates situations that can tease out the deeper issues at play on hot topics in our current society. It's a great blend of entertaining and thoughtful.

The movie industry has helped popularize sci-fi lately because special effects have gotten MUCH better. For the first time in history, all those impossible-to-portray scenes and settings from science fiction can make it to the screen. Science fiction can make for quite the spectacle, and that draws audiences.

Q.11 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
Yes, it is. I'd like to say you can just write the book you'd want to read, and it'll instantly become popular when you publish it, but that's not my experience. There has to be some convergence of what you want to write and what people are looking to read.

Take my story, Path of Relics, as an example. Many of the Gamelit/LitRPG stories I read were enjoyable, but not really something I was interested in writing. I knew it to be a growing market, however, with readers actively seeking more stories.

So I found a way to write a novel including the tropes of the genre while also telling a story I'd want to read. One that explored technology, plausible science, fantastical mysteries, and lore. If you do things that way, it's much easier to get exposure, since you'll have a ready-made audience.

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most influential period in the whole history of the genre?
I'd consider the Golden Age to be the most influential. There are so many iconic stories and authors from that time that defined what science fiction could be. Issac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke - those were my introductions to the written genre. But the 50s and 60s saw lots of great innovation too, especially in the genre's critiques of society.

Q.13 If your book will be made into a movie, whom would you like to play the role of Terry?
You know... I'm watching “The Boys” right now, so I'd have to give a nod to Jack Quaid for the role of Terry.

Q.14 How designed your book cover? How do you select them?
A company named Miblart designed my cover. I think someone else first recommended them to me. I perused their website and saw they did great work.

Q.15 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
I pace a lot when I run into a story problem. Somehow, walking in circles around my house helps me to think through things. I also tend to brainstorm better with pencil and copy paper when I'm working through a story problem. Something about the “temporary” nature of that as a medium helps. It lets my brain know that whatever I write as an idea is not permanent, and so my thoughts flow better.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
I'll often have temporary names for characters during the first draft. Sometimes those will stick, but often, I'll change them in the next draft. By that point, I have a better idea of who the character is, and I'll consider what kind of name fits a “person like this.”

Q.17 What do you want readers to take away from your book?
Mostly, I hope they experience going on a fantastical, escapist journey. One that transports them (like the Portal Rig in the story) to another place and time. But also, I hope they take away lessons on what's possible when you don't give up.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
I'd love to meet one or both of the Duffer Brothers of Stranger Things fame. While they didn't write every episode, they are creatively responsible for the end product. Whenever I see someone who can consistently produce quality content like that, I wish I could pick their brain. How do they go about creating their stories and honing them? How do they think about sequels and character development? I'd love to learn about their process.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
Tough. Two answers here... My current top contender is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I could not stop reading that story. And the sci-fi idea behind it is so damn cool.

My other favorite book is more due to nostalgia. There's this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story called Nightmare Universe. It was about a contemporary guy who gets teleported to a strange world of ruins and mystery. It's about time I re-read that, actually!

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A roller coaster would sum it up pretty nicely. The long journey of writing my first novel, then revising it again and again, had its own ups and downs. Then I published and it was a wild ride for a time. But of course, as almost anyone who has self-published will tell you, the initial popularity of launching tends to wear off and my novel has dropped in Amazon rankings.

So now, it's all about the long game of getting the book in front of more people who might love it. As well as writing more novels in the series to make it even more enticing. I've always wanted to be a full-time fiction author, however, so I'm committed to doing the work necessary. And besides, it's a pretty enjoyable journey.

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