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Interview with Neil Herndon

He always had an active imagination as a child. Most of what people remember about his younger years are all the wild creations and ideas he invented. He entered a writing contest during primary school and won on several occasions. After catching the writing bug, he went on to study writing at university and has made it his passion ever since.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
While it’s not writing-related, I have a rare food allergy. I’m allergic to yeast. Which makes life, and snacking in front of my keyboard, quite interesting.

Q.2 What inspired you to write Antiquity?
I love mythology. And two stories that have always stuck out are Solomon’s Mine and Atlantis. However, one thing that I love doing in my stories is taking the truth and filling in some gaps. There’s a lot to history that we still don’t understand.

Antiquity was an evolution that allowed me to do all of that. It opens up a lost area of history, goes on a fun action/adventure trek, and involves two of the most well-known lost places in all of history.

Q.3 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Absolutely. I am always working on new projects. As for answering this, I just finished another installment of my space opera series. Up next will be a Lovecraftian-style horror book set in the desert (with a sci-fi twist, of course) and some paranormal stories as well. My slate definitely stays full.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
The nuance. Women can be overt and straightforward, true enough, but there’s a lot more subtlety to how women communicate and act than there is with men. And I think capturing that correctly can present challenges. Women say a lot without speaking, and some of that is in code. 

There’s a translation to that only they know. And the code varies from person to person. Is it hard to write a woman? No. But is it hard to know her subtleties? In life as on the page, absolutely. For men, it’s one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Q.5 Do you plan out your books before you start writing, or do you just write and see where it takes you?
It’s a little bit of both, actually. Every book starts with a plan. Every book has an outline and a general plot. However, as I’m writing, the story often…changes. Interactions cause it to take a different path. Characters will say something or do something unexpected. But that’s because, in my mind, they’re alive. This means every story evolves simply by its presence. I can plan out the smallest details, but sometimes that plan just doesn’t work.

Q.6 How long, on average, does it takes you to write a book?
My fastest time ever was five weeks. Now it’s more like eight to ten.

Q.7 What’s your writing schedule while working?
I’m lucky. I put all my time into writing. So, my schedule is like any other work schedule, but it’s from home, and it’s focused on my work. Wake up, feed our cat, and sit in front of a keyboard. It’s a work day that’s between six and eight hours.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Hopefully teach the skills I’ve learned to others. If I’m not writing myself, I want to teach creative writing.

Q.9 Do you try to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to be as original as possible. Some stories gear toward popular topics, but mostly it’s stories that I want to tell. I think they feel more authentic that way. Come off as a better read. It’s so hard to predict what readers will gravitate to, that I just figure it’s easier to put out a variety and hope people come along for the ride.

Q.10 It is vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing. Tell us about your marketing campaign?
With the majority of my work, I try to write in a very approachable way. Offer something that every reader can appreciate and enjoy. Maybe people don’t like space operas normally, but if they give mine a chance, maybe they find the story itself relatable. And that’s often my marketing strategy. A lot of eyes, trying to get people to take a chance. And if one book isn’t right for them, maybe another will be.

Q.11 If you could be a member of any fantasy race, which would you choose and why?
I’m assuming we’re talking about the standard fantasy races. If so, probably elf, so I could spend a thousand years creating a library of my own work.

Q.12 If you could invite one character to dinner from your books, who would it be and why?
A. Cornelius Coffin
from the Oddity Academy series. Why? I mean, first, the name. But he’s far older than he looks, and he’s a great storyteller. Spent his youth with PT Barnum. I can only imagine the stories he’d have to tell.

Q.13 What three things can a reader expect from your books?
Adventure, emotion, and some really exciting twists. I know those are some pretty common descriptions, but all three come in ways you may not always expect. So, maybe instead of adventure, you could replace it with the unexpected. Nothing ever turns out the way you think it will. At least, that’s the idea.

Q.14 Among all the supporting characters in your books, who is dear to you and why?
Now, that’s a tough question. However, Atria in the first two Star Runner books would probably be that person. I love her personality, her soul, and she has a major impact on the main character. Her presence changes a lot, and her impact ripples across time.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select them?
Actually, I do. I want each one to evoke something from the story itself. An element, an emotion, a…feeling. The Star Runner series is easiest for that because each cover is an epic space scene. For others, I try to select images that will evoke an instant connection or response from the reader.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
Sometimes, it’s the meaning behind the name. Sometimes it’s just how that name sounds. There are also the names that are meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Very early on, I tried to match character names with meanings and specific character traits. Now, I just want that character to be relatable. Of course, for aliens, that’s a little more difficult.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
I will always read reviews. Always. The favorable ones are humbling, but the unfavorable ones are a lesson. If there is genuine criticism, I will always listen and do my best to improve the next time around. Trolling negative reviews, I just ignore them. No point in getting mad at someone who’s just trying to be mean.

Q.18 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
Currently published, I have 16 titles available. But overall, I’ve written closer to 30. Some are either off the market or were done before I considered myself a professional. So, they’re not exactly polished. 

Do I have a favorite? I…don’t know. Personally, I can get engrossed in every story. Sometimes, as corny as it may sound, I can get lost in my own work and forget that it was me who wrote it. One that was just an absolute joy to write? Probably the first Oddity Academy book. Though, book three in that series was really interesting as well.

Q.19 Are there any new books or authors in science fiction or fantasy (or both!) you are excited about? What are you reading right now?
I read a lot of classics. Maybe not the best answer, at least in terms of trends, but I like to see the roots. Understand what it was that captivated people and made others follow in their footsteps. Though, I do that with modern classics as well. Stephen King and Michael Crichton remain two of my biggest influences.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
My writing journey has been a blast. It started rough but got better. Storytelling became more nuanced. I put in more twists and later payoffs. I’ve learned a lot over the years. And I like to think I’ve gotten better. 

Early on, I set a bit of a mandate that the goal was quality over quantity. Chasing a good story rather than a fashionable trend. And I still hold to that. Because while fads may come and go, good stories remain. I’ve always wanted to tell those. It’s just a matter of how I tell them. But you know what hasn’t changed? 

The smile on my face every single time I hit the ‘publish’ button. Twenty-ish books, and each one got a moment of elation. And if that’s the feeling I get with each new book, then I never want this journey to end.

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