Interview With Author Emmanuel M Arriaga

# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My name is Emmanuel M Arriaga and I’m a Philly native who moved to the west coast to take a job in Silicon Valley. I hold a Master of Science in Information Science from Pennsylvania State University and have a background in engineering with several publications for new technologies. I’ve been a lover of science and technology since I was a small child and regularly daydreamed about fantastical space adventures which ultimately lead to the creation of my first novel Foundra, a sci-fi space opera filled with breathtaking magic and mind-bending technology. Since then, I have published a sequel titled Pride of Ashna which continues the story and an unrelated award winning novel titled Elevator Quest which is a YA fantasy action adventure.

# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

The Foundra universe originally manifested in my early childhood when I was very young. I constantly daydreamed about this galactic empire ruled by immortals and over the years more and more constants emerged that eventually got written down when I started capturing as much as I could in preparation to write my first novel. While I have come up with many other stories and a host of other adventures that I plan to write, the Foundra Universe will always be special to me because it was the first story I ever had inside of me.

Elevator quest was a bit different, it was the first story I brought to market that originated from a dream. I have a lot of dreams that I have written down that would make for great stories and adventures and this was the first test of that approach. During the writing process, I wrote the book as a love letter to Dungeons & Dragons and it shows in the archetypes the characters take on in the adventure as these modern day corporate types get dragged into this dark fantasy world.

# What inspires/inspired your creativity?

I’m heavily influenced by Science Fiction and Fantasy stories. Movies have always been a core part of my life from a young age. My dad was a big movie buff so some of my earliest memories are with him in the theatre. I love the visual style of sci-fi in movies and tv shows with my mind constantly looking toward the future. Also, as mentioned prior, I was and continue to be heavily influenced by fantasy, specifically dungeons & dragons, the concept of magic, multiple dimensions, alternate planes of existence, etc. It all shows up in my writing in one way or another.

# How do you deal with creative block?

I think creative block is an excuse we typically use when we refuse to change or adapt a part of the story because it’s not working. It’s easy to fall into wanting to keep something in a story because you invested all this thought and planning into it. But your subconscious is telling you it doesn’t work and the moment you let that go, the “block” disappears, and the creative energies are flowing. This is primarily why I’m willing to deviate from my story outline without a second thought and why I don’t allow myself to accept the creative block excuse. I also give myself time to think in my day to day life, which allows me to get inspiration from everywhere. It’s easy to not block out this time in your daily life and I think that keeps our minds firing at 100%, preventing us from allowing our subconscious to come to the surface and speak to us.

# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

A few things, first, refusing to deviate from your original plan. Sometimes we have these amazing ideas on how something should play out but when we start working on it, it could fall apart. Sometimes as an author, it’s easy to try and salvage it, to try and fix the plot holes or prop up something that just doesn’t work or make sense because it’s important to us. I think that’s a huge mistake.

Second thing is not reading/watching content from the genre you’re writing in. You need to do your homework, and thankfully homework as a writer is easy. It’s reading good stories and learning from them. I’m an avid reader, I love to read and do it all the time. I have since I was little. I think that is the thing that helps me the most as I write. The final thing I’ll mention here is not getting feedback. Sometimes it’s critical for you to talk about your ideas with close friends or relatives who are willing to listen to you and respond. Sometimes just talking about a story concept or idea out loud with another person helps you realize if something works or if it doesn’t. The person might not even need to respond for it to be helpful.

# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

The title typically comes to me as I write the book. I don’t ever finalize the title until I’m well underway and the story has started to crystalize and fully take form. Then, the title becomes obvious and is representative of the story. I wouldn’t invest too much energy in the title until you’re nearing completion of your first draft. As for covers, find an artist who works in your genre and work with them, don’t dictate to them what you want. Instead, give them a sense of what the story is about and ask for their opinion. Good artists and cover designers know how to make a good cover better than you. I’m sorry but it’s true. If you have this image of a perfect cover in your head, let it go. You can share the idea or concept with the artist but let them tell you if it works or let it serve as inspiration for them to come up with a good book cover. Book covers serve a purpose, they are marketing materials, and marketing is a science.

# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

It hurts every time because my goal is to share my imagination with as many people as possible and if people don’t want to read more of my books, I’ve failed in my goal. When I see a negative review or receive negative feedback, I take it to heart and try to understand how I can improve. The thing I hate the most is a negative review with no feedback or simply “I didn’t like it.” That’s not helpful, let me know what you didn’t like. Do you just not like sci-fi and my cover led you astray? Did the book blurb convince you that the book was something different than what it was. That’s really valuable feedback to me that I can take back and tweak. Were there aspects of the story that didn’t resonate, why? I don’t always incorporate every piece of feedback in my writing but if it’s justified I take it under consideration and try to fix that in the future. As they say, feedback is a gift.

# How has your creation process improved over time?

When I first started out, I had a vague idea about how to write a book. I spent hours understanding different aspects of storytelling and the creative process that helped me bring my first novel to market. And every book I have written since that time has been a learning experience. Recently, I’ve invested energy into understanding how the professionals create stories in hollywood. It’s helped me bring a bit more rigor and structure to my creative process. Having the experience of creating stories has helped me see the benefits in exercises like storyboarding, defining key milestone events/climaxes, associating build up scenes with those, utilizing the act structure, etc. The approach I’m taking now to writing the 3rd book in the Foundra series is aligned with this more advanced structure and I’ve already seen a distinct advantage in this method in my writing process.

# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

Best: Working with good editors is amazing. I’ve learned so much from my editors over the years and it’s a good exercise to see how what you’ve written lands with a professional who deals with this stuff day in and day out.

Worst: Something that I haven’t enjoyed is the marketing side of completing my books. Marketing isn’t something that came naturally to me and as an author, marketing is critical to being successful. I’ve had to invest a lot more energy than I’ve ever wanted into learning about, building and executing marketing strategies. It’s exhausting and I’d rather just be writing.

Surprising: Early on, I decided that I wanted to have official character art done for my books, beyond just the book covers. I found some amazing artists to collaborate with and was able to bring many of my characters to life. The first time I could stare at images of my characters as I wrote, it was life changing.