Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Jeff Tanyard, and I write speculative fiction. So far, I’ve only published science fiction, but I fully intend to publish some fantasy some day, too. I have a few short stories available and several novels across two series: my Free Space trilogy, which is Adventure Science Fiction, and my Wheel of Fire books which are classic Space Opera. The latter series isn’t yet complete, but it looks like it will probably be seven books in total.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
For the Wheel of Fire series, the ring galaxy in which the books are set was inspired by the real-life Hoag’s Object. I saw that image years ago, and I started wondering what the big yellow thing in the center was. My imagination started conjuring up all sorts of scenarios, and it all sort of snowballed from there. My short story Buddy was inspired by the peculiar characteristics of the hydra. The Free Space trilogy is about an independence movement, and there are numerous examples of that from history from which I drew inspiration.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Inspiration is everywhere. The easiest way to find it is to go to a news aggregator website. Find two or three news stories there that have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and then mix them together. Another avenue is to browse history articles on your favorite online encyclopedia. History really is stranger than fiction—as well as more uplifting and more horrifying—and there’s a ton of inspiration there. My current work in progress contains a scene inspired by a battle from the American Revolution.
How do you deal with creative block?
There’s only one way to get past that, and that’s to put some thought into where the story is going. Once I know where it’s going, then writing can resume. It’s the not-knowing that creates the block.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
As a reader, one of my pet peeves is when the author doesn’t include enough falling action after the climax. I’ve read otherwise awesome books that ended abruptly right after the climax, and that sort of thing ruins the whole book for me. I think the importance of falling action is underestimated. Another mistake, particularly in science fiction, is to make everything shiny and sterile and orderly. That’s not human nature. There will always be crime, vice, corruption, etc. And, of course, a story should have a satisfying conclusion. If it just stops without resolving anything, then what was the point? It doesn’t have to have a happy ending, nor does it need to wrap up every last subplot, but it needs to have a conclusive ending.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
For covers, the most important thing is that it accurately signals genre. If a prospective reader can’t tell what sort of book it’s supposed to be at a glance, then that reader is a lot less likely to give it a try. Keep it generic! I know new authors hate hearing that, because they want their books to be special, but they need to understand that the cover isn’t for them, it’s for the prospective readers. For titles, I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask. I struggle with titles. I don’t think a good title will help you that much, but a bad title can definitely hurt you, so play it safe. An important thing to keep in mind when trying to come up with a title, though, is how it will look on the cover. Always try to imagine where the words will go, how big they’ll be, how much of the image will be covered, etc.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
They’re distracting enough to be a problem, so I no longer read my reviews. My focus is better aimed at writing the next book instead of worrying about what readers are saying on the internet.
How has your creation process improved over time?
I’m better at outlining, and I’ve learned some mind tricks to help me better edit my own work. It’s still a messy process, though. I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The best parts are when I write something that leaves me in tears. That means I’ve hit the mark. The worst things are when I come across bonehead mistakes during revision. That’s frustrating. The most surprising thing is when I first discovered that outlining actually works for me. Like many people, I used to think that outlining took all the creativity out of writing, so I avoided it for a long time. I was willing to keep trying new things, though, and once I found a style of outlining that suited me, I completely changed my mind about that.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
Both. I try to put the readers first, but my tendency is to want to do my own thing. I’m constantly rebuking myself for self-indulgence.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
During outlining, hitting those emotional beats is crucial. During the actual writing process, you want to keep emotional influence at bay. You want the story to be emotional for the reader, because that’s sort of the whole point, but as the one crafting the story, you want to do it with a critical and logical eye. If you let your emotions guide your writing, then you end up with illogical events that fall flat for the reader. For me, outlining is right-brained, but the rest is left-brained.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
Concerning showing and telling: show the cool stuff, tell the boring stuff. That sounds simple, but it’s amazing how easy it is to slip up. This is one of those mistakes I look for when revising my work, and it’s a mistake I tend to find more often than I’d like. Also, when in doubt, toss a monster into the story.
What are your plans for future books?
My plan at the moment is to finish Wheel of Fire. Once that’s done, I’d like to write another trilogy.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I play three musical instruments—sax, guitar, and banjo, though I’ve only ever been good at the sax—and I like to include bluegrass music in my fiction sometimes. I like to joke that I don’t write Space Opera; I write “Space Opry.” I’m also fascinated by the prospective of human genetic engineering. I’d love to CRISPR myself up some super powers or immortality or something, but I don’t think the technology is quite there yet. For now, I’ll have to content myself with writing stories about it.