Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hello NFReader visitors! My name is Patrick Scalisi, author of The Key to the Universe from Owl Hollow Press. Though I’ve been writing semiprofessionally since 2008, this is my first novel (though not my first book).
The Key to the Universe is a middle grade / young adult sci-fi book about a young man named Quinn Titterman who goes on an intergalactic adventure with his impetuous 107-year-old great-grandfather. It starts off when a legendary artifact called — you guessed it! — The Key to the Universe shows up in their shop. Their travels take them across the galaxy as they try to unravel the mystery of the Key.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
The idea seedling for this book came from Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey, where in many cases you have a young, untested, and somewhat impetuous hero paired with a wise old mentor.
This is really simplifying Campbell’s work, but I wanted to reverse that dynamic and have the young man be the wise one and the old man be the impetuous one. The idea for The Key to the Universe grew from there.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
I think one of the biggest inspirations to creativity is asking “what if?” questions. If you think about it, a lot of the greatest stories in history can be boiled down to a “what if?” question. Just being a keen observer of the world around you and asking “what if …” can give you lots of story fodder.
I published a story in Neo-opsis issue 19 called “‘Swordsman Wanted’”. I was just out of college and looking for my first job when I thought, “What if I was browsing the classifieds one day and saw an ad for a bank seeking a swordsman to get rid of a dragon in its vault?”
Boom — instant story!
How do you deal with creative block?
I think the best thing for any writer is to sit down and make time to write every day. It doesn’t have to be three hours or even a whole hour. Have 30 minutes on a lunch break? Do your writing.
Just getting into the habit helps hone one’s creative muscles. Some days you’ll pump out 1,000 words; some days you’ll stare at the blinking cursor of death the whole time. The important thing is the habit.
And you’d be amazed at how much writing you can get done if you do it 30 minutes a day, every day.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
There’s the old saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t actually apply to books.
The simple fact of the matter is: covers sell books.
Authors — whether self-published, indie-published, whatever — have to understand that their book cover is their book’s main, most important piece of marketing collateral. The reason you can often spot a self-published book a mile away is because the proper investment wasn’t made in getting a professional-looking cover.
If you’re responsible for your own cover, set a budget. This could be several hundred dollars or more. But remember that this is essentially an advertising cost. Look for artists on Deviant Art or Art Station and put some feelers out. Tell them about your project and your budget. You never know who you’ll excite with your concept.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I recently had a friendly debate with someone over the role of negative reviews. I think constructive criticism (more than, say, “This sucks!”) can be a driver toward improvement. My colleague felt that doing so is pandering and a sure path to madness.
Honestly, I can see it both ways, and I valued the conversation we had.
Writers, in general, need to develop thick skin early on. We’re subjected to rejection, denial, and criticism. For me, I take it with a grain of salt and move on.
Robert A. Heinlein has this great essay titled “Channel Markers” in which he opines that submitting one’s work time after time after time, regardless of the blow that rejection strikes to the ego, is what separates writers from would-be writers. That’s some great advice.
(The whole essay is excellent, by the way, and can be found in the Jan. 1974 issue of Analog.)
How has your creation process improved over time?
I used to HATE outlining with a passion and would instead write “by the seat of my pants.” I actually outlined my last two books and was amazed (1.) that it wasn’t as painful as I thought; and (2.) that it made the work so much stronger. So I’m going to keep using that process for the time being.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
One thing that I enjoy is creating “ancillary” work to the main work. What I mean by this is interviewing your own characters or writing articles about the world you’re creating or whatever.
In The Key to the Universe there’s a futuristic sport called VR Sector. I put on my journalism hat and wrote a “feature article” as if for a sports magazine about the VR Sector championship. I also wrote news briefs about the games.
Is any of this content in the book itself? No, but the articles were fun to write and helped me better understand the world I was creating.
I also did an interview with one of my main characters, asking questions out of my head and answering in their voice. These tools can help you build realistic lived experiences for your characters and make them more believable.
Plus, this stuff makes great “bonus content” for sharing on social media or for promotional use.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m working on the third draft of a traditional fantasy novel right now. It has a political twist that, I hope, will allow me to examine some of the thorny issues happening in our own world right now.
And I have an idea for a “spiritual sequel” to The Key to the Universe. I don’t want to say too much because it might not go anywhere, but those are the two projects I’m currently working on.