Terrie Leigh Relf: What types and forms of writing do you do?
Ron Sparks: I write science fiction, fantasy, and poetry. Namely, I write haiku, senryu, cinquain, free verse, and scifaiku.
I started writing fantasy when I was a kid, about 12-years-old, on my Apple IIe computer. My first real story was called “Knight and Squire.” I still have it somewhere. I naturally segued into science fiction shortly thereafter. I have always been a “space geek.” As a child, my walls were peppered with pictures of galaxies, nebula, orbiters, satellites, planets, and anything NASA-related.
In high school, I played a lead role in our senior production. I played Oberon in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I fell in love with iambic pentameter, and have been enamored of poetry, all kinds, ever since.
TLR: What is your area(s) of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?
Ron Sparks: I consider myself a Renaissance Man. I’m adept at many things and a master of none. My career, for almost three decades, has been software engineering, IT technologies, and IT management. I’m pretty good at it. Writing has always been my passion so, naturally, I didn’t want to do it for a living. My second passion was computers, and I did make a living out of that. After three decades of it, the thing I loved has become the job I do – and much of that youthful joy I had is gone. I feel I made the right choice – writing is in my heart and soul, whereas computers have always been in my head.
The biggest aspect of my personality that bleeds over both my professional career, my writing career, and my personal life is my penchant for critical thinking. If I am an expert at anything, it is at that. Critical thinking, and recognizing logical fallacy in argument, speech, and debate is something I excel at.
Critical thinking is not as straightforward as we like to think. The interesting thing about logical thought is that it always sits on top of, or comes after, the emotional mind. We feel before we think – always. Mankind has only been a thinking creature for forty-thousand years, but we were feeling creatures for millions of years before that. This means that we feel more often than we think, and often we use our thinking to rationalize our feelings. This makes critical thinking difficult, because we automatically bias ourselves emotionally without even realizing it.
TLR: How do you balance your creative and work time?
Ron Sparks: I’m a self-employed software consultant now, working part-time contracts. In theory, this makes it easier for me to carve out creative time. In reality, I work a full day like everyone else. I typically wake up and go to my office just outside downtown Pittsburgh. I rent space at a co-working community – this makes me get out of bed, put on pants, and get into “work mode” every day. I work 4-7 hours a day on my various contracts, then go back to the house. Evenings are spent with the family – but fortunately, I stay up much later than my wife. Typically, she goes to bed, I pour myself a whiskey (neat), and start to write or work on whatever personal project I have set aside for myself.
TLR: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?
RS: Writer’s write. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. I go through the same dry spells as anyone else, but there’s always a reason for it. Always. Its not magical and it’s easy to understand once you sit back and think about it. As a poet, my inspiration is the natural world. If I have my head so far up my ass I never stop and smell the roses, or look at the world around me, my poetry dries up. The solution? Take a walk. Get outside.
The same holds true for fiction. You have to stretch the writing muscle constantly, and sometimes you will be sore or tired. Do a little Flash Fiction in those cases, 300 or 500 words about a random topic. It does wonders. Check out FlashWriters.com.
TLR: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular? Where do your ideas come from? What inspires and intrigues you?
RS: Creativity always starts with two words: “what if. . .” Say that a lot. All the time. So many story ideas can be formed from those two words applied to normal and mundane things in the house or in life.
- “What if the knocking in my walls in winter isn’t my pipes and radiator?”
- “What if all the cars on the road suddenly stopped for no reason?”
- “What if my childhood best friend suddenly called with unexpected news?”
All you need is two words that make a question. Then you try and answer that question. In the questions, and the search for the answer, a story is found.
I won’t lie – sometimes it’s easier to play the “what if” game after a snifter of my favorite whiskey. Or, when I was younger, after a joint. The alcohol or weed is not an enabler, make no mistake. They relax me and allow me to stop focusing on the past or the future. And that’s another secret – it’s really hard to be creative if you are anxious.
Anxiety is the bane of creativity. Anxiety is a fear of a possible future that may or may not come to pass. An anxiety cannot be acted on; it can only be suffered under. It is a possible future affecting your present. And it kills the creative process as sure as the sun rises every day.
Sometimes, the whiskey helps me let go of those anxieties. Sometimes it’s, dare I say it, sex that gets me in the right frame of mind. More often than not, though, it’s getting up, walking out of the house, and looking up at the stars that helps relax me so I can deal with the anxieties, and get in a writing frame of mind.
TLR: Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?
RS: I have been published in small poetry rags both online and off. I have a couple of books on Amazon as well.
TLR: What are you working on now?
RS: I’m working on Book 2 of my science fiction trilogy, the Satellite Earth Series. I’m also actively writing on online urban fantasy serial.
I’m launching a Flash Fiction website called FlashWriters.com in the very near future as well. It’s a place where writers can convene and write flash fiction stories together. It’s going to be a lot of fun!
TLR: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges and how did it make you a better writer?
RS: Oni: Satellite Earth Series Book 1 was my first complete full-length novel. When I moved to Pittsburgh from Orlando, I took a year-long sabbatical and wrote the book. I realized then that writing a book is hard. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I had to get up every day and write. Even when the creativity left me, I had to write. Even when I knew what was coming out of my fingers was shit, I had to write.
So I learned writers write, and there is no such thing as writer’s block. There is only self-imposed justifications that enable us to avoid writing.
I also learned that I am not as good as I think I am. Most of my writing is like coal; it has the potential to become a diamond, but it’s not one yet. As writers, we tend to think we can write a diamond every time – but we usually write a lump of coal. It’s the job of editing and rewriting that chips away at the coal and reveals the diamond. Cut, cut, cut – but only after you write, write write. Don’t be afraid to kill your babies and don’t think every word you write is a diamond.
TLR: Are you currently a writing mentor? If so, what are your thoughts on mentoring?
RS: I’ve never considered myself a writing mentor, but I do have a lot of opinions! I love sharing anything I know and would relish talking to new writers.
TLR: Who are your favorite characters? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them?
RS: Right now I am in love with Gale, the protagonist in my Misfits of Magic online fantasy serial. He’s a bumbling human psychologist trying to offer his services to a supernatural community that doesn’t want or appreciate him. Beneath his nervous and comedic shortcomings, he is a strong and convicted man who is determined to do the right thing. Even if it kills him. He’s overly idealistic, and terrified every step of the way.
I first came up with the idea for Misfits of Magic in 2012 at Bahama Breeze in Orlando with my youngest son. We were bouncing ideas across from one another and the idea of a stupid human who wanted to help vampires and werewolves seemed hilarious to both of us.
TLR: Since you’re also a poet, what forms do you write in? What do you love about these forms?
RS: Most of my poems are cinquain, free verse, haiku, or scifaiku. I have a pretty active page on hellopetry.com.
There’s a lot to love about all of these forms. I love the juxtaposition of science fiction and haiku in scifaiku. I love the structure of cinquain. I love the freedom and impact of are verse.
But I really love haiku – and it’s my worst form. There is no 5/7/5 rule for haiku – that’s a misunderstanding that has become dogma in English haiku. A ton has been written about this, so I won’t go into it here. If you’re really interested, though, check out my article, “What is a haiku poem?”
What I love about haiku, though, is that they intentionally leave out emotive words. The poet describes a scene as perfectly as he/she can in 12-14 syllables and, if done right, the reader will feel the same emotion the author felt when they witnessed the scene.
That’s the power of haiku – evoking an emotional response from the reader without using any emotional or emotive words – and it’s phenomenal when done well.
TLR: Are you currently, or have you ever, been in a writing group? Your thoughts?
RS: When I moved to Pittsburgh, I joined a writing group, stayed for three meetings, and promptly left. There were a couple of dominant personalities who spent too much time waving their literary and writing penises around and not enough collaboration. One of my favorite authors, A. Lee Martinez, is a prominent member of a writing group in Dallas and it works. The one I joined did not work. So, I’d love to find a good group; I just haven’t found the right one for me yet.
TLR: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.
RS: Remember the purchase funnel. Most writers think that Facebook.com and Twitter.com are good places to promote their books. In reality, Twitter is an author circle jerk and Facebook is at the top of the purchase funnel.
What I mean by that is when you advertise on Facebook, you don’t get a lot of sales because Facebook shows people things they are interested in. So you can buy impressions for people who are interested in your genre, etc., but people don’t BUY on Facebook. Facebook is at the top of that funnel, meaning you reach people who are interested but don’t have purchase intent yet.
As for Twitter, it’s authors following authors following authors – all advertising to each other and wondering why no one is buying. It’s a giant circle jerk. It’s easy to get thousands of followers, but it’s hard to get followers who will BUY.
If you can get your book listed on promotion sites like Bookbub.com, you win. Those drive big short term surges in your sales.
TLR: Thank you for creating the time for this interview, Ron. Be sure to read his bio below, and yes. . .buy his books!
Ron Sparks is a science fiction and fantasy author and poet. His book ONI: Satellite Earth Series Book 1 was recently published and is available on Amazon.com. Ron lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and in Orlando, FL. A man of many passions, he lays claim to a myriad of interests and hobbies. Among them, he is an amateur astronomer, an avid motorcycle rider, a whiskey aficionado, a (poor) surfer, a scuba diver, a martial artist, a student of philosophy, a proponent of critical thinking, a technologist, an entrepreneur, a cancer survivor, and he harbors a lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy. He is married to his lovely wife, Carey, and has three children, Matthew, Christopher, and Ashlee.