TJ Mott was raised on a cattle farm near the booming metropolis of Westboro, Missouri (population ~140). He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from Northwest Missouri State University. Currently, he works in Omaha, Nebraska as a software engineer and general-purpose IT guy in the aerospace industry. His hobbies include dirt biking, 3D printers, shooting sports, and writing.
One of his favorite past times as a kid was reading the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, and he’s wanted to do some writing of his own for as long as he can remember. Now he’s working on two related series, “The Thaddeus Marcell Chronicles” and “Secrets of Earth”, following the adventures of an interstellar mercenary company whose leader is trying to find the mythical world of Earth.
What inspires you to write?
Simply put, I write because I like to create new things. I'm not happy unless I'm making something or tinkering with something. As an engineer, normally I'm more focused on mechanical/electronic things, but my need to write comes from the same inner desire. Writing lets me sidestep all the (sometimes frustrating) limitations of working with real-world projects subject to real-world physics. I can exercise my mind in all kinds of worldbuilding, fictional politics, and work on finding patterns or connections in my pre-existing works to come up with new characters or plots that build up the little sci-fi universe I'm designing.
Tell us about your writing process.
My writing process has changed a lot. Originally, I had a rough outline for a six-novel series which I'm still mostly-abiding by as I continue writing. My first novel, "Rescue at Waverly," was heavily outlined. I had notes and an outline for every single chapter in that book, and I really struggled with it at times because I was new to the whole thing and my universe was still under-developed.
With each new novel I write, I outline less and tend to make stuff up as I go along. Sure, I'll have a brief outline for the whole novel, but it's no more than a few sentences and lots of things occur that are never even hinted at in the original notes. Things "just happen" now, seemingly of their own accord. For example, I had no idea the final third of "The Prince's Revenge" would wind up being a "Die Hard: In Space," and I enjoyed the direction it took in order to reach that final confrontation that needed to happen.
In a more general sense, quite a bit of my work is based on half-remembered dreams and daydreams now. I'll just wake up one morning after doing no writing at all for two months, and have a new idea in my head to incorporate in my latest work. Then I'll sit down and write two or three chapters based on it as long as it furthers the goals of that novel and explores the characters somehow. It's very free-form and unguided now, and though things still generally follow the original six-novel outline I set up years ago, there are a ton of deviations I never could have predicted.
For software, there are two main things I use. There's a project management system I found while working in IT called Redmine, and I have a private install of that which I mainly use for the wiki feature so I can keep track of all my notes, ideas, character descriptions, and so on. For writing, I created my own word processor in C#/WPF. It's extremely basic, but it makes it very easy to reorganize the material during editing, which is something I really struggled with while finishing my first novel using Word/LibreOffice. But in the end, it exports a Word .docx file which becomes the "master copy" of the novel.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Dealing with characters is a funny subject. I have some psychology books for writers that I refer to (The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus, The Emotion Thesaurus, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus), and for each major character I have a list of traits pulled from those books, which gave me a great starting point for each character's motivation and personality.
You'd think as an author you're in complete control, and I've learned that that really isn't true. As I keep writing, my characters pick up more and personality of their own. If I just force them to do what I want, the story becomes unnatural, and it takes more work to achieve my goals in the plot without destroying the character, so to speak.
It sounds silly, but sometimes I'll do mental interviews with my major characters. I'll imagine meeting them in various situations, both in their world and in ours. Sometimes they even know I'm their creator. What would they do? How would they act? What would they say, what would they ask me? What would they accuse me of? This process is sometimes surprisingly insightful and helps me hone in on the core of that character, and it also helps me keep their character arcs focused. It's one thing to be pretty rough on my characters, and quite another to imagine meeting them and listening as they unload on me for what I've put them through, which helps me remember that their pain needs a purpose and it'll eventually lead to great things for them and their universe.
Who are your favorite authors?
Most of my favorite authors worked on the old pre-Disney Star Wars Expanded Universe. Timothy Zahn is #1 on my list, especially his original Thrawn works. I also really enjoyed the X-Wing series by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston. Outside of that, I've read some BattleTech, some of which also includes Stackpole. (In fact, I probably draw more inspiration from BattleTech than any other science fiction franchise, in terms of semi-feudal interstellar politics, no aliens, and slow travel times.) Lately, I've been reading a bunch of C.S. Lewis's works: The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Four Loves, The Problem of Pain, and so on.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
When it was time to publish my first novel, I didn't know anything about publishing at all. But I knew anyone could submit works through Amazon, and when I looked into various self-publishing routes, the Kindle Desktop Publishing system seemed perfect for me. I could write and publish on my own schedule, I'd be in complete control of my works, and it was a low-risk outlet for getting started. All of that was important to me, especially since I'm already employed full-time and writing is just a hobby.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Ebooks definitely appear to be the future. I set up paperback editions for my works, but the simple truth is I sell around 50 – 75 digital copies for each paperback, and I get a much, much higher royalty percentage for digital as well. If I didn't prefer paperbacks myself, I wouldn't even bother setting them up.
But there's a huge downside to the self-publishing ebook industry, and that is there's so much noise. Anyone can do it, so making yourself stand out from the crowd of millions of other self-published writers is a pretty difficult process. As more and more people join in, it only gets harder. I don't think traditional publishing is going away just yet because they can filter all that down. They still hold a lot of keys and they know how to get you noticed if they think you can be successful.
What genres do you write?
What formats are your books in?
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