Author Q&A with Emmanuel M Arriaga

In the Outer Rim, a lawless region of space filled with violence, a young girl vows vengeance against the marauding pirate bands who brutally murdered her family — Pride of Ashna (Foundra Book 2) by @emmanuelarriaga

Author Q&A

What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?

I’ve tried hard to not just name series and call out the specific books that I like in each series. I’ve also stuck to only fiction with this list as I also have a lot of great nonfiction books that I love.

Dark Elf Trilogy, Book 1: Homeland – R.A. Salvatore

Leviathan Wakes, The Expanse Book 1 – James SA Corey

Tiamat’s Wrath, The Expanse Book 8 – James SA Corey

The Hero of Ages, Mistborn Book 3 – Brandon Sanderson

Gauntlgrym: Neverwinter Saga, Book 1 – R.A. Salvatore

This Present Darkness – Frank E Peretti

The Player of Games – Iain M Banks

Amber and Ashes: Dragonlance: Dark Disciple, Book 1 – Margaret Weis

The Well of Eternity: War of the Ancients, Book 1 – Richard A. Knaak

We Are Legion (We Are Bob): Bobiverse, Book 1 – Dennis E. Taylor

What book do you think everyone should read?

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. This book was life changing for me and is the first book I recommended to people I meet if we ever start talking about books. It was recommended in a 1:1 conversation I had with the old CEO of my first company out of college. When your CEO recommends to you a book, you read it and I’m glad I did because it fundamentally shifted my perspective of the world.

How long have you been writing?

It’s been about 11 years at this point. I started working on Foundra shortly after I started at my first job out of college. I started writing seriously about 9 years ago, after I finished my master’s degree and had a lot more free time.

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

This is a big “it depends.” Sometimes I have characters in mind when I finish the initial outline for a novel, but many of those end up just being character concepts or ideas, not fully developed characters. I tend to create characters spontaneously as I write for a large portion of the characters introduced in my stories. They then take on lives of their own and are given character arcs, motivations, etc. Outside of the main characters, most characters are created dynamically this way.

What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?

I end up doing a lot of research as I write to be honest. This is especially true when I decide to introduce new technologies, weapons or when I’m dealing with sensitive topics or things that I don’t have firsthand experience with. I typically go down a rabbit hole researching at the point in the novel where I’m about to write about something in one of those categories. Once I have a good understanding of it, I’ll then pick up right where I left off and continue writing. I find this rabbit hole approach is how my brain works best and I try not to fight it and instead embrace it. This process also happens during the overall story outline drafting phase of the novel.

Do you see writing as a career?

I view writing in a similar way to RA Salvatore during his early life. For him, he had a full-time profession, and he wrote as a hobby. He eventually reached a point in his life where he was able to stop doing his profession and devote all his energy to writing full time. I see myself utilizing the same strategy, and fully intend to keep writing for the rest of my life. One difference is that I love my profession and I also love writing, so I can see the two coexisting for a long time, even if I am able to subsist completely off writing.

What do you think about the current publishing market?

I think today, the self-publishing market is still considered as a stepchild to traditional publishing in the eyes of the general populace and I think that may be because it’s tricky to judge quality for self-published novels outside of critically evaluating reader reviews on amazon, goodreads, etc. Self-publishing doesn’t have the marketing power of traditional publishing which can essentially bypass that whole process. The mainstream reader doesn’t read reviews for mainstream traditionally published novels, they were already convinced to buy it from the news articles, a talk show, or some other flashy form of media engagement (although book blogs are a great tool for self-published authors!). That’s extremely hard to pull off due to the sheer expense and relationships that you need to have in the media industry. That is why self-published novels tend to be slow burns vs. big bang launches in terms of success metrics.

It’s hard to say whether that will ever change, or whether that will always be an advantage of traditional publishing. I think Amazon can do a lot here. Their attempts so far at establishing quality bars and programs for self-published novels to highlight the golden nuggets have been just as non-transparent and “traditional” as the industry they are working to disrupt and just as unsuccessful in track record (which is why they have shut most of them down). I don’t think that reviews will ultimately solve this problem either, I think it’s a great technical challenge where we could leverage AI to “recommend” quality novels in a way that can’t be gamed by people. I think it makes more sense long term for people to learn to trust a thoroughly vetted and unbiased machine learning model (AI) vs. a certain number of reviews that mentally “check the box.”

Do you read yourself and if so, what is your favorite genre?

I’m an avid reader, I think it’s hard to be a good author if you aren’t. I love science fiction and fantasy, although I have historically biased more toward fantasy than science fiction. I grew up reading epic fantasy novels and that influenced much of my early writing. I love the intersection of magic and technology, it’s an area that is hard to write without falling into the trope of technology until we need to do something impossible and then magic to save the day. I love the novels that build strict rules into their magic that fit nicely into a sci-fi world based on science. In these instances, magic moves away from being this deus ex machina and instead complements the story because you know the limitations of what is possible. The old Star Wars expanded universe is a great example of this.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

This depends on what type of writing I’m doing. If I’m creating a new story or a new chapter, I write best with music. I have tailored pandora radio stations specifically for writing. Certain kinds of music really get my creative energies flowing and I fall into a trance like state that allows me to do my best work. 

If I’m editing, I need silence, this is mainly due a habit I have of reading things aloud to make sure it flows wells. I view creating something from scratch as fun, editing as work. Don’t get me wrong, I love editing, but I also view it as work and don’t attempt to tackle it unless I have a higher level of energy than I typically need for writing. 

Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?

I focus my attention on a single book until I’ve completed that specific draft (i.e. 1st draft, 3rd draft, etc.) and then I’ll switch to another novel to be able to come back to the prior novel with fresh eyes. This usually means I have multiple novels in different stages (e.g. 1st draft complete of novel a, 3rd draft in progress for novel b, 5th draft ready for final review of novel c, etc.)

I try and do a minimum of 5 or 6 drafts before I’m ready to move something to the publication stage with a professional editor. Usually with each draft, I have different goals in mind, so subsequent drafts are typically handled much quicker, requiring less edits.

If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?

This is a hard question to answer. I think the only answer I can give is for shared creative universes, things such as Forgotten realms, Blizzard entertainment, Star Wars, etc. It would have been cool to be tasked with creating the war of the ancients in the world of warcraft universe. We all had a rough idea of what happened during that time, but the novels really did a great job defining the details and building up a narrative for the events leading up to destruction of the well of eternity. Having some set event that you’re responsible for building up to and being given the creative freedom to define the events surrounding what happened would be an interesting experience. It would be a bit hard for me because nothing in my writing is sacrosanct, so I could change a major plot point or story idea because I come up with something better. Having this restriction would be a new experience.

I do plan to play around with this concept in prequal novels within my Foundra Universe, major events have already been established in my current novels, so going back and writing about those events will force me to do this.

Pen or typewriter or computer?

Computer hands down. I’ve been using a computer for most of my life and was an early internet user back in the 90s so my typing speed surpasses anything I could do with pen or typewriter. I grew up having debates on AOL instant messenger which trains you to type fast and accurately.

Tell us about a favorite character from a book.

One of my favorite characters in the book is a side character named Marcus Henson. He’s this big genetically enhanced super soldier who is a tempest on the battlefield and incredibly powerful. He’s also super friendly and like a big teddy bear off the battlefield which endears him to many of the main characters. I’ve had a lot of different plans for Marcus but his primary story arc ultimately plays out in Pride of Ashna. I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t originally what I had planned for him when I dreamed up his character back during the creation of the first novel, but I think fans will understand why I decided to take his character in this direction. This is an example of where the character spoke to me through the writing process and ultimately made a decision that was different from what I had in mind and I just went with it.

What made you want to become an author, and do you feel it was the right decision?

Funny enough, becoming an author was never a dream of mine growing up. It was never a career path that I considered or something that I intended to work toward. I went to college, got a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in a completely different profession that I still enjoy to this day. What ultimately led to me writing goes back to a conversation I had on a school bus in my senior year in high school.

I had a friend who I rode the bus with who was as much into fantasy and sci-fi as I was. We used to talk all the time about different books we were reading or things that interested us (we were also into yu-gi-oh cards which was the style at the time). One of the final days before the end of the school year, I started sharing with my friend this sci-fi universe that I had been daydreaming about since I was younger. I went into detail, outlining the major characters, this futuristic society, and the history of this galaxy. It was the first time I had ever shared my private imagination with another human being, and it filled me with excitement. He was hooked on every word I was saying, and I started drawing attention from other students on the bus. I didn’t realize it at the time but many years later after the rush of college was over and I was a working professional in the career I had chosen, that moment came back to me with crystal clarity.

I realized that I was a storyteller and that my imagination was meant to be shared with others. I immediately started writing down that universe and years later, it culminated in what became my first book, Foundra. I also started writing down every dream I had, every moment of inspiration and instance where my mind started crafting unique stories or situations. Writing things down enabled me to retain the moments of inspiration so I could come back later and do something with them. Looking back, I also give lots of credit to my creative writing teacher in high school. That was the most enjoyable class I had in high school which should have been a sign to me at the time! It was in that class that I learned the process of taking creative inspiration and putting it into words. I don’t remember her name, but I wish I could chat with her today and share what her teaching enabled in my life.

A day in the life of the author?

My day is complicated, I have two young boys who are bundles of energy that constantly crave attention. I also hold board positions for non-profits and have a full-time job in the technology industry that demands a lot of my time. Being an author usually fills just a couple hours (if I’m lucky) of my day. The only rule I have is write every day, whether that’s 30 minutes or 4 hours is up to the random nature of my days!

Advice they would give new authors?

Two main things, one for authors who have yet to finish their novel. Finish that novel, get it over the hill. Sometimes people get stuck on chapters and let that stop them from finishing their novel. I think in those moments, you need to write something down, even if it doesn’t fully capture what you’re trying to accomplish and make a note to yourself to come back to it. It’s more important to get to the end of the novel and officially notch off your first draft than it is to leave it in an uncompleted state. Editing is always easier for improving something than working with nothing. 

For the new published author, welcome to the world of marketing. You’ll need to get good at this to be successful. I’m so sorry. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what you wrote will immediately draw readers and make you successful. This is rarely ever the case. You must get good at selling, which is hard if you’ve never sold anything in your life. It’s even harder to sell your own work for some reason, I think this has to do with rejection and us personally feeling rejected when people aren’t interested in something we’ve poured our hearts and souls into. You must get over that and move on, they aren’t rejecting you, that specific book just may not be for them and that’s okay.

Describe your writing style.

Editorial reviewers have commented that my writing has deep thematic threads woven into my prose that is commonly lacking in sci-fi. This is probably due to the way my brain works, everything is interconnected for me and I’m a natural systems thinker. It’s how I remember things and I’m not surprised that this comes through in my writing. Those reviewers have also mentioned that my writing is “smart and clean, with expositional elements slowly introduced throughout the prose, rather than the author subjecting readers to lengthy passages of procedural information,” which I interpreted as I don’t have the bad habit of dumping information on people to “catch them up” so I can continue telling a story. I hate it when authors do that in books, and I usually don’t retain all of whatever it was they just tried to dump on me.

Personally, I just try to relay the movie that’s playing in my head as I write, and I focus on improving the prose more and more until it flows as naturally as I envisioned it. I’m constantly looking at ways to improve my writing and love working with experienced editors who are just as passionate about my books as I am.

What makes a good story?

A good story is one that makes you feel something. You can have the most interesting characters, the most impressive plot, or the most technically proficient writing in the world. But if your story doesn’t elicit an emotional response, it’s forgettable. I have teared up at certain scenes that I’ve written in my books and even gotten angry at characters as situations have unfolded. I put emotion into my stories, and I care about what happens. It’s not just a narrative, it’s a view into another world with characters who have their own lives with motivations, desires, and fears. I think the best storytellers are ones who make you forget that it’s not real.

What are they currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. It’s been on my list for awhile as I was a huge fan of the Mistborn series and his other works Elantris and Warbreaker. I’m also on a quest to read as much classic sci-fi as I can and just recently finished I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?

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. 

What is something unique/quirky about you?

I used to make anime music videos (AMVs) when I was in high school and college and I’m a huge fan of well done, high quality AMVs. That early hobby helped me learn a lot about tools like Adobe Photoshop and Premier and bult some fundamental skills in graphic design and video editing that have been surprisingly helpful. I still use these skills today, although I don’t have the time to make AMVs anymore. I also build my own computers and am a tech enthusiast.  

Tell us something really interesting that’s happened to you!

I got the opportunity to go to South Africa for the first time through work a few years. It was a humbling experience, and I was taken all over Johannesburg and Cape Town over the course of two weeks. I was immersed in the culture and learned a lot about history of the country. We had armed security guards with us the entire time, which was a surreal experience for me. They wore plain clothes and carried concealed handguns. Thankfully, our time there was largely uneventful outside of a few hurried exits from areas that they had deemed unsafe.

What are some of your pet peeves?

It annoys me greatly when people downplay or trivialize other people’s lived experiences. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge their experiences, especially when they are different from our own. This is exceedingly true when the person is of a different gender or ethnicity from us. 

Another pet peeve is people who don’t read, particularly when they take a stance on something but then don’t understand the topic at any real level. It’s laughably embarrassing at a minimum, extremely dangerous at the extreme.

Where were you born/grew up at?

I grew up in South Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. My family eventually moved to the country in Lancaster where I graduated from High School. It was a drastic shift for me but it gave me an appreciation for quiet and the outdoors. I can’t imagine living in a city now and prefer the suburbs with lots of trees and grass around.

If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?

I’d spend the day with my family: my wife and two young boys. I’d try to have as many experiences with them as possible, making sure to record everything for them for when they would be old enough to process it. I’d want to leave them something to remember me by since I wouldn’t be there for them to grow up. I’d write a detailed letter to each one of them to open when they were adults as a final goodbye to them with advice that I wouldn’t be there to give them. I’d make sure to personally put them both to bed and read them as many stories as they wanted. I’d then record short videos to all my close relatives and friends and send it to them before spending the last moments of my life with my wife.

Pride of Ashna
Foundra Book 2
by Emmanuel M Arriaga
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

In the Outer Rim, a lawless region of space filled with violence, a young girl vows vengeance against the marauding pirate bands who brutally murdered her family.

After enlisting with the zealous matriarchal Ashna Maidens who attempt to police the Outer Rim, Serah’Elax quickly becomes a powerful weapon.

Meanwhile, a ruthless pirate band has taken over a cruise ship deep within Alliance space. They run into unexpected trouble when they encounter a few members of the highly trained force of military specialists known as the Founder’s Elites, who happened to be vacationing on the vessel. Disturbed by the boldness of the pirates, the Alliance tasks the rest of the Founder’s Elites with dealing a powerful blow to the marauders, who normally operate in the Outer Rim, once and for all. However, they quickly discover that things in the Outer Rim are not as expected.The young warrior and Founder’s Elites must come together to face an extradimensional threat left over from the Rift War that seeks to turn the last bastion of safety in the Outer Rim into something that could threaten the entire Twin Galaxies. Will the new allies have the cunning necessary to defeat this insidious threat or will it tear the Ashna Maidens apart from the inside?
**Discounted price of $2.99 for a limited time!**
Goodreads * Amazon

Foundra Book 1

The Huzien Empire has existed for 80 millennia and a powerful invisible force known as the enesmic permeates every aspect of the Twin Galaxy.

Neven is an engineer working for the pinnacle of scientific achievement known as the MinSci on the Huzien homeworld of Thae. His genius draws the attention of one of the immortal Founders and he finds himself drafted into the military as part of an elite group of special forces known as the Founder’s Elites. Not given much time to adjust, his team is called to investigate stories of otherworldly creatures attacking fringe colony worlds.

Soahc is the most powerful wielder of the enesmic in the Twin Galaxy, he’s also incredibly cocky. That is until he senses a powerful shifting in the enesmic that he can’t explain. Terrified that something is horribly wrong, Soahc leaves his comfortable planet and hitches a ride with Neven and the Founder’s Elites as they investigate the carnage on the fringes of the empire.

Neven, Soahc and their allies discover something ancient from another plane of existence. Something that exposes the fragility of their galactic empire as they fight to survive annihilation from enesmic beings.

*Reader Reviews for Foundra*
“Well written, ambitious sci-fi epic.”
“An entire space saga you won’t want to put down.”
“Amazing characters, exciting new world, incredible writing.”
“If you love reading about galactic empires, get your hands on this book.”
“An elaborately fun sci fi story.”
**Kindle Countdown Sale May 4th – 10th!!!**
Goodreads * Amazon

Emmanuel M. Arriaga grew up in the inner city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From a young age, he was obsessed with fantasy and science fiction. Breaking the shackles of a low-income life, Emmanuel developed an interest in science, technology and engineering. He went on to graduate from Pennsylvania State University with a Master’s in Information Science.For almost a decade, Emmanuel has sought to share his vivid imagination with the world, learning the art of story crafting and eventually becoming an award-winning author. With a love for travel, gadgets and volunteering, Emmanuel is enjoying life and helping others.
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Instagram * Bookbub * Amazon * Goodreads

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