I am fascinated by writers with the ability to produce volumes of work around a central theme or set of characters. Doug J. Cooper is one of those authors and his Crystal Series #, a set of four books, is a science fiction volume that is worth much more than just a passing glance. Doug’s new book in the series, Crystal Escape, is due to be released in a few weeks and promises more of the same successful formula that has made the rest of the books in the Crystal Series a must-read for sci-fi fans.
The Crystal Series comprises four novels and a short prequel: Crystal Deception #, Crystal Conquest #, Crystal Rebellion #, and the prequel to Crystal Deception, Crystal Horizon #. Crystal Escape is in pre-release at the moment, but will be released in July 2018.
I invited Doug to answer a few questions so that I could better understand how he’s made a success of the Crystal Series and what his plans are beyond it.
C: Tell me a little about the Crystal Book Series – inspiration for the story, the challenges of writing a long series of connected stories…
D: The Crystal Series books are futuristic thrillers of action and adventure that center on some the great sci-fi themes—aliens, spies, AI, romance, and battles in space. The overarching personality in the series is Criss, a super AI with the cognitive ability of a thousand humans. He is hard-wired to protect and serve his human leadership team, which includes Dr. Juice Tallette, the crystal scientist who created Criss; Cheryl Wallace, captain of a Fleet space cruiser; and Sid, a covert operative for the Union of Nations.
I’m thrilled to announce the release of the fourth and final book in the series, Crystal Escape, available from Amazon in July 2018. The entire series—four books and a short prequel—totals 400,000 words and took me six years to write and self-publish. I loved the process so much that I’m now working on a new series centered on time travel.
As to why I write science fiction, I’d say it’s a combination of what I loved reading as a teen and young adult, combined with me being in a technology career (I’m a professor of engineering at the University of Connecticut). I actually caught the sci-fi bug in grade school when I discovered Tom Swift, Jr., a teen sci-fi series that was like a nerd version of The Hardy Boys. The Crystal Series stories might be described as an adult version of Tom Swift, mashed up with some Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and I Robot.
C: Do you have a solid process for writing? In other words, how do you produce volume and overcome things like writer’s block and inertia?
D: I do have a solid process for writing—persistence. I write every morning for several hours. If I can complete just 250 finished words per day, I can write a novel in a year. And that’s what I do.
I begin with the seed of an idea in my head, and then I start putting words on the page. My joy comes from the creative process of writing into the unknown. It’s especially fun for the Crystal Series books because I love the characters. My pleasure comes from living with them through their successes, failures, joys, and sorrows as they meet the challenges in the story.
After a writing session, my routine every day is to take a long walk through the neighborhood. I use that time to brainstorm what happens next in the story, and the following morning I write it down. Then I repeat.
I write the book scene by scene, finishing one before starting the next. And because the Crystal Series books introduce three seemingly unrelated stories in the first chapters, this lets me focus on a different character every few days, and that helps me keep the story fresh. And fortunately, so far anyway, I haven’t had to confront writer’s block. Sometimes I have the opposite problem—my brain suggesting ideas faster than I can write.
C: What do you mean when you describe the Crystal Series as ‘Immersive Sci-Fi’?
D: To me, any well-told story puts the reader in the action so they can not only see it, but also hear, smell, and feel everything. When a character experiences wonder, pleasure, fear, or grief, the reader should feel it for themselves. This is what I try to do, as best I can anyway.
One way to measure success in creating an immersive experience is from the reader reviews. When a reader looks at the clock after reading for a bit, two things should true: they should be surprised at how much time has passed, and they should be gauging how much longer they can keep reading without being too late or tired for their next commitment (like work or school in the morning). A number of reviews for the Crystal Series books have said variations on, “I lost a lot of sleep reading,” telling me the books succeeded in providing an immersive experience, at least for them.
C: What advice could you offer other writers when it comes to getting your book out there in the hands of readers?
D: I don’t have a good answer for this. Today’s popular conduits for self-publication—Amazon and Barnes & Noble—are being flooded with new books. A huge number of people realize they have a story to tell, and the self-publishing revolution has made it possible for them to tell it to the masses.
So how do you lift your book above the tumult when everyone else is trying to do the same? One way is to have someone famous read your book and publicly recommend it. But if, like me, you don’t know anyone famous, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time and money promoting your work. And that investment only makes sense if the book has a professional cover, a captivating blurb, is well edited, has a dozen or more good reviews, and is one of several in the author’s catalog. And even then it’s very difficult.
I encourage people to write books if the art form calls to them. I do it because I find it fulfilling and pleasurable. While I’ve been able to sell thousands of copies over the years, I haven’t come close to selling enough to cover my expenses. So I consider my writing to be a hobby with costs similar to say, skiing or golf.
C: Have you ever had a bad review? What did you do with that?
D: I am ecstatic with the reviews the Crystal Series books have received on Amazon and Goodreads. Readers have been very generous. The first book of the series, Crystal Deception, has 4.5 stars after 84 reviews (5 stars is max) on Amazon. The others books have even higher ratings on that site, though they have had fewer reviews since they are newer books.
But even with that said, yes, I have had my share of bad reviews. And whether I think the criticism in a bad review is fair or unfair, I won’t deny that criticisms always hurt.
And sometimes reviewers can be mystifying. Several months ago, I received a spectacularly positive five star reviews for Crystal Deception on Goodreads. The reviewer lavished praise so complimentary that I shared the review with a few close friends. Well, the reviewer finished book II, Crystal Conquest, and did not like the evolution of their favorite character in that story. So the reader went online and edited the first wonderful review—my all-time favorite—and rewrote it as a two star pan. Ouch.
But what should authors do about reviews, whether good or bad? The answer is nothing. Reviews are the reader’s domain. Authors can watch the activity, but they should never become involved, no matter how tempting.
I appreciate Doug taking the time to think about his answers and help us understand his storytelling process. Thank you Doug. Below is a list of links to social media and to Doug’s author website, as well as his author bio on Amazon. I hope you have found this interview insightful and enjoyable. If you wish to be hosted on this blog as a writing professional, please use the contact form to reach me.
Doug’s useful links:
Doug’s website: http://crystalseries.com/
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