MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR ALIA HESS
What’s your name and what genre would you consider your books to be?
My name is Alia Hess and I write speculative literary. My main focus is on my “cozy” post-apocalyptic Travelers Series.
Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?
My next release is Southsayer, the fourth book in the Travelers Series. It will be out May 2019. Each of the books explores a different area of post-apocalyptic America, and readers have been begging to know what’s in the mythical and dangerous South. I knew I needed an adventurous character to travel there, and Jack seemed like a perfect fit. He’d only appeared in one prequel short story and I saw a lot of potential for his emotional arc, which is centered around guilt, forgiveness, self-worth, and redemption.
How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?
I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic themes – books, movies, video games, photography of ruined and abandoned places. But one thing I dislike about most post-apocalyptic works is how gory and miserable they are. I wrote my books with the mindset that there’s still kindness and hope in the world. Many of my characters have traumatic backstories, and some awful things happen, but I focus on the good. Hurt/comfort tends to be a common occurrence in my books.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
For Southsayer, I researched flannel moths, hallucinogens, tarantulas, religious terminology, southwestern American terrain, strangulation, cordyceps fungi, dodder vine, and how quickly a fire can consume a building.
Can you tell me about your Series?
The Travelers Series begins 152 years after The Collapse – a viral post-apocalyptic event that wiped out 99% of the American continent. The other 1% were immune to the hemorrhagic virus and slowly rebuilt over the next century, closed off from the rest of world, which was proceeding as normal. Over time, new cultures, cities, religions, and animals evolved. The series follows a cast of damaged and kind-hearted misfits as they head out on their own adventures of self-exploration, romance, and redemption. My stories are slower paced, literary, and eclectic, with a heavy focus on character and plenty of witty dialogue.
Do you have a favorite book out of this series?
It’s very hard to choose between Chromeheart (#2) and Southsayer (#4). Both books were the easiest to write and star my favorite characters of the series. If I had to choose one or other, Chromeheart would win because I wrote it during the lowest point of my life and being immersed in that world, following Sasha on his own path toward a happy ending, helped buoy me up and not succumb to depression.
Where did you get the inspiration/idea for your series?
I pulled details from my own life, instilled a bit of myself into each character (some more than others), and drew from the desert terrain around me and my favorite aspects of the post-apocalyptic genre. The initial idea spark was a woman falling down a hill and being rescued by an unusual man.
Was it always meant to become a series?
No! When I first started writing, I didn’t even know it would be a book. I was just writing as an escape and realized I had a novel-length story on my hands. By the time Travelers was in its finished form, I knew there would be a sequel, because Sasha was begging to star in his own book. I’m planning on having 9 books, at least, in the series.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
During the work week, I work as a kindergarten paraprofessional. I fit in writing time as I can after work. This often ends up being early in the morning or much too late at night. If I have time to sit at the computer, I will write there, otherwise I use my tablet or phone so I can get down words wherever I’m at. I don’t set a daily word count goal, but on a good day, I will write 2000-4000 words.
Do you have a new book in the making and if so, what’s the name of your upcoming book?
Yes. I have the very beginning of #5 in the Travelers Series started, but am currently drafting a completely different book. I’m writing a 1930s-flavored scifi novel about a dystopian near future with accidentally self-aware AI assistants. It’s called Mazarin Blues and will likely be released at the end of 2019.
How important are character names to you in your books? Is there a special meaning to any of the names?
None of the names have a personal meaning to me, but I tend toward the unusual and often choose nature-based names like Owl, Anise, Dewbell, Reed, Olive, Poppy, and Wren. The island-dwelling characters in series go on naming quests and receive names like Quietbird, Greatwind, Mothwing, Gentlewave, and Seasalt.
Where do your ideas come from?
I usually start with a character, a setting, or an unfulfilled goal, and the rest of it unspools from there. I’m a pantser, so much of the time I only have a very loose concept of the entire story while drafting. Sometimes the stories go in surprising places.
Is there a genre that you’ve been wanting to experiment with?
Mazarin Blues is my first real attempt at writing a speculative world with advanced technology. I feel comfortable writing post-apocalyptic, but have always been afraid my ideas for science fiction aren’t very good, or too cliched. Mazarin Blues is still speculative literary, but has enough opportunities for me to add in scifi aspects without feeling like I’m out of my element.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
I’m terrible with external plot and complicated situations. The inner emotional journeys are what drive my stories, but I always have to be careful to not wander off on tangents, because then the story feels like it’s all over the place. My books tend to be contemplative and meandering, but I’m getting better at adding in more action and external plot.
What do you think of book trailers? Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book?
I love book trailers. I make them for each book release. I don’t have one for Southsayer yet, but I recently made one for Em’s Gator Club, a prequel story to Mazarin Blues: https://animoto.com/play/Ew6F7XvVPfg1flVPl7dHiw
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
Gaining fans. Seeing sales and reaching #1 in my categories multiple times has been rewarding, but nothing is as good as a fan telling me my book helped them through a hard time, or that they can’t wait for the next book in the series. When they talk about my characters as though they’re real people, it’s a great feeling.
What’s the best thing about being an author?
Writing is an escape and a comfort for me. It’s helped me through trying times, pulled me from depression, helped me make friends in the writing community, and allowed me to explore my own identity through my characters.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully with many more books in my backlist and a positive ROI.
Have you always liked to write?
Yes. I wrote my first novel when I was 15. It was embarrassingly terrible. I wrote short stories in college, then stopped writing for a long time, until events in my life pushed me toward some type of escape, even if it was only in my head.
What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Find some amazing critique partners to connect with it. I wouldn’t be anywhere without the amazing writers who have my back. I know I can turn to them for advice, critiques, or just sharing my latest piece of art or accomplishment. They’ve become my friends and I’m all the better for their presence in my life.
If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I’d be doing art full time, which is what I used to do before I picked up writing again. I sculpted for a living, but I ended up taking on so many commissions that I got burned out. Once I started writing, I decided to try my hand at ink illustrations for the books, and then oil paintings of the characters for fun. Last year I drew over 100 ink illustrations, most of them portraits, and did 7 paintings. My upcoming short story prequel, Em’s Gator Club, features one of my paintings on the cover.
Do you read reviews of your book(s)? Do you respond to them, good or bad? How do you deal with the bad?
Yeah, I do read them, but I never respond because I feel like it’s tacky. A reviewer’s opinion is just their opinion, and I don’t have any right to tell them they’re wrong, even if they have details in the review that don’t accurately reflect the book. Two star reviews get me down, but all of my most favorite books by famous authors have more one and two star reviews that I have total. Not everyone is going to like what I write, and that’s okay.
The only time I’ve responded to reviewers is if they were part of my ARC team and wrote to me first.
What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
Reading beta feedback. If it’s from a critique partner I trust, I’m okay, but if it’s someone who’s never read for me before, or I know their critiques can be harsh, it gives me massive anxiety. I need constructive feedback, and it makes my books much better in the long run, but that doesn’t mean I like reading it.
What are you working on now?
I am doing final edits on Southsayer and drafting Mazarin Blues.
Can you give us a few tasty morsels from your work-in-progress?
This is the opening of Southsayer:
Trouble followed Jack wherever he went, even to tiny towns at the edge of the world.
Meaty fingers dug into his shirt collar. Rancid, moonshine-laced breath buffeted his face, and the man’s chapped lips twitched. “I said, mind your damn business.”
Jack glanced at the woman this asshole had been harassing. She cowered against the splintery exterior of the bar, tears in her eyes. “This is my business.”
“Why? She your consort or something?”
“No, but I come out here to smoke then hear a woman crying for help, I ain’t gonna stand by and do nothing.”
A howl of wind rolled clouds of gray dust across the street beyond the bar, engulfing the little buildings of World’s Edge.
The man grinned, revealing teeth the same color as the dingy haze hanging in the air. His barrel chest shook as he chuckled. “Well, ain’t that noble.” He shoved Jack into the wall, knocking off his stetson. The rough wood snagged against Jack’s leather duster. “Get lost before I turn your face inside out, white knight.”
Jack snarled and swung his fist into the man’s jaw. Pain burst in his knuckles. The man’s head snapped back and he stumbled on drunken legs.
Jack batted his smarting hand at the woman. “Get out of here!”
She bolted past and rounded the corner of the building. A fist slammed into Jack’s eye. Stars popped in his vision, and white heat thumped through his skull in waves. The big man, now nothing but a blurry smear, took a step closer. Jack threw several punches into the man’s breadbasket, which had all the give of a cinder block, and his left arm twinged. He hugged it to his chest and backed into the wall.
The man sneered and socked him again; Jack’s head cracked against the paneling. He reeled, heart pounding. His opponent wavered, boots churning up dust, and his fists flew toward Jack. One smashed into the wall beside his head and the wood exploded, raining splinters.
“Ain’t missin’ this time.” The drunk pulled back for another blow.
Jack drove his knee into the man’s balls.
The drunk bellowed and toppled into the dirt. Jack wedged his hat on his head and sprinted from the bar. His fellow caravan guards were inside, but for all he knew, they’d hold him down while the man pounded the shit out of him.
Why did you choose to write in your genre? If you write in more than one, how do you balance them?
I’ve always been drawn to scifi and post-apocalyptic things, so for me it was an easy choice. There is always romance in my books too because I’m a sucker for it.
Where did your love of books come from?
I’m introverted, and reading/writing is a way for me to connect with people (characters) in a way I struggle with in real life.
Do you have any favorite authors or favorite books?
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is one of my favorite books. I also really love Carrie Vaughn’s work. Her Bannerless Saga is as close to my “cozy” post-apocalyptic as I’m probably going to get.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite and why?
Sasha is my favorite. He’s probably the least like me, which is perhaps why I’m drawn to him the most. He started out as a silly side character and ended up taking over the entire series. He’s clever with technology and has his poignant moments, but is hopelessly dorky and clueless in other situations. I think his fierce desire to overcome all of his faults and transgressions makes him an endearing character. He has a kind of accidental wit and is awful at flirting, though he tries constantly. He’s become a fan favorite.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It depends on what stage I’m at. If I’m in the zone and drafting a great scene, I feel energized. Other times, I feel like I’ve been staring at the computer screen forever and haven’t gotten anything accomplished.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Self-doubt. I try to be in the moment when I’m drafting and not let anything external influence me, but when I start picking apart certain aspects of my writing or comparing them to other people’s, I freeze up and start to worry about how to proceed.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I don’t write to market. I write literary and mash genres together. Cozy post-apocalyptic isn’t even a “real” genre. All of those things make my struggle to become a popular author more of an uphill battle, but I wouldn’t change that. I write what I want to write because I enjoy it. My hope is that I’ll find fans who love my world and characters as much as I do.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am friends with a few indie published authors and have others who have agents and are seeking traditional publishing. All of them are incredible writers and their support has made all the difference in my writing. Most of them are literary leaning and write scifi or fantasy, though I have some contemporary and romance-writing friends too. When I’m stuck or feeling down, I know I can turn to them for help. Reading and critiquing their work and them mine helps me hone my craft to a level it wouldn’t be without them.
If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?
Oh, wow. I really have no idea. I’m quite boring and introverted in real life.
Do you do anything creative pertaining to your books that isn’t writing-related?
Yes. I really enjoy creating fan-art type things – like swag you might find with a limited edition video game. Cloth maps, paper dolls, tee shirts, sculptures, art prints, stickers, magnets, etc. I always include fun things like these in my giveaways and during book launches.
Where can your fans find you and follow??
Travelers Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cultofsasha/
Travelers FB group, where fans can vote on what gets included in upcoming books, see brand new art, get exclusive stories, and posts from Sasha! https://www.facebook.com/groups/thecultofsasha
Subscribe to the monthly newsletter, where there will be a free short story every month: http://eepurl.com/djh2Ef
Alia Hess on Twitter: https://twitter.com/chimera__jack
Alia Hess on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chimera.jack/
Alia Hess’s official website: http://www.cultofsasha.com
Thank you for taking your time to do this interview ❤️