Here’s the Q&A from just after The Ephesus Scroll was released. (The website it was on no longer exists!)
What made you decide to dedicate hours and hours of your life to sitting behind a screen and touching little buttons?
As a computer programmer and computer support technician I was doing that already! With writing, though, it’s nice to tap into the creative part of my brain and generate something that non-computer programmers can enjoy.
I come to writing for two reasons. The first is to entertain. When I was at university my friend and I edited a youth magazine for our church. We commissioned various people to write articles for the magazine but we probably wrote more than half of every issue. We even wrote our own letters to the editor! While some of what we wrote was to educate, most was to entertain. My favourite thing we did for this magazine was a regular column entitled “The Diary of an Anonymous Christian Teenager”, done very much in the style of Adrian Plass. Incidentally, I wrote my first novel, Meeting of Minds as a birthday present for that other editor, although anyone who likes Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series should enjoy it. (It’s available as a free download at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/53406.)
The second reason I write is to teach. After the novel, I wrote a play, Saul: First King of Israel, based on the Biblical book of 1 Samuel, although seen from King Saul’s perspective. This was an attempt to put some brilliant scholarly materials I had read as part of a Bachelor of Theology into a more popular form. But for some strange reason I chose a play! It has never been performed, by the way, and one of my long-term dreams is to see it on stage one day… (It’s also available for purchase at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/5053.)
What is your writing style: plot it all out or discovery writing? one draft or many? Little bits everyday or mammoth writing sessions?
I like to plot things out fairly generally so that I know where I am going. But I don’t usually include much detail which means there is still the occasional surprise along the way. I usually only have one draft but that draft is constantly being revised. I find myself going back over what I have already written and tweaking it before adding more new material. This means that progress can be slow! And I have very rarely had the time to write everyday, so it tends to be one-off writing sessions possibly once every one or two weeks. The Ephesus Scroll took me more than six years to write!
Best piece of writing advice you have ever received or given.
I have been enjoying reading Elizabeth Greentree’s writing blog (http://100firstdrafts.blogspot.com.au) and have learned more about writing from that than anything else. In particular, I was challenged to stop revising as I go and concentrate on just getting words down. I will definitely give that a try in the future!
Inspiration behind this novel?
Three things inspired me to write The Ephesus Scroll. The first was a trip I made back in 2004 to Ephesus, in Turkey. Walking around the ruins of this ancient city was an amazing experience. To think that the Apostle Paul may have walked on the very flagstones I was now walking on! To think that I was sitting in the Great Amphitheatre that once resounded to the cry “Artemis of the Ephesians” as the crowd called for Paul to be executed. It really brought home to me the fact that the books of the Bible were written by real people to real people.
The second source of inspiration was a student in a high-school Bible class I was teaching who couldn’t understand how someone who did not follow the teachings of the Left Behind series could be allowed to teach in a Christian school. To him, there was only one possible way to interpret the book of Revelation and if you didn’t follow that interpretation then you couldn’t be a Christian. That experience made me want to do what Tim La Haye and Jerry B. Jenkins had done: write a disguised commentary of the book of Revelation, but from a very different interpretational standpoint.
The third inspiration was living in St. Petersburg, Russia. This beautiful city, with its stunning churches, spectacular museums and intricate Metro system, is the backdrop for half of the novel.
Do you have a favourite part of this novel?
A couple of amusing incidents come to mind, one involving some bad dates and another involving throwing a book out of a moving train. You’ll have to read the novel for more details! There was also what I thought was a funny scene involving a Turkish coin seller which was based on an actual experience I had in Ephesus. But this scene was in the opening of the first draft which got significantly changed later on and so it ended up on the cutting room floor. However, when I was putting together a blog to promote the novel I included the original opening as a comparison of the final version, but also to rescue this one scene. Check it out here: https://www.ephesusscroll.com/first-draft-alternate-opening/
There are also a couple of interesting theological discussions. Actually, there are a lot of theological discussions, most of which – I hope – are interesting. But there are two in particular that I really like, one critiquing the jigsaw approach to Biblical prophecy and the other discussing how the fundamentals of Paul’s theology might be applied in different contexts.
While you were writing this novel, you were working full time with a wife and two daughters and living in a foreign country: did you develop any good techniques for finding time, or is it always hard?
It is always hard. Most of the novel was written on Sunday evenings when I would usually have a couple of hours to myself.
What are the top tips you have learned about self-publishing?
Self-publishing is the way of the future! You will have seen the links to my books on Smashwords and I have been very impressed with this site. Apparently, some of their authors are even making enough money to live off their writing! (However, it helps to be in some very specific genres: paranormal, romance, erotica, paranormal romance, paranormal erotica, I think you get the picture…) However, the reason I like Smashwords is that it solves the distribution problem. True, they only distribute ebooks, but ebooks are only going to become more and more accessible as everyone and their dog ends up with a tablet or an e-reader. I had been seeking a publisher for The Ephesus Scroll but after waiting more than a year for two publishers to make up their mind, I decided not to bother. I want people to read the novel! Now they can.
What Smashwords doesn’t help with, however, is marketing. My books are discoverable on the Nook, Sony readers and Apple devices. But that doesn’t mean people will automatically find them. It certainly helps to make a book free. My first novel is and always has been free and I have had nearly 1000 downloads. The play, on the other hand, costs money. I think I have sold maybe 10 copies. At one point, though, I made it free for some reason. During that brief time it was downloaded more than 200 times. The point is people will try something for free. If they like it, they will come back for more, even if it costs them money. And this is how the authors who are making it on Smashwords operate. Of course, it helps to have a series of books, something I don’t currently have.
Any new projects on the horizons?
Funny you should ask! I am planning on writing a three volume cyberpunk, thriller series. I have plot overviews for the first two and a plot idea for the third. I just need to find time to actually do the writing. But having recently moved back to Australia, we are finding settling in more difficult than expected so it is taking longer than I had anticipated. [Edit from 2018: These books never eventuated!]
Mystery questions: answer any question you feel I should have asked 😀
Here’s my mystery question: “Since marketing is the big problem with self-publishing, how can people help out a struggling author?” In this day and age of social media just a little promotion may actually go a long way. If you read one of my books, please take the time to rate it and maybe write a review. My first novel only has one review on Smashwords. It says “A wonderful book. Very well written, entertaining and fun” and the reviewer gave it 5 stars. I was really touched by that! And if more people left a rating and a comment then it might help other people to decide if they want to download the book and give it a try. I would absolutely love it if The Ephesus Scroll went viral! Not for the money (really!) but because then people would be reading it and hopefully learning something about the book of Revelation and what it means for us today.