Hello there! I’m J.B. Rockwell, archaeologist cum IT geek cum sci-fi and fantasy writer. Also, eater of chocolates and collector of cats. There’s a lot more blah-blah-blah about me and my latest novel, SERENGETI, on my website (www.jenniferbrockwell.com) and you can follow me on Twitter (@Rockwell_JB) if you like pics of dragons, foxes and other beasties interspersed with the occasional writing update and snarky witticism about the vagaries of the universe.
Oh, and cats. I post pics of my cats. Lots and lots of pics of my cats…
So, without further ado…The Questions!
- When did you first discover your love for writing?
Well, I first started writing about five years ago after spending pretty much the entirety of my life being a huge SFF fan and devouring books by the bushel. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked writing, much less loved it, at first. Writing’s hard folks, and 100,000 words…that takes a long time to write. Plus there’s plot holes and typos, character design…it takes a lot to string everything together and create something interesting and original. I’d say I really started to enjoy writing and eventually grow to love (and, at times, hate) it once I found my writers group (Anxious Appliances) and started swapping betas. I honestly think I like beta reading and providing feedback on my friends’ work more than writing my own stuff sometimes!
- Do you have a favourite place to write?
Two, actually. When the weather’s nice (sunny and warm): my patio, with the trees overhead and the crows giving me hell. When it’s not nice (especially cold and snowy) I like to sit in my living room by the fire. Both writing spaces come equipped with cats who don’t always help but often demand attention.
- Do you have a writing routine or process that you adhere to?
BWAHAHAHA…oh, ahem. Sorry. Not really. I’m a complete trainwreck of a pantser—no process or routine at all other than I only have time to write on weekends. I work full time like most writers so there’s really no time during the week to do anything writerly other than think deep thoughts and scribble a few notes. So, I guess you could say my process is…DOWN WITH PROCESS!!!
- Are there any authors or specific books you aspire to?
C.J. Cherryh is my favorite writer and the one writer I most admire. It’s hard to say you ‘aspire’ to be like another writer without coming off like a copycap but she writes the most amazingly complex and broken characters and I just love that. Also a big fan of Elizabeth Bear who seems all around awesome in addition to writing some kickass stories. And I have to mention all my writer friends. There’s an immense amount of talent in the writer community and so much imagination.
- What inspired you to write SERENGETI?
A somewhat random idea about a sentient being who dreamed of death but never died. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that for a while so I stuck it in a drawer and eventually wrote a short story about an AI warship that later became SERENGETI. I also wanted to write a story with a badass female lead that didn’t come across as male or some sex toy—I see that happen too often when a writer tries to make a female lead tough. Always disappointing.
- Can you tell us a little about your book?
So, the basics: SERENGETI’s an AI warship that gets wrecked in battle and ends up abandoned by her fleet. The kicker is, no one knows where she is and she’s too damaged to contact anyone. Plus, her power’s failing and her crew’s cryogenically frozen inside her so she has to find a way to fix herself enough to get her crew home. So, it’s one part big space battles and one part Robinson Crusoe with a whole lot of other things thrown in in between.
- Do you have a favourite amongst all your characters?
SERENGETI, obviously—she’s a kickass and caring and never gives up. I also love her Captain, Henricksen—a gruff, scarred soldier who cares just as much for SERENGETI and their crew as SERENGETI herself.
- Does your book contain a message for readers to consider?
I wish I was that deep! Not sure about a message, but I tried to show a different view of AI than you usually find. To that end, I invested SERENGETI with a lot of emotion rather than making her cold and cerebral or just plain evil—so many stories present AI that way. Basically, I wanted to challenge the reader to think about the possibilities of such an advanced intelligence and what she could learn.
- Would you be interested in sharing a teaser?
Serengeti dropped out of hyperspace into a quiet, empty section of the cosmos.
Too quiet. Too empty.
Sensors drank in data, feeding it to Serengeti’s AI brain. “Something’s not right,” she said.
Henricksen cocked his head, looking up at the camera. “Because we’re here or because the ships we came after aren’t?”
Serengeti shunted the sensors’ feeds to the bridge. “Take a look for yourself.”
Henricksen frowned and stabbed at a panel, parsing through the information it displayed. “Nothing.” He shook his head. “Doesn’t make sense. There should be something here.”
“There should,” Serengeti agreed, studying him through the camera’s electronic eye. “That’s what has me worried.”
If you like the sound of that, you can get more on Amazon—the whole first chapter for free, I think, and an audiobook excerpt besides: https://www.amazon.com/Serengeti-J-B-Rockwell-ebook/dp/B01BG8OHXU/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
- What would say has been your biggest challenge and achievement in writing SERENGETI?
Well, writing it in the first place—putting that in both the challenge and achievement columns. SERENGETI also got me my agent (the always amazing and ever patient Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group)—that’s a major achievement I’m proud of. The challenges are many—writing a sequel worthy of the original, marketing myself and my book, dealing with bad reviews—but I love connecting with readers and seeing them enjoying reading SERENGETI every bit as much as I enjoyed writing it.
- What have you learned about yourself as a writer through writing SERENGETI?
THAT I’M A TRAINWRECK PANTSER! Seriously, I tried outlining and being all squared away and prepared but it completely stressed me out and killed my creative flow. I don’t always write linearly and tend to jump around as ideas come to mind but I always get there in the end, and the lunacy works for me somehow. I’ve also gotten really good at queries, weirdly. I think I’ve even come to enjoy writing them *shudders* SERENGETI definitely made me up my game, though—seek out more and different marketing opportunities, put myself out there and take some risks. I’m still learning and I have a long way to go but I’m a better writer today than a year ago, and that writer better than the year ago writer before that.
- Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
RUN AWAY!!! Just kidding. The biggest thing is to be patient because everything takes a long time. It took me 5 years and five manuscripts to finally find an agent but in some ways I’m glad it took that long because I’m a better, smarter and more educated writer now. Plus, Mark’s an ace—couldn’t ask for a better agent. Also, don’t be afraid to screw up. I have. Often. The contract for my first couple of books was not good but I learned a ton of things from that not-so-good contract that helped me be smarter about contracts I signed later on. And connect with other writers and learn to both give and take. One way I learned to be a better writer was beta reading my friends’ works and seeing how they wrote. Oh, and when you’re ready to query, try out a pitch contest or two. They’re loads of fun and a great way to meet other writers. I’ve got my first opportunity to mentor this year with Nightmare on Query Street 2016 and I’m really excited to be on the other side. I was lucky enough to score an Author Spotlight on Reddit Books a few months back and got a lot of questions from new and aspiring authors and it was a lot of fun interacting with them, answering questions and offering advice. I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to be more hands on.
- Anything else you would like to say?
- And finally, do you have any future works planned?
Yes-yes-yes! I’ve got a sequel to SERENGETI written and just waiting on my agent and another, unrelated manuscripts he’s looking at to see if it’s ready to sub to publishers. I’ve always got two or three other projects going between books and short stories and novellas—I like to have a lot of options in the hopper in case an opportunity presents itself.