Today I am pleased to welcome SciFi Romance author K.S. Augustin to the blog. My interview with Kaz is a little longer than most of my posts but I’m hoping you’ll enjoy it as much as I did! Kaz has graciously agreed to give away a copy of her latest book, WAR GAMES, to one lucky SGSF blog reader. Kaz describes WAR GAMES as a romantic space opera revolving around covert agent, Laisen Carros, the dangerous game she’s playing on Menon IV and the woman who’s torn between loving her and killing her, Lith Yinalna. More details on the giveaway at the end of the interview.
Charlie: One of the first things that drew me to your description of WAR GAMES was that it revolved around a female covert agent. Can you tell us a bit about the character of Laisen Carros?
Kaz: Laisen is an interesting character who does questionable things for the greater good. For twenty years, she’s been sent on various missions, ranging from burglary to assassination, and she’s completed them with flying colours. In WAR GAMES, however, we kick things up a notch, because Laisen isn’t just supposed to kill a person or even group of people; her job is to kill an entire empire. And, of course, Lith is there to kill her!
Charlie: Laisen’s love interest is Lith, a woman. Did you set out to write a love story for two women when you conceived the story? What drew you to that storyline?
Kaz: Yes. The idea originally came from an old Smart Bitches post, asking where all the f/f romances are. That was a good question, so I decided to write one. (This was actually a Bad Idea because common wisdom has it that f/f sells phenomenally badly. However, once I got the bug, it refused to let go.) I wanted to write a story where, from one angle, it’s almost incidental that Laisen is a lesbian and yet, from another, that it’s absolutely critical that she is. This is where, to my mind, plotting is essential, because you just can’t pack disparate views like that, and all the attendant action and drama, into a story without sitting down and doing some serious thinking beforehand.
Charlie: Because SciFi Romance straddles two genres, it can be hard to find a balance that appeals to a broad readership and it can be even harder to find and connect with your audience. This story seems to combine SciFi Romance with some pretty edgy or niche elements. What challenges did you expect to face with writing and marketing this story?
Kaz: The challenges came early with rejection upon rejection from a wide variety of literary agents. You think that the worst thing you can get, as a writer, is a form rejection, but it’s not. It’s a personalised email or letter along the lines of, “I love your writing, I love your story but, for the life of me, I wouldn’t be able to sell it to ANYONE!” When you hear that from four or five separate agents, as I did, you start hitting the booze a little hard! LOL
As for marketing this story and finding an audience, well, it’s a crap shoot, isn’t it? All I can do is fling the seeds widely and hope that most don’t fall on stony ground. The marketing plan changes with each release, so I’ll be trying some new things (getting a book trailer together, for example), as well as some old stand-bys (giveaways like this, thank you so much Charlie) and I’ll see what happens.
Charlie: What is the balance of space opera to intrigue to romance in this story?
Kaz: The background is space opera. Huge empires, planetwide skirmishes, assumptions of FTL travel. All that good stuff. The intrigue is the guts. It’s military but don’t expect any descriptions of armour or armaments. It’s senior officer military, not non-com military.There’s military politicking, personal politicking, romantic politicking. There’s a political angle to everything that happens in the book. The romance is the complication, because when you have your objectives clear in your mind, when you are focused on a particular set of actions, it’s fun to play the game. But when something comes along that messes this up, like love, then everything can fall to pieces very quickly. And Laisen wants to walk this fine line between duty and love, but is she capable of it? The answer isn’t as clear-cut as you might think.
Charlie: The setting or world is always an important element for any SciFi story. Can you tell us how much the world shapes this story? What is your favorite thing about this setting?
Kaz: Well firstly, the novel takes place on a planet, which is novel (ha ha) for most of the protagonists who are more used to space-based battles. And part of the setting is underground, so we’re talking dust, gravel, heat and stone on a dry planet with arid-region vegetation. (The inspiration was Australia, not Afghanistan, btw.) For someone used to being in a spacecraft, it’s disconcerting being on a planet to wage war and, secondly, having to face a bunch of guerrilla forces instead of battling another armada in space. I like the setting because of the reaction it evokes in the Perlim Empire. Waging war on an actual planet is a throwback to an era the Empire thought it had moved past centuries ago and it’s not sure what to do about it.
Charlie: Is WAR GAMES related to any of your other novels, past or upcoming?
Kaz: I normally write in two SF universes, the Fusion and the Republic. WAR GAMES is a Fusion novel and there are some small throwaway references to other books I’ve set in that universe (The Commander’s Slave, Combat!). A book I’m working on for release next year may have a tie-in between that universe (that doesn’t even know Earth exists) and the Republic, which is our galaxy centuries into the future, dominated by pretty cruel and manipulative humans.
Charlie: There has been a lot happening in the publishing industry in recent years and we are seeing more authors self-publishing than ever before. Can you tell us why you decided to self-publish this novel?
Kaz: I mentioned that I couldn’t get a literary agent to take me on for love nor money but the fact is, I submitted WAR GAMES to a very reputable small (print) press two years ago after all those rejections and they accepted it! And I was on Cloud Nine…until I printed out their contract and sat down to read it. I’ve done a series of blog posts on some (only some) of the clauses in that contract, called “Killer Clauses”, detailing the extent of exploitation from publishers I’ve dealt with and that publisher in particular.
I was left with a choice: see my book in print but have my entire career hobbled by one publisher…or walk away. I walked away. WAR GAMES stayed in the drawer from that time. I knew I could sell it to a digital press but I also knew what they would think. “A lesbian space opera? Let’s put dykes on the cover!” and there’d be two women staring off into the sunset and one would be really butch and probably tattooed and the other very feminine and wispy with long blonde hair–you know what I’m saying–and that’s just picking low-hanging fruit, as far as I’m concerned. I wanted more for WAR GAMES; I wanted something that was subtle, evoking a more equal partnership that didn’t fall into the same tired rut. Then JA Konrath came along with his blog and it occurred to me that self-publishing was the most principled way I knew to publish the book.
Charlie: How did your experience self-publishing differ from your past experiences selling through a publisher?
Kaz: I got to pick my editors. That was the most important aspect for me. I was able to speak to several editors, get a feel for their passions and their buttons, and make my decision based on what I thought was best for my book and my career moving forward. It was the same with cover art. I could now use the art and the editing to conform to my vision (again, present and future), rather than a publisher’s vision which didn’t/wouldn’t take me into account. Further, I didn’t have to worry about being “one of a stable of writers” for an overworked editor because _I_ was paying the money and _I_ was demanding a service as an individual. That really opened up the game. I took on editors who don’t normally work in genre, who wouldn’t have even considered it, but who have a fine eye for style and story-telling and were intrigued by my pitch. That’s what I wanted. Not their familiarity with various genre shorthands (the sheriff must be aloof, the Regency widow must still be a virgin, the ex-wife must give away every cent of her settlement and live in poverty), but the ability to criticise every single sentence I put down, with educated comments on why they were criticising it.
Of course this is only my first self-published book, so I’m not saying everything’s perfect, but I like the fact that I can pick someone who’ll challenge me at craft rather than worry about deadlines, and who will continue to do so for as long as the relationship endures. And that’s the other thing. The book is done when it’s done. Sure, I have deadlines but they don’t matter. I would rather put out an excellent book later than an okay book early. To be honest, I don’t think it makes a terrible amount of difference to the reader, but it makes a difference to me. My name, my reputation.
Charlie: What challenges and opportunities do you see with self publishing?
Kaz: It’s really not for the faint-hearted. I’ve run several businesses in the past so going into self-publishing is a lot like putting on a favourite jacket. I’ve discovered that I’m happiest when working for myself and I love meeting new people, even via email, and finding out about them. The thing is, you never know where the next opportunity is going to come from and, being self-employed, means I have the maximum ability to leverage such opportunities. I love that.
Challenges? Well of course it’s the perennial one of money and psychological worth as a function of income. We all get that, regardless of what occupation we pursue. It’s also the concept of the treadmill, the idea that you have to commit to this venture for the next three to four years in order to make it work. That’s a huge risk. Huge. Because what happens if you discover you’ve bombed out after four years of putting everything into this personal adventure of yours? The consequences are not merely financial but psychological, emotional, familial.
The overarching opportunity, though, is the ability to reach readers you normally wouldn’t have had access to. The opportunity to say, I think I’m a competent writer and I think people will like my work, so let’s just put it out there and see. Having been on the corporate ladder, I like the idea of standing or falling on my own merits. I have a saying based on my own experiences: if you work for someone else, it’s called an “attitude problem”; if you work for yourself, it’s called integrity.
Charlie: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about WAR GAMES?
Kaz: I just hope people will let me know if they like it. That’s all.
Charlie: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Can you tell us where to get more information about you and about WAR GAMES? And please let us know where WAR GAMES will be available for purchase and in what formats.
Kaz: I always have full first chapters up at my website. That way, you can judge for yourself whether you like my writing style before you put any cash on the table. I call my blog Fusion Despatches. I’m also self-publishing a new urban fantasy series set in south-east Asia, under the name “Cara d’Bastian”. Cara blogs at http://caradbastian.blogspot.com and the series website is http://CheckYourLuckAgency.com The first book (THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY) should be out in October or November.
WAR GAMES will be available through Kindle, Smashwords, B&N Nook and Kobo in every format under the sun! If anyone would like an audio version of it, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do. The novel is long enough for print (90,000 words) but, unless I hear otherwise from readers, I’m not eager to go down that route because I believe that the digital format gives readers more value for money. But, again, if I hear otherwise, I’ll certainly reconsider.
Thanks for having me as your guest here, Charlie, and I’d love to answer any questions anybody has.
Kaz has agreed to give one copy of War Games (in e-book format) to one lucky reader. The book will be given away by random draw. Comment on this post to enter the giveaway. If you tell me in your comment that you are sharing this interview using any social media, I’ll enter you twice! I’ll take entries through August 10th.