Will Swardstrom is a speculative fiction author. His latest novel, Blink, was co-written with his brother Paul, and is the first in what will hopefully be a series entitled “The Utility Company.” He also has two full length novels, Dead Sleep and Dead Sight, and is at work on the finale in the trilogy. He also has four stories in The Future Chronicles anthology series (The Alien Chronicles, The Z Chronicles, The Immortality Chronicles, and Alt.History 102). Each of those anthologies has charted in the Top 5 on the SF Anthology list and The Alien Chronicles reached as high as #6 on the Overall Top 100 List. His story, The Control from The Immortality Chronicles, has been nominated for Best American Science Fiction. He lives in Southern Illinois with his wife and two kids.
How did you decide to become an author? Any books, movie, or people that inspired you to pursue your dream?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an author. I guess I always wanted to have my name on a book so I could say, “I wrote those words.” After college, I briefly entered radio before a career in newspaper that left me drained and devoid of new words after a day in the office. I went back to school so I could teach and have been teaching high school social studies for the past eight years. After a few years there I felt comfortable enough that I could attempt another go at it.
But it really wasn’t until I started reading Hugh Howey’s blog and read WOOL that I really decided I could do it. I saw a similarity in Hugh – namely the ages we shared – that made me think it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. I started my first novel in January 2013, but I don’t think I actually told anyone until March or April of that year. I published the novel, Dead Sleep, that summer and have been pursuing the indie dream since then.
Are you self-published or traditionally published? Why did you choose to go that route?
I am self-published. I suppose I’m not opposed to traditional publishing, but I don’t see a ton of advantages to it unless I really hit it big with one of my books, ala The Martian or something. Since I’d always had this goal of being a published writer, I’d kinda had this timeline in my head and that timeline just kept getting pushed back and shorter as the years went on without a book written and out there for people to read. If I tried to get published in traditional publishing, it would have been potentially years and years even after writing that first book – if I got published at all.
After reading Hugh’s blog, I discovered that self-publishing was a perfectly viable and (somewhat) socially acceptable method. Of course, that’s even changed a lot since I started.
One of the last articles I wrote when I worked for the local newspaper was about a local guy that became a “self-published” author. I interviewed him and in the process discovered he was self-published, but it was a vanity press. That wasn’t what I wanted and that one interview could have turned me off of self-publishing entirely, but I’m glad it didn’t and I’m really glad I found numerous resources to help self-published authors.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I want to be a plotter, but I am a pantser. I like the story to reveal itself to me as I go. I have a general plan in mind, but I’ve found that just letting the characters be themselves changes things as I go. There is no outline. I think that aspect frustrates my brother, who I’ve co-written a book with, but we’re both flexible enough to make it work. He’s definitely more organized and mature than I am.
How did you get involved with The Future Chronicles?
So in 2014, I noticed David Gatewood-edited anthologies like From the Indie Side and Synchronic. Some of my friends had gotten invites, so I was already keenly aware of the new short story market when The Robot Chronicles came out. I didn’t realize Samuel Peralta was behind it at the time, but I asked around and was told he was the one to talk to. I approached him and asked about being included. A few weeks later he got back to me after reading my novella Ant Apocalypse and offered me a slot in The Alien Chronicles. I jumped at the chance and worked my tail off on that story. It really has been a blessing and a privilege to be in these volumes and to have gotten in so early in the production schedule.
Do you have a favorite edition of the anthology so far?
A favorite of the ones I’ve been in? I think that would have to be the first, The Alien Chronicles, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my next one, The Illustrated Robot Chronicles may edge that out. But out of all of them? Wow. I might say Doomsday, but I might just be saying that since it just came out. But it is soooo good. I don’t know. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll probably have different answers for you.
Do you prefer writing short stories or full-length novels? Why?
Both are great and have their own benefits, but I think if I could just do one, I would probably stick with short stories. There is a skill set that you need for short stories that is just different than longer-form narratives and I think I’m pretty good at it (but of course, I know there is always room for improvement). I tend to have a short attention span so having that single thread that may compromise a short story ends up working out fairly well. But I do love the challenge of writing a novel and staying with it day after day.
What scientific advancement do you feel is right around the corner?
There is so much happening! I love it all – the new ideas when it comes to space travel…getting to Mars in days or weeks as opposed to months…potential “warp” drives…all of that. I was fascinated by the idea of CRISPR, where DNA can literally be edited in the cell. I hesitate to even say that there is anything around the corner, because there is probably a good chance whatever I would say has already happened in some small way. I would say a lot of the big advancements I’m really interested in are in artificial intelligence, I suppose. I saw an article the other day where scientists essentially taught a computer about Rembrandt and fed it all his paintings and then the AI basically just “painted” a new Rembrandt. Brand new painting perfectly in the Dutch master’s style.
Do any of your characters represent you as a whole or someone you know? Or are they qualities you admire in others?
I imagine that in each of my characters there is at least a small piece of me, but the main protagonist in my Dead Sleep series, Jackson Ellis, is mostly me in a nutshell. Well…me if I could see the future. When the book opens he is working at a newspaper and is a big geek. I incorporated historical events into that novel and even wrote my hometown into it. The character is me, but most of the first book is also a self-fantasy in some ways.
But in my story Uncle Allen in The Alien Chronicles, there are some definite aspects of the grandmother who I modeled after my own grandmother. The story was published in January of 2015 and then she died in the summer of 2015. She was the linchpin of our extended family, just as the character was vitally important in that story.
Are there any genres of literature or movies that you won’t read or watch? What’s your favorite genre to read/watch?
I wouldn’t say NEVER, but I generally stay away from horror. Now…if it was like 80’s horror like IT or The Stand or something like that, I’d be game, but so much of the horror movies these days are just gore fests without much plot. I’ll be honest – I haven’t seen The Walking Dead. I’m not opposed to it, but I have young kids and I don’t know when I’d be able to watch it without them around. (And yes…I have written zombie fiction without that knowledge base.)
I’m also just not likely to read erotica. Just not really something I’m too interested in. I enjoy a good romance story, but again, I prefer story over the depiction of the physical act.
Favorite? Sci-fi/speculative fiction. I love Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, and almost anything Tom Cruise will do. (Seriously, that dude is crazy, but I would love to watch him hang off an airplane any day.) Straight up action with sci-fi elements will get me in the theatre any day.
Do you have an advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. I’ve only been in this thing for a little over three years and already I’ve seen numerous fellow authors just give up and walk away. It’s not easy, but push through it when it’s tough.
There was a time it would have been really easy for me to stop and just give up. We adopted our son from The Democratic Republic of the Congo in summer 2014 and the first six months afterwards was VERY challenging. The kid is crazy awesome, but…language issues, medical issues, sleep issues…made life very challenging. During that time, the only thing I really wrote was my first short story for Samuel Peralta. If it wasn’t for Future Chronicles, I might have given up. But I’m glad I pushed through and just kept at it. Life gets messy, but find a few minutes to write and know the game is long.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
My story is already in the can for The Illustrated Robot Chronicles. I believe we’re looking at a June release on that and it has the potential to be amazing. So many great authors and Holly Heisey illustrating each of the tales with Samuel Peralta providing that connective tissue for each of the stories.
Everything else is kinda in the ether at this point. A bunch of half-written tales and partially-formed ideas at this point, but the next planned thing is the third book in my Dead Sleep series. It is a third completed, but it was put on hold when our son came home and only now am I resurrecting it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
My latest short story was just released into the wild last week. It’s called Natural Born Alien and is a political scifi satire. I had a ton of fun writing it and I think people will definitely see a lot of parallels between this and the current political climate in the U.S. You can find it in Daniel Smith’s latest collection, Canyons of the Damned, No. 3.
I really do love the indie community. The support and encouragement is really a fantastic thing. It could easily be a crass and corrosive place to be, but I truly enjoy ninety-eight percent of my encounters with other indies and look forward to many indie books more so than most traditionally-published works.
Thanks for the forum, Katy! I had fun!