Please welcome Author Eric Tozzi to THE KATY today! Read to the end for an awesome giveaway!
Eric Tozzi is an award winning film director (Ray Bradbury’s “Kaleidoscope”), and a former NASA/JPL documentary producer for Mars planetary exploration. As an author, Eric has published two novels and contributed a number of short stories to various science fiction anthologies, including Synchronic, Tales of Tinfoil and The Cyborg Chronicles, which is part of The Future Chronicles series. Eric and his wife live in Phoenix along with their very sweet kitty cat.
How did you decide to become an author? Any books, movie, or people that inspired you to pursue your dream?
I started making super 8 films as a kid after seeing Close Encounters and Star Wars. I was always writing, directing and acting in something. After high school, I focused on writing screenplays, and a few years later I landed a literary agent. I had a sci-fi script of mine shopped around and optioned. Long story short, I came close but never closed a sale. It was much later, in 2011, that a light bulb went on and I decided it was time to stop worrying about production budgets, locations, or which producer/studio might actually buy one of my scripts.
That’s when I shifted gears and began writing my debut novel, The Scout.
As a writer, the process was challenging, but rewarding and liberating. Not being concerned whether the story was too expensive to shoot, I poured myself into the process. I still did an outline, much as I would with a screenplay, but I was able to grow the material into a larger canvas. The end result was a very personal story set within the backdrop of an alien invasion.
Are you self-published or traditionally published? Why did you choose to go that route?
When I was close to finishing The Scout, I sent some inquiry letters to agents and publishers, but didn’t get anywhere with them. Time wafted by, and I decided that if I was going to have any control over my writing career and build a meaningful readership, I had to take the leap sooner than later. I greenlit myself. And I’m really glad I did. Not only have I managed to sell a decent number of books and maintain all the rights to the material, self publishing has afforded me the chance to contribute work to a number of anthologies. And that’s helped me reach new readers who might not have found me otherwise.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I’m far more plotter than panster. Before I start writing a novel or a short story, I’ve got to know how the story starts, and how it ends. From there I work on all the beats in between—major and minor act breaks, the mid point, points of no return for the hero—all of that. That comes from writing screenplays for so many years. Screenwriting demands a very precise story structure, and all my work as an author follows that structure. I find that sometimes in the middle of a chapter I will become a panster and let my characters take me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. To that end, mixing the two appropriately, it can be a very freeing experience.
I also spend a lot of time on my first and last paragraph—even first and last sentence. Are they similar or in stark contrast with each other? What is the very first and then final impression the reader will have once they’ve finished the book? Those things are very important to me.
How did you get involved with Future Chronicles anthologies?
I was a contributing author to the time travel anthology Synchronic. Samuel Peralta, who is the editor and executive producer of the Future Chronicles series, was also featured in that collection. We connected through that particular project and that led to my involvement with Future Chronicles.
Would you mind telling us a little about your story in The Cyborg Chronicles and how you came up with the idea?
As I mulled a story for the the Cyborg Chronicles, I wanted to do something that would stand out. I had a feeling that most of the writing crew would be covering human cyborgs. So I opted for an animal cyborg story which is titled Hide and Seek. Early in the process I researched the subject and found some amazing, if not disturbing facts about bio-robots or robo-animals.
Believe it or not, species that have been successfully controlled remotely include cockroaches, beetles, moths, rats, mice, dogfish sharks and pigeons. At first glance this seems absurd and even creepy. And it raises some very obvious moral and ethical questions about overriding the will of a living creature for whatever ends man might be trying to achieve. Some of those ends include surveillance, search and rescue, and combat. This concept intrigued me deeply and so I dove headlong into the story of a field test with a robo-animal—the most fearsome land predator known to man—gone horribly wrong.
The engine of this story is constant tension and the characters being crushed by that force while trying to survive. It’s a little bit of Ghost and The Darkness mixed with Jaws. This story was a visual feast for me. I can’t help it. It’s the filmmaker in me.
Do you prefer writing short stories or full-length novels? Why?
I think they are each unique experiences, and I enjoy both. Writing a novel is like paddling a small boat from Santa Monica pier all the way to Hawaii. In many ways, it’s an endurance test. The short story lends itself to a much more compact timeline while still demanding good plot structure, character development and pace.
Since I work full time as a commercial TV editor, I can only write part time. As an author I want to keep producing work, and short stories lend themselves to me accomplishing that goal.
What scientific advancement do you feel is right around the corner?
Because of my work in video and film post production, I’m always keeping an eye out for the next leap in cameras and displays. I think virtual reality and hologram technology is on the fast track to the mainstream consumer. I recently worked on a commercial with a director who just finished a 360 degree, virtual reality project for a client. I got a little sneak preview, and the experience is truly immersive. It’s like being on the holodeck of the Enterprise. I predict that someday soon, people will have 3D holograms in their homes, perhaps entire rooms for VR where walls will vanish and the user will be transported into another world. The filmmaking, storytelling possibilities in this arena are staggering.
Tell us about working with Ray Bradbury. How did this amazing opportunity present itself?
Back in 2010 I was approached by actor/producer Brett Stimely to direct a short film he was making—an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s story “Kaleidoscope” from his book, The Illustrated Man. I suppose part of the reason Brett chose me to helm the project was my documentary experience for the Mars Rover Missions. I was a full time producer/editor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the time. Since I had been a huge fan of The Martian Chronicles, this whole opportunity felt almost poetic.
We embarked on this very ambitious project, having no idea that producing this adaption with photo-real CGI would take so long to complete. We shot the film in two days on a sound stage then spent the next eighteen months generating all of the shots that take place in outer space. We had digital artists from Disney, Dreamworks, Digital Domain and The Light Works involved in the project, so the results on screen are spectacular.
Upon its completion in early 2012, we were afforded the chance to screen the final film for Ray at his home just a few short months before he passed away. Getting a chance to meet Ray in person, especially having him love so deeply our adaptation of his work, was a life changing moment. I have to thank my friend and mentor, Marc Zicree, for setting that up for us. Ray talked about writing, and the last thing he told us before we left was to “go forth and produce more” (of his work.) I hope that someday I’ll be given the privilege of doing just that!
A week after he was gone, we began our film festival run. We played at some thirty festivals all over the world, and won a dozen awards. Our last public screening was at San Diego Comicon, summer of 2014. Unfortunately you won’t find “Kaleidoscope” online or on demand. Costs for us to secure those rights after Ray died were prohibitive to put it kindly.
But the process of adaptation, the filmmaking experience—the man himself—I’ll never forget any of it.
Do any of your characters represent you as a whole or someone you know? Or are they qualities you admire in others?
Jack McCallister, my lead character in The Scout, represents me in part—mainly because he’s dealing with his father’s sudden death and his mother’s gradual disembodiment through late stage Alzheimer’s disease. This sudden and cataclysmic change in his personal life mirrors the worldwide change that an alien invasion is bringing.
Having gone through that loss personally, I was able to unpack a lot of difficult things emotionally and put them into my character. Although the book itself is scifi, it’s a very personal story on many levels.
Are there any genres of literature or movies that you won’t read or watch? What’s your favorite genre to read/watch?
Hmmm… I don’t read vampire stories, werewolves or supernatural romances. I just have no interest in those things personally, even though they tend to be wildly popular. My favorite genre is science fiction—UFOs, aliens, interstellar travel, starships…. When I was a kid two of my favorite shows were Star Trek and Lost In Space. I was also a Twilight Zone junkie.
Just last year I went back and read some classics, including Childhood’s End. I also read a lot of Richard Matheson’s short stories. Great stuff. I love scifi.
Do you have an advice for aspiring writers?
I’d recommend reading books on story, plot, structure and character. I see a lot of aspiring writers, especially in the scifi and fantasy genres that spend a lot of time worldbuilding. They write hundreds and hundreds of pages of elaborate descriptions of fantastical worlds, but never tell a story. It’s a misconception that the world is the story all by itself. It’s not. There must be characters, and a main character, in that world. Something must happen to that character that forces him or her to make choices under pressure. Those choices tell us who that person really is, and might even reshape them over the course of the story.
As a film editor I’ve also learned a trick that I try and employ in my writing and I would recommend for aspiring writers and it has to do with pace. Here it is: get into your scene (chapter) late, and get out early. In other words, it’s far more interesting to arrive at a moment when something is already happening. Let’s say, for example, it’s a bank robbery.
Arriving at the moment guns are drawn, hands are in the air and people are crying, is far more interesting and engaging than, say, writing about people filling out deposit slips and sipping coffee for two pages before the robbery starts. Simply put, pace is critical to keeping readers engaged.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
There are a couple of interesting projects in the works. I’m about to start a short story for another Future Chronicles anthology, The Mars Chronicles. I believe that’s due out at the end of this year.
Additionally, I’m adapting a female driven superhero screenplay I wrote several years back into a book. It’s a mash up conceptually of the movie Galaxy Quest and Supergirl. The Greatest Adventures of Mighty Woman is the title. It’s a fun story about an out-of- work actress, Amy Harper, who once played a fictional superhero known as Mighty Woman on a short lived TV show. Through a series of events, she inadvertently becomes the real thing and finds herself facing a super-powered villain bent on destroying the Earth. It’s mostly about Amy and her raging insecurities about her career as an actress, turning 39, and her mercurial love life.
This project has a long history. I shot a concept trailer for it, and within a short amount of time it was optioned for TV, based solely on the trailer. You can see the trailer I shot here:
As is the case when a TV studio options your material, as a newcomer, you have no control over how things happen. And unfortunately, Mighty Woman never got produced as a show. It hovered in development purgatory for a year and then the rights came back to me. And I was majorly disappointed. Back on track with a book version, I hope to have this out sometime before the end of the year. And I’d really like to see this get a comic book or graphic novel treatment at some point!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank you for having me on THE KATY! I love talking about the creative process of writing. It’s been a pleasure!
Eric was kind enough to give away three Kindle copies of his short story, “Hide and Seek,” and one copy of his story “That’s a Wrap from The Sea of Tranquility” from the conspiracy anthology Tales of Tinfoil. Enter below for a chance to win! There will be 3 winners (winner #1 will win both stories!). a Rafflecopter giveaway