An interview Nathan Lowell

Throughout listening to all the Share stories recently as I prepared for Owners Share, I kept wishing I could pepper their author, the esteemed Nathan Lowell, with many of the questions that his words inspired. I didn’t feel like I should abuse the Direct Message system on Twitter though and really didn’t want to be a bother.

Much to my delight, I’ve had several opportunities to chat with Mr. Lowell and can confirm that he is as easy to talk to as he appears to be. With that being the case, I asked him if he would mind answering a few questions for this blog and he graciously excepted.

So, without further ado, here’s Nathan talking food, coffee, writing, Ish, recording, publishing and life in general.

I hope you enjoy.

1. What software/non-software tools do you use to write? What does you’re writing environment look like?

Usually I write in OpenOffice Writer. I tried DarkRoom for this book and I liked it a lot but the navigation is so difficult that I’m not sure I’ll use that again. My normal pattern is to save the file with the day’s date at the end of the day so I have a collection of files at the end when I’m done. As I complete each chapter, I put it on a password protected wiki and my alpha readers can have access to it and offer commentary on how well it works (or not).

2. It all started with Quarter Share. I’ve heard bits of this story before, but what inspired you to try to write an entire book? Was this something you’d known you would do eventually or did the story/inspiration take you by surprise?

In January, 2007, I sat down to see if I could write a novel. I’d tried in the past but the looming spectre of years of delay and mountainous slush piles (yes, there were still slushpiles when I first started) kept me from finishing anything. Podiobooks changed that. With Podiobooks, I had a ready market for my stories and after listening to the likes of Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty, JC Hutchins, Christiana Ellis, and the rest, I thought they were having a lot of fun and I wanted to play, too. All I needed was a book, and a microphone.

I had no idea or expectation about what would happen. Only that I thought it might be fun, a good test of this new technology, and it might give me the excuse to actually finish a book. I promised myself not to start podcasting until I got the book done. So that was real incentive.

3. How much of the Share series did you have in mind when you began writing Quarter Share – was there an end in sight? If so, was that end Owner’s Share? How much of what you had planned changed as the series progressed?

I had the basic idea of the six pay scales from writing the Spacer’s Handbook pieces. I started at the bottom, but didn’t know if I could even finish that one. Looking ahead to six books was a mind boggling mountain. Beyond that, when I sat down, I had only the idea that I wanted to look at a universe that had been settled by an airline and not an air force, that the main character couldn’t be anybody special, and that the story had to center around how to get by from day-to-day. I wanted to see if I could write a compelling story where the biggest issues centered around how to make a living.

That changed a bit when Ishmael went to the Academy at the end of Full Share, but I tried to keep the stories small. I think there’s a truth in the immediacy of these stories. Everybody can relate to “how do I pay my bills?” “how do I find companionship?” and “If I’m not going to save the universe, can I at least save myself?” The last book went a little beyond and left him in a place that most of us can’t understand. I’ll see what I can do about relieving him of his money in the next book.

4. Can you tell us a bit how you and Ridan found each other and the change having a publisher has meant to you and your work flow?

By 2009 I got tired of trying to explain that the books weren’t available in text form. At that point I had about 10,000 followers and I was getting as many as a dozen requests a week for copies they could give to friends and family who didn’t do audio. The problem was that I was afraid if I gave them out in text, I’d be jeopardizing the First North American Print Rights. I wasn’t convinced anybody would buy them, but I didn’t know they wouldn’t so I erred on the side of caution by never giving them out in text.

I did a brief agent search in the Summer of 2009 and when I had some positive feedback, I gave it a long think about what I wanted to do. Assuming I got an agent that summer, the best estimates I had for getting one book out was spring 2011—about now. That seemed too long to ask people to wait. I also didn’t like the terms I was looking ahead to – all related works tied down, royalty rates in the 10% range, and no guarantees that anybody would want book two, let alone book four, or five, or six. After a few days of thinking, I decided to pursue self-publication.

I got active in a self-publishing forum and started arguing the business case against hiring an external editor before self-publication. For debut authors in genre fiction, it seemed to me that spending thousands of dollars to create a work that you might sell 500 copies of meant that you had to add $4 to each cover just to offset the price of the editor. That was unacceptable to me. While I had a fan base of 10,000, I didn’t think I could get more than 5% penetration into that niche so 500 seemed a reasonable number – and many more than the average self-pubbed author was making at the time. One of Ridan’s interns was lurking on the board and convinced me to talk with them. She’d never seen a writer argue for the business case and thought I’d be a good fit for what they were trying to do.

She was right.

The change has added a “edit for text” task to my work – along with a “fret over sales” period that I go through every day. So in addition to creating the works for podcast, instead of being done, then I have to polish them for text based release. We’re aiming at two a year until they’re all done. Currently we’re looking at ten titles so I still have two more to write and podcast before we get to the end of 2013.

5. What did an average work day look like for you when you were recording Owner’s Share?

4:00am get up, clear comments and emails, get coffee, start editing the audio recorded the previous day.

5:30 wake kid
7:00 wake other kid and spouse – get breakfast
when I finish editing the audio, mix and render, tag, upload for my internal QC team to audit. When they pass it (or not… I had to fix stuff more than once) move it up to the podiobooks media host for Evo to release.
1:00PM record the next day’s episode so it would be ready for the morning session.
2:30PM pick up kids from school
4:00PM fix dinner and deal with family stuff
10pm Bed.

6. Ishmael Horatio Wang is a character that has impacted many of us in profound ways. I personally believe that this is partly due to the fact that he has so many idiosyncrasies that he is completely human. Do you share any of these idiosyncrasies with Ish? Can you make a cup of coffee to die for?

I’m a foodie of the first order. Elton Brown is my Yoda. Yes, I make a darn fine cup of coffee and my tea isn’t bad either. I’d like to think I was as wise as Ishmael, but really? He just has better writers than I do.

7. Besides Ish, which characters that you have brought to life would you say you have had the most fun writing, and alternatively, the most difficulty?

All of them are fun. The most difficult was Tanyth Fairport. She needed to be as real as Ishmael. He was relatively easy because I used to be a young man and worked on a ship. I had something to draw on. I’ve never been a pre-menopausal woman in a pseudo medieval fantasy world. My biggest worry was treating her with the correct level of respect.

I’ve heard from a lot of women that I did pretty well for a old guy.

8. I know some author’s that write exclusively from an outline, and some that write completely organically, which I’ve taken to mean “wherever the story takes me”. Which more typifies your writing style?

I have almost no idea when I sit down to write. I have a few characters, a world, and something happening. I just write what comes next until the story’s over.

Then I stop.

I generally have very little in the way of plan going in.

9. In Owner’s Share, we learn briefly about the terraforming of planets. Do you have a “deep dark bible” that guides the way the universe works? Is this perhaps how South Coast came to be?

Not yet. I have the Spacer’s Handbook which is really just excerpts, and I also have the paper explaining the Great Diaspora, but no, I haven’t got the bible of the Deep Dark yet. I need to write that – or at least parts of it – before I get to the next book.

10. What are a few of your favorite stories? What speaks to you in other’s writings?

Dune, Heinlein, the Liadan Universe of Lee and Miller, L.E. Modesitt’s Chaos/Order series, David Weber’s Honorverse and also his Prince Roger stories, Asimov’s Foundation, Bujold’s Vorkosigan stories, Piers Anthony’s Diary of a Space Tyrant, the alternate histories of Eric Flint and S.M.Sterling … it’s a long list that spans forty years of reading.

Mostly I like strong character-driven stories with logical world building, stories that take me somewhere else.

11. And finally, greatest and worst moments in your writing journey to this point?

The greatest had to be getting the book in my hands. It’s one thing to see the cover art and know that it’s coming, but when you get the book, and hold it – it gets very real. It was a wonderful moment.

The worst – I don’t know that I can share that in public. Ask me the next time you see me at a Con. Buy me a coffee and we’ll talk.

Until next time, cheers!

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There are 2 Comments to "An interview Nathan Lowell"

  • It is so nice to se this friendly interview with Nathan. I have always wondered if he made the coffee in his house. To also know that he does not use an outline gives hope to the rest of us who write as the words come.

    Thank you for taking him into the self publishing question. I wondered why he took the route he did. I agree, with his argument and only wish there were indie publishing interns lurking around more corners!

    Best of all, however was the hope Nathan gives to new writers and to want to be writers, that it can be done. Take one step at a time, and you will finish. But you must step.

    Thank you Nathan and Odin for this chat over a cup of tea.

    • odin1eye says:

      You’re very welcome Arlene! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Every interview I do I completely enjoy the openness the author shares. Nathan epitomized this. And I have to admit, I want to try his coffee.

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