You can visit Cindy's web site, read her blog and serial, and buy Remnant In the Stars and Crunchy Word Problems by following the links. And of course, read on for more!
Cindy Koepp lives in Texas with her parrot and spends nine months of the year mutating the minds of children. In addition to a teaching certificate from the University of Texas at Austin, she has a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University. In her time away from school, she does needlework, experiments with recipes, and works on her writing.
Actually, that would depend on the book in question. Overall? Oh, I'd say... complicated.
Many of my stories have complex plotlines. I often have a couple main characters that are after their own goals but the tales are related to each other and ultimately come together in the end. I often deal with difficult subjects like prejudice and betrayal, but there is frequently a character with my weird sense of humor.
Your sci fi incorporates some of the elements of traditional high fantasy (multiple humanoid races existing in uneasy détente, quests for missing “princesses,” looming shadows of darkness, etc.). How much are your story arcs influenced by other books or movies or games that you’ve experienced? Where does fantasy end and sci fi begin?
One of my critique partners once described the difference between science fiction and fantasy in this way. In science fiction, scientific principles still work. Physics behaves according to the regular laws. Biological sciences do their thing properly. In fantasy, scientific principles are entirely optional. You can have several hundred pound critters flying like birds. You combine a couple substances together and get a weirder reaction than just a new substance.
In many of my stories, the basic idea came from a movie or book or game or TV show that I observed and then thought, "What if...?" Remnant in the Stars started from an RPG. Drug War started from a sci-fi movie. Like Herding Wind came from TV shows about paramedics and police officers. Bird's Eye came from a fantasy movie. Lines of Succession, if you track it back far enough, came from a comic book. Condemned Courier has ties back to a fantasy movie and a comic book. The sequels, like Loudest Actions, are just continuations of the world Book 1 started in.
In each of these cases, although the original idea spawned from a game, comic book, movie, or TV show, by the time my brain processed it, twisted it around, developed the world, and created the characters, there's not much left of the original concept. That's as it should be. Otherwise, I'd be writing fan fiction. Fan fiction has its place. It's great for practicing specific skills, for example, but I want to publish my own brilliant ideas.
I see Condemned Courier as a work unto itself. I didn't do it for self-promotion. I found out about the serial, and I find old movie serials quite amusing, so I wanted to try my hand at it. JukePop is actually a recurring contest. At the end of every month, the top 30 out of pretty nearly 150 receive a cash prize of $10-$30, depending on just how high in the ranks the stories are. So far, I've been scoring consistently in the top 20.
I find that I have to be very proactive in getting readers to interact. I get a number of "attaboys," but no one actually contributed to the story lines until I started treating it like a Choose Your Adventure. At the end of each chapter, I leave a few options for which way the story could turn next, and some readers comment back with which one they think needs to happen. I'm getting about four people chime in with their suggestions now. A couple let me know offline or in Facebook posts and the rest enter their ideas in the comment section at the end of the chapter.
You say that normally you’re a “plotter,” as opposed to a “pantser.” Does plotting give you a feeling of confidence as you’re writing? How do you handle character development?
Plotting really isn't about giving me confidence. I find that I have a hard time staying organized without the detailed plots notes. I also have a great deal of trouble giving the characters depth. This is one of the things I'm not liking so much about the way the serial is being run.
JukePop instructed the writers not to get too far ahead in their plotting because the stories are supposed to be more collaborative with the readers. I was able to do the world-building, but not the character development I would've liked. I usually have character arcs for many of the characters, major and minor. In fact, the character arcs are usually figured out before the full plotline. I can't do that if I don't know where we're going. I've given the characters attitudes and quirks, but not the three- to five-point arcs that I usually strive for.
Nevertheless, the tale is going well. I usually write myself into a corner before the end of the third chapter when I try to be a pantster. Condemned Courier is up to Chapter 11 now. I don't think it's a bad tale, and I'm getting lots of positive feedback from readers. It's just not the kind of writing I prefer.
Really? I find more Christian fantasy than science fiction. Considering the writers I know, the vast majority of them write fantasy, but there are a few multi-genre folk like me. Fantasy is easier to write because you can toss science out the window. As long as you can come up with a plausible reason for something to happen, it can happen.
There is the one hitch in the giddy-up, though. There is a controversy about whether Christian fantasy can involve sorcery by the Good Guys since God forbids sorcery in a very definite way. Some say that sorcery is right out, especially if it's the Good Guys using occult-style magic. Others don't have a problem with it. Naturally, there's a whole range from "absolutely not" to "sure, no problem" and everything in between.
With science fiction, the science matters, even to some degree in space opera. I find science fiction more interesting to write because I find biology and physics and chemistry and all those branches just fascinating.
Both lend themselves to grand forays into "What if...."
How has your experience been working with a publisher with deep roots in the gaming world?
Final Sword Productions/Under the Moon has been excellent to work with. They've been very patient with my insane work schedule, which often slows down my end of the editing process, and Terri, the editor there, wants to help me improve the story that's there, not rework it into what it isn't. Her suggestions for Remnant in the Stars helped me fix a lot of catastrophic errors that I didn't have the knowledge and experience to find on my own. As a result, the story UTM published is much stronger than the one I submitted, but the plotline and the characters are all still just as I had them. I've been able to apply that information to some of my other works.
I have a new contract with UTM for a fantasy novel called Lines of Succession. I'm looking forward to working with Terri and Sam again. They're neat people.
Since my time with Virtual Tales was very short – they folded within a couple months of the contract with them, and we never got to the editing bit – I don't have anything to compare Under the Moon with. JukePop isn't the same kind of editorial relationship. At this point, I'm on my own to get the chapters written and posted. There's no editorial input.
Oh wow. Favorite for 2012? I unfortunately didn't get to do a lot of reading outside critique group responsibilities. My work schedule was ludicrous.
Let's see. Of the stuff I did get a chance to read, it's a tough call. The best recent release would probably be Rebecca Minor's Windrider. I found the lead character's attitude amusing. The tale was well-written.
Including older stuff, I read one of the Cadfael mysteries, which I enjoyed because I'm a history nut as well as a science nerd. Someone solving mysteries using Medieval science is fun. The detailed Medieval setting was beautiful.
With either small-press or indie, there will be a lot of hit-and-miss. There's some excellent stuff out there now that wouldn't have found a spot with a large publishing house because it doesn't hit the sweet spot for the big, almighty dollar. On the flip side, you also get a lot of junk. Things are being published that really, seriously needed an editor. Badly.
Ultimately, I think the small-press/indie publishing environment is a good. Just watch out for the flotsam.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself, your writing, or your plans for the future?
I have two fictional works out there now, one science fiction and one fantasy. Another fantasy is in process with Under the Moon. After that, I have three more novels to polish and find homes for and a passel of ideas to get going, including a few sequels and a prequel.
In addition to my fictional works, I'm taking some of the things I've developed for school in the last fourteen years, and I'm self-publishing them as resources for teachers and homeschoolers. Right now, the published one is set up as a subpage of my author web page, but once I get a couple going, then I'll spin the school-related stuff off into its own web page.
Exciting things are happening, so stay tuned!