I know it hasn’t been that long since the last interview I’ve had with Simon on the website, but two things made me approach him again. He is about to release his novel The Sphere of Septimus later this month. Beyond that, i’ve been happy for the doors that have opened for my friend on a lot of levels. Between his non fiction books, picture books and his upcoming teaching engagements, Simon is a busy man and doing what he loves. What’s not to admire about that?
Once again, this is a heck of a conversation. I have no master plan when I talk to anybody. I let the conversation dictate where we go, and we go everywhere. We talk success, time, teaching, picture books, and just the extended doors that have been opened as a result of Simon’s hard work and dedication. He is truly a credit to the writing biz, and someone I’ve enjoyed getting to know.
Joshua Pantalleresco: How you doing?
Simon Rose: Alright. The book (The Sphere of Septimus) is coming up this fall and I got another one I’m hoping to have ready for submission early next year. Is this the book?
SR: Let’s take a look.
The book Simon is talking about is The Watcher. I mentioned it briefly and told him about it. He glances at it.
SR: Who did the art?
JP: Florence Chan.
SR: How’s the book doing?
JP: I have no idea. I won’t really have a clue until October. What’s the poster?
SR: It’s for a book fair for local Calgary authors at Parkdale Community Centre on October 4. I said I’d ask around to see if businesses would display the posters to help out. I’m not organizing it. I’ve done that sort of thing in the past and I just found the whole thing a lot of work.
JP: I hear you. Putting any of that stuff together is work.
SR: I did it for The Children’s Book Fair that we did for three years. It never really generated enough support from the local arts community and was ignored by the media and schools, despite all our efforts. Still, I don’t really have time to organize that kind of thing these days. At this point, I rather stay at home and write.
JP: So what are you working on now?
SR: It’s been an interesting summer. I’ve written 24 nonfiction books for Weigl Educational Publishers since last fall and they all came out in August. You can see them on my website. These are shorter books, with lots of photographs, maps and charts, that kind of thing. I’ve been working on more self-published books featuring help and advice for writers too. These will be follow ups to The Children’s Writers Guide that came out last fall as an ebook and earlier this year as a paperback.
I’ve been working on some other things as well, like websites and other business writing. That kind of stuff does take time away from what I’d prefer to be writing.
JP: Such as?
SR: At this point I rather just write fiction as much as possible. I have some options. I always have about twenty or more ideas for novels – eight of them might be quite well developed, the others less so. Right now I’m feeling I need to get away from the technology stuff for a while and do a couple of historical novels.
JP: What period?
SR: The Renaissance and seventeenth century England at the moment, I think.
JP: I love the Renaissance. It’s a great period. Lots of new and exciting ideas happened at that time.
SR: It’s a neat point in time. We were talking about inventions last time we chatted, about how the printing press changed things. The Reformation was going on around that time too, as well the European discovery of the Americas, so that’s all interesting as well.
JP: I still want to do a story that crosses from the Renaissance, the 1930s and today. There are some striking similarities with all those eras with inventions and people.
SR: True, like Tesla. An unusual and certainly quite an eccentric man.
JP: He was eccentric and it wasn’t just him. There was Tesla, but also people like Rhymer, Ford. It’s a neat time that got cut off.
SR: That was because of World War II in many ways, but then again that period saw lots of inventions too.
JP: There were other factors there. Tesla wanted free energy in the world before that was out there.
SR: And we couldn’t have that.
JP: No. We couldn’t apparently. But it’s neat to see periods like that intersect in history. I’d like to do a story about them all at some point.
SR: There are a lot of periods that are popular for historical fiction and some that aren’t that baffle me at times. People like Ancient Egypt or Greece, but Rome is far more interesting as a far as I’m concerned.
JP: Rome’s a fantastic time period. It was the closest civilization we had to the United States today. Like the States, they were the bastion of order in the world. They did it differently, but they were the light of the world before the dark ages.
SR: It’s truly an interesting time and one that’s often ignored. There’s a lot of material there. The Victorian era is an interesting one too, I suppose.
JP: Can’t say I agree. Steampunk ruined it for me. So many things are done in that genre. It’s like vampires and zombies for me.
SR: What a lot of writers forget is that when something really catches on everyone is writing in that genre and sending these types of books to publishers. They have stacks of these things now. It’s perhaps better to work on something that hasn’t been done lately, or even something different.
Several years ago, someone sent me a story to read that featured a school for magic. Naturally, I pointed out the similarities to Harry Potter. They acknowledged the connection and influence but then pointed out how different their story was, which, to be honest, was at best only cosmetic.
You can’t write a story that’s been done before like that. You can’t have Hogwarts show up in another novel altogether with a different name. You can’t have vampires that are direct copies of Twilight in your story. You have to take the time to come up with something original.
JP: But I mean, don’t we writers steal ideas all the time?
SR: I prefer the term borrow, but even so, it’s not like we’re doing the exact same concept that existed before. You have to find something original. You can have fairy tales, or giants, or time travel, or parallel universes as your theme, of course. These kinds of stories have been done before. There are so many good stories to tell. All these ideas, and so little time to do it.
JP: Priorities. I recently changed my work schedule for this. The biggest challenge I’ve found doing this is money against time. Very rarely do you get both to do what you want to do, so you have to find a balance.
SR: Very perceptive.
JP: No, I’m not really.
SR: No, think about it. Where did you learn that?
JP: My very first poetry book. Putting together the book and working and stuff just made me realize that you had to have priorities with things like this.
SR: I always have ideas, and there a lot of things I want to do. It’s kind of why I sometimes want to spend a little less time on some of the other things I’m doing, just so there can be more writing time. Some things I’ll always keep doing, such as the occasional school and the summer workshops.
JP: How was that anyway?
SR: It was a lot of fun this year at the playwriting camp. This year it was based on a superhero theme, lots of quests to save the world and evil villains in laboratories with evil laughs. Still, it was fun and they thought that the play was the best ever. I’m not sure about that, but it was slightly longer than usual. Next year is going to be a mystery and detective theme.
JP: That sounds real fun.
SR: Truthfully, I’m expecting to see some aspects influenced by Scooby Doo and that kind of stuff. I’m hoping to add a touch of film noir to the process too, although it is for children aged nine to twelve.
JP: You might get a little bit of Dr. Who in there…
SR: Maybe. Regardless, it should be fun.
JP: We talked a bit about the graphic novel front. Anything new on that?
SR: Not at the moment. I’m interested and with all the plays and stuff I’ve done, I think I can do it. Right now it’s just a thought, nothing more. On that front, I’m also working with a publisher of picture books.
JP: I was going to ask you about that. How was that?
SR: The first book I did for them had a classic fairy tale theme, so they were looking for more stories in that style. At first I didn’t have too many ideas at all, but then decided to get out for a walk with my dog. I suddenly had over a dozen ideas for stories. I pitched a few of them. They liked some, didn’t like others, so we’ll see how it all develops. It’s a neat thing.
JP: It sounds like it.
SR: I’m not sure if I’d do a picture book myself and self-publish it. There’s a lot of work involved, not to mention that they don’t do well as ebooks.
JP: Not surprising. Picture books are an experience in of themselves. How do you duplicate that on the computer?
SR: I’m also not so sure they’d do well at the Comic Expo next April.
JP: There I’ll disagree with you. Think of the audience.
SR: Good point.
JP: I think the only real challenge with something like a picture book is how you display it. They do occupy some space but if I could I would.
SR: Well, it’s something to think about.
JP: These last few years have seen some changes for you, haven’t they?
SR: I think it’s been that way for all of us. Even the children’s book fair thing we talked about earlier. When the first few books were published I did a lot of traveling all over the country. A few years back the economy was in a poor shape and things slowed down in general. I stopped traveling but at first, I always assumed I’d go back to it at some point. Now of course there are other options.
The internet has changed everything. Event organizers usually invite you as a speaker when you have a new book so they’d have something to promote. Nowadays, this is done far more often online on an ongoing basis. Traveling often isn’t cost-effective when you consider the cost of travel, accommodation, meals and the fees that the authors and illustrators receive, as well as the fact that book sales are never guaranteed. I still do lots of local events and schools but at least at the moment, travel isn’t as important.
JP: What did you think of Amazon? Did you read the interview I did with Brian about it?
SR: I did. It was interesting about what happened with Amazon in France, although a lot of that had to do with the government protecting French companies.
JP: I can’t really blame them here.
SR: So does all of this this really affect you?
JP: Not at the moment, no.
SR: Will it?
JP: When I’m a little more established, maybe.
SR: Even then, does it really matter to you if your royalty check is from Createspace or from one of the big five? Money is money, after all.
JP: Total truth to that, but I always look at Amazon and while I personally approve of some of the things Amazon has done, I don’t think I like the idea of them becoming the Wal-Mart of the book industry.
SR: I don’t think anyone does, but a lot of people also don’t have a lot of sympathy for the big companies who have dominated the book market for such a long time.
JP: I really don’t either. Things are changing like we talked about. But I really don’t like the idea of any one company having that much pull over everything either. It’s been interesting to watch.
SR: At this point, I’m rather enjoying the companies I’m working for. Take Tyche, who I’m working on with the next book after this one. They’re very nice people, understand all about marketing and promotion, and are working with me closely on the book and stuff.
JP: Let’s take a moment to talk about your next book. I read the synopsis to Flashback, and it hooked me. Where did the idea come from?
SR: It was one of the first ideas I had for a novel but has taken a little longer to develop. The inspiration is from ghost stories, the paranormal, hypnotic regression, that kind of thing. The one I’m currently working on is based on an idea I’ve had for a while too, about a dark parallel universe. I’m hoping to get that done by the end of the year and pitch it before the Comic Expo. I ‘d hoped to get it done before the end of the summer, but what with the teaching, The Sphere of Septimus and all the other things on my plate it was just a little too much. Doing five books is close to impossible in a year.
JP: Not if you could write full time. Look at Ksenia Anske. I just interviewed her a bit ago. She’s done it. But she writes full time and nothing else.
SR: I suppose if I wasn’t teaching, or doing work for clients, it would be possible.
JP: Not everyone has that kind of time.
JP: Time and money. It’s the struggle. Speaking of which, are you teaching this fall?
SR: I am. I have two courses at Mount Royal, which I’m hoping will fill. The first is an online course about writing historical fiction. The other course in November is about children’s fiction. I’ll be in the classroom for that. That usually does well. I’ve done it in the past and quite enjoyed it. There also an evening class at the University of Calgary in October all about creating characters for stories.
JP: Sounds like you got a full plate.
SR: It’s amazing how much things have changed in just the last twenty years. Last time, we talked about the three most important inventions in history. I think the computer or perhaps the internet is probably as important as the printing press was back at the end of the Middle Ages. I still don’t have a laptop, but if I had to travel again, I think I’d have to get one.
JP: The computer is your car these days.
SR: That’s it exactly. Not everyone can drive in this day and age, of course, but I have to check my emails and have to keep updated on my contacts all the time.
JP: I’m the same way. I feel like I don’t need a car.
SR: Not to say that the car isn’t important. Just look outside at the large parking lot. No matter where you go in the city, the idea of parking has to be there. How many people can park here outside this coffee shop? 150? That’s a lot of space.
I mean, if you think about it, the car changed how cities operate. In the past we’d have to go downtown or other central point to go to our markets and malls. Now we’re in Brentwood, right? There’s a plaza right here, where people park for twenty minutes while they catch up with a friend over coffee. There’s a mall right across the street. Why would you leave your neighbourhood? Everything you need is here.
JP: The car has changed things. I’d argue though the computer – the internet – is more important. It doesn’t matter who you are. You have contacts and communications with people everywhere. The internet is a small world. And while you don’t have a laptop, you do have the phone.
SR: Which is kind of like a laptop anyway. As a child, I remember those old phones with dials and our first phone number only had four digits. Now it’s an all in one device.
JP: I love it and I hate it. I love that I have access to everything I need to do to conduct business. It’s great that way. I take the bus. When I lived in Windsor we would talk on the bus. I could shoot the breeze with just about anybody I wanted to. In Calgary, I go on the bus and there is nothing but silence. People are on these things. I don’t like how insular the phone makes people.
SR: Yes, it can do that. I have some connections on Facebook who chat all the time with their friends, who just happen to live next door. I don’t think they ever see each other, maybe on the way to work? They don’t go outside and chat anymore. I still like that. I don’t like mind talking to people on Facebook or Twitter but don’t do it too often if I can avoid it.
JP: Me too. It’s just part of the deal.
SR: How did we get here?
JP: Don’t know. We just talk.
SR: All of your interviews are like this.
JP: Of course. I don’t have this giant masterplan about what to talk to. I just have a conversation and see what happens. Conversations go all over the place, and to be honest, they’re more interesting. Who wants to get the same old questions?
SR: Sometimes I get interview requests from people, you know, the standard stuff. I kind of want to find an old interview and copy and paste it. Once in a while though you get interesting questions. Like, where will children’s books be in ten years or something like that.
JP: It’s an interesting question for sure. I think we got a decent interview at this point. Are you happy?
SR: That’s hard to say. It used to be that I would wait for projects, but at the moment a lot of them are coming to me. Hopefully that’s going to continue.
JP: You’re in a good spot. I’m happy for you.
SR: Thanks man.
For more information on the non fiction books you saw here, check out Simon’s website at http://www.simon-rose.com. There you can find out which non fiction books are out and . His most recent children’s book, The Sphere of Septimus is out later this month. Simon is also teaching several courses and workshops in the fall. His historical fiction course is online and registration is available at http://simon-rose.com/workshops/writing-historical-fiction-online-course/. His children’s writing class will commence in November at Mount Royal University.
I want to thank Simon for his time and energy. Hopefully this will not be the last time you see him on the site.