Welcome to a new feature here on Amatopia! It’s called “Interesting People,” and I’m going to interview people I think are interesting. Simple enough, right?
For this inaugural installment, I interviewed author Adam Lane Smith. Adam wrote one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a long time, a sci-fi mystery/adventure called Making Peace. I reviewed it upon release, and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre, or anyone just looking for something a little different than what you’ll find on the bookstore shelves.
Adam is also a very intelligent and easygoing guy, and I’ve truly enjoyed getting to know him. In essence, he is the very definition of an interesting person. I hope you enjoy the conversation (my questions in bold, Adam’s responses in normal type):
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Before we get into anything else, tell me one thing: why on Earth don’t you have a blog or website of your own?!
The short answer is that I’m lazy.
The long answer is that in the process of writing my book I had to deal with many pitfalls and time sinks. My former publisher went full SJW and let me know in a passive-aggressive manner that I was no longer welcome at their company, and then in an aggressive manner threatened my day job. I started and then completed an apprenticeship as a psychotherapist. I worked a traveling job. I started two new jobs. I conceived and then had my first child, and then conceived my second. I worked long hours reading everything published and unpublished from fellow authors while networking with them and raving about their works on social media so they’d know who I was when I finally published my book.
The struggle wasn’t limited to my personal life. After I finished writing the book, I unwillingly went through three separate people for my final cover. My second cover artist almost opened me up to being sued by using copyrighted material and claiming it was legally okay after I confronted him. I had to learn about editing and got a punch to the gut from the fantastic editor I hired, which necessitated 45 hours of editing and rewriting after I’d thought I was done.
All of that is my sniveling way of saying I was exhausted. Rhett C. Bruno mentored me through the launch and warned me sternly not to launch without a website, but I was beyond caring. I wanted to be a real author and be done with the cursed work which had tormented my soul night and day for three years. (Is that tortured enough for me to be considered an artist?)
But, unlike with modern Hollywood trash writing, there is a happy ending! I’ve got someone working on my author website right now. That’s registered at AdamLaneSmith.com, and will eventually exist once I prod him hard enough.
That’s a pretty good reason not to have a blog, but I’m glad to hear that the official home of Adam Lane Smith on the web will soon be up and running.
Your answer dovetails nicely into my next set of questions. As someone who really enjoyed Making Peace–indeed, it’s one of the strongest Pulp Rev works I’ve read–I’m eager to discuss writing, but I’m also intrigued by this publisher who tried to get you fired. What’s that all about?
Before getting into that, though, how about a little of your background, to the extent that you’re comfortable talking about it? You know, the kind of thing an actual professional interviewer would’ve asked you about first.
I grew up in Central California in George Lucas’ home town. When he writes about Tattooine and has Luke complain about how miserable it is, that’s what he’s talking about. When he writes about Mos Eisley, that’s our home.
I grew up poor in the ghetto. My mother came from a wealthy family but was disowned and disinherited for marrying a Christian man, and my father grew up with a divorced mother in trailer parks. No one helped us, and my parents each worked multiple low-paying jobs day and night to keep us fed and scraping by. Life was hard. Much of this is mentioned or hinted at in the afterword of my novel.
People died, friends were molested, I fought for my life several times against violence and untreated sickness, I developed PTSD, family members were abducted and raped by gangs, violence was ever present. One of the first lessons you learn is to lay on the floor with the adults on top of you so they die first and the kids might live under the corpses.
I learned to love reading as an escape, and dreamed of being a writer. By the grace of God, I worked my way out with the help of my diligent wife. Now we live a life of relative comfort and safety on a farm.
Those who’ve read Making Peace probably see a great deal of my upbringing in the setting.
That’s quite a story, and I’m so glad to hear you emerged from those hardships unscathed. I can definitely see parts of what you describe in Sivern. [Note: Sivern is the lawless, technological backwater of a planet that is the setting for Making Peace.]
I understand from what you’ve said here, and from reading your book, that Making Peace was a long time in the works. Do you mind sharing the hardship with your SJW publisher? I’m curious not for any salacious details, but because it could prove instructive into how insidious the rot is in the world of fiction trad-pub.
We’ll get to Making Peace soon, I promise!
I’ll need to be careful how I word this answer to prevent legal troubles.Initially, Making Peace was set in a fantasy setting created by a small writer/publisher company.
From my perception, my former publisher initially claimed to be apolitical in their dealings. Anyone of good moral character could enter and write.
From my perception, after the Trump election, my former publisher went full SJW. By my recollection, they posted a huge anti-Trump “the world is ending” blog article on the company website. By my recollection, they also posted strongly anti-Christian posts on various platforms.
From my perception and by my recollection, when I confronted them on slashing half of our potential audience, and told them I was (at the time) an Independent moderate who voted for Trump for his job-building and trade promises and that I was a Christian, I was verbally attacked. By my recollection, they stopped using my name in emails and referred to me as “Christian” in a derogatory manner, alluded to white male privilege they felt I relied on to live comfortably (poverty-stricken ghetto upbringing and continued poverty at the time not to be considered), then listed emotional crimes which they felt my kind were guilty of.
By my recollection, I was informed that I could no longer use the chat programs we used to share documents and setting information. That was now a “safe space.” I also would not be acknowledged in any personal conversations, it would be business only from then on.
By my recollection, I was informed that because I worked in health care and was a Christian, the publisher felt they should report me to numerous agencies as a danger to clients. From my perception, it was heavily implied that the company may begin a campaign to get me removed from my day job and blackballed from my professional field because of my religious faith.
Because I had been relying on them for help with publishing and marketing a book in their setting, which by my recollection I agreed to do as a favor to them, I officially resigned from all association with their company. With my perception that my day job was being threatened because of my religious faith, it felt unsafe to continue any association with them. I took my book and rewrote it into the sci-fi setting I’d wanted to create all along but had been told (by my recollection) that I could probably do AFTER writing this book in their setting as a favor to them. I didn’t feel my books would be given adequate representation with them, and I was uncomfortable with what appeared to me to be blatant racist, sexist, and religious discrimination.
I reached out to Nick Cole for help after reading an article detailing his own similar problems with his former publisher, and he kindly informally mentored me from there on. Very sweet man. I likely would have given up on writing if he hadn’t encouraged me after that debacle.
This is both shocking and unsurprising. I’m sure things like this play out similarly for many others who aren’t in the “right” group. The insidious thing are the assumptions made about you for the mere fact of holding a certain opinion or for certain immutable characteristics you were born with. That almost sounds like the textbook definition of “bigotry,” but we all know that–
Oh screw it, it’s bigotry.
I’m just glad you came out on the other side.
Let’s get to Making Peace now. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and in the interests of full disclosure let me say that I was provided with an advance review copy. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a good book. One thing that struck me, besides the quality of the prose, was that it had many layers beyond being an action-packed sci-fi romp. In fact, I find it interesting that those are the characteristics you play up when promoting the book, even though it’s much more serious and complex and darker than the advertising copy lets on–and I say these things as positives, including “darker,” as there is light at the end of the tunnel.
One Amazon review of Making Peace sticks with me. The reviewer said something to the effect that you hadn’t just created characters, you created minds.
Given your background in psychotherapy, it’s no wonder that the Peacekeepers seem so traumatized by the violence they have witnessed, escaped form, and participate in as a part of their duties. The way they react seems way more realistic than in most other books and movies, even to someone like me who has no training whatsoever in psychotherapy. Belkan’s transformation is similarly believable and well-done. Was the primary impetus for this story to focus on and explore these aspects and then build the lore around it, or did the psychological component come later?
You may not believe it, but Making Peace began its life as a light-hearted adventure story. I just wanted to write a fun and funny romp through a fantasy world. Belkan wasn’t even going to be a substantial character, just a passive narrator like how I remember Nick from The Great Gatsby.
As the writing went on, darker and darker components began to surface. What would society look like if power was truly all that mattered? How would that affect the poorest members of society? Who would step in and try to do something about it? What effect would these problems have on the average grunts trying to keep order? What effect would seeing this story unfold have on the narrator? In a bit of gallows humor, as the writing went on I began to jokingly call my cast the “Trauma Rangers.” I got some flack for giving everyone a tragic backstory, but it didn’t start that way. When I wrote the scene where an underage girl commits suicide to escape from rape, I actually sat back in my chair and had to take stock of my life and how I felt about what I was creating. This darkness became the natural flow for me. I couldn’t NOT write it this way.
I also had become sick of the modern portrayal of PTSD in media. It’s usually some war vet who snaps and shoots people, or mutters to himself on the bus as the butt of a joke. Female victims in media inevitably wear sweats and hoodies everywhere and avoid eye contact as they collapse into themselves. Few people with PTSD ever realize they have it because they believe their moderate symptoms are the only possible way to live from now on, or they think they’re alone and no one else will ever understand what it’s like.
I also worked hard to depict different expressions of PTSD, as well as other disorders which pair up with it frequently. None of these are meant to be healthcare advice, but I wanted to show real symptoms. Belkan has two panic attacks. His PTSD manifestation is more similar to my own past experience than, say, Ugly’s manifestation.
And it all hangs together both on a story level and a personal one. When reading Making Peace, I started to really feel not just for the characters, but for real-world people who have either been through war or trauma. Like you say, that comes from somewhere within the author. It’s a very authentic component of the story that gives everything a deeper, more subtle meaning. And I wouldn’t put stock into the criticisms regarding the cavalcade of tragic backstories. That made perfect sense to me, given that the Keepers are sort of a place where the broken toys can start doing something positive with their lives.
For the record, I still wish there were more giant lizards and mechs. But I digress.
Let’s talk about the idea of having Belkan be a romance author. It fits perfectly with the idea of showing a rather frivolous and unserious individual getting deeper and deeper into this violent world (and boy, is it violent). From where did the idea for this framing story spring?
That’s a small holdover from the original publisher. They marketed themselves as more of a romance/fantasy blend. Belkan became a romance author as a clever play on that, which they appeared to love until I became Literally Hitler-Satan™.
Once we parted ways, I kept it because it amused me. A romance author probably wouldn’t be as savvy initially at describing combat as a war journalist might be, which is why combats start simple and become more complex with tactics and depth. And a romance author might focus a lot closer on the relationships between the characters. That allowed me to develop my primary romance couple with appropriate commentary and tension.As for the giant mechs and giant lizards . . . Giant lizards get their own series, in the works right now. First book is in editing! So do the mechs, not too far down the line. Stay tuned.
The romance angle worked really well for the story. I felt that it not only provided a unique perspective for Belkan, and by extension you, to view the world on Sivern through, but the contrast between the bloody world Belkan inhabits on Sivern with the bodice-ripping yarns he spins and his celebrity with the ladies of Sivern’s ruling class lead to some great moments.
More on writing: What’s your prior experience or education writing fiction? I was really impressed with your writing. The sentence structure, the dialogue, the fact that info-dumps didn’t feel like info-dumps, the pacing, the way the story hung together . . . it was all very well-done, and should put to rest anyone’s fears of “indie” somehow meaning “sub-par quality.”
So tell me a little more about Adam Smith, the writer.
I was blessed early on in that I tested at a very high natural intelligence level, so I got moved across town to the rich kid school for advanced learning where I had the dubious distinction of being the poorest kid at the school. That advanced learning gave me a powerful drive to compete against others and a thorough foundation in writing and literature. My mother worked hard from day one to get me reading and writing as often as possible, which cultivated whatever talents God gave me to start with.
I continued in advanced programs through my entire school career, so I dodged much of the mediocrity of public schooling. Teachers shaped me, for good and for ill. (I took one short-fiction writing class in college and was told to add more lesbian midgets to my story.) Reading became my only window from childhood through my twenties into a better world outside my ghetto neighborhood (I elaborated on this in Making Peace’s afterword) and I fell in love with storytelling.
Friends introduced me to roleplaying video games and roleplaying tabletop games. I cut my storytelling teeth on Dungeons & Dragons and World of Darkness. In one particularly dysfunctional group with way too much anger and conflict between people, someone sarcastically told me to quit complaining about players ruining the fun for each other and go write a book instead. So I did.
I listened to hundreds of episodes of the free Helping Writers Become Authors podcast by K.M. Weiland and dissected everything I could get my hands on.
The draft I handed my professional editor, Brian Niemeier, was about 90% dependent clauses and sentence fragments, with 10% of acceptable prose. I could almost hear his anguish in the comment section as he labored through annotating the document. I got it back and spent 45 hours altering nearly every single sentence in the book.
No author writes in a vacuum. Many people contributed to my quality. Writing is about skill and learning, and surrounding yourself with people better than you with skills you need to learn.
That is fantastic. I’m always so interested in learning about the processes of other creative people and what helped them.
What are some of your influence? Not just other authors, though I am interested in that, but other things that have found their way into your mix?
The Final Fantasy games were a huge influence. Stephen King and Anne Rice were early influences, but a lot of Japanese light novels lately. Anime for sheer ridiculousness. Comedy movies, Dreamworks films, classic Disney movies. Nick Cole is a big recent one but so are Natsume Akatsuki and Fujino Ōmori. Anything and everything that contains stories is fodder for the author to use and learn from.
I won’t say what it is, but I keep a copy of the worst book I’ve ever read on my bookshelf to remind me of what never to do and that good enough is good enough. Don’t only read the best, also seek out trash and figure out why it was so bad. That way you also learn to avoid mistakes.
Final Fantasy! I love that I’m not the only one who is influenced by video games. Old games in particular (what some might call retro) still stoke my imagination.
Your point about keeping that terrible book nearby is fascinating, sort of like negative reinforcement. But I see the motivation. It’s like, “If this person can make it as a professional, published author and actually get paid real American dollars, there’s nothing stopping me.”
I’d like to shift to another influence. In speaking with you prior to this, I know that you are a Christian. How has your faith influenced your writing, if it indeed has at all?
It was important to me that Making Peace not just be another miserable nihilist story. I wanted to portray real hope and genuine goodness.To that end, I lined up beta readers who would keep me in check. A Presbyterian preacher and a devout Catholic examined my work to make sure I didn’t glorify anything that would run counter to Biblical teaching. Two reasonable feminist friends made sure the book would be tolerable for women and not cross political lines for them despite many traditional values being present.
I don’t use sensitivity readers, but I wanted to make sure Making Peace could appeal to the widest audience while maintaining my core values. I didn’t want to pack messages into the book and create something boring and preachy. I got beta readers who kept me in check and filled my blindspots.
In addition, I wanted to continue a flow I see weaving through the Old Testament. People gain power and prosperity, and the altars and the temple get repurposed for sordid uses. You see this at work in the Red Cathedral. Then heroes of justice arise to cleanse the land of filth and sweep away the corrupt leaders. I particularly was inspired by the story of Josiah renewing the temple and his scholars finding the written laws hidden in the walls.
Not being miserable and nihilistic is such a refreshing change of pace. Isn’t it weird that “real hope and genuine goodness,” as you say, appear to be the outliers these days? And yet, if you look at a lot of these small-budget movies, just to use an example, that tend to be faith-based or otherwise based on these timeless human principles, they punch way above their weight in the realm of box office returns.
I love the incorporation of Biblical stories and themes in fiction; I find that it adds a richness that connects the present with the past. A lot of deliberately modern/post-modern stuff that is obsessed with “doing away with tradition” tends to leave me cold because it feels cold. Making Peace did not.
Interesting that you shared your book with both the religious and the political! I find it fascinating, and a little disheartening, that we have to worry so much about offending the hyper-sensitive, even inadvertently. This is a bit of a tangent here, but an interesting one I would love to get your take on. It’s a two-part question. First, would you submit your next book to readers for these specific purposes again? And second, where do you see all of this identity politics insanity leading in the world of publishing. That is, do you think the hysteria will infect indie publishing as it has traditional publishing?
I’ll answer your second question first.
Asking “Will identity politics affect _______ industry” misses the insidious point of identity politics. Identity politics is a purposeful division of humanity which strikes at the soul of our entire society. Identify politics seeks to seep into every facet of life. Read Orwell’s 1984 for an illustration of the lifestyle which Marxists seek to force each of us to endure. The question is not will identity politics affect an industry, but how effective will it be on the population of each subgroup? The answer will vary, but until the corrupting force of Marxism is purged and driven back into hiding, its religious adherents will continue to use Maoist tactics in their holy war to enforce totalitarian control over every subgroup.
Speaking to your question on whether or not I’ll continue to use beta readers targeting specific goals of my books, absolutely. I have no interest in sensitivity readers and I frankly don’t care if my work offends. All ideas which contain real substance will offend the person who seeks to weaponize their outrage, and working to avoid offending everyone means you’ve given up connecting with anyone.
That said, my newest book is aimed at teens and young adults, and is particularly meant to appeal as an action story to young women because it was written with my niece in mind. To that end, the majority of my beta readers have been women, with some teens of both sexes to make sure it appeals. Whether or not the book offends is of no interest to me, but I do want it to appeal to both men and women of all ages.
Appeal, rather than not not offending, seems like a far better litmus test.
Back to Marxism for a second. I have read the big-two dystopian novels, 1984 and Brave New World, and I see more of a combination of the two: a Huxley-style world papering over a brutal Orwellian super-state. Your point about identitarian infiltration being a “not if, but when?” question is a good one. Fighting back and successfully repelling such attacks is of paramount importance, because it shows that, first, fighting the slavering hordes can be done, and two, demonstrating the “get woke, go broke” economics of the situation doesn’t seem to have any damn affect on people’s behaviors at all. I seem to remember something about identitarians always doubling down . . .
I’m looking forward to your next story, Adam. Best of luck to you as you prepare for release!
This has been fun and very insightful. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, and I hope more people will check out Making Peace, and everything else you will write in the future.
Where’s the best place for people to find you and your work, and what are some final thoughts you’d like to leave us with before we wrap this up?
The best place to find me is on Twitter where I’m @AdamSmithAuthor, on email at StargiftBooks@gmail.com, and on the web at AdamLaneSmith.com. My next book is already written and going through editing, so if you enjoy Stone Age tribes using magic and huge weapons to fight giant monsters, get following me because that series is coming soon.
If I could leave readers with one thought it would be this: Get out there and create something. If I can become a published author despite all the challenges I faced personally, professionally, and creatively, anyone can do this. If you need help getting started or have questions, reach out. Countless authors have been there for me when I’ve needed help, and I’d be happy to pay that kindness forward. See you space cowboy, and may God bless you.