I’m back from a short hiatus to bring you a new edition of the Indie Author Spotlight! I’ll be honest and say that it is not an easy task weeding through the not-so-wonderful self-published books in order to find a real gem; however, taking the time and effort to find a novel that really stands out among the rest – and on occasion, an outstanding work of fiction – makes the payoff highly gratifying. This was the case with author Luke Smitherd’s, The Stone Man.
Tagged as both science fiction and a thriller, this is a book that has it all: strong characterization, moral quandaries, mystery, and a whole lot of tense moments all presented through the narration of a fallible, all too human protagonist that you can’t help but root for. Reading the final sentence of the The Stone Man was truly a bittersweet moment. Check out the synopsis for The Stone Man:
Nobody knew where it came from.
Nobody knew why it came.
Even so, for two-bit (antisocial) reporter Andy Pointer, the appearance in his city of a man made of moving stone meant the scoop of a lifetime. He would soon learn that The Stone Man was much more — and much worse — than that.
This is Andy’s account of everything that came afterwards, and the people that were lost along the way; of the terrible price that he, and the rest of his country, had to pay.
The destruction. The visions. The dying.
That description, along with a large amount of positive reviews, was enough to get me excited. By the end of the first page, I knew I was in for a treat and by the end of the book I knew that I had read something really special and unique. With that being said, sit back and relax and enjoy an interview with the author himself, Luke Smitherd.
Luke Smitherd was born under a Derbyshire sky, to the sounds of a doctor saying “I know they all look bad fresh out of the oven, but bloody hell…”
Professional singer and guitarist, part-time writer, darts enthusiast, workaholic suffering from chronic procrastination (conflict!) comics nerd.
If you like my stuff, please leave a nice star rating, and tweet/post a status about it. You’ll be doing me a bigger favor than I can say, and it’ll mean the work keeps coming. Thanks for reading.
Max Pfeffer: Luke, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to spend some of it with the SF Signal community!
Luke Smitherd: My pleasure! Thanks for the opportunity to tell your readers a little a bit about my work.
MP: First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing fantastic – and terrifying, might I add – stories?
LS: To be honest, one of my resolutions this year is to force myself to spend more time doing stuff I enjoy; the only time I tend to spend time having fun these days is when I’m with other people, and if I’m on my own I tend to see it as time to ‘get stuff done.’ I’m always chasing so many stupid schemes that there’s never, ever enough time…so this year I’m gonna be spending more time reading, playing video games (I’ve never finished Half Life 2. Yeah, I know), playing darts, reading comics and watching films. REALLY want to get my darts game back up. I used to practice twenty hours a week (was trying to turn pro) but since then my standard has hit the floor. As have many of my darts.
MP: Sounds like some fun goals. Hopefully we’ll see you on t.v. someday throwing darts like a champ! In the meantime, let’s hear a little bit about your writing endeavors. When did you start writing regularly and which authors were inspirations for you?
LS: Probably around 2010. The catalyst was meeting a chap at a wedding who’d just signed a two-book deal. He was the same age as me, and was no more connected than myself. I’d written a book years before that had never gotten anywhere, and had had several ideas since, but had never done anything about them. I thought well, if this guy can do it, then I have no excuses. I then discovered self-publishing for the Kindle, and that was that.
In terms of authors that were inspirations for me, the biggest is definitely Stephen King, but also a lot of comic book writers: Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, J Michael Straczynski. And absolutely Roald Dahl. His work definitely had a huge impact on me as a kid in the way that he would create not only these fantastical situations but more importantly an explanation of the practicalities of those situations; the BFG blows dreams into children’s bedrooms, but how does he do it? He catches them with a net and keeps them in jars. How can he do that, though? Because dreams are like little blobs that become visible when caught, and the BFG can hear where they are. Nightmares are aggressive versions of the same. And then once the kid is done having the dream, it leaves their heads and floats back to Dream Country. I just loved things like that, and I try to take it a step further with my writing. How would someone really react when in a situation that is so incredible that it just shouldn’t exist? What would their thought processes be? That’s what’s interesting to me.
MP: Great writers to be influenced by as well as excellent questions to examine before writing! Now, you’ve been self-publishing your books for some time – what made you pursue that specific route into publication and was the beginning of the e-book shift a few years back your first go at it?
LS: When I first discovered that you could publish directly onto the Kindle store, I was all over it like a shot. I went from doing a little bit on the book here and there to really knuckling down and getting it out there. I just found the whole submitting-to-agents-then-getting-rejected-endlessly process so daunting, and worse, endlessly dull. Everything takes such a ridiculously long time to get any response, and there’s so much waiting. Patience is unfortunately not a virtue that I possess. Why not just get on with it and try to build a fanbase organically? eBooks are clearly already a big deal, and are going to be an even bigger deal in the future, so why not just get on with it and see if somewhere down the line a traditional publishing deal can be obtained? My thinking was—and is—wouldn’t a publishing deal be far easier to get if a measure of self-publishing success can be reached first?
MP: It would seem that your line of thinking is becoming more and more prevalent and obtainable as time goes on. With that being said, what kind of success have you seen as a self-published author thus far?
LS: There’s been a nice steady progression in the two and a half years that I’ve been releasing books. I have two complete novels, one longer novel split into four parts, and a novella on the Amazon store, with another book due out hopefully this March. I have a small, growing fanbase of Smithereens (if anyone tells you that I came up with that name, they’re a liar…ahem) and a total of about 500 reviews between the Amazon UK and US stores. In the last 12 months, as word of mouth about the books has really started to pick up, the sales are starting to ramp up startlingly too. Whilst that isn’t going to pay the rent and fill the fridge just yet, I think it’s a good sign considering it’s only really in the last year or so that I’ve started getting busy on the promotional front (mainly because before then, I just didn’t know how!) The sales are starting to rise though as word of mouth is beginning to grow, which is absolutely fantastic. It also helps that one very kind reader has started running a Twitter account for/with me (they know more about it than I do) that is picking up steam. She basically is building up followers like nobody’s business whilst I handle the personal messages.
MP: Wow, talk about fan dedication! That is awesome! I have recently had the pleasure of reading your novel, The Stone Man, which I believe to be your second book, and I first have to tell you how engaging and frightening it was! I offered your book’s synopsis in the article above, but would you mind giving us some insight into how you came up with such a unique scenario?
LS: Well I can’t tell you about the very first idea I had that started me thinking about that story as it would give away some of the plot reveals (and hopefully your readers will pick up the book, so I don’t wanna spoil it! J) but the main image I had was of this man-shaped figure made of stone emerging from the sea, and just beginning to walk calmly through everything in its path. I was fascinated with the idea of how the country—and the world—would really react to that. Here would be, for the first time in human history, a genuine, magical, fantasy event for all the world to see. It would be impossible, and yet it would be happening, in front of TV cameras the world over…and yet no one would have any idea whatsoever where this thing was from and what it wanted. Can you imagine the frenzy of response to that, and the various ways people would basically go crazy almost immediately?
As it was, the Stone Man himself didn’t emerge from the sea in the end — he turns up in a different fashion — but I had a think about what he wanted and how that would tie in with my first idea, and who’s eyes we would be seeing all this through. That led me to our protagonist, Andy Pointer, and who he was and what his own motivations would be in all of this, what opportunities he saw in the Stone Man’s arrival. And then I decided that he wouldn’t actually be that nice a person—not an out and out bad guy, just someone with a lot of crucial flaws—as that would tie in nicely to what I wanted the book to say. And I knew that the book was going to be pretty dark…and the reasons behind the Stone Man’s arrival were going to be bad news for a lot of people.
MP: In The Stone Man, you do not shy away from posing tough questions on morality and the shortcomings of humanity – namely – how far are we willing to go to persevere as a species? You also do an excellent job at covering a broad spectrum of emotions from multiple characters based on these difficult questions. What was it like for you tackling these types of thought-provoking concepts?
LS: I’m very interested in the idea of civilization as a luxury, as something that we afford ourselves because we can. And then I’m interested in taking that a bit deeper, as in how do we actually justify doing terrible things when we need to? I guess that in many ways, I suspect that while people might have good instincts day to day, and are willing to help each other out, there’s a large portion of the populace —maybe even a majority — that, when push comes to shove, operate on a very fundamental principle of survival and self-preservation at any cost. The book looks at the nature of bravery: how much of it is a choice? In a snap-decision moment, it can’t be a rational decision. It’s instinct. If your instinct is instantly to run — the same as drawing your hand sharply away from something hot, or jumping in fright at a loud noise — is that your fault, or not? Is what you do next, once you have time to reconsider and reflect, what really matters in terms of a judgement on who you are? Or are you defined by your first reflex? And what if you find your true self to be someone very different than you thought? I found that element of things fascinating, and I like to think the characters in the book show different facets of that. The Stone Man certainly demands a response from everyone, and he gets it.
MP: Very tough questions to internalize, but certainly a major driving force of the novel. You’ve recently published a new novel, The Black Room, in four parts (The first part being free on Amazon). Can you tell us a little bit about this new paranormal mystery?
LS: Okay, imagine you’ve been out for the night and when you wake up, instead of finding yourself in your bed, you find yourself in a completely black space. Just this vast, inky black room. And you’re naked. You’ve absolutely no idea how you got there. And all you can see in front of you is a small, glowing screen that seems to be showing you the world outside from someone else’s view. And the person whose eyes you appear to be looking through is a woman you’ve never seen before. Somehow…you’re inside her head.
When you realize that she can hear you (once you, in your absolutely disorientated shock and fear, try to communicate) you find that a: she’s equally terrified, if not more so, and b: she has no idea how you got there either.
She’s convinced that you don’t exist and that she’s gone crazy, and after a while, you find yourself wondering…what if she’s right? What if you are just a figment of her imagination, and just think you’re real? Would an imaginary person have their own thoughts and memories? Either way, you need answers. So how do you get them, when the person you’re stuck inside in doesn’t even think you’re real and seems a little crazy herself? What the hell do you do?
And that’s how the Black Room starts. And everything gets answered by the end. Plus, as you say, part one is free right now on Amazon, so why not give it a try?
MP: Yikes, that sounds terrifying! Are you currently working on any other projects and can you tell us anything about them?
LS: Yes I am, I’m currently working on a new novel with the working title of A Terrible Grip. The premise is of a widowed Father who is so shattered by his wife’s death that he begins to take longer and longer walks with his baby son and pet labrador, Scoffer, walks that sometimes go on for hours. They keep coming across another dog that turns up on these walks, a big dopey thing with no collar that Scoffer seems to absolutely love. Eventually, our man takes this other dog home…and that’s when the unusual things start to happen.
And if you think you’ve already guessed where this is going, trust me, you haven’t:-) (Man, at least I hope not. I’d read that and think I know where it’s going, but I’d be wrong, so I assume you are too. Uh…are you?)
MP: I think I’m wrong Luke, how can the SF Signal community help support you?
LS: Thanks for asking. Well you can check out my books via the above links, and if you like them please leave a nice star rating on Amazon. You can follow me on Twitter (@travellingluke or @lukesmitherd) and like my Facebook page (Luke Smitherd Book Stuff) and check out lukesmitherd.com to find out more about my other books, my blog, and other general bits n’ bobs. And most importantly, spread the word!
Thanks very much for the chance to chat, and for the exposure on your fantastic website. I really hope your readers enjoy my stuff if they decide to give it a try.
* In conjunction with the release of this interview, The Stone Man kindle book will be available for free until February, 9th!