It’s been a couple of months since the last installment of the Indie Author Spotlight, but we are back with a new author and interview! After spending quite some time searching for a new book and reading a plethora of boring synopses and poor reviews, I decided I would narrow my search: I wanted to find a female author. Cue M. Orenda.
When I stumbled upon Orenda’s first (and only at the moment) novel, Fort Liberty, Vol. 1, there were four factors that made it easy for me to choose her book: military science fiction, great reviews, a cool cover — reminiscent of many comics, which makes complete sense when reading the action sequences — and finally, selflessness. What do I mean by selflessness? Well, M. Orenda uses her talents as a writer to help support others. As it states under the book’s rundown, “All proceeds from the Fort Liberty Series go to support non-profit organizations focused on helping US Veterans and their families.” Wow, real altruism at its finest!
So, what is Fort Liberty about? Check it out:
Lt. Colonel Jared Voss and his Assaulter team have run dozens of extract missions on war-torn Earth, delivering ‘the gifted’ to transport crews waiting to ferry them to shining civilization, to the halls of higher purpose on Mars. The kids are supposed to be safe there, their unique attributes vital to the rebuilding of the mother planet. It’s what Voss believes until a series of attacks on his team during one extract mission make it clear that ‘the gifted’ harbor a dangerous secret, and the girl he’s protecting might not be safe anywhere.
Petra Kimura is a smuggler, and a good one, specializing in the acquisition of rare Earth treasures for discerning clients on the Red Planet. When an Assaulter team boards her ship at Earth’s docking station and offers to pay for discrete passage to Mars, she negotiates a good price without asking too many questions. It’s a decision that will bind her to a man she knows nothing about, and draw her into a struggle for power 350 million years in the making, with the fate of two worlds hanging in the balance.
A real character driven story with a science fiction backdrop! Without further adieu, here’s my interview with author, M. Orenda.
M. Orenda is the science fiction pen name for Morgan Smith. She began writing while working as a Systems Specialist for the State of Nevada and has since moved to Eastern Europe. She has had the honor of becoming a Golden Heart finalist three times (2004, 2009 & 2010) and is the recipient of the prestigious Maggie Award for Excellence in Fiction. She writes science fiction, thriller, romance and fantasy under various names.
Max Pfeffer: Morgan, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be a part of the Indie Author Spotlight this month at SF Signal.
M. Orenda: Thank you, I’m honored to participate.
MP: Could you give the readers a little background about yourself? What are your particular hobbies when you’re not writing epic military science fiction?
MO: I tend to be eccentric. I worked for many years as computer systems specialist for the State of Nevada. Then I went adventuring in Europe. I invested in a few businesses in Poland, and I stayed. I enjoy the atmosphere here. I write in bus stations, and apartments, and coffee shops, and basically whenever I get a chance. It’s not as nomadic as it sounds, but it’s not a stationary life either. I always seem to be going somewhere, involved in some project that might work, or might not. My nature is just to get into everything, and see what happens. Sounds a bit strange, but there it is. I read the question and thought… uh oh, how do I explain this?
MP: How long have you known that you’d like to pursue writing and when did you begin writing regularly? Are there any particular authors that have inspired you along the way, both within and out of the science fiction genre?
MO: I’ve been writing for many years, usually when I was supposed to be doing other things, to be honest. I suppose that’s how you find out what your passions are. They’re the things you can’t put away.
I began to plot out actual books about five years ago and I published some early work in a different genre. That was a good learning experience, but more for the market, and not exactly what I wanted to write. I decided to stop doing that. I took two years to rearrange my creative processes, experiment a bit with prose and Fort Liberty was the result. I couldn’t be happier with it.
I’ve always loved science fiction, in all of the forms I could consume it in. I remember I was reading Rendezvous with Rama before middle school. I read book after book. Ray Bradbury. Robert Heinlein. Arthur C. Clark. I also loved the movies. I had the posters, quoted the lines, and couldn’t sleep at night for weeks after watching Aliens. Bit of a nerd, but I wanted to be in those worlds, so it feels particularly good to finally be writing it.
Lately, I’ve been drawn to pulp-fiction style prose, Craig Davidson, or Don Winslow. It excites me to find writers that experiment with language and break the rules a little bit. I’m also a big fan of mystery, James Lee Burke, and Martin Cruz Smith, both of whom write characters that you just can’t forget. I’d say they’re all big influences at the moment.
MP: What made you seek the self-publishing route – and science fiction in particular – rather than a traditional publisher, and what kind of success have you seen thus far?
MO: I respect writers who go the traditional route. It’s just not for me. Certainly, there are editors out there that I wish I could work with, but the process of getting to them is painfully slow, and I’m not prepared to give up the freedoms that self-publishing affords me. Readers are the ones who matter and you no longer need a publisher to reach them. They are continuously searching for new books. They write reviews, and they actively promote the work of authors they enjoy. I think this is particularly true of science fiction readers. They tend to embrace new authors, reward risk, and enjoy off-formula work when it’s done well. As a writer, it’s deeply gratifying to be a part of a community like that.
So far, I’m quite pleased with the amount of Fort Liberty books that have been sold, and the ability I have to pass the profits on to people doing good work for others, which is a freedom I would never have under the traditional publishing system. I work hard. I write what I want. I have the pleasure of ensuring that genuine good comes out of it. That’s an amazing opportunity, and it could only exist in the realm of self-publishing.
MP: I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading your novel, Fort Liberty, Vol. One. I shared the book’s synopsis above, but could you let us know a little more about the trilogy as a whole and the themes that it encompasses?
MO: Fort Liberty is set at a time in the future when the Earth is largely considered to be a lost cause. Peaceful human civilization has moved to Mars and is governed by a kind of elitist corporate structure. This version of humanity works for a while until something is discovered on Mars that changes everything.
The series has a long way to go, and I think you’ll see different themes playing out through the eyes of different characters. That’s really the part that interests me the most. I love having an epic feel to a story. I love having lush environments, and the opportunity for a lot of action. At the same time, it’s the human element, those intense human themes, which make it meaningful for me. All the characters will be challenged and pushed beyond their limits. Not all of the books will have a happy ending. I never envisioned this as a kind of feel-good series with a lot of fluff. The books are shorter because I focus only on what has the most impact. I move quickly through the plot, and the characters are the driving force. That’s the grit of the series. It all comes from the human heart, those attachments that are formed under extraordinary circumstances, and the power they have to change the future. That’s where the story will go.
MP: The story is filled with action and mystery, but it truly shines through great character moments and development. A theme that is quite prevalent for both of the protagonists in the book is redemption – that the sins of the past don’t have to define an individual’s future. How did this develop through your writing process?
MO: I have a few themes that follow me around, and that is one of them. In the case of Voss and Petra, I think the weight of the past is what they understand about each other. They are both survivors, and survival isn’t always neat, or pretty, or cinematic. Often, survival is ugly, and brutal, and it leaves emotional scars that don’t make sense. Finding your own humanity, after it’s been lost, is sometimes the only way to accept the present. I think the idea of redemption appeals to me, as a writer, because it’s a particular kind of hope, not the starry-eyed, sugary stuff of fairytales, but the raw, conflicted hope of damaged people. That speaks strongly to me.
MP: A large aspect of what drew me to Fort Liberty is the fact that all of the proceeds go to charities that help veterans and their families. What an incredible, and selfless act! What made you choose to support this particular group of people? Do you have a military background?
MO: To me, this community is where the stories are, and it was important to give them something for the worlds they have given me. I have the honor of having a few friends who are veterans, and some who have seen quite a lot of war. In my mind, these are people who have embraced the journey of the hero, in the classical sense. They sign up to represent the best in us. They ship off to faraway lands, and they perform to extraordinary standards. They see what they see. Then they come home, and they’re different people. It can be a difficult adjustment, not necessarily because they were traumatized by war, but because they become so proficient at managing a crisis, at succeeding with they’re given, at surviving, and protecting their own. That becomes ingrained, and they miss that part of it.
The journey of the hero includes trauma, and disillusionment, and triumph, and all of those things can happen on a war deployment. For that matter, all of those things can happen when returning home, and trying to reconcile the memory of selflessness between brothers, and the human horror found in war-torn villages, with the sometimes narcissistic amnesia of everyday American culture.
It seems to me that there’s some valuable truth regarding humanity hidden in this rift, and in my imagination, it just happens to take shape with space ships, and smugglers, and a coppery Martian wasteland. I’m probably a little twisted that way, but I’m also grateful for the opportunity to explore it, and pass the proceeds from this series on to those who inspired me to write it in the first place.
MP: Okay, here’s the big question: when will volume two be released?
MO: I’m going to be safe and say August 20th, 2014. It might effectively be up earlier, but it’s hard to force that. Setting the publishing date in advance is the toughest part of self-publishing for me. It’s still a team effort because I have readers, and proofers, and people who check the HTML after conversion, only no one gets paid a lot to do it, so we all have to fit it in as soon as we can. That said, I’m always trying new ways to reduce the uncertainty in that process.
MP: Do you have an idea of how many books will be in the series?
MO: I haven’t put a limit on it, at this point. Without giving too much away, I know the series will branch in a few different directions, and I intend to explore all of them. That should keep me busy for a while.
MP: Do you have any other projects that you are currently working on or that you are planning for the near future?
MO: Yes, I have a few others that I’ve been working on, and hope to publish in 2015. Not all of them are set in the future, but they all involve technology, action, and those dramatic human themes. It’s too early to say much more about them… other than it’s going to be a lot of work!
MP: How can the SF Signal community help support you?
MO: What a wonderful question to be asked! I’ll be putting up a website (morendabooks.com) in another few weeks with more opportunities to know more about me, and the series, and who we support. I’d also encourage everyone to check out the website for LZ Grace Retreat, at l-zgrace.com, and learn more about the healing environment they are creating for our returning special operations veterans.
The woman who founded this retreat, Lynnette Bukowski, is the widow of a US Navy SEAL, and one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever known. She’s been working with veterans, and their families, for thirty-two years, and now she’s building a place especially for them. Like I said… it’s where the heroes are.
Anyone who would like to contact me can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m grateful for every reader, and I thank you so much for your interest, and for helping me get the word out.