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Filling the Void

I’ve always been fascinated by science fiction and fantasy. I loved to read and watch stories that took place in those genres, but I had a hard time creating my own. Fantasy wasn’t nearly as difficult once I figured out I needed to discard the limitations imposed by other people and find my own, but that didn’t mean what I wrote was worth reading.

Science fiction, on the other hand, was an animal of a different breed. With science fiction I kept running into the wall of probability. Meaning I would write something but I’d find it too improbable to ever happen. I’d crumple it up and toss it away. I stumbled across hard sci-fi issues such as faster than light travel and space age weaponry. Even high tech and miniaturization didn’t seem like it could solve many of the problems I encountered. For me there was always that element of believability that was missing. Then I found Serenity.

More specifically I stumbled across Firefly one day on television. It happened to be a marathon of the Firefly shows – I stumbled across it after Fox had cancelled the show. I thought it was cheesy and ridiculous at first, but by the second show I realized I was sucked in. As soon as I was able, I bought the boxed set and watched all of the available episodes. After that I picked up Serenity, the movie Joss Whedon made to finalize the prematurely cancelled series.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I’d just found the answers to my problems. I loved science fiction and I loved fantasy. Why not combine the two? Joss Whedon had done something somewhat similar with Firefly and it had become a wild success with rabid fans (including myself). I could handle a few rabid fans, but I had to figure out how to make it happen.

Thus began Voidhawk, the tale of a man who finds a medieval wooden ship that can magically capture the waves of light floating through the void (space) and sail between the stars. One man alone couldn’t do the work, nor would it make for very witty dialogue carrying on conversations with himself. The Voidhawk needed a crew, and acquiring that crew proved to be the first several stories.

Each character comes with their own complications and back story, as well as motives and goals. The characters are rich and full, though it takes some longer than others to fully explore themselves. There’s more than just camaraderie that brings them together, there’s also betrayal and far deeper and more complicated emotions.

I borrowed from Firefly as far as writing each chapter as an episode. The chapters were linked together and sequential, but the larger story arc wasn’t apparent to me yet. I was having too much fun writing novellas that would make for approximately 30 – 60 minute long television episodes (with commercials). By the time I had ten of those episodes finished I officially renamed them chapters and tied them more closely together. A novel-length plot had also arisen from the chapters, making it an official book in more ways than one.

Still, what hopes did I have for amassing a following with such a book? It had to be a niche market, at best. I loved the characters and the premise so much that I submitted it to various publishers and received various rejections. Until one day somebody said they liked it and they saw beyond the horrible writing.

I was introduced to an editor by the name of J.E. Taylor and she was quite brutal with me. I needed it. A few years and a couple of books later Taylor and I remain very good friends. She was instrumental in helping me become a better writer, although being dedicated to improving and having thick skin definitely helped me out!

Voidhawk, in all its niche market glory, met with very limited success. No promotion or marketing was done for it and being a fledgling to the trade I had no idea how to do any of it myself. Instead I focused on writing more. Over the course of the next few years I wrote four more books in the series and, all told, I’ve managed to sell over 8,500 copies of those books and give away 20,000 copies of the original Voidhawk book. Voidhawk remains indefinitely available to download as a free book from Amazon, Kobo, Sony, iTunes, and Smashwords. It’s available on Barnes and Noble as well, but not for free. There’s a print version on Amazon / Createspace, but that’s not free either.

So it turned out that people were drawn in to the Voidhawk series beyond the niche appeal. It blends fantasy with elements of science fiction and has stories with simple messages that anyone can identify with, no matter whether you’re a dirthugging human or an elf determined to rule the void. For that matter I’ve even got a couple of chapters focused on a zombie-apocalypse. How much easier to understand can it get?

To bring the post to a close, Voidhawk showed me how to write. It freed me from convention and allowed me to color outside the lines. Suddenly I could write anything I wanted to. It wasn’t about the hard science or the believability, it was about creating what did make sense to tell the important parts of the story – the characters – and let the supporting material fall in place. Faster than light travel? In a universe such as ours where the future holds infinite possibilities why not? Just because I may not be able to conjure up a mathematical formula that provides a means of reaching superluminal velocities doesn’t mean the characters in my sci-fi books can’t do it either.

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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