Book Tour Q&A: Wistful Ascending by JCM Berne
Today we're taking part in the book tour organized by Escapist Book Tours for Wistful Ascending by JCM Berne! Continue reading for the book blurb and a Q&A with the author.
About the book
YA superhero space opera for grownups.
For fans of Invincible and Marvel Cinematic Universe films who like a little hard science fiction in their superheroes. If Thor and Harry Dresden combined in a transporter accident.
The il’Drach have conquered half a galaxy behind the civilization-ending Powers of their mixed-species children.
Half-human Rohan, exhausted by a decade fighting for their Empire, has paid a secret and terrible price for his freedom.
Now retired, he strives to live a quiet life towing starships for the space station Wistful. His most pressing problems are finding the perfect cup of coffee and talking to a gorgeous shuttle tech without tripping over his own tongue.
A nearby, long-dormant wormhole is opened by a shipful of scared, angry refugees, and the many eyes of the Empire focus uncomfortably on Wistful.
As scientists, spies, and assassins converge, reverting to the monster the Empire created is the surest way to protect his friends. And the surest way to lose them.
On to the interview...!
Thank you so much for joining us for this Q&A! We’ll start off with one of our standard podcast opening questions–tell us something great that’s happened recently.
For me personally, I bought a house (with my wife). We’ve been looking to downsize now that all the kids are grown and wound up finding our dream home overlooking the Hudson River that happens to be 50% larger than our current place. Even better, it has a nice open area where I can set up some bookshelves and a desk for writing (and work). Writing-wise, I’ve just released my third novel, Blood Reunion, and early reviews are generally encouraging!
What are you currently reading or what’s up next on your TBR? What made you pick up this book?
I’m reading In the Orbit of Sirens by TA Bruno. It got a lot of indie reviewer love recently and I thought I’d give it a try! I’ve been reading a lot of books written by people I’ve gotten to know in the book community.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start writing?
I’m a 51 year old software developer and lifelong story geek. I’ve been reading books, comic books, and manga in large quantities in pretty much every spare moment for my entire life. I’m also more than a little bit of a curmudgeon, so there are always things (plot holes, worldbuilding holes, poorly executed tropes) that annoy me in books. I’m inspired to write when I read stories with fantastic elements but some aspect that annoys me that I need to fix. My goal is to write the perfect story!
How do you spend your free time when you’re not reading or writing? Do you have any hobbies or interests that you can talk to us about?
I’ve done a lot of martial arts and related exercise over the years, though to be honest since the pandemic started I’ve been pretty bad about it. I watch more television than I should, especially Indian cinema (Bollywood and Tollywood).
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
Since I started writing I’ve become a VERY critical reader, to the point that I enjoy other people’s writing much less than I used to. It’s very hard for me to pick up any recent book without reading it with my editing brain, which is not a good mindset to use. I have been hugely influenced by a lot of people. Robert Kirkman (Invincible was the single biggest influence on the Hybrid Helix), Steve Perry, EE Smith, Jim Butcher, and Steven Brust come to mind.
What are your favorite types of stories? Of characters?
I like power fantasies. I like stories about people who, when faced with injustice, have the ability to actually do something about it. They could be swordspeople, wizards, superheroes, or cyborgs, but I like exceptional characters. And that type of character goes with a certain kind of story. I like stories where there is some injustice, and the characters go out and fix them. I don’t want to read about a situation where the characters are helpless in the face of tyranny, or where they lose, or where the main characters who I love get killed mid-story. If I want gritty realism I’ll stay away from fiction, thank you very much.
On a more specific level I prefer characters who are a little older and maybe wiser. I’m not a big fan of whiny teenagers or clueless kids who bumble their way through situations. If I want to yell at a character mid-book for doing or saying something stupid I’d rather just put the book down and read something else.
How much do you plan when you write? What’s your writing process like?
I always have a beginning, middle, and an end before I start writing. Sometimes I’ll have sections, even up to several chapters, that are VERY loosely specified. I might have something like, “run around the halls being chased.” Then I have to flesh those sections out as I write. But I never just sit there and write what the characters tell me, because my characters aren’t real independent people who talk to me. If I just sit down to write based on characters, they’ll decide to go to a bar and drink. There would never be any kind of story to tell.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
This was the first book that I’ve attempted to polish into something shareworthy. I learned many things! Most of them are boring, like the proper use of am em dash (which I probably only half-learned). A big lesson was that everybody’s first draft is terrible. I expected to be able to sit down, write a book, fix the typos and misplaced commas, and share it with the world. The reality is that every book you’ve enjoyed is probably draft ten or higher. You also need other people to help you find your book’s weak spots. An author without beta readers is a bad author (I’ll concede that highly experienced writers may be able to get away with this, but definitely not beginners).
What do you think characterizes your writing style?
Apparently humor. I did not think of myself as a funny writer, but a lot of reader feedback has centered on how funny people find my books. I don’t write comedies – the situations and plots the characters are in are never (or rarely) meant to be funny or silly. When the Earth is invaded by giant sharks, it’s deadly serious. But my characters say funny things, and lots of people enjoy that. I’d also say my writing is fairly straightforward. I think there are clever phrases here and there but it’s not lyrical prose that will astound you.
How much of yourself do you write into your stories?
All of me. Rohan’s journey is exactly my own. Obviously (I hope it’s obvious) I don’t have a personal history of war crimes, but I have a temper and I’ve done some crappy things in the past. These books are about my thoughts on redemption and how to live a moral life. The right way to apologize, the way we should live our everyday lives, all the things I think I’ve figured out in my fifty years on this planet, are all in there.
People ask sometimes if the humor and dialogue in these books reflect me in real life. And the answer is, of course! The major difference is that my characters always come up with their best retort in the heat of the moment, because I can write a conversation, come up with a great response two days later, and just insert it then. As a reader, you have no idea. In real life the punchlines don’t always come so quickly!
What comes first to you when you’re writing, the world, the characters, or the storyline?
They say to never judge a book by its cover, but a cover is still a marketing tool that helps sell books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of your book?
Can you give us an elevator pitch for your book?
Describe your book in 3 adjectives.
How different is the final version of this book from the first draft?
The plot is almost exactly the same. I had a side story with the Ursans that I loved but wasn’t really worth keeping: it comes after they’ve settled, right before the shuttle heads to the wormhole. The Ursan females decide on marriage with no input from the males. They have decided that Rohan, as war chief, will make a great husband, so there is competition over who will get to marry him, and wrestling tournament. Rohan tries to protest and is reassured by Ang and Ursula that there is nothing to worry about, his Ursan wife will take good care of him, etc. Then some young Ursan males get upset about being snubbed and start a little fight. The whole thing was just to delay Rohan pursuing the shuttle (the actual delay was something I added in the newer versions). The second change was that I had a bigger fight with the Shayjh. As an action writer (I think of these books as action books) I get nervous if I go too many chapters without some fighting!
At a sentence-by-sentence level the book now is drastically different. I fixed a LOT of mistakes in the actual writing – awkward sentences, poorly chosen words, echoes, passive voice, things like that. I bet 90% of the paragraphs from the first draft are still there, but every sentence has been rewritten and adjusted. Frankly, when I wrote the first draft I did not know what I was doing.
Blood Reunion was a much different experience. I edited that as I went, so the changes from the first draft to the final were much smaller.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? What are your favorite kinds of characters to write?
I don’t really write a lot of tormented, broken people. My characters are all pretty much happy and put together. They have senses of humor, because writing not-funny people bores me. They range in sarcasm. Wei Li is probably the most sarcastic, to keep Rohan from getting too full of himself. Ursula is the most subtle. Ben Stone is the kindest and his wife Marion is… not.
I have a lot of characters who are artificial, and I write them as people, just with the meaty biological impulses taken away. My ships don’t need to breed and aren’t hungry. They have whatever needs and desires are hard wired into their little positronic brains.
If you could choose one worldbuilding detail (a place, ability, or creature, for example) from your book to exist in the real world, what would it be and why?
In Return of The Griffin alien technology is used to reverse global warming and pretty much end poverty. That’s pretty cool.
Do you have a favorite quote from your book that you can share with us? What about this quote in particular makes it your favorite?
Rohan chuckled. “Yeah. The balance of power in the sector, in the galaxy, ultimately comes down to menopause.”
Rex shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
I like this quote because it’s an example of something that grew out of the worldbuilding. I decided how something was going to work, and why, and then realized afterwards what it would mean for post-menopausal women of a particular alien species, and that led to a whole dimension of the worldbuilding that works great but that I didn’t intend. It’s an example of what’s fun about pursuing worldbuilding details – when you realize cool consequences for things that were put there for different reasons.
Is there anything you can tell us about any current projects you’re working on?
I have book 4 of the Hybrid Helix plotted and will get to that next. One word summary: Gods. I am very happy with the structure but I needed a break from that story, so I’m working on a wuxia fantasy thriller about a mother doing whatever it takes to get her kidnapped daughters back. It’s sort of John Wick meets Taken starring Michelle Yeoh set on Cradle. I have no idea what I’ll do with this when it’s done – I might go for traditional publishing, publish it myself, or even give it away for free, depending on feedback.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
Never be ashamed to read what you love. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should be reading from certain genres. If you like indie smut, read indie smut. If you like comic books, read those. Nobody’s going to reward you on your deathbed for having choked down the greatest literature of the century.
And finally, where can you be found on the internet if our readers want to hear more from you?
The one-stop-shop is at https://linktr.ee/jcmberne I’m most active on Twitter and Discord, at least for now, but wherever I go I’ll update the linktree!