If you haven’t heard of independent author Steve Umstead, then you’re in for two great rides with the promise of a another to follow. Umstead writes military/scifi and really knows how to craft a gripping story. Previously, I offered an odd review of the first book in the Evan Gabriel series and this time, I am fortunate enough to provide an interview with Steve. Enjoy!
JTOC: Steve, thanks for taking the time out of your day to chat.
SU: A pleasure, JT, I appreciate your time!
JTOC: The first thing I’d like to look at is how you planned these books. In Book 1 (Gabriel’s Redemption), we get the sense of Gabriel almost coming back from the dead, emotionally. And with Book 2 (Gabriel’s Return), he is forced to face a past that he thought was fully behind him. Your book titles really cut to the bone of the story. When did you pick the names out and how much of Return did you plan while working on Redemption?
SU: The title for the first book came well after I was into the writing. I didn’t even have a working title in place, I just had an idea of the overall plot. Actually the book, therefore the entire trilogy, grew out of the first scene I wrote for Gabriel’s Redemption, one that I had in my head for years… As I was writing, I began to think about the story in terms of a disgraced soldier trying to get his life back, and the word redemption kept popping into my head – so I went with it.
As for the rest of the series, I hadn’t even planned on book 2 & 3 until after book 1 was published, and I thought that the characters and setting could be explored further. I put together a general plan for both books, and overall story arc, and thought it would be catchy to use the same letter (R) for all three. After looking at the story arc, and knowing where and how it finishes, Return looked like a great fit. And the third? Let’s just say things escalate at the end of Return…and Gabriel will be looking for Revenge.
JTOC: Sounds like he’s in for a rough time! Now, between the two books, we’ve seen quite a range of environments. From Earth to fabric-domed Mars. From iced-over Poliahu to the planet-wide rainforest of Eden. I thought it was really interesting to show Eden as a menacing and hazardous place. Life needs a balance, but Eden’s balance seems to be intensely primal and vicious. Where did you come up with all of the different plants and animals that are in Gabriel’s Return? Was there anything that you came up with that didn’t fit in the book?
SU: Putting together the surface of the planet, the world-building, was one of the most enjoyable parts of Gabriel’s Return. I’m sure a lot of SF writers would agree with that – for the most part, a writer can use his or her imagination to its fullest here, and that’s what I did. Everything I created was completely made up, imaginary. Some were based on existing flora (mantraps > Venus flytraps, etc.) and some were brand new (razorvine, etc.). I’ve been to several rainforests (Grenada, Costa Rica) and it was easy for me to picture the deep, heavy, foreboding atmosphere of Eden. But the dangerous plants? Well, let’s just say I tried to imagine the scariest thing I could for each scene, what would be the most dangerous for man walking through a strange jungle, and I suppose they just came to me. As for didn’t fit? I described several plants and animals that I simply couldn’t get into this book without sounding like a textbook. I touched on them, more of a “this place is crazy” description, then stuck with some of the more ‘fun’ dangers to weave scenes into.
JTOC: Your descriptions are vivid and terrifying! Most of the jungle-settings I’ve read focus primarily on the creepy crawlies, but your hazards are all very unique and original; primarily large-scale. Gabriel’s team is constantly dealing with traps and ambushes from the book’s antagonists; but even worse, the whole planet of Eden reverberates and breathes with merciless competition. At the same time, other characters in Gabriel’s Return are fighting in power battles to gain control of territories, be it the guerrilla warfare of Eden’s terrorists or the backroom takeover of Mars by South American bureaucrats. Is there some parallel between the ecological competition for resources and the less-natural struggles that we see in the book?
SU: It’s interesting the parallel you see there – it was not intended as such, but as the story progressed more and more of the two separate worlds came together like that. Honestly when I wrote the first book (Gabriel’s Return), I had no idea that politics would enter into the story that much, and even more intrigue is in Gabriel’s Return. I hate politics! Maybe that’s why that aspect entered into the stories – dirty, backstabbing politicians. With the parallel, both Eden (with its promising appearance, habitable atmosphere and gravity, rich foliage) and the political maneuvering (with their promises and smiles) belie their true nature, and the reader only discovers it as they get further into the story.
JTOC: How about telling us a little more about yourself. How did you become such a fantastic author? What books could be found on your Nook?
SU: Much appreciate the kind comments, but I’ve got a long way to go before those adjectives can be applied. Nice goal to shoot for, however! I’ve always been interested in writing, and been a voracious reader since a very young age. I’m not a ‘classic’ reader; you won’t find any Dickens or Tolstoy on my Nook, but I do tend to lean towards some of the more modern technothriller and science fiction authors (Tom Clancy from early on, David Weber, Peter F. Hamilton, John Scalzi in more recent scifi) and I believe a lot of how I write came from simply being a fan of those works. I’ve always had a bit of OCD when it comes to typos, spelling, grammar, and so on, so that part of my writing sort of comes naturally (then again, beta readers are worth their weight in gold!). The story is the hard part…always room for improvement.
JTOC: For those who aren’t aware, Steve Umstead’s son is fast on his father’s heels, having published a short story called Shifter. Steve, how does it feel to see your son interested and active in the literary world?
SU: I am thrilled beyond belief that my son has gotten into the writing. He’s very advanced in school and is a junior member of MENSA, and has read a lot for a young age. Mature well beyond his years. I think he got the writing bug when he saw I was able to complete a work, get it published, and started receiving good reviews on it – gave him that extra little bit of motivation to sit down and put his thoughts on paper. And I’m blown away with the quality of his writing. Yes, I’m an extremely proud father. My younger son (11) is now starting to try to write a short story, young fantasy type genre. I just have to try to keep them motivated – at their age, plenty of distractions!
JTOC: Sounds like we have a lot of Umstead literature to look forward to.
Now, truth be told, I am fascinated by book covers. Not in terms of judging a book, as the old saying goes. But covers can inspire wonder, just like a wonderfully written story. The cover for Gabriel’s Return, as well as the new cover for Gabriel’s Redemption were created by another independent author AJ Powers. The ships are certainly unique and set among fantastic starfields and planets, which are guaranteed to snap the sci-fi mind to attention. Yet, some readers may never see the amazing detail in these images because of the limitations of e-ink screens. Do you think the e-ink market is going to decline, since tablets seem to be on the rise? How should authors and readers alike keep up with the changing formats of soliterature in a hyper-evolving market of devices?
SU: I’m in complete agreement – the old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” no longer holds true. In order to stand out in a sea of thumbnails online, that cover has to grab the reader’s attention right away. It needs to have bold, relevant images, clear text, and a unique layout. AJ did an incredible job, far more than I ever expected. And if anyone reading this is looking for a cover, you need to drop him a line.
(note from JTOC, here’s a free wallpaper created from the book cover)
As for e-ink, I don’t think it’ll go away entirely. The ebook-on-LCD is convenient (I read books for several years on my iPhone, and before that an HTC Tilt), but terrible for the eyes and reading in daylight. Progress has been made in color e-ink, and I think the market will still be separated into dedicated e-readers and tablet computers. The Color Nook and the forthcoming Kindle tablet seem to be a nice hybrid, but I think hardcore readers (who comprise a huge chunk of the book buying market – the old 80/20 rule) will stay with the best platform to read on, and that will remain e-ink for the foreseeable future.
That being said, we as authors must start preparing for interactive, hyperlinked, color books. I’m very curious to see what Rowling does with Pottermore, as I think that idea will just barely scratch the surface of the possibilities of electronic books. Movie clips, talking character bios, alternate endings, direct contact with the author…just imagine the possibilities once the printed word is off paper and onto a powerful handheld computer.
JTOC: That’s a lot of reading on a small screen! The mark of a true fan of literature. It’s certainly nice to see literature experience a bit of a rediscovery among the entertainment forms with these new methods of delivery. Steve, thanks again for sharing with us. I hope Gabriel’s Return goes far and I’m looking forward to the final Evan Gabriel book.
If you haven’t read Gabriel’s Redemption, just where have you been? If you have, then Umstead’s sequel is a must-read!
More information about Steve can be found on his blog here: www.SteveUmstead.com