I'd like to welcome and thank Cyrus Keith for joining us today. Cyrus, tell us a bit about you, where you grew up, if any siblings...
I grew up the fourth child of five, the youngest of three sons. My family is Irish/English, and carries as a consequence the Dominant Stubborn Gene. And when you have three siblings older and bigger than you, you have to pick and choose what you’re going to be passionate (translate: stubborn) about, because you’re coming out on the short end of the stick on everything else.
What motivated you to become an author?
I taught myself how to read and write before I started kindergarten, and began making up adventure stories when I was six. They all featured my two pet gerbils (Waffles and Penny) as the heroes. I would show them to my father, who always nodded and smiled like he “got it” before handing the story back to me and saying, “write me another one.”
As time went on, I became frustrated with the stories because I felt like I was missing something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Besides, it never really registered that someone human actually had to write all those books I was reading. It was like Robert Heinlein was a super-human, and I could never hope to equal his knowledge, let alone lay out a story like him. The task of writing a whole book was just too daunting for a second-grader like me. So I lay aside what I considered to be childish things. But I never lost my love of “story.”
Fast-forward forty years. A friend of mine sent me an idea he had of a book, just to get an opinion. It was a two-page outline, like a thumbnail sketch, of a space opera. I looked at it, and told my friend, “You need to write this.”
He said to me, “But I get tied down in details, and I get lost in how it needs to go.”
At that time, something inside me clicked. “I’ll write it, then,” I said, “and you make sure it fits your story idea.” And I spent the next four years learning how to write by pouring words onto a screen, and when I wasn’t writing I was re-reading Heinlein, Louis L’Amour, Tolkein, and other masters of prose, breaking down how they revealed their worlds, how they developed their characters. I’ve learned even more since then. That story never left my back burner. But it was what lit the fire back in me.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Interacting with my characters. I love how they have their own dialogue in my head, and I just let them be who they are. I know I sound like a schizophrenic, but that’s how it works for me. Sometimes, they even take my book in a whole new direction, and it might get frustrating for a while trying to get it back on track. But sometimes the new direction is exactly what the story needs.
What do your fans mean to you?
Wow. I have fans. I mean, seriously, that is the most humbling thing that’s happened to me since my first novel released. It just blows me away that people can be that enthusiastic about my work. I think, though, that they are even more fans of my characters. I have people referring to Jenna Paine as “My girl” and “My girlfriend.” I’ve had people want to have their pictures taken with lil’ ol’ me. That’s quite an honor, and I love how I’ve managed to touch someone’s mind and their heart just a little through my work.
So anyway, I have fans. And most of all I want to be able to give them more of what they’ve come to expect from Cyrus Keith: Tight, white-knuckled thrillers that keep them up ‘til the wee hours of the morning for “just one more page.”
Who are your favorite authors?
Oh, I have a list:
Robert A. Heinlein, the Father of American Science Fiction.
Andre Norton, the Queen of Science Fantasy
Louis L’Amour, the Grand Master of Western/Historical novels
Frank Peretti, who revived Christian Fiction’s popularity
J.R.R Tolkein, who redefined modern fantasy
And David Weber, who makes machines into real people.
What three words describe you as a person?
Mediocrity sucks mud.
What three words describe you as a writer?
“Didn’t expect THAT.”
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
During the day, I fix avionics systems on corporate jets. When I’m not writing or working, I like to fish with the kids, and spend time with my wife Linda. I also play bass guitar and rhythm guitar on my church’s worship team, and together with Linda we work in children’s ministry. During my younger son’s track season, I volunteer as a scorekeeper, and cheer on my younger daughter in softball.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Well, I have this inside track at a small house called MuseItUp, and I watch for the new releases there. I also check in at The Gutenberg Project for classics I can pick up. Their books are all free, legally so, I might add. I also volunteer for the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC). I get to see the up-and-comers there, and that, my friend is an awesome treat.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
It was a comic strip I made featuring my gerbils vs a mad scientist who had a T.Rex for a pet. Hilarity ensues. Did I mention I love James Bond movies as well?
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
It was a Silver Surfer comic book. Mom and Dad taught me about how letters make sounds as soon as I began talking. I simply started putting these sounds together as I came across them, and when they didn’t quite fit by the word, I backed up and caught the context of the sentence. Then I could guess what the word was, and from then on, that word was locked in my mind. I don’t remember the precise story, but I know it held my attention all the way through, and I wore the cover right off that comic.
What do you read for pleasure?
I’m a big military science fiction fan. David Weber and Robert Heinlein take up a huge share of my library, though oddly enough there are many Heinleins I haven’t read yet, like Methuselah’s Children and The Puppetmasters. I’ll get around to them in good time. Weber’s Honor Harrington series is still building, and I’m rounding up early paperback editions of Andre Norton’s Witch World series as well as the Bolos series created by Keith Laumer.
Describe your desk:
It’s a huge antique cherrywood monster I bought from my sister-in-law, and it occupies a good share of one wall in my living room. But I only get one end. The rest of it holds up the family TV, the DVD player, and the speaker system for the computer. Hey, I am a musician after all. I gotta have some decent sound for my mp3’s.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
La Porte, Indiana is my home town. It was a major force in WWII as an industrial center, and Allis-Chalmers made world-class farm tractors when they weren’t cranking out tanks and jeeps for the Allies. The factory closed down in 1977, and the town hit hard times for a long time afterward.
The neighborhood I grew up in was “the wrong side of the tracks,” literally. The Conrail tracks ran about two blocks from my house, and on the side we were on, you were either in a gang, or a target. So I had a pretty gritty upbringing. I spent some nights in my dad’s kitchen watching the door with a rifle across my lap to make sure what was happening outside stayed out there. We just kind of stayed out of the way until the trouble burned itself out the police moved in.
So my writing doesn’t turn away from harsh reality. I pretty much prop your eyes open with toothpicks and make you watch some things, and say, “See that? Evil does exist in this world.” And at the same time, I do my best not to get carried away with it, because good exists too. My books do feature violence, but I don’t dive into it without reason. It has to mean something to the story, and there has to be some redeeming value about it.
Where do you get the inspirations for your book(s)?
My series The NADIA Project came from a single dream I had about meeting Nadia. Several of my “back burner projects” came from just random thoughts and juxtapositions. For instance, “Hush Little Baby” means a whole different thing to a thriller writer than a nursery rhyme writer. In addition, my family comes up with ideas too. My wife Linda had a couple of doozies that I’m going to be adding to my queue. I might just look at a sign or a situation and think, “what if…?”
Let our readers know why your book is different from others in the same genre:
Wow, where do I start? Becoming NADIA, and indeed the entire NADIA Project, does include many standard elements that define it as a thriller, but there are a host of differences as well. For one thing, Nadia isn’t anything like what anyone has ever seen before. People look at the cover and go, “Is she a robot?” and I say, “No, she’s something else.” She’s not a cyborg, not an alien, and still not anything that you would expect. She’s something far more frightening. For another, I’ve placed emphasis on a deeper theme than what one would expect to find in a thriller series. Yes, we have bullets flying, bodies dropping, international conspiracies and knuckle-biting chases. But at the bottom of it all is something with more meaning. I must also admit, I kind of lifted some themes from George Orwell. You’ll have to figure out exactly what on your own (he said with a wink).
Any advice for new writers just beginning this trek down the wonderful world of publishing?
It’s harder than you think. No sugar-coating it. That said, DO NOT EVER QUIT. You’re a writer. Write. At the same time, keep your head about you. You have a craft to learn, a voice to find, a baby to refine and tweak and polish. Writing a book is not a task for the faint of heart. You need to know when to do surgery on your baby. Use your critique partners and beta readers as your best tools, and never assume it’s good enough until after you KNOW it’s good enough. There’s no replacing a second (or third) set of eyes. So grow a thick skin, suck it up and get to it. No one shoulders this burden on their own. It’s the only way any of us retain our sanity.
Thank you so much for your time.
I'd like to finish the interview and introduce you further to this prolific author with a peek into his EpiCon award-winning novel, Becoming NADIA, from his series The NADIA Project, available in ebook and print:
“The Truth Doesn’t Hurt; It Kills.”
Jenna Paine doesn’t know how “special” she really is. Raised by her scientist mother and a Japanese tutor named Mama-San, her special abilities go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of her schoolwork and training. However, other eyes are watching as well, from behind a veil of secrets. And they have plans for someone with precisely Jenna’s talents.
In college, she meets a group of people who introduce her to a new vision for world peace, and a way to realize it.
But when the cost for peace is measured in blood, can Jenna get out before it’s too late?
Jenna released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding and stepped into the room. As Echo passed, she reached into his open backpack and pulled out the bomb. It wasn’t anything huge, but the fire would cover up what was missing for some time.
The file cabinet was unlocked. Charlie grabbed folders and stuffed them into Echo’s backpack while Jenna set the timer and attached the bomb to the next cabinet over. She hit the button and turned to the door. Thirty seconds. Let’s rock out of here.
Jenna was last out, following close behind Charlie. Something didn’t feel right. There was the smell of a new person, a brief flash from the left—
Charlie’s chest exploded, spraying his life over the walls. His mangled carcass dropped like a sack of nails. Jenna dropped to the floor as the bark of the shotgun flooded the hall. Her ears rang while she scanned frantically for the shooter. A shadow, through the smoke—
Another blast rocked the halls. Echo went down, his legs blown to shreds. His agonized scream nearly covered up the approaching boot steps.
Jenna rolled over. Scooting back into the file room, she took shelter just inside the doorway. Over the ringing in her ears, a man’s voice droned out a radio call.
The boots stopped right outside the door. He racked the shotgun, the crisp shick-shack bringing bile up in Jenna’s throat. Echo’s screams faded to a weak moan in the hall. Three meters behind her, the timer counted down toward zero. Steven’s frantic voice in her earpiece was unintelligible through the terror that froze her mind. She shook her head. No! No. Fear is what kills.
Keeping an eye on the edge of the doorway, Jenna clenched her fists, stilling the trembling. She could panic and die, or let this fear drive her, energize her to do what she needed to get out of this. And she wasn’t about to die. Not now.
Becoming NADIA is available at MuseItUp Publishing. For more information please visit here.