An Interview with Austin Rogers, author of the new space opera, SACRED PLANET
Austin Rogers and I (Nathan) attended the MFA program at Western State Colorado University where we earned our stripes as fiction writers. I’m excited to feature Austin–he’s a talented guy and a good friend. His first novel, SACRED PLANET is available now on Amazon!
“An ambitious, ardent launch that sets a stellar precedent for installments to follow.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in Cinema and Media Arts from Biola University and his master of fine arts from Western State Colorado University, Austin bounced between jobs in California, Missouri, and Texas. He has worked as a talent agent’s assistant, a bookseller, a summer camp staffer, a newspaper writer, and most recently a real estate agent. He takes every chance he can get to sneak away from the real world and drift among spaceships and faraway planets.
Religious and philosophical themes play a prominent role in Sacred Planet. Did you always intend to invest heavily in those topics from the outset, or did it happen more organically during the writing process?
A little of both. I started with the kernel of an idea that I thought would be interesting to explore in a space opera setting. For a long time, there have been thinkers who believe religion and belief in the supernatural is on the verge of dying off (think Nietzsche’s famous line, “God is dead,” circa 1882), and yet it never has. Religions and religious beliefs evolve but rarely die off. Yet much of science fiction, especially space opera, doesn’t take this into account. Their future worlds tend to be void of religion.
“I wanted to explore a space opera world in which humanity has spread thousands of lightyears into the universe, and yet religion persists in certain groups.”
Not new religions—the same religions that have been with us for thousands of years, but in their evolved forms.
One of these future religions is called “Abramism” and is an amalgamation of the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. One aspect of the Abrahamic religions that carries over into Abramism is the attachment to and protective urge toward certain holy sites. In a universe where millions of people still travel from across the galaxy to visit these holy sites and will fight to keep (or gain) control of them, we are bound to see the same sort of conflicts over the same pieces of land as we do today, the same conflict that flared during the era of the crusades. Hence the title, “Sacred Planet.”
Are you a “Plotter” or “Pantser”? How much pre-writing / planning did you do for Sacred Planet?
I start as a “plotter” and become a “pantser” during the writing. During the pre-writing or plotting phase, the story is one thing, but then during the writing it becomes another. Something strange happens in the writing process that is impossible to predict. The story takes on its own momentum. The characters take on their own voices. Subplots surface that I hadn’t foreseen. Themes emerge. Certain characters that I thought had large parts to play in the story fade to the background. Other characters that I hadn’t pictured during the plotting appear and play a dramatic role in the story.
“Plotting is essential to establish the basic conflict(s) and goal(s) that will drive the story, as well as the character journeys, but the actual writing is when the story comes alive and becomes its own creature.”
Can you talk a little bit about why you went the indie route? Do you have any plans to try traditional publishing in the future?
There are basically two ways to get the attention of the big publishing houses in New York. One is the traditional way: send your manuscript to a literary agent, whose assistant will read maybe a few chapters and maybe, if it’s really good, pass it on to the agent, who will maybe read a few chapters and consider representing you, then send your manuscript to someone’s assistant at a publishing house, who will maybe read a few chapters and maybe pass it on to their boss. Getting through the traditional publishing machine, even with a really great book, takes about as much luck as winning the lottery.
. . . that is, unless you have an established platform. Celebrities or anyone with an existing audience or fanbase can get a book published without even being a good writer. So the other route authors can go to get the attention of a publisher these days is to use indie publishing to build an audience. It’s true that an unsuccessful book published the indie route can stymie a writer’s chances in New York. But a well-written and decently successful indie-published book can be a gateway to traditional publishing. That is my strategy and hope for Sacred Planet.
What’s your favorite Space Opera? Why?
Right now, I’m just finishing Pierce Brown’s excellent Red Rising trilogy, which I would say is my favorite recent space opera series. Joe Haldeman’s Worlds series is one of my favorite older ones. And, of course, the Ender universe is up there, too, especially Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.
Coffee, Tea, or “other”?
You left out an option: both. Coffee has, alas, sunk its addictive tendrils into me, but I also love green tea. Both are essential fuel for writing.
Can you tell us a little bit about your next book?
Currently, I’m writing the second book in the Dominion series (the sequel to Sacred Planet). It’s called Horns of the Ram and picks up where Sacred Planet ends. It will feature a few new characters, including a strong female lead named Cristiana, and a lot of familiar ones.
Who is your ideal reader?
This may sound like a cop-out answer, but my ideal reader is whoever enjoys a good yarn set in a science fictional universe. Seriously. My first and most important goal is to entertain readers and keep them turning pages to find out what happens next.
But I would also think that my ideal reader would be a thoughtful person who is, like me, a “big picture” kind of thinker, someone who wants to understand the machinery that makes the world crank. That “big picture” element is definitely present in Sacred Planet.
Are you a lover or a fighter?
I’m a lover who is captivated by fighters. Sacred Planet centers around fighters and has lots of action, but at its core it’s about the struggle between lovers and fighters—between those who are trying to keep the peace in the galaxy and those who see war as the only way to preserve justice. That’s a struggle that will always be with us, I think.
Tell us about your antagonist(s). What characteristics are important to you when writing the bad guy or gal?
Every story needs a good villain, the kind that you either secretly root for or hate so much that you can’t stand watching him/her succeed. I think there are basically two kinds of villains: the menacing, scary, mysterious kind (think Darth Vader, Sauron, or Hannibal Lecter), and then the all-too-familiar kind who is driven by some cause or belief that we as the audience can almost get behind . . . if only it didn’t have that one dark element. Think President Snow from Hunger Games. The guy is just trying to keep order in Panem and prevent another devastating war from destroying them all, but he’s doing so in a way that oppresses his people to the benefit of the Capital.
Sacred Planet has two of these President Snow-type antagonists on both sides of the two major opposing forces in the galaxy, leaving the protagonists trapped somewhere in the middle. On one side, you have Zantorian, the iron-fisted leader of the Sagittarian Regnum, an empire built upon a feudal division between the noble class and commoner class. On the other side, you have Ulrich Morvan, Minister of Arms for the Republic of Carina, who has his own plans to reshape the balance of power in the galaxy.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your budget? What did you spend to get Sacred Planet ready for release? What advice would you give another first-time indie author?
I did not have a well-defined budget going into the prep for Sacred Planet, which was a mistake. I ended up spending a lot more than I should have. Then again, I learned some valuable (and expensive) lessons for the future.
“In total, I’ve spent a little over $4,000 getting the book ready for publication.”
The largest expenses were (from highest to lowest): editing, book cover art, promotional art, book cover design, a map of the galaxy, and interior formatting. I’m very happy with how all of these turned out, but I do wish I had spent more time finding less expensive providers of a few of these services.
Also, while I LOVE the promo art for the book, I should have set a much lower budget for it.
“My advice for those considering the indie publishing route: First, have others (preferably readers of your chosen genre) read your book and give you feedback before you invest a dime in it.”
The most important element to succeed at any kind of publishing is a really good book. If you don’t have that, keep honing your craft and put off publishing.
“Second, don’t try too hard to cut costs on editing, interior formatting, or the book cover.”
Those are essential, and if they aren’t professional, your book’s chances of success will be severely hindered. But DO try to cut costs as much as possible everywhere else, and think hard about what you need and don’t need.
When can we expect the next book?
Early Spring of 2017!
SACRED PLANET is available now on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.
A huge thanks to Austin Rogers for stopping by for an interview.