Please welcome Joe Zieja to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Mechanical Failure will be published on June 14th by Saga Press.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Joe: Hi there! Thanks for having me. Like many writers, I've been writing for most of my life in some form or another. I decided to actually pursue writing as a potential career, however, in 2010. To be honest, I can't remember why I made the decision at that specific time, but I would bet it had something to do with the nagging desire to keep writing that has been with me my whole life. I was still in the Air Force back then, and I think part of my motivation was to have a career option that would help me leave it behind when the time was right. That turned out to be completely wrong - I became a voice actor and moved to Los Angeles instead - but that was definitely part of the motivation.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Joe: Hybrid, with a lean toward plotting. I generally don't begin a book unless I know how it ends, but I don't fill in lots of the details in between. Mechanical Failure, for example, had a rough synopsis that was about 10,000 words of stream-of-consciousness outlining done prior to beginning the work. I don't, however, resist changes as the book starts to flow, and I'm not afraid to throw out sections of outline and start from scratch.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Joe: Honestly? All the things that have nothing to do with writing. Navigating the publishing industry, establishing connections, making time for cons, promoting my work, being an active participant in social media. All those tertiary things can be tough sometimes, and I'm always beating myself up for not making the other parts of my career as strong as they could be. If you were to force me to pick a challenge that specifically has to do with putting words on the page, though, I might say picking an idea to invest in. Before starting a new concept, I'll sketch out several ideas, with the haunting feeling that whichever one I pick is a 100,000 + word commitment. I have an aversion to wasted time, so sometimes the idea that I might make the wrong choice can be paralyzing.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Joe: Life! If we're talking specifically about Mechanical Failure and the Epic Failure trilogy, my military career had the biggest influence on that piece. The things I did, the places I went, and the people I met are all in these books in some way or another. (Sorry, fighter pilots.)
TQ: Describe Mechanical Failure (Epic Failure 1) in 140 characters or less.
It's Catch-22 in space with some robots.
TQ: Tell us something about Mechanical Failure that is not found in the book description.
The main character constantly fantasizes about being rescued from burning rooms by the woman of his dreams.
TQ: What inspired you to write Mechanical Failure? What appeals to you about writing military science fiction?
Joe: Mechanical Failure was sold on a proposal and 3 sample chapters, which I know doesn't happen often for new guys. In this case, my editor at Saga, Joe Monti, had read a previous piece of mine that was a zany fantasy/farce piece. Ultimately he didn't end up buying it (YET, MONTI, YET!) but it spurred him to come to me with a request for a military science fiction novel with a humorous bent. He knew my background in the military, and we'd met before, so I gladly cooked up some options. I always thought I would write epic fantasy - military SF kind of came out of nowhere for me.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Mechanical Failure?
Joe: I spent years briefing generals in the Air Force on very serious matters of intelligence and national security combined with tactical analysis of warfare in at least 3 theaters of operation and a tiny pinch of explosions. Isn't that what everyone does?
TQ: In Mechanical Failure who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Joe: The main character - Rogers - was the easiest to write. He basically represented my internal monologue for 10 years of my life, and it was almost cathartic to get it out on paper for once without the fear of being court-martialed. The most difficult to write was the admiral of the fleet. I had to almost completely rewrite his character because I wanted to take him in a direction that was just way too over the top for the novel, and figuring out a way to reign him in while still maintaining the humor and poignancy of his character was not an easy task.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Mechanical Failure?
Joe: I don't think it's really possible to write a good piece of literature without including some social issues in it, whether the author intends to or not. I absolutely talk about social issues - mostly using humor to lampoon them from a number of perspectives - but I didn't set out to write a thematic element in neon lights. I never think about it in terms of including social issues - I think about it in terms of the kind of story I want to tell. If I figure out a compelling story to tell about something that also happens to be a hot-button social issue, I'm going to write that story. But since you asked, I do hate Donald Trump.
TQ: Which question about Mechanical Failure do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: What is a secret life story behind any of the events in Mechanical Failure?
A: There's a scene where Admiral Klein, commander of the fleet, critiques an intelligence officer for the colors he's used in his briefing. This stems from an actual experience I had as a lieutenant in the Air Force, in which approximately a half hour was wasted discussing whether or not the bars on my slide that represented incomplete missions should be red or orange. Red was considered by some to be too negative, since some of the incomplete missions were due to circumstances outside of our control. Mind you, this was a three-star general's briefing, not just a small, squadron-level thing. That may have been the day I decided that a full, 20-year career in the USAF was not for me.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Mechanical Failure.
Joe: When the character believes he is going to slowly suffocate: "...The last traces of his intellect would vanish as his body no longer put oxygen into his brain. Then he’d be promoted to colonel and run the personnel squadron. It was an inevitable chain of events."
"AUTOMATION IS EFFICIENCY IS EFFICACY IS GOOD."
TQ: What's next?
Joe: Well since Saga was kind enough to buy three of these books, I've got to get writing them! To be honest, the second book is already done. I'm waiting on some feedback before I start book 3, in case Saga says they want to cut all of the characters in book 2 and replace them with funny droids. Don't want to get too far ahead of myself. Book 3 is loosely scheduled for sometime in 2017, so I've got a bit of time to think about it. In the meantime, I'm toying with some other, more serious ideas.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Joe: Thank YOU!
Epic Failure 1
Saga Press, June 14, 2016
Hardcover, Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
A smooth-talking ex-sergeant, accustomed to an easygoing peacetime military, unexpectedly re-joins the fleet and finds soldiers preparing for the strangest thing—war.
The two hundred years’ (and counting) peace is a time of tranquility that hasn’t been seen since...well, never. Mankind in the Galactic Age had finally conquered war, so what was left for the military to do but drink and barbecue? That’s the kind of military that Sergeant R. Wilson Rogers lived in before he left the fleet to become a smuggler.
But it turns out that smuggling is hard. Like getting-arrested-for-dealing-with-pirates-and-forced-back-into-service kind of hard. It doesn’t seem so bad—the military was a perpetual tiki party anyway—but when Rogers returns after only a year away, something has changed. These are soldiers—actual soldiers doing actual soldier things like preparing for a war that Rogers is sure doesn’t exist. Rogers vows to put a stop to all this nonsense—even if it means doing actual work.
With an experienced ear for military double-speak, Zieja has created a remarkable and sarcastic adventure.
Joe Zieja is an author with a long history of doing things that have almost nothing to do with writing at all. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Joe dedicated over a decade of his life to wearing The Uniform, marching around in circles and shouting commands at people while in turn having commands shouted at him. It was both a great deal of fun and a great nuisance, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Joe’s also a commercial voiceover artist and a composer of music for video games and commercials. He’s probably interrupted your Spotify playlist at least once to encourage you to click on the banner below and isn’t the least bit upset that you ignored him.