Hi Norma, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in County Donegal in Ireland, land of legends and storytelling. Ireland has a long and rich literary history stretching back to the Celts, and to this day you don’t have to go far to find someone who can entertain you with a good “yarn” over a pint of Guinness.
Discuss your newest book.
The Undergrounders Series (Immurement, Embattlement and Judgement) is a sci-fi dystopian thriller trilogy set in a world in ruins after the earth’s core overheats and a ring of volcanos around the globe erupts. The main protagonist is Derry Connelly, a sixteen-year-old girl who survives, along with her brother Owen and a band of Preppers, in an underground bunker system. The scorched earth is patrolled by cutthroat gangs of escaped subversives, but that’s not the only problem. Mysterious hoverships operated by clones extract adolescents for their DNA in a bid to replenish the population. When Owen disappears, Derry strikes a deal with the murderous subversives and leads a dangerous mission to get him back. If you like a fast-paced apocalyptic tale, with a gritty complex heroine, and twists you won’t see coming, then The Undergrounders Series is for you!
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always loved reading and writing. It was how I expressed myself as a child and all through my teenage years, pouring out my heart in poems, short stories and songs. I was always the kid who got elected to tell the scary bedtime stories at sleepovers.
What are your current projects?
I’m finishing up Judgement, the third book in The Undergrounders Series. In my head I’m already working on my next series which falls into the space opera genre.
What books have most influenced your life?
1984 by George Orwell shook my world when I first read it and I have never forgotten that Big Brother is watching. That book spawned my interest in the dystopian genre. I also read every concentration camp escape story I could get my hands on, Escape from Auschwitz to name but one.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I’ve always been fascinated by regimes and resistance movements, and the heroes who emerge from atrocities. As an author, I find it intriguing to place characters in dystopian, post-apocalyptic or sci-fi settings and watch what unfurls inside them as they go head to head with staggering odds. After spending several summers in Idaho, and learning more about Preppers and survivalists, the idea to plant Derry Connolly in a bunker community of homesteaders and mountain men took seed and The Undergrounders Series was born.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Derry is one of those individuals for whom life is not worth living if you can’t live free. She isn’t some “chosen” one with special powers. Instead, she overcomes her limitations and fears, and reaches deep inside herself in order to lead a rebellion against a regime’s horrific abuse of power.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Freedom is messy. Human nature is deeply flawed and we’re all contributors to the mess we live in to one degree or another.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
A young Jodie Foster – tough, enigmatic, and with a fierce drive for justice.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I’ve been a writer for as long as I could write, but I decided to pursue publication about three years ago.
Why do you write?
Despite the pen-pusher lows that are an inevitable part of the journey, writing fires me up and makes me come alive. Maybe it’s a power thing. I can give my characters their hearts’ desire and take it away from them in the very next scene. What other career allows you to kidnap and kill at will without being arrested for it?
All joking aside,I write because writing is where my passion and strengths intersect, and creativity is an integral part of who I am. Art has the power to move another human being and in my opinion that is worth striving for.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
Getting older and realizing it’s now or never! I don’t want to go to the grave with my song still in me as they say.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time as my husband and I have a brick-and-mortar business and three teenagers at home.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Treating it like a real job where you have to show up at a certain time and put in your hours on a daily basis. It’s all too easy to throw in a load of laundry, start answering emails and jump on Facebook, and before you know it all your time has been swallowed up with trivial pursuits. Once you commit to the discipline of treating your writing time as sacred, you can make real progress in terms of the quality of your craft, and the quantity of writing you produce.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
The pressure of trying to get it out quickly.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
Going on a walkabout with my characters – way too much fun as I’m never sure where we will end up.
What book are you reading now?
I’m always reading more than one book at once. Bedtime is fiction, and I read non-fiction (usually on the craft of writing) in snatches of time during the day. Currently fiction is The Singularity Heretic by David Beers which is a fascinating sci-fi thriller set in a world controlled by Artificial Intelligence, and non-fiction is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.
What is one random thing about you?
I have a scar that splits my right eyebrow in two that I got from jumping off a fourposter bed with my brother on my back and landing in the fireplace at our grandparents’ farmhouse in Ireland. Picture that!
What is your preferred medium of writing? Pen and paper or strictly tablet and computer?
Computer, and some dictation.
What does your writing process look like?
I aim for about three hours of writing time, five days a week. I sometimes do some editing later in the day if I have extra time, but with three kids heading in different directions most days, it gets frantic!
Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?
Not really, although I have a makeshift standing desk and I stand to write.
How important are names to you in your books?
They have to feel like the perfect fit to me. I have been known to change names even after I’ve written the entire first draft!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Selling the books is a lot more challenging.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in future?
I would avoid most of the smaller paid promo sites as they just don’t move the needle. Concentrate efforts and dollars on the bigger ones.
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
May you have the wisdom to find a purpose and the courage to make a difference while there is yet time.
What is your favorite book and why?
Too many to name! Some books strike terror in my heart, others bring me to tears. Some change my thinking on an issue, some make me laugh out loud. I love the ability of books to play on the full range of human emotions.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Never edit a first draft.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My big passion is traveling, anywhere! Other cultures fascinate me. I also love the backcountry (Idaho and Alaska in particular.) Biking, hiking, boating, skiing, and reading of course.
From where do you gain your inspiration?
Being alone with my thoughts, reading up on scientific breakthroughs, movies, random characters I bump into during the course of my day.
What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
When you self-publish the workload can be overwhelming at times and it drains the creative side of your brain. It’s really important to carve out sacred writing time in the midst of the mayhem.
How do you market your books?
I’m finishing up the third book in the trilogy and after that I intend to focus more on the marketing side of things. I am considering offering the first in the series free.
Why did you choose this route?
I got the imperial thumbs down from the traditional publishing world after two years of back and forth. I was close to securing an agent on two different occasions, but it never panned out and it took forever to query and get responses.
Would you or do you use a PR agency?
I do not and I have no plans to do so.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
Build an email list. Nurture and grow your list. Prime your list. Love on your list.
What part of your writing time do you devote to marketing your book?
About a third, although it can mushroom during a launch.
What do you do to get book reviews?
Mostly crawl on my hands and knees over broken glass to find them! It is very time consuming to research and reach out to appropriate book bloggers who are often inundated with requests. I’ve also done a couple of Blog Tours which have garnered a handful of reviews. I listed my book on NetGalley for a month, and I’ve offered a free copy of my book in exchange for an honest review in a couple of Facebook groups I belong to. Organic reviews are the icing on the cake.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
I’m focusing on building up the reviews on the first book in the series and I’m starting to gain some momentum.
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers?
Sadly, no. I’ve been mostly throwing spaghetti at the walls and hoping it sticks, meaning I explore every avenue knowing that only a few reviewers will come through for me.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
It’s not a black and white issue. A five-star review can hurt you if it’s obviously someone gushing who has some skin in the game (acquaintance or email subscriber,) and a one-star review can help if it’s apparent the person has either never read the book, can’t spell, or is simply mad at life in general and on a rant. Sometimes the things a hater hates about your book are the very things that make someone else want to read it. The telling reviews are the ones that reveal a common thread. Pay attention if you keep hearing the same constructive criticism over and over again.
Any amusing story about marketing books that happened to you?
I wish marketing books was a more amusing pursuit.
What’s your views on social media for marketing?
The jury is out on this as I am still building a platform and have yet to determine what is a really good investment of my time. A Facebook page is a must if you want to try Facebook advertising at some point.
Which social network worked best for you?
So far, Facebook, but I am going to focus on Instagram next.
Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Don’t waste a lot of dollars on marketing before you have at least three books out. Make sure your book is the best it can possibly be before you make the trip down Publication Boulevard. Don’t settle for mediocre.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Someone who actively resisted a regime. Maybe Viktor Frankl who wrote Man’s Search For Meaning after surviving Auschwitz, or Corrie Ten Boom, the dutch watchmaker who built a secret room in her house to hide Jews from the Nazis.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings. Hard to beat those jaw-dropping Baggins-like adventures!
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
If you are certain writing is where your passion and strengths intersect, don’t take your eyes off the goal. Put your shoulder to the wheel and throw your whole heart into mastering the craft, and taking incremental steps toward publication. Dogged persistence will get you there in the end, and the talent you have honed along the way will be your staying power.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Check out my blog at http://normahinkens.com/ or like my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NormaHinkensAuthor to see all the stellar science fiction and dystopian content I post. I also pop in and out of the following sites: