Many people might wonder how this applies to authors of imaginative fiction, such as science fiction and fantasy. As one of those folks myself, I can say this–science fiction and other areas of imaginative literature offers one of the most useful lenses for looking at the human condition as it is and imagining how it might be–and thus, offering a tool of vision to hopefully, bring about that change. Gene Roddenberry created “Star Trek” not simply to give the world “Wagon Train” in space, but to visualize a future in which the best instincts of humanity have combined to make a brighter future. Robert Heinlein, in “Stranger in a Strange Land”, used the figure of Valentine Michael Smith, a human man raised on Mars, to provide a view on humanity that is both human and alien at once. I myself looked to Heinlein’s and Roddenberry’s influence in my SF novel “Annah”. Annah is a young woman seeking her own identity; asking questions about difference and belonging that are universal to the condition of being–human or otherwise. This combination of the universal, the commonplace, and the unfamiliar is what makes science fiction a powerful tool for innovation as well as for social change. If we cannot imagine a different world, we can’t hope to make change a reality in ours. Shows like “Star Trek”, or books like Heinlein’s or (hopefully) my own are not mere escapism just because they take place in a world we can’t see outside our window. They can show us, if we let them, that imagination can give us the tools to become the change we seek; to open our eyes onto another world without faster than light travel, simply through the engine of our own will.
Today, my guest on Portals and Pathways is producer, screenwriter and author Joel Eisenberg. He’s a very kind, humble and inspiring man, and it was my great pleasure, honor, and a lot of fun to have this chat with him.
CG: Joel, which came first—wanting to be a writer, or wanting to be in the movie business? And when did you know that was what you wanted to do?
JE: Good question. I wanted to be a writer in the movie business. That’s not a copout answer but the truth, and I knew it from a very early age. When I was a boy, I eschewed sports and leisure activities in favor of writing. I wrote short stories based on my favorite television shows and movies. A typical plot was the crew of the Starship Enterprise teams with the Six Million Dollar Man to save the world from the Planet of the Apes. It didn’t matter that the Planet of the Apes was earth; this was my creation after all. I wanted, no, needed to create for a living. Writing was the passion from early on. And then I saw “Star Wars” (“A New Hope” before it was “A New Hope”) for the first time at 13 and that sealed the deal.
CG: Which of the many projects you’ve worked on is your favorite (I realize this may be like choosing a favorite child) and why?
JE: “The Chronicles of Ara” by far. I’m working in a playground of personal obsessions and creating a monster fantasy story out of it all.
CG: Tell us a little about “The Chronicles of Ara.” How did that come about?
JE: Several things. Years ago, I knew an old-time Broadway producer, Ernest Martin. He was the “Martin” of (Cy) “Feuer and Martin,” the legendary Broadway team who produced “Guys and Dolls”, “Can-Can”, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and numerous others. He was also great friends with John Steinbeck. Years after his death his widow, Twyla, asked me to go through a box of Ernie’s effects. There, I found nearly 400 pages of handwritten John Steinbeck material. Many months later while pouring through this material at home, I realized what a treasure this was. The pages mostly comprised the notes and work that was ultimately titled “Sweet Thursday”, along with some unrelated letters and the handwritten manuscript of “The Log of the Sea of Cortez”. I immediately became fascinated with missing literature, as this material was considered “lost” for over 50 years. Another inspiration: Months earlier, as a special education teacher, my principal walked into my classroom and asked a student to turn her T-shirt inside-out. The student was well-behaved, generally, and was at the top of her class scholastically. The T-shirt had the image of Marilyn Manson on its front. The principal threatened to suspend her if she didn’t comply. She complied. I had words with the principal after class and resigned a few weeks later. This student was not bothering anyone, and I resented the attempt at suppressing her free speech. From there, I was always fascinated by the concept of “dangerous art”, which would become a hallmark theme in the “Ara” series. This videogame and movie is bad for kids, that TV show is anti-religious, and so on. Between Steinbeck and this scenario, I had a book brewing. All of this came to a head when I met Steve Hillard, the co-creator of this series with an earlier book called “Mirkwood”. We teamed up to further the mythos and “The Chronicles of Ara” was born.
CG: One of the things that strikes me as unique about the Chronicles is that J.R.R Tolkien appears as, himself, a character in the series. How crucial an influence do you see Tolkien as in your own work?
JE: The unexpected answer, honestly, is no more than the other authors featured. I love Tolkien’s work and believed him to be, for several reasons, the best author to dramatize in Book One of “The Chronicles of Ara”. Future volumes include appearances by Poe, Lovecraft, Verne, Wells, Doyle, Mary Shelley, etc. I consider all these writers, certainly Tolkien, as creators who peeked into the darker sides of human nature – only to return with stories and themes that had a primal, lasting impact. 5) You describe the Chronicles of Ara as deeply concerned with the force of artistic creation. As it happens, that’s something that’s always informed my own work as well. Why, do you think, are artists and creative people so important? Because I believe everything that is a cause for action begins with the word. Artists, perhaps being more interior than many, seem to troll (their) human nature more than most. I believe a powerful artist is a powerful influencer who can shape cultures. For example, IF The Bible is looked upon as literature only, what kind of impact have these writers left in the world? And so on.
CG: What is at least one goal or dream that remains unrealized for you, thus far?
JE: Honestly, writing in Japan for a year and I could not begin to tell you why. I haven’t yet figured it out myself.
CG: Is there a single writer, artist, or other creative person who has had the most influence on you?
JE: Tough question. Let me say honestly – and I may be criticized for this considering the reception of some of his efforts – George Lucas. The “Ara” series is the antithesis of light and airy, which is how many view the “Star Wars” saga. But I believe Lucas shook up the world with his original trilogy, and pop-culture has not been the same since. Besides, look at how many artists that series inspired. I would say Lucas and Walt Disney for the same reasons.
CG: In the dedication to “Creation”, the first volume of the Chronicles, you give an indication of the importance of your relationship with your Dad. Can you tell us just a little about your father, and the influence he had on you?
JE:And here you’re going to make me cry. But it’s all positive. My dad was the finest man I’ve ever known. I almost didn’t make it to Junior High School. I was flunking 6th grade, as my teacher said my reading comprehension levels were sub-par. My parents and my teacher made a deal. I would write a book report on a book I wanted to read, as opposed to a book I was forced to read. I was a big horror fan (still am) and chose Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.” My teacher was shocked and she gave me an A+ on my report. I also think she learned something that day. If it wasn’t for my dad devising that deal … And one more thing. When I was a small boy, I had the most severe asthma. My dad said we needed to relocate from Brooklyn, NY to Colorado. I was so sickly, I was taken in a baby stroller to the airport at 7 years old. I lost my asthma in Colorado. So, added to my dad’s resume, so to speak, he saved my life. As the years went on, he always taught his three boys – myself, Mike and Neil – the virtues and necessity of self-reliance. I don’t know who or what I’d be without Richard Eisenberg, my beloved dad, in my life. I miss him every day.
CG: What advice do you have for authors, artists, or other creative folks who are just getting started, or who want to get started?
JE: Clive Barker once told me, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Never pause to consider how absolutely impossible your task is. Just do it.’ This is the greatest advice for artists ever, as far as I’m concerned. Create from the soul and if you choose to make a living through your art, strategize and find support systems. Listen to the negative that you will sometimes encounter but never hear it. Forge your own path. 10) Do you have a favorite book or film? Favorite Book (3-way tie): “Dune”, “Frankenstein” and “The Brothers Karamazov”. Favorite Film (3-way tie – I’m cheating): “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “A Clockwork Orange.
CG: I’m a huge fan of Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange as well….Clockwork is easily my fave Kubrick film.
I can still vividly remember first reading the Burgess book, too.
JE: Same here. In some ways I think the film is the most well-made ever.
CG: It’s pretty flawless, and I think that may account for why, in our era of rampant remakes, that’s never been touched. Andy Warhol tried to tackle it before Kubrick did, but Warhol’s is a very loose interpretation, and doesn’t even have the same title.
JE: I wasn’t aware actually. Need to follow up with you on that. Gonna go though as I have one percent battery left.
CG: Alright. Thanks for the interview!
JE: Thanks for the opportunity. That was fun.
CG: I’m glad. And you’re welcome.
This morning, my very special guest is Jo Linsdell, noted author and blogger, whose new book focuses on how Twitter can be used as a dynamic promotional platform. When I spoke with her, she had some great ideas–read them and put them to use in your own career. I certainly plan to! Here’s Jo:
A lot of new or aspiring authors may not see Twitter as anything more than a time-waster. Why is Twitter an important tool in the modern author’s promotional skill set?
Building a strong online presence can make or break it for authors in today’s modern world. As busy authors most will probably prefer to be working on writing their books to spending all day on social media but it’s important for authors to build their brand and market their books. This is true regardless of how the author is published or planning on publishing.
Marketing online, especially via social media is ideal for self-publishers. They can reach a large international audience for free. Agents and publishers also look at an authors online presence though when deciding who to sign.
Twitter is one of the main players in social media today with over 302 million active users in the first quarter of 2015 (Source: Statista http://www.statista.com/statistics/282087/number-of-monthly-active-twitter-users/). From my personal experience Twitter gets me the best R.O.I. out of all the social media sites I use (and I use a lot of sites. I’m a complete social media junky and pretty much everywhere).
Twitter, with its low maintenance, and high output, is ideal for writers.
What are advantages unique to Twitter that can’t be gotten from other social media platforms?
Twitter is perfect for writers. With tweets of just 140 characters, it’s easy to post regularly to the site and build your network. Even the busiest writers can find 5-10 minutes a day to click the retweet button on suitable content for their brand a few times, and post a quick tweet or two to connect with their followers.
As all tweets are automatically set to public you also don’t have to deal with approving people or selecting an audience for your content like you do with other platforms. Everyone can see it. Just use some select hashtags with your keywords to make sure your target audience can find your tweets.
I also find it easier to join conversations and connect with new people than on some other platforms. You just find a conversation, by searching for your keywords, and jump in. On other sites, for example Facebook, I sometimes feel like it’s an invitation only party. On Twitter everyone can turn up and join in. The nature of the site is just more open.
Do you have any personal “Twitter stories” to share? How has Twitter helped you?
Like I said, Twitter gets me by far the best R.O.I. out of all the platforms I use. By my current analytics it makes up 54% of my online influence score. That’s people interacting with the content I share either by sharing it, commenting on it, or mentioning me in their posts. The next on my list is Facebook at just 18%. Quite a big difference.
It’s much easier to make new connections on Twitter too. Even for shy introverts. Start by retweeting a few tweets by the person you want to connect with. Follow them. Add them to a list. Give them a shout out by mentioning them for #WriterWednesday (also #WW) or #FollowFriday (also #FF). Then start commenting on their tweets using the reply button. Before you know it they’ll be doing the same for you. It really is that simple to build relationships on Twitter.
I’ve made some great connections with other writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, bloggers, associations, and readers via Twitter.
What’s the best way to build up a large group of followers?
Be social. Retweet others content and engage with them. Join in chats. One of the most effective ways to build a larger following is to tweet about events you take part in… and those you wish you could have been at. I’m big on social media and wish I could have gone to the Social Media World conference hosted by Social Media Examiner, but alas, I couldn’t get over to the States to join in the fun in person. That didn’t stop me learning loads of tips and advice from the event and networking with attendees though. I joined in via Twitter. By retweeting the live tweets from people who were at the event and commenting on them I got over 50 new followers in just one day. Most importantly those new followers were all interested in social media, and a lot of them were also writers. A perfect fit for my target audience.
There are always events happening and, more often than not, the organisers set up a hashtag to be used in connection with the event. Just find events that fit your niche, and interests, and start connecting. It’s also super easy to start conversations with the others using the hashtag because you already have the event in common to use as a conversation starter.
Is having a large group of followers important?
Yes and no.
The number of followers is just that, a number. It’s a bit like a popularity contest. It’s much better to have a smaller following that interacts than a big number that doesn’t connect though. Quality over quantity.
That said, the more followers you have, the more people that will see your content. People are also more likely to follow someone who has a lot of followers as they think, “Hey lots of people are following this person. There must be a good reason”. All tweets are public so non-followers can interact with them too but people who click the follow button are generally more likely to retweet, and comment on your content.
Do you see Twitter as a game-changer in the social media landscape? Why or why not?
Yes. Social media is now well established and won’t be going away. With the increase in online options, mobile usage, etc, people want everything now. As Twitter offers bite-sized content it’s perfect for today’s busy schedule. Both from the point of view of who creates the content, and who reads it. It also embraces the social aspect of social media in a more open way than some of the other sites and so sets itself apart as an example of what social media should be.
What is the main thing you hope readers take away from your book?
How to be Twittertastic, and the other books in the Writers and Authors Guide to Social Media Series, is designed around the idea of making social media easy for authors to understand and to supply them with information and tips to help them get the most out of their time and efforts.
How to be Twittertastic covers a bit of everything from how to set up your account and personalise your profile to third party apps and getting the most leverage out of your tweets. It’s also packed full of useful resources to help you make the most out of time and marketing efforts.
Building a strong, and effective, social media presence doesn’t have to be difficult or too time consuming. Everyone can do it… even busy writers.
Thanks for answering, Jo!
J: Thanks for having me here !