This week we toss questions forcefully at the face of Percival Constantine, an author who describes himself as an ‘Action Fiction Author’ . Which, you know, is pretty cool.
Break the ice and tell our readers who you are and what kind of thing you write.
I’m Percival Constantine, born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and grew up with an obsession of comics, movies, and video games. I write in a few different genres—adventure, thriller, horror, sci-fi—but all with a focus on the action. So to sum it up in one word, I write pulp.
How do you approach your stories; do you plan everything out before starting, or are you more a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of a person?
I used to be a total pantser, but over time, my hard drive became littered with the corpses of abandoned books. I realized if I was going to have any help of having the kind of productivity I’d need to really make a go in indie publishing, I’d need to start planning out what I was writing.
So now I’m definitely a plotter. The way I approach it is I structure my work kind of like a movie or TV show (depending on if I’m writing a novel or a serial). I start off with a notebook and a pen, jotting down ideas and moving them around (or doing something similar in a program called Scapple). From there, I write a quick description of how each of the big acts has to end, then I go from there and write out a synopsis of the entire story.
The last stage of my plotting is to take my synopsis and break it up into scenes in Scrivener’s corkboard. Each scene will get a short description, about one or two sentences, and that’s what I’ll write from.
Things always happen to screw up the process, though. I always say plotting is like GPS. You can start off with a programmed route, but along the way if there’s a detour, the GPS will reroute for you. You’ve got to do that with your story plot, too. Don’t be afraid to go after something shiny, but make sure you can get back to the main road.
Tell us about your most recent release, and why the heck our readers should give it a shot:
Most recent is Vanguard: The Complete Second Season. This is a superhero serial written very much in the style of the comics from the 70s and the 80s that I read a lot as a kid. My Vanguard series is released in a serialized format with five episodes in a season. The Complete Second Season contains episodes 6-10. Vanguard is a team of superheroes formed in secret by the US government after a mysterious event caused a small portion of the human population to suddenly develop powers.
Instead of telling your readers why they should give it a shot, I’ll ask them a question: Do you like The Avengers? What about the X-Men? If your answer is yes, then you already know why you should give Vanguard a shot.
What’s the biggest influence on the kind of thing you write? Another writer? A TV show? Some other thing that is neither of those two things?
I’m influenced by just about everything. I’ll get ideas from newspaper articles, history books, and I also watch way too many movies and TV than is probably good for me. I game occasionally and read comics as well. All of that kind of merges together into forming my stories, so it’s hard to say what the biggest influence is.
That’s like asking a parent which child is their favorite. Even asking me what my favorite film is in a given genre would be tough to answer. A lot of it depends on how I’m feeling at the time.
I can tell you who some of my favorite directors are—Quentin Tarantino, Joss Whedon, Takashi Miike, Robert Rodriguez, Akira Kurosawa, the Russo Brothers, Luc Besson definitely top the list, with a long list of others I really love.
What was your favourite book as a kid?
As a kid, I actually didn’t read books as much outside of school or novelizations of Marvel superheroes. But I was big into comics and that’s where my love of reading really started. Uncanny X-Men was my gateway drug and I read as many of those books as I could get my hands on, especially the stuff by Chris Claremont and Fabian Nicieza. I gradually branched out into other comics and books from there, with Grant Morrison’s JLA and Kurt Busiek’s Avengers being worth specific mention.
What comes first for you with a story, concept or characters?
It varies from project to project. Sometimes, I’ll start with story, sometimes concept, sometimes with character, or some combination of those. Vanguard began with a concept. The Myth Hunter series started with the main character, Elisa Hill, as did my Luther Cross occult investigator series. My Infernum series began with a story.
All are of equal importance to me, though. While I may start with one, it will feed the other two and help me build up those ideas.
What are you reading/watching/playing/hiding from right now?
I just finished reading Chris Fox’s Hero Born, which was awesome, and I’ve started reading Barry Eisler’s A Clean Kill in Tokyo. As far as TV goes, I’ve been watching the third season of Bates Motel and I’m really looking forward to House of Cards season four and Daredevil season two. I also watch all the superhero TV shows (except Gotham, which I think is awful) and The Flash is by far my favorite of those.
What made you decide to go indie, and what do you see as the benefits of indie?
I went indie before it was the cool new thing. I finished my first novel, Fallen, back in 2005. Had it edited and immediately sent it off to agents, since this was in the pre-Kindle days. I must have queried about fifty agents or so. Of those fifty, I never heard from half of them. The other half sent rejection letters. And all but three of those rejection letters were form letters which told me nothing about why they didn’t want my book. The three letters that were personalized basically all said the same thing: good book but there’s no market for this.
They were right, coincidentally, Fallen has no market whatsoever. It’s too much of a mix of different genres—I’m not even sure what I’d classify it as. But once those rejections came in, I decided I would publish the book myself. This was back when your only options were vanity publishing or print on demand, and I went the POD route with Lulu.
There are so many benefits to being indie. For one, you need a lower threshold of sales in order to start making money at this. Another is the ability to get to market a lot faster. I put out one release every month and I write four series (one through a small press). My small press is great, but they’ve got too many other authors to worry about and I couldn’t be as prolific if I published everything through them.
As an indie, you have a lot of flexibility in what you can do. If you’ve got a series you really love and has a few dedicated readers but isn’t really burning up the sales charts, then with traditional publishing, that series would get the axe. But as an indie, you can keep writing that series, maybe even doing it on the side as you focus most of your efforts on something more marketable.
I like that freedom. It can be scary at times, but even if I’m not making a living from this, I’ve always loved writing and would still be doing it even if indie publishing weren’t a thing. And how many hobbies can actually make you money?
Who is your favourite fictional character, be it from books, TV, comics, movies or games?
This is like the movie question, it’s really hard to choose. I guess if I had to pick one, I would probably go with Wolverine. I know he’s overexposed, but that whole anti-heroic, lone warrior aspect of the character is also what I love about movies like A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo.
Tell us about a great indie book or two that you’ve read:
I have to mention Derrick Ferguson’s Dillon and the Voice of Odin, because Derrick is an incredible action writer who doesn’t get the attention he deserves. If Ian Fleming, Lester Dent, Jim Steranko, and Clive Cussler had a love child (don’t ask how that would be possible, you’re not ready), it would be Derrick Ferguson.
D’you listen to music whilst you write? The TV on in the background providing a pleasant white-noise babble? Or d’you DEMAND SILENCE WHILST YOU CREATE FROM NOTHING.
I like to use movie scores when writing. I’ve got playlists on 8tracks for the different genres I write in. Right now I’m working on Vanguard, so I’ve got a bunch of playlists with scores from superhero movies. When I switch over to The Myth Hunter next, I’ll listen to adventure movie scores, like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Which of your own works are you proudest of?
Yikes, that’s a hard one. I think maybe Fallen, just because it’s the first. Unboxing that first paperback and holding it in my hands was a surreal experience, that whole “I made this” thing. I still get that with every book I put out, but nothing will ever top the unreality of that first time.
What’s you’re writing schedule like? Are you super regimented, butt-in-chair every day, tip-tapping away for hours, or an airy-fairy ‘when the muse strikes’ sort of a person?
Ehh…a bit of both, I guess. My weekends are actually the busiest for my day job, but during the week my schedule’s a bit more flexible and I usually have enough pockets of time off in the morning or afternoon when I can write. I commit to an hour a day, done in three twenty-minute sprints, and I generally hit 2000 words a day.
It’s not always a consistent hour, though. Sometimes I’ll do the first two sprints early in the morning and then I’ll get distracted by Facebook and won’t come back until just before or after lunch to do the final sprint. I plan to get more regimented, though.
What’s your number one piece of advice for anyone reading this who is considering going the indie route?
Do your research. That’s the one thing I didn’t do and it really screwed me over. Even though I started in 2007, the Kindle revolution flew right by me. I don’t think I knew I even could put out ebooks of my work until 2012. And even then, I still didn’t know about all these places indies could go for advice, like KBoards, or the various podcasts out there such as Self Publishing Podcast, Self Publishing Roundtable, Sell More Books Show, and Rocking Self Publishing Podcast. I had no idea about mailing lists or series branding or anything like that.
So please, do your research. And when someone says something that contradicts your preconceived notions, don’t just assume they’re wrong—hey, they could be. But look into it.
Tell me a ‘classic’ book that you’ve not been able to get through:
Dracula. I’m sorry, I love some of the other interpretations of the character over the years, particularly Christopher Lee’s version, but I’ve never been able to get through Dracula. I keep telling myself I will try it again one of these days. The epistolary style just isn’t my thing.
So what treats do you have in store for readers next?
I’ve always got something new coming up. The third season of Vanguard launches in mid-late March and I’ll run some promos on the first and second season collections. The summer should see the release of my fifth book in The Myth Hunter series and the fifth and final Infernum book.
Once Infernum is complete, I’ll be launching a new noir series, focusing on a female private investigator in modern-day Japan. Not sure exactly when that will come out, probably end of 2016 or early 2017.
Thank you! This was fun!
Check out Percival’s books HERE