New writer Tony Valdez talks about his first science fiction novel
Through various contests and individual campaigns, new and experienced writers are publishing their works through the reader-based online publisher Inkshares. One such new writer is in the process of publishing his first novel through Inkshares. A lifetime lover of movies and storytelling in general and a native Californian, Tony Valdez is finishing up his manuscript for his science-fiction adventure story Dax Harrison. “The book, Dax Harrison, came from a full-length film script that I wrote,” Valdez said. “I think I finished it April of 2014, but then it just sat, collecting digital dust on my laptop because I didn’t have any Hollywood contacts to speak of. Multiple people over time told me, ‘Why don’t you just make it into a book?’ so that is what I am doing.”
The five to ten minute film script that would become Dax Harrison started in early 2013 and was a start and stop project for Valdez. “[The script] is actually the first scene in chapter one where we meet our hero, Dax, who is essentially a bumbling space captain, and he’s in the process of crashing his ship into a planet. He’s basically fallen asleep at the wheel, shut off the autopilot in his sleep, and wakes up just in the nick of time to not crash and then immediately blames it on his artificial intelligence co-pilot buddy. It’s a little scene with them bickering in a very Joss Whedon type fashion. That was the initial idea that just came to me out of nowhere. Just thinking that that would be funny to film and to try to pull off a low/no budget sci-fi comedy short film, but as I got to scripting it out, it just kind of exploded,” Valdez said.
It wasn’t until early 2014 that Valdez chose to turn his film script into a novel format. Not knowing as much about publishing, he weighed the options between going through traditional publishing or just self-publishing through the Amazon Kindle store. However, he just wanted to get the idea for Dax Harrison out of his head and out into the world before it drove him crazy. That was when a writing friend of his told him about Inkshares.com and a contest that was currently going on at the time. “[Inkshares’] platform is basically a kickstarter for books, for authors, if you will,” Valdez said. “You put up your idea and whatever information you want, sample chapters or a pitch video, and you launch a campaign. If you get enough preorders in a certain amount of days, then you get published. And that’s where I’m at right now. I have successfully reached the goal at the end of December and now the team is very kindly waiting for me to hurry up and finish the manuscript so we can get to production.”
As far as the audience Valdez is reaching out to, he would love it if everyone would take an interest in his story. Another Inkshares writer, A.C. Weston, who is also in production with her book, She Is the End, has been a great resource of information and inspiration for Valdez, and she pitched her book as a new adult genre as opposed to a young adult novel. The new adult genre seems to reach out to an age bracket of 18 to 30 years of age, being a genre that can still reach out to young adult readers, but a genre that can also attract an older crowd. “I loved Indiana Jones and Star Wars just as much when I was five years old as I do now, and I love the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. If teenagers find something in [my story] that relates to them, the young adult to mid-20s age group appreciates things, and the older crowd as well. I’m trying to make it that sort of style of classic adventure that there is something in there for everybody. That’s what I’m pushing for,” Valdez said. Reaching out to this age group has proved successful so far during Valdez’s campaign, and he is humbled by the positive reaction from the readers.
Due to his love for science fiction and adventure movies, Valdez took different aspects of some of the characters from these movies and used them as inspiration for Dax Harrison’s character. “I had to sit and pinpoint. I definitely pulled different pieces from different characters,” Valdez said. “Like I said, I’m a lover of movies, so everything from Indiana Jones to a Han Solo type character, even a little bit of Tony Stark and Iron Man, since it’s a similar story about a guy who is really just out for himself who learns to basically give a crap. Different circumstances and what not, but Dax is forced into saving the day whether he likes it or not and, I think, learns a little something along the way.”
Just recently, Valdez released the prologue of Dax Harrison on his Inkshares campaign page and this turned out to be a nice surprise for readers for it was a part of the story that was supposed to not be revealed until the book was published and what a cheesy sci-fi ball of fun it is. “I had written it before and I was going to keep it hidden away until the book release because I was going back and forth with, ‘Well, I want to appeal to more people about the book. I want to get them interested and get it noticed and get more people to preorder while still in production, but at the same time, I didn’t want to give everything away. I wanted to leave some surprises.’ Then, after a while, I was like, ‘Oh, forget it, I’ll just put it up there.’ I rewrote it before I put it up because I realized that it wasn’t cheesy enough,” Valdez said. His prologue drops readers right into the action where a big space battle is taking place. After the battle is won by the hero, Dax Harrison, he is shown holding a damsel in his arms with wind blowing her hair from who knows where and the scene pans out to a young boy watching a made-for-TV movie of the space hero.
Valdez was inspired by J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot Star Trek movie where it puts the viewers straight into the action of a battle and he was amazed at how it could be so emotional within just the first few minutes of the film. “That is what I’m hoping for maybe in the sequel to this or another story: if I get to be a good enough writer where I can make somebody cry in the first ten minutes, then I know I can call myself a successful author. But in the meantime, I want to make people laugh their heads off,” Valdez said. “Dax is known in this futuristic world as a great space hero. He was in this epic battle that turned the tide of the alien invasion war, and his origin story is what we’re seeing in this made-for-TV version that this kid is watching in the prologue. However, then we immediately cut in to chapter one with the real Dax asleep, drunk at the helm of his ship, almost crashing it and you start to wonder, ‘Is this really the same guy? Did he really do all those things?’ And that’s the question, the subtle mystery throughout the novel. Who is he, really? How much of that history is, in fact, true or what’s the true story behind that? And slowly, but surely, that unravels through our adventure.”
When it came to the names of his characters, Valdez said they came fairly easily to him. For Dax, in particular, Valdez was looking for a name that sounded both futuristic and cool, but simple like Dax or Rex. He didn’t want any crazy alien-like names, rather something that harkened back to the classic adventures, like Buck Rodgers, a name that just rolled off the tongue and had a commanding hero presence to the title. Dax sounded futuristic and Harrison is a small nod to Harrison Ford who played both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Another character, Dax’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Logan Weaver, is Valdez’s tribute to awesome, strong female characters in general, but in particular, is a tribute to Sigourney Weaver for her roles in the Alien movies.
Valdez introduced his villain briefly in his “collection of snippets, quotes, and passages” section of Dax Harrison. He admitted that the villain’s name is going to be tricky and he is debating on possibly adding parentheses after his first introduction to help with pronunciation: Eyldwan. Valdez brainstormed with a friend on looking for a name for the villain that sounded both very spacey and very alien. The brainstorming session turned into a discussion of Dax’s true fashion showing of not caring about the particulars of the villain’s background. “I’ll give [the readers] this exclusive tidbit,” Valdez said. “There’s a moment where Dax discovers who the big bad is. Chasing after him is this guy, Eyldwan, and Dax is looking at the guy’s criminal record and everybody’s talking about how dangerous this guy is, this roundtable discussion of , ‘Oh, no, not that guy. He’s an evil war criminal, big bad during the war. He’s out loose, out to get him.’ And Dax is just sitting there dumbfounded at the name. He cannot get over it. ‘Eldy? Elde? Oh, crap. You know what? I’m just going to call him Eyelid, okay? Eyelid.’”
When it came to deciding on what he enjoyed writing most about the characters was not necessarily the characters themselves, but rather the moments they had. “As much as this story in particular is very fast paced action, just moving from set piece to set piece, my favorite things are the quieter character moments: the little things that anybody can relate to,” Valdez said. In another interview, Valdez shared a scene where the characters are on their way to a climactic battle and everyone is quietly coping at different ends of the ship with what they are about to face and getting ready. Dax is in his bunk and he has this moment where he is calming his nerves and recognizing that self-doubt within himself. Valdez has sprinkled scenes like this for each of his main characters throughout the book.
Other short scenes were brought up in the “collection of snippets, quotes, and passages” section Valdez posted on his Inkshares campaign page that will be found in later chapters of Dax Harrison. “Through this whole process, I’m still in the midst of completing the manuscript, so I only have so much material to share right now, but at the same time, I’ve been questioning from the start of the campaign, ‘How much do I really want to give away? How much should I give away?’ Part of me really wants to keep a lot of the story close to my chest,” Valdez said. “I was constantly battling with the notion of ‘I want to give enough of a preview where people get really excited about it and get a feel for what the story is going to be like, but at the same time, I don’t want to give away the whole story.’” He wanted to give hints like movie trailers do. The new Star Wars trailer, for instance, gave just enough of the story to get viewers excited without giving the whole premise of the movie away. This was Valdez’s compromise: that he would put little snippets into his campaign of fun stuff that happens later without revealing those entire later chapters.
Originating as a possible short sci-fi film, Valdez said he would be happy to see his novel turn into a movie someday. “Dax originally started as [something that was] meant to be a big Hollywood adventure, so I think it would be very fitting to come around full circle,” Valdez said. “I love that I can see the story play out in my head. Whichever format it goes to, I can see the whole thing in my head and that’s what thrills me.” In the beginning stages, Valdez even thought about turning Dax Harrison into a graphic novel because he still wanted the visual element, but that had its own challenges: finding and paying an artist to draw out his entire story. He had a friend who is self-publishing a graphic novel series New Praetorians which she recently began releasing, but she works around the clock to get as much work as she can complete. And yet, even with Dax Harrison being meant for the big screen or even for a graphic novel, Valdez is excited that Dax Harrison has turned into a novel. “Honestly, I’ve kind of fallen in love with the fact that it is a novel because the possibilities are endless,” Valdez said. “I don’t have to worry about appealing to a studio or trying to get the green light and trying to cast this actor or that actor or things I have no control over. With this, whatever I think up, as long as it gets some good editing behind it and I find a publisher, which I successfully did with Inkshares.”
Valdez is in the process of completing the manuscript for Dax Harrison and the clock is ticking. He is anticipating that the book will be published late spring or early summer of 2016 and he said that the Inkshares team has been amazing and incredibly patient while he finishes. Even though no one has officially read the entirety of Valdez’s book, Dax seems to be a character who needs multiple books. “I told myself that once this was all finished, that I would take a nice long break and a breather, but the more I talk to people about it, I keep getting more and more excited about where’s the story’s going to go next. I will say, ‘We’ll see,’ but I definitely have an outline brewing,” Valdez said. He plans to pitch the sequel on Inkshares and encourages any writers who wish to start a campaign on Inkshares to not jump straight into the preorder campaign part of marketing one’s book right off the bat. He encourages writers to start a project page, put up material from their works, and gain followers. That way, once a writer feels comfortable enough to begin the time-sensitive preorder campaign, then he or she will have many preorders lined up and ready to go.
Even though the campaign is over, readers can still preorder Dax Harrison until it is published. “If you want your very limited first edition Dax Harrison paperback signed by yours truly, then by all means, preorder now,” Valdez said. “I would like to say that I could not have done it without the support of, not just family and friends who were amazing and very gracious and generous, but also the Inkshares author community. They were amazing. I am insanely humbled by the support I’ve gotten. Especially for me, a first time author, and other new authors alike have really embraced this community and it’s a really, really good time.”
Originally published at www.examiner.com on February 18, 2016.