I had an interview done on the Kindle Author blog, and here it is:
I asked Cliff Ball, author of The Usurper, about his novel, his influences, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about your political thriller, The Usuper?
CLIFF BALL: Here is what a blog, not owned by me, wrote up about it, that I find to be more precise than a description I can give:
“What if the Soviet KGB had been undermining American society for years by destroying our education system, creating environmental disasters, and corrupting our politicians?
Sounds like communist conspiracy theory? Well, it does make good fiction. It is interesting that fiction, in order to hold our interest must have a viable, tangible plot that relates well with reality. It is kind of like the old saw that a good joke must contain a grain of truth.
Cliff Ball’s premise contains a whole lot of possibility for conjecture. There is little doubt that the Soviets were actively working for years to affect U.S. politics. Perhaps they succeeded better than they knew. Exporting communist ideology has definitely had a negative effect on Western society, undermining the work ethic and destroying free markets—resulting in a decline in prosperity for the majority. It is like the Rush used to say, the best way to defeat our economic enemies is to export liberalism to them. The Soviets did that to us.
Yes, the Soviets were defeated by the U.S. economic juggernaut. However, the old Soviets may get the last laugh yet.”
DAVID WISEHART: What kind of research did you do for your novel?
CLIFF BALL: I researched the leaders of the Soviet Union, mainly Khrushchev. He really did want to bury the United States by undermining our society, by using the people to do it. They were doing a good job too, at least at the government level, until Joe McCarthy went on his witch-hunts of communists. I mention the peaceful coup done on Khrushchev by Brezhnev and Andropov, and I have an appearance by Putin and Gorbachev. I tried to be accurate with what they might have been doing at the time and place I have them in the novel. Gorbachev was in the agriculture ministry in the ’60s, so, in my novel, he meets up with one of the characters in Mexico as they go to Moscow. Gorbachev, in the novel, was researching farming techniques, but wants to be a powerful figure one day in the Communist Party. Putin is a intern of sorts for the KGB in my novel, as he trains the main character to undermine the US. I also researched various terrrorist attacks in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and tried to tie them to the greater story of the KGB doing whatever it took to bring down the US. Whether it was right-wingers or left-wingers that wanted to destroy the US, it didn’t matter to the KGB, as long as the US was brought down.
DAVID WISEHART: The Russians are still trying to infiltrate the West through covert operations. What’s your take on the recent Anna Chapman spy case?
CLIFF BALL: My take is that it was a rather pathetic attempt, like they were trying to copy a Bond movie, or something. If they want to know what’s going on, all they have to do is read the New York Times or Washington Post, search on Google, or ask one of our politicians what we’re doing. I’m sure they’d all be more than happy to tell the spies. They thought they could spy by living like actual Americans? If they really wanted secrets, they should’ve probably lived near Los Alamos, or in any of the cities with high tech labs, not New York City living the high life. I had actually finished my novel when this whole thing popped up, and I really wasn’t surprised by it.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
CLIFF BALL: Anyone who enjoys a political thriller and historical fiction, since the novel has the history between the US and the USSR as the basic theme of then novel. If you’re also into conspiracy theories, this novel will be for you too.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
CLIFF BALL: I started to write in junior high, but I was a lousy writer back then. I have worked on it for the past 20 years, entered a couple of short story contests, won one for a short story I wrote as a senior in high school. I continued to work a little at a time on my writing in my 20s to polish it, have my writing make sense, but didn’t submit anything anywhere until my 30s. I finally decided to publish my first novella, Out of Time, in 2008, after researching ways to do it myself. I chose iUniverse, but after spending so much money and not getting a whole lot out of it, I tried another POD for Don’t Mess With Earth, didn’t get much from that either. With The Usurper, for much cheaper, I went through CreateSpace and I also did Lulu, mostly to see which one works better for me. Since it’s only been a month, I’ll have to wait and see.
DAVID WISEHART: How has your work as an editor helped your own writing?
CLIFF BALL: I think it has helped me a great deal, along with working for my BA in English. I’ve taken Creative Writing, Technical Writing, and tons of classes about various eras in writing and novelization. Having edited a wide range of things from novels to church newsletters to business reports, I can see how to improve my own writing, just by seeing the wide range of how people write, and improving my style based on what I’ve learned from others. I’ve gone from a rather stiff writing style, to one that is starting to flow.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
CLIFF BALL: It really depends. I don’t write outlines, but I am finding that I should probably start. I usually write in a notebook by hand, and then transition to typing it and finishing it on the computer. I only write when I have inspiration. So, some days, I can write for three or four hours, others, sometimes only for twenty minutes. The Usurper, for example, is the only novel I’ve ever written completely on the computer.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
CLIFF BALL: I read a lot of Harry Turtledove, because I enjoy his what-if novels. What-if the US and the CSA split, but was at continual war with each other all the way to WW2? What-if the prime time-line of World War 2 was interrupted by an alien invasion. I also like Eric Flint and his Ring of Fire series. I think it’s cool that he managed to work in 20th century West Virginians and 16th century Europeans, and had various historical characters have to work around these intruders from the future. I also like S.M. Stirling and his novels of The Change. While I’m not usually into the whole Middle Ages Renaissance Faire kind of thing, he makes it entertaining, since 20th century people get their technology taken away, and some of them become witches, lords, and maidens, etc. Then, throughout the series, there’s rumors of some kind of presence on Nantucket, along with some dark, mysterious forces in Montana. The main character goes on the classic hero journey to find out why all of this technology was taken away 20 years earlier. So, in essence, I inspire to be as entertaining of a writer as these three men, and weave history into a great fictional tale.
DAVID WISEHART: What have you done to market and promote your work?
CLIFF BALL: I’ve promoted on Myspace, Facebook, Goodreads, Kindleboards, Twitter, my own website, Authors Den, and as many other places as I can find online that has readers and other authors. I have created free press releases online, but I should probably also send them to newspapers. I’ve done Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and Myspace Ads. Unfortunately, with a rather limited budget, I can’t promote my works as much as I’d like to.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
CLIFF BALL: My straight to the point answer is: because Amazon sells a lot, almost everyone buys ebooks through Amazon, and it makes sense to be on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
CLIFF BALL: Make absolutely sure you set up your Word or PDF file to format right on Kindle, because it comes out looking much differently than you would think. Since I set-up The Usurper completely myself, it took me three times before I finally managed to get it to format properly, and not look like I had huge blank spots between paragraphs, or weird starts to paragraphs. I would suggest formatting it following the Smashwords style guide, but don’t format it completely that way, unless you use Smashwords too.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.