Okay… I know… I have already interviewed E.L. once before. But you know, that was a different website. A different blog. A different time. And honestly, it feels like a lifetime ago. So. That said.
Hey Y’all! This week I am picking my friend E.L. Haines’ brain. He has written several books and is one of the first fellow writers I’ve befriended who introduced me to the incredibly supportive world of Indie writers. The first book I read was Carried Away, and while I have read and enjoyed all of Haines’s books, it remains one of my favorites. My second favorite, entirely because we get a much closer look at the main character of all his books, is Stranger Back Home, a Fantasy novel heavy on humor and irony.
•Thank you for agreeing to appear on this new site and blog, my friend. I’m truly honored to get to interview you once again. Please give me a synopsis of Stranger Back Home.
A traveling storyteller is summoned back home for the reading of his father’s will, only to discover that his father was involved in political intrigue, spycraft, and perhaps some light terrorism. His father’s secrets are hidden in a security box at the bank–which everyone wants to get their hands on.
•Tell me, what inspired you to tell this particular story?
Sparrow was conceived as a fantasy character in a fantasy world, but so far his stories have all taken place in our world. I thought it was time for him to return to his roots – and perhaps give my audience the answers to some of their questions about his mysterious background.
•Is the main character, or one of the main characters, inspired by someone you know in real life?
He was created in a D&D campaign, which means he is most likely a self-insert. Readers have noticed similarities between his personality and my own.
•Granted, I’ve not yet met you in person, but we have talked a great deal as we worked on our projects or shared them with each other, so I definitely see Sparrow as a mirror of yourself in some ways. Is this intentional on your part?
It’s natural to write in my native voice, with my native personality. In many ways, Sparrow is the person I currently am, in the situations that I wish I could find myself in–usually just in settings or time periods that are no longer available to us.
•Please share a memorable snippet from Stranger Back Home:
Undoubtedly, the “stabby tango” scene is the most well-received scene in the book. It’s a little-known secret that I performed in a dance troupe during my undergraduate college years, whilst simultaneously taking lessons in Aikido. It was with this eclectic background that I was able to compose and choreograph a dancing scene with real, present risk of bodily injury.
•I know there was a bit of controversy within this book. While I know other interviewers have discussed this particular controversy with you, do you intentionally use news topics, or societal trends and challenges in your writing? Why or why not?
Fantasy is an excellent means of inspecting current social issues, by removing them from our own context and allowing us to truly view them objectively. The issue of blackface, as it was used in minstrel shows, is a perfect example. We seem unable, in our current society, to interpret the use of costumes and make-up through any lens but a demeaning one, even though minstrel shows are entirely obsolete and haven’t been performed in my lifetime, my parents’ lifetime, nor my grandparents’ lifetime. It’s unreasonable to use this 1848 lens to critique 2021 culture, and this is why I chose this example, removed it from the context of our American conversations, and discussed it in a more impartial and objective setting.
•Since Stranger Back Home, you have also released another Sparrow adventure (Shaken& Stirred), this one taking place on a cruise ship. Will you be returning Sparrow to his home again in future works, or is he to remain in our world?
I’m currently working on the sequel to Stranger Back Home, wherein Sparrow is visiting his estranged mother to find out the contents of the mysterious security box that was left behind by his enigmatic father.
As you know, I have enjoyed ALL of your books. I am a big fan of Sparrow. But in Stranger Back Home, while Sparrow is the focal point, some of the other characters are pretty memorable as well. Were any of the secondary characters fun for you to write? Why?
I truly enjoyed writing the transformation of one of my side characters: the black driver, named Colburn. (For the record, Colburn was named after Morgan Freeman’s character in “Driving Miss Daisy.”) In my book, he starts off as shy, and obsequious. After all, his primary role is in the public transportation industry, and he maintains a polite and professional demeanor which Sparrow mistakes for racial submission. But the more he gets to know (and respect) Sparrow, the bolder he becomes, until by the end of the book he can confront Sparrow’s subliminal racism and explain that inter-racial imitation is not necessarily an aggression, but most often an appreciation of diversity.
•Seems like a common sense point, but I know it remains a touchy subject. Your books focus on Sparrow, and so are largely character driven. Sticking with one MC across these books, has that made character development easier or harder?
It’s hard to write personality development for a protagonist who is so obviously a self-insert. Although I have certainly developed as a person throughout my life, it’s rare to identify any significant personal development that occurred during the writing of a novel. This is a weakness that I think is common in first person narration.
•For Stranger Back Home, taking place in a different world, what was world-building like? How does that world compare to our own?
The fantasy world of Stranger Back Home was drawn from the role-playing campaigns that I played with my university friends whilst studying in Egypt. One of my friends created the setting of DragonsMouth, a city covered in a transparent dome to protect it from dragon attacks, but I developed that city’s background and nuance (such as the inevitable air pollution that would be contained under the dome).
As I’ve already mentioned, this fantasy world contains an entirely different history of racial relations and tension, and I hope that readers will both learn from this world’s cultural victories and avoid its mistakes.
•As indie writers, we rely on many tools (books, apps, programs, etc) to write and prepare to publish. What is the most useful tool you use when writing or preparing to launch your book? Why is it so valuable to you?
My two most valuable online resources are Abbie Emmons’ YouTube series about creating relatable characters and engrossing plots, and a mostly-obsolete website called Immerse-Or-Die, which identified all of the biggest mistakes that I often encounter in other books.
•Trust you to have resources I have never heard of. I will have to check them both out. Thank you. Have you ever stumbled on advice or a tip that you found to be useful in your writing journey?
See Immerse-Or-Die. His list of immersion-breakers is invaluable to any indie author.
Here’s the link to his list: https://creativityhacker.ca/2015/12/01/51-things-that-break-reader-immersion/
I would challenge any indie author to look at this list and not find themselves guilty of several infractions. I know that I’m often guilty of most of them.
•What is one thing you wish to express to readers who might enjoy your book?
Trust nothing that Sparrow says, or does.
•Haha! And yet, Sparrow is a trustworthy fellow. More of the irony that permeates your writing so well.
How do you connect with your existing readers?
Until now, my reader base is entirely formed of personal connections that I’ve made on social media. I don’t have any readers that I haven’t reached out to personally. So… don’t look to me for advice on marketing.
•What about new readers? What do you do to connect with readers who might enjoy your books?
I dunno, how did I meet you? I guess I chat with strangers on social media, offer review exchanges, or newsletter exchanges. I’m not good at this.
•I disagree. Your personal engagement is, in my opinion, an excellent way to connect with new readers. Had you not connected with me the way you did, I am not certain I would have discovered your books when I did. Your books tend to be tongue-in-cheek pokes at modern issues. Has this gained you readership? Have readers seemed to appreciate the jibes and provocation?
I like to think that I have gained the appreciation of open-minded readers, and gained the animosity of closed-minded readers. SBH was accused of micro-aggressions by another indie author of my acquaintance, and I’ve always felt that her (lengthy) review said more about her than it said about my book.
•I’d have to agree. Agreeing to disagree on any given topic these days seems non-existent. It is sad that a different of opinion on a subject can so completely twist a reader’s perspective on a book, but this is the world we live in now. Frankly, I applaud your efforts to bring awareness and reflection on topics that can be so divisive. It takes a kind of courage I certainly do not have. When you are not writing another Sparrow adventure, what do you do for fun?
I read. I read as I’m writing; I read as I’m traveling. Right now I’m reading Horatio Hornblower, because I’m in the Mediterranean trying to learn how to sail. I try to read in the same genre that I’m currently writing, and I have some fantasy books on my TBR to get me motivated to finish my fantasy sequel.
•Reading. Yes. One of the first pieces of advice I remember you giving me. Read. Read it all. And I have taken that advice to heart. As important as that hobby is to you, I know you also enjoy traveling. Among your travels, what is one place you’d love to visit again? Why?
Funny that you should ask this, because I’m currently re-visiting Tunisia, one of the few countries that I’ve ever gone back to. And I don’t want to give away any secrets, but if I’m successful in my mission here, you (and any Star Wars fans among your subscribers) are cordially invited to visit my wild project when it’s operational.
•Tunisia! Intriguing! And you sort of answer my next question, but I will ask it anyway… Has traveling affected the style of your writing?
I’ll just leave you with this Mark Twain quote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
•There is truth in that quote. Do you use social media to market or to connect with readers? If so, which site to you prefer to use? Why?
I currently enjoy X more than Facebook, because on X I am known as E.L. Haines and Facebook will not allow me a name change to reflect my published nom de plume. Also, it should be abundantly clear to everyone by now that only one platform encourages free speech and productive, transparent journalism.
•I am also finding I like X more and more. I mean, I have hated Facebook for a long time – it is so obviously NOT a proponent for free speech, and even completely benign posts can get a person in “trouble” – at some point, I will be forced to leave Facebook. I won’t miss it. Since publishing your very first book, what has been the most valuable thing you have learned as a self-published author?
This time I’ll leave you with an Ernest Hemingway quote, and simply suggest that rather than writing the next Game Of Thrones, you simply try to write a better book than your last one.
"Remember that there is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self."
•Ah… That is another good one. What has been most challenging as an indie author?
Marketing. But you already knew that.
•Yes. Marketing. Such a frustrating aspect to self-publishing. Sadly, the more I learn, the more like I seem to flounder at it. ::shrug:: I know you like to share your experience and knowledge with other indie writers, as you have with me, and for which I am tremendously grateful. What drives you to lend a hand to other writers?
Ha. At the risk of sounding completely and utterly self-serving, I only offer assistance to other writers so that I’ll end up with more quality reading material.
•okay… I laughed out loud at this response, because I appreciate your candor and because I agree. We Indie writers still have mountains of stigma to overcome, and just one careless author can really affect the bulk of us. (Nevermind the fact that there are plenty of traditionally published writers who are worse than most Indie writers anymore.) If one of your readers reached out to you asking about writing their own indie novel, and they wanted some advice from you, what would that advice be?
A successful story is 10% idea and 90% execution. Make sure you have both a setting AND a plot. Make your readers care about your protagonist.
And never, under any circumstances, write in present tense.
•Ah…. You still hate present tense. If you could give a shout-out to any fellow writers, now’s your chance. Give us their name, and a book by them that you read and enjoyed.
I’m frequently drawn to endearing-rogue protagonists, and if you similarly like these characters, I recommend the Boiling Seas books by Huw Steer.
•Where can readers buy Stranger Back Home?
Buy it directly from the author here: https://www.themockingbard.com/buy-stranger-back-home
•Thank you, friend, for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I look forward to your next books and more adventures with Sparrow. In the meantime, safe travels and happy writing!
Thank you for joining us for another interview. Be sure to get your hands on a copy of Stranger Back Home, and take a look at all the other Sparrow adventures. I know you will enjoy them.
I hope you join me again next time as I share a unique interview with my mother, a poet, author of The Songs of My Heart.