Author Timothy Ellis lives on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia; where he constantly battles with his cat for possession of his desk chair, Daleks do guard duty, and he keeps his sonic screwdriver next to his lightsaber and wand. His first novel, ‘Hero at Large’, spawning the long running ‘The Hunter Legacy’ universe, brings together his love of the space genre, spirituality, and cats.
When did you first start writing fiction?
2014. I sat down one day to get 20 years of accumulated ideas out of my head before I went totally mad. The major scenes in my first 2 books were all in there, and constantly replaying all the time. Book 1 was released in 2015, with the next 4 books 4-6 weeks apart, although I’ve settled down to a slower speed these days.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Paper or eBook?
I read what I write. Space Opera and Fantasy. Medieval and future. Space battles and Magic. But living in Australia, I had no idea what was really out there until I met Kindle. So many good books which never made it to Australian shelves.
Until 2013 I was a confirmed paperback reader. Although having an IT background, the eReader passed me by, until I went to India for a month, and needed reading material. Taking all the Game of Thrones books was a non-starter because of space and weight, and I reluctantly looked around and bought an Ipad Mini. I purchased the GoT complete books Kindle, and haven’t looked back since. The Ipad Mini was perfect for me, relieving the neck and arm pain I’d been having for years while holding up paper books. And it started me down the path to publishing on Kindle.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I really don’t think like that. Nor do I think in terms of stand alone books anymore. Most of what I read now are series. And I read what I enjoy, without any concern of what other people think.
The series which really made me think maybe I could write, was Nathan Lowell’s ‘Solar Clipper’ series, which was life in space, without the end of the world imperative so common to Space Opera. He wrote a series where nothing much of a major nature happens, but it’s such compelling reading I wasn’t able to put any of the books down. And because it’s not space battle based, I’d say it’s probably a very under-appreciated series for how good it really is.
Of your books, which is your personal favorite? Why?
This is really hard to answer. I totally failed at trying to write a stand alone book, so picking 1 book out of 4 series is difficult. I enjoy writing what I do so much, each new one tends to be the new favourite.
Having said that, Jane’s Christmas was a total delight to write, because while it’s only a novella, I laughed my way all the way through it. On the surface it’s just Christmas day in space, but when an AI plans the day, and your main character’s day unravels as everyone expects him to know what’s going on and he’s clueless, almost anything can happen, and does. A lot of people skip over it because it’s not on the series page because of being too short, and this is sad because it does have a few things in it which are important to know later on in the series.
Yesterday’s Spacemage is always going to be a favourite, because it was my first real step outside Space Opera, and into Fantasy, by doing what some say can’t be done, and merging magic with high tech. It was a book people loved, with an ending people hated, and resulted in a very successful trilogy. I broke the mold by going from a high tech main character to a low tech magician thrust into a high tech society, who didn’t really care about the tech. Since then, I’ve been moving towards merging magic and tech much more in my current series.
You can make one LitRPG book (not your own) a movie. Which is it and why?
I think it’s already been done. Ready Player One would seem to be it. I go back to that movie all the time, and while I was cr*p at adventure games, this movie generates the same feel I had back in the early 80’s playing them.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
There are 2 kinds of writer’s block.
The first is an overactive ego sabotaging the writing, and a lack of motivational work-arounds to get writing started in each session. When the words don’t come, I write something else. Like author interviews, answering Quora questions, or I edit. Writing anything starts the flow.
The second is health related, and especially medication based. Some meds mess with your head. They can interrupt the connection between ideas and the ability to type out the words. So while you feel blocked, it has a medical reason for happening.
Are you an outliner or pantser?
Totally pantser. I start with a premise, an idea of where the book is going, and a few waypoints to hit on the way. I’m not too concerned about taking detours, and I listen to my characters. They know what they want to do and say, and it’s my job to record it all faithfully. The journey is the whole point, and all the fun.
Here’s my thing: Tell me the plot of a book in the blurb, and I will never read it. Likewise, if I actually knew where I was going in any book, I’d never write it.
At the end of the day, “Do the thing!” is much more important than what the thing was intended to be.
What is your writing process like?
I mainly write at night, beginning by editing what I wrote the previous night, before continuing straight on. When I do get stuck, I go back and edit some more, so by the time I’ve completed the book, what is there is very clean writing. I do an editing pass to make sure it hangs together, and then throw it to my Kindle app, and read it like someone else’s book, until I cant find any goofs. The editing process rarely takes more than a week now, during which I let my Facebook group know the book is on its way, and when I think it’s ready, I release it and let it go. More often than not, a fan tells me the URL first. I always get the jitters after a book goes live, so the next few days tend to be a bit discordant, but the aim is to be writing the next book within a week. I aim for a book every 6 weeks, but in recent times with the health issues I have, it’s slid to 3 monthly.
How many hours a day do you write?
On a good day, about 5 hours. On a bad day, 1 hour. My health issues tend to make each day different, but I’m aiming for 3000 words written each day. Sometimes I do better, other days worse. Hours don’t really matter. When you’re in the zone, time passes. How much isn’t really important. When I come to the end of the current train of thought, I backup, and go to bed.
My best day ever was 20,000 words in about 16 hours. Average is probably 3 hours. But the hours are less important than how many words came out during them.
Share a photo of your workspace and tell us about it?
I long ago adjusted to ergonomics, so my work area is totally customized for me. My chair is old and well fought over with my cat, and way to comfortable to replace. I work off two widescreen monitors, with an old one for any overflow. Computer is the top end Surface Pro 3, using 2 cooling fans, as I run it non-stop from get up to bedtime, and that model has a heating issue. Ipad Mini for editing, and distraction reading. The U shaped desk area isn’t actually big enough. Bluetooth mouse and keyboard. I’m ambimoustrous, so mouse with my left hand and write with my right. Rapid hunt and peck with both. The work area is about writing and communicating. And as the guy on the wall never said, “Today IS a good day to write!”
Who are some of your favorite authors of all time?
Of all time? That’s a lot of time. I’ve read widely all my life, without having any real favourite authors.
Key books like Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Niven/Pournelle’s Mote in God’s Eye stick out as early milestones I still read today. Moon’s Vatta and Serrano series were important for me, as was Feist’s Magician series. And as I said before, Nathan Lowell’s solar clipper series. Zahn has done some good ones, as has Modessitt Jr. (especially his Imager Portfolio). In recent times, Glynn Stewart has joined this list, as has Annie Bellet, and JK Rowling. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy was major for me as well.
But I don’t think I’ve read everything of any one author.
All time though? Has to be Douglas Adams.
If you could be trapped inside any video game, which one would it be?
Video game? Heaven forbid!
Now if you’re talking serious sandpit space simulations, Egosoft’s X3 trilogy was made for me. I could definitely live there. And thrive. Assuming I didn’t die on day 1, flying some flea trap. I hate starting from scratch. Which is why I started modding.
Where do you get your ideas?
An ascended future version of me channels them to me. At least I think it’s me. And it might be a past version of me who lived in the future, now channeling me what I will write, so it does get written. And no, that doesn’t confuse me.
Sci-fi and Fantasy, and the development of computers, have been a driving force in my life. So what comes out is the result of thinking about what went in, over a long period of time.
But I mainly listen to my characters. Some of the most unexpected moments in my books are characters telling me they want to do or say something different. Like the MC who decides not to kill the bad guy, and the sidekick who comes along and shoots him anyway. Never saw that coming. Likewise some of my most funny writing simply gushed out from the characters themselves.
It is a key thing for me though. I write character oriented stories, which have a plot. Not plot oriented stories with characters. Subtle distinction. But really important. There is a lot of good plot based series out there I don’t read.
What are your thoughts on how VR will affect the future of humanity?
VR? Passing level of escapism. While I can see Ready Player One happening, I don’t believe it will define humanity.
Where it leads is more important. True Artificial Intelligence, computers in your head, holographics, and such, are all of much more interest to me.
As a species, we are on a collision course with extinction. Things like VR might make the final swansong of the species a little more enjoyable, but the true story is about using this sort of tech to leave the planet behind, or fix the damage we did before it’s too late.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve wished for VR a lot over the years, and it will take computer games to a whole new level, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a diversion from reality. And either we as a species address the reality, or we hide in VR waiting for the end.
Then again, my attitude has always been, don’t tell me the world’s ending, I’ll wait for the movie.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Every book is different. For some, I’ve done a lot. Others, none at all. Things like rank structures and insignia in book 4 for example, took a while. I’m making up most of what I use, but where it needs to conform, I research it.
Anything military based has to be acceptable to those who served in a military, and so before you create something, you have to know what was done before. And this often involves a lot of development over centuries, all of which may or may not be important.
Given I’m based 600 years in the future, not a lot needs any real research. But when it does, I do it as I need to do it, not before starting a book.
First video game memory?
I actually pre-date video games. I played the first tv boxes where you moved an oblong up and down to make the ball bounce. You could only call it a video game by exaggerating. My first computer game experience was being smuggled into a university mainframe, to play a text version of Star Trek. I went the Apple II route, so I played the original adventure game on there, and started writing my own, leading me to uni to learn programming a few years later. I was never much into arcade games, going PC instead of Mac, and preferring games where strategy and tactics were needed.
What can fans expect from you next?
The current series has 2 more books planned, one of which is in progress now, and is a second Dreamwalker story, before concluding this part of Jon Hunter’s story. Once the initial 6 books are complete, the series will become open ended, having provided me with a base universe structure with a huge range of characters, which I can add to however I like in the future. I already have an idea for a stand alone to follow.
The next project is a six book series which is a bit Spacemage NextGen, which will continue merging magic and high tech, while still being life in space.
4 series in, 2 galaxies to play in, and 3000 years across 2 timelines, I think I’m only just finishing the prologue of what’s to come.
Anything else you would like to add?
I set out to get a head full of future stuff out, and called it Space Opera at the time. But in actual fact, I’ve been writing more akin to Space Fantasy, with it getting slowly more fantasy based as I went along. I try to write a rollicking yarn rather than good literature.
After Yesterday’s Spacemage came out, and totally blew me away with it’s success, someone told me it was bordering on LitRPG. I had no idea what that was. I’m still not sure I understand it, or GameLit. But it seems I’ve been writing both, or something close to it, from the beginning.
Hero at Large, my first book, was reviewed as being like a computer game. I’m not sure the reviewer thought this was a good thing though, but I am heavily influenced by all the space combat games I played over the years, and this comes out in my first five books, in the form of kill counts, rank promotions, asset accumulation, and making money, the same way as a character levels up in computer games from missions taken.
But as my first series went on, it moved to 4x style, where building the empire took over, and with each new series, the empire became a universe. So my early books were fighter based, moving into capital ships and large fleet combat, followed by running a small empire, a human space spanning war, and its fallout.
Ironically, several reviewers were so unhappy with the end to my first series, they called it a “Gamer Reset”, which was never my intention. Series 2 goes off into a different galaxy. Series 3 goes back in time. And it’s only now, in the 4th series, have I shown it was never about a reset, just returning things to an earlier time line, before higher beings began meddling, and a completely new start.
I write life in space, which includes naked spa baths, puking in the bathroom, and endless emails. At times, this is pure space opera. At others it’s soft military, and others a mixing with fantasy. Book to book, I change things up. A lot. The first series has both spiritual and supernatural components, and I dared to suggest the military solution wasn’t going to work after all, and used a spiritual solution instead.
So genre tags like SO, SF, F, Sci-fi, and of more interest here, LitRPG and GameLit, are not something I think about while I’m writing. It’s up to the reader to figure out if they like my universe or not. And where they think it fits.