We’ve done a couple dozen author interviews over the last year or so, and I thought it was finally time for me to step out from behind the curtain for a bit to answer some questions of my own Ramon Meija style! As an ex-romance author who discovered LitRPG around 2016, my only regret is not moving into the genre earlier. Keep reading to learn more about me, Paul Bellow.
When did you first start writing fiction?
My first real memory of being a writer is from my time as a fourth grader. I was younger than the other students because of my birthday landing on a weird date, but that wasn’t the only difference between me and my classmates. I’m not sure how it started, but I ended writing a “book” – Pac Man time travel fan-fiction.
The teacher was so impressed, she helped me with a special project to “bind” my story (with illustrations) into a “book.” Basically, we used yarn to attach the sheets of lined paper to a cardboard cover. Unfortunately, I lost track of that Pac Man book over the years, but it shows I was thinking about LitRPG before the genre even had a name! Small smile.
Fast forward a few years, and my next memory is around 11 or 12 years old and writing three whole chapters of a mega fantasy novel called … wait for it… Tower of Gates. The book was awful, of course. An aunt I suckered into reading it said I went a little too far with my descriptions of goblins. Another relative had mentioned I could use more description, and I went a bit overboard.
I never finished that first version of Tower of Gates, but the idea of a tower with gates to other worlds stuck with me over the years. After puberty hit, I slipped from genre fiction to literary stuff. During this period, I spent a lot of time writing poetry and short stories. A few of which were published in small literary journals that existed pre-internet.
A couple horrible “literary” novels came out of me during this period too. When I realized it was difficult to make money as a fiction writer back then (pre-Amazon KDP), I wandered into journalism where I stayed for almost a decade until I became disillusioned with corporate America. I tried other things to stay self-employed after I left Gannett, including copywriting.
Around 2012, I published my first book on Kindle Direct Publishing… and it sold very few copies. Undeterred, I looked into what was selling – genre fiction. I gave up my lofty goals for the next great American novel and taught myself to write genre fiction. The first attempts were horrible, but back in 2013 it was easy to sell on Amazon.
Since that time, I’ve gradually focused more and more on self-publishing over my other side businesses. My life changed – for the better – in 2016 when I first heard about LitRPG. My mind immediately went back to Guardians of the Flame and my own Tower of Gates book. I hesitated a year because I was making so much money with romance, but I hated it.
January 2017, I launched my LitRPG career, starting up LitRPG Reads and LitRPG Forum a few months later. Tower of Gates hasn’t been a blockbuster by any stretch of imagination, BUT I’ve had so much fun writing it. At the end of the day, being happy is more important to me than money. I loved LitRPG so much, I left romance and the good money behind.
Do I regret it? Not at all. The LitRPG community has been great, and I actually love to work again.
What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Paper or eBook?
Both! Haha. Sly question, Mr. Bellow. Well played!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
For LitRPG, it would have to be one of the original Soft-LitRPG series – Guardians of the Flame. No, the books aren’t perfect, but they were the very early forerunners of the LitRPG we have today. If you haven’t checked them out, I recommend you do. They’re dark, but they scratch that gamer itch. The first few are even available on Kindle Unlimited. You’ll have to hunt down the other ones which can be an adventure all on its own!
Of your books, which is your personal favorite? Why?
This would have to be my magnum opus literary novel that sold about a dozen copies. I really opened up in that one and shared my mind with readers. The process of writing this one was also very cathartic. On the LitRPG side, Core Punk is my new personal favorite. I’ve put a lot into this novel over the last several months.
You can make one LitRPG book (not your own) a movie. Which is it and why?
Tough one! I’m going to fall back to Guardians of the Flame. That would make a great series on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Not really. One of the things I picked up from Henry Miller years ago was that when you can’t write, you can still work on writing. Basically, if I can’t find the muse, I turn to other things like marketing, outlining, editing, or anything related to writing. Another trick I’ve used is to stop mid sentence. The next day, I have a good way to ease me back into the action. Honestly, if you have a scene outline done, there’s really no reason to not be writing. That said, I’ve had days where depression or the stress of normal life have made it difficult to sit my butt in the chair and get the words out.
Are you an outliner or pantser?
I was a pantser early in my career (over a decade ago), but I’ve come to enjoy using outlines. I start with a broadstrokes outline that is maybe one or two sentences per chapter. This allows me to settle on where the major beats will appear in the book. After this, I do another outline where each chapter is broken down step by step. This usually ends up being 200 to 300 words per chapter.
What is your writing process like?
I’m terrible with discipline. While I don’t have a set time I like to write during the day, I do strive to reach my daily word goals most of the time. That said, I’m definitely more of a night owl. I usually get most of my writing done late at night.
When starting a new book, I do a broadstrokes outline first, making sure I hit all my major beats in the number of chapters I have planned out. Next, I break down the scenes in another outline in a Word file. Day by day, word by word, I work my way through the outline.
One thing I should mention is that I sometimes stray from the initial outline a bit. I try to make them loose enough to allow me to do this. There’s been more than once that I’ve needed to change something once I got to know my characters a little better.
How many hours a day do you write?
Not enough! Heh. Seriously, as many as it takes. I’m trying to move back to a 5k words per day schedule, but it’s a battle. I think my longest day was 12+ hours to write over 10,000 words. I don’t recommend doing that often. Slow and steady wins the race!
Share a photo of your workspace and tell us about it?
My humble hovel. Word cave? Office seems so boring. Seriously, though, this is where I plop down every day. I’ve since taken the sticky notes off my wall, but my set-up’s basically the same. Funnily enough, I have that fancy desk in the corner, but I’ve been working on a card table for a few years now. Keeps me humble? Small smile.
Who are some of your favorite authors of all time?
Ooh. This is a tough one. I’ve been going through Guardians of the Flame again. While I loved it as a teen, I can see faults with his writing style. It was his first novel, though, so he’s definitely on my short list. Philip Jose Farmer is another favorite with his Riverworld series. I loved Piers Anthony growing up too.
Outside of genre fiction, I read a lot of foreign literary works in my teens and twenties – Dostoevsky, Hesse, Singer, et al. Henry Miller is my favorite 20th century American writer. Say what you will about him, he had a voice that reached out from the book, grabbed you by the throat, and got your damn attention!
Thanks to hand-me-downs from my father (an engineer really into hard-scifi), I read a lot of other classics like Asimov, Herbert, Bradbury, Heinlein, Orson Scott Card, and others. I strayed into fantasy more heavily after discovering The Hobbit. So many favorite authors. It’s hard to list them all.
Where do you get your ideas?
Most of my good ones come while I’m in the tub. I think it has to do with just sitting there in a pool of water and not being distracted by anything. One of the problems I’ve dealt with as a writer over the years is too many ideas. This might sound crazy, but it’s possible to have too many ideas.
What I’ve learned to do is not write down every idea right away. Usually, if the idea’s good enough, it’ll stick around in my head a while. Those ideas that are still around after a few months are the ones that get written down. Still, I end up with many more ideas than I have time to write.
What are your thoughts on how VR will affect the future of humanity?
Could be good or bad. I’m in the camp that worries AI might surpass humans and find us not relevant anymore. That advanced AI could make virtual reality seem completely real which could be dangerous. If people are getting addicted to games now, just think what’ll happen in ten or twenty years when the “games” become indistinguishable from reality. Mankind has a lot of hurdles moving deeper into the Information Age.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
If there’s something I don’t know a lot about – forging weapons, for example – I’ll spend some time researching. It’s easy to get sidetracked and wander too far down rabbit holes, so I try to limit my research. I did spend quite a bit of time researching “Roguelike” by playing Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. Maybe too much time!
First video game memory?
I’m outing myself here, but my best friend’s parents had Pong. He was the first in the neighborhood to get an Atari 2600. I remember our utter and extreme disappointment when the Atari Pac Man looked nothing like the box or the arcade game! Still, we spent many hours with those basic games. Yes, our parents fell for the hype and bought us E.T. the game.
These days, I spend a lot of time playing Zero-K (a free RTS that’s the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation), and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup for my quick RPG fix. Games are so addictive, so I try to play ones where I can get in and out without a huge time commitment. That said, I’ve had my eye on Divinity Original Sin 1 and 2 for a while now.
What can fans expect from you next?
More books! I’m getting ready to launch Core Punk, the first of a new Sci-Fi LitRPG series I’ve been working on since late last year. Frank Albelo and I got into a discussion about Frostpunk on Facebook, and the rest is history.
After this novel is out, I’ll likely start working on Tower of Gates book 7, a Tower of Gates standalone, or Gear Punk. I did tell you have I problem with too many ideas, right?
What is the current named order of books you’re writing (or going to write) in the Tower of Gates series?
Here’s the current line-up for Tower of Gates. (Go big or go home!)
Tower of Gates Standalones
Chronicles of the Core
- Core Punk
- Gear Punk
- News Punk
Anything else you would like to add?
Paul Bellow is a fine fellow for doing these! All kidding aside, I’d like to thank the LitRPG community as a whole. This includes the authors and readers I’ve met over the last few years.
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