You know those writers that live the dream and get to write for a living while overlooking magical views? Well, Nicholas C. Rossis is one of these writers. He lives in a cottage on “the edge of a magical forest in Athens, Greece.” When he isn’t busy writing children’s books, he’s writing epic fantasy novels or short sci-fi stories. If it sounds like the life, that’s because it is.
Let’s see what Rossis had to say during our interview with him:
So, Nicholas, you were born in Athens, Greece but you actually grew up in a remote, forested area called Dionysus. What was that like? Do you feel that your early experiences and your environment have had a lasting impact on your writing?
Oh, absolutely. The past is never too far from the surface in Greece. Even in Dionysus, where I grew up—so called because of the ancient Sanctuary to Dionysus (Bacchus). I have a friend who was running through our local forest and his foot fell into a hole, that turned out to be a Classical-era grave. This sort of thing happens all the time around here. It’s why it can be a nightmare to build in Athens—you are bound to come across some remains or others the moment that shovel hits the ground.
Pearseus, my fantasy/sci-fi series, is directly influenced by Ancient Greek history. I had just finished Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, when I picked up Jim Lacey’s The First Clash, which describes the battle on Marathon between Greece and Persia in the 5th century BC.
Marathon Bay is a 20’ drive from my home, and I’d often visited the tomb where the ancient Athenians buried their dead, so I thought at the time, “wouldn’t it be great if someone did what Martin did for medieval England, only with the story of Greece vs. Persia? And in space? How cool would that be?” Then it occurred to me: so, what’s stopping me from writing it?
On Goodreads, you said that your children’s book, Runaway Smile, was actually the first book that you wrote (although it was not published until later) at the suggestion of a friend. Did working on this project spark your desire to become an author, or has the love of writing always been with you?
Runaway Smile was my first book to be written, but I had already penned a few short stories, a couple of which had been published in Greece. So, the desire had already been sparked.
I have a rich dream life. Around 2008, I had this dream where I was explicitly told, “It’s time to write.” Then, in my dream, a gold nugget fell from the sky and jumped into my mouth. I took this to represent some sort of inspiration.
Don’t think my subconscious is all fun and gold nuggets, though. Soon after finishing my first book, I had this dream where I showed someone my manuscript. They read it and bluntly said, “you’re a third rate writer.”
“Third rate?” I gasped.
“Sure,” they said with a shrug. “First rate are people like Hemingway, King or Shakespeare. Second rate are all those who are much better writers than you. People who’ve been at it for ages. And then there’s you. Third rate.”
Turns out my subconscious is quite the critic. So, I’m now happy to be a second rate writer.
On your blog you tell a wonderful story about your dad reading your manuscript without actually knowing it was written by you. How did he react when you told him?
Oh, that’s right! I stop where I told him, but don’t mention his reaction. Which was hilarious, actually. There was this awkward, prolonged pause. I could practically hear the cogs turning in his head.
“Dad? You still there?” I asked after a while.
“Well, aren’t you glad I didn’t know about it before I gave you my opinion?” he asked in his ever-practical manner.
I briefly considered asking him just how he thought I came across an unpublished manuscript? Did he think I found it on the a park bench or something?
Instead, all I could say was, “Sure dad, that’s great. Thanks.”
He’s so sweet, though, because next thing you know he’s gushing about how brilliant it was. He’s such a sweetheart, really. Just like one of those candies that are rock-hard outside, and all gooey inside.
Your fantasy series, Pearseus, combines elements of ancient Greek myths and culture with sci-fiction and fantasy. Was it hard to combine the old and with the new?
Actually, writing it was great fun. Vigil, the third book, starts off with an old-fashioned siege and ends up with a big lightsaber battle, including airships and an ion bomb, before returning to good old swords, so the sci-fi element does become prominent in places.
The real problem turned out to be marketing. There is no specific genre for works that combine these two elements that I’m aware of, even though mine is hardly the only book to do so. For example, David Wind is an author whose excellent Nevaeh series has a similar premise. And Planet of the Apes can, arguably, be described as sci-fi meeting fantasy.
Perhaps we should call it the “Planet of the Apes” genre?
What do you like most about the sci-fi and fantasy genres?
The freedom they give one’s imagination. In my outlook to the world, I try to emulate children (that is why I enjoy writing children’s books as well). Children have this wonderful ability to look at a piece of wood and imagine all sorts of amazing things and stories. The world is a place of endless wonder to them. That sense of awe is what I’m trying to recreate in my works, and I’ve found it’s much easier to do so through sci-fi and fantasy—or children’s books.
What is your writing process like? Do you like to plan everything out or make it up as you go? Do you schedule your writing time or do you write when inspiration hits?
It depends. With my novels, I do have a broad story arc in mind when I start writing, but little more than that. You see, I started writing Pearseus with a clear outline. I then discovered, to my great frustration, that even when I do plan things well in advance, my characters take over and throw me one curveballs after another. In the end, I gave up trying to shoehorn them into the story, and now I just let them dictate the story.
With my short stories, it’s different. I usually sit down having the story in its entirety in my head. I do make changes, but they’re usually far less dramatic. I mean, in Pearseus, I had a hero die on me! I had planned his next moves and everything, and the silly bastard goes and dies on me. It took me weeks to sort out the mess.
You also have written several books of short stories (The Power of Six and Infinite Waters) that often question the nature of reality and explore philosophical ideas, what inspired you to focus on these themes?
I come from a religious family, so I grew up with stories of angels, saints and demons. Nothing was too fanciful to be dismissed out of hand. This had the side-effect of making me see the world as a place where a miracle is just a prayer away.
Growing up like that makes you see the world as a place where nothing is as it seems. So, I now have this constant urge to poke and prod until either the world reveals itself to me, or I’m satisfied there’s nothing behind the facade.
How was the publishing experience for you? Did you go it alone or did you get help?
At first, I tried doing everything myself. Then, I enlisted help from friends. In the end, I realized I needed professional help. So, I now pay for editing, proofreading and cover design—things I thought at first I could do on my own.
I think it depends a lot on why one writes. If it is to simply share a story, then they can get away with a less than stellar book cover, for example. If, however, they want to turn writing into a profession, then they need to compete against professionals—people who’ve been doing this for ages. The only way to do this is by hiring professionals to help you.
What lessons have you learned the “hard” way?
Lol—just see above. Realizing I wasn’t nearly as good an editor, proofreader or designer as I thought was a slap on my ego. However, the end result more than justifies going the extra mile (and the inevitable expenses).
What have you found to be the best way to market your books?
Through discounts and freebies. Having multiple titles is the only way to do this effectively, though. I have plenty of posts on book marketing where I share everything I’ve found out. I even have a step-by-step explanation of everything I did to have five of my books reach #1 on their Amazon genre.
How do you find your courage? A lot of new writers are scared of putting themselves out there to be judged. So much so, that many of them never even take the first step. What advice would you give to them?
Lol—I was recently writing about that. As Seinfeld puts it,
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Now imagine giving said speech in front of the whole world. Because, you know, that’s what publishing really is. A friend likens the experience to running naked in the middle of town, shouting, “Wee, look at me!”
Mercifully, it gets easier with time. That first scathing review hurts. It stays in your head for days. Weeks. Even months. But eventually you learn to move on, and focus on the positive ones. Then, someone tells you how your words touched them. Your spirits soar. The sun smiles on you once again.
So, yes, sharing your work can be the greatest and scariest thing on Earth—both at once. As to how I do it, I have my wife, my friends and my readers to thank for their encouragement. All of my books have ratings between 4.3 and 4.8, and the kind feedback I receive gives me the courage to go on. That’s why I always acknowledge them in my books—they are the wind beneath my wings.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I seem to work best under pressure, so I’m working on a number of things. Musiville, my second children’s book, will be released within the next few days. It’s a fun book, with wonderful illustrations by the extremely talented Dimitris Fousekis. The premise is unusual, too:
A group of animals has evolved into musical instruments. Or is it the other way around? Whichever the case, they have now formed their own little village: Musiville.
And bands. Lots and lots of bands. Each playing its own tune. When the resulting clamor attracts an unexpected guest, Musiville’s very survival is at stake.
Who can save the village from this new threat?
At the same time, I’m writing more short stories for my third collection, to be published next year. I’m also about one-third into Endgame; the final book in the Pearseus series. And a non-fiction help book for writers, with sample beats (brief descriptions that pepper dialogues) to help them show emotion in a “show-not-tell” manner.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?
Just my love and appreciation! As I said above, I wouldn’t be here without them. They are all wonderful, and I wish I could hand-deliver some of my wife’s awesome cookies to each and every one of them. Sadly I can’t, which is why I have to eat all those cookies myself. Sigh…
If you would like to know more about Nicholas C. Rossis, please check out his website, Twitter, and Facebook. Also, check out his Amazon, to pick up his books. His award-winning children’s book, Runaway Smile, is also available for free here.
Don’t miss out! Pearseus: Rise of the Prince (book 1 of the fantasy series) will be free on November 30th on Amazon!
Three hundred years after humans crash land on Pearseus, Styx, the Capital’s cruel ruler, learns of a dark prophecy: Cyrus, a young boy, will one day slay her. She imprisons him, but days before his execution he escapes with the help of the First, the planet’s native inhabitants. On their way to safety, nightmarish monsters attack. Cyrus flees, scared and alone, until a pair of First warriors rescue him and spirit him away to the mysterious Old Woman.
All Cyrus wants is to reunite with his family. But the Old Woman insists Cyrus is the foretold instrument in the First’s ancient war against a shadowy enemy who will stop at nothing to prevent him from fulfilling his destiny. Heart and mind war within Cyrus as he must choose between rejoining his family and preventing humanity’s extinction.
Rise of the Prince is the first book of the Amazon genre best-selling series, Pearseus.