Today, we have an opportunity to talk to Alison McBain. Alison McBain has written the book,
The New Empire.
First, let me thank you for joining me. I appreciate you giving me your links and I want to share those with our readers.
The New Empire
“Write towards the fear.”
That is great. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to start writing?
Thanks, Jerry! I appreciate chatting with you today. I don’t even remember when I wasn’t putting pen to paper. I started my writing career at age four with a "self-published" horror story about the monster in the closet.
That's awesome! Bet the family served as your critics and fans?
The story was highly lauded by my closest family members. Since then, I've received a number of writing awards and accolades from people not even vaguely related to me, but I still have a soft spot for that first short story. I started my career with shorts, and while I’m now getting full-length novels published, I still like to sit down every now and then and dash off a story. They’re addictively fun to write since you can finish them in one sitting and don’t have the same slog as writing a book over the course of months, if not years.
Where do you get your inspiration, information, and ideas for books?
For me, inspiration is everywhere. I know writers will hate me for saying this, but I don’t know how NOT to be inspired by the world around me – there are always too many stories to write and not enough time.
"This is a business you have to love with your whole heart and soul before it loves you back. It will always be a slog from start to finish. Keep writing no matter what."
I agree. I have a whole journal filled with ideas I want to get to.
Research, however – that’s another matter. My latest book is an alternate history, so I had wade through stacks of books taller than I am in order to get everything as factually accurate as possible. (And I’m sure I still made a few mistakes.)
Book ideas are a bit more complicated. I’m a very straightforward type of person. I envy the writer who overwrites and has to cut back. I’m the opposite – I know where my story is going and head straight to the end without any twists or turns. THEN I have to go back and add all the extras that make a story fun and interesting. I don’t think my writing style would work well in the mystery genre – my book would simply have a Perry Mason ending, ha ha.
What are your hobbies and do they ever play into your writing?
I have a ton of hobbies, and while I put a bit of myself into every character, I’m not sure how many of my hobbies make it into my books. For example, I’ve never written about a character who can fold origami (learned from my Great Aunt Masako when I was six) or a protagonist who can play pool in a smoke-filled bar and knock down four balls in a row to win the game. Honestly, my hobbies are fun to do, but I make up more interesting people in my books because I find myself to be quite boring.
Write. Write! WRITE!!!
(laughs) True. True! TRUE!
If you want to do this as a full-time gig (or even a part-time gig), you have to actually do it. Don’t talk about writing, don’t just outline a story, but get your butt in that chair as many days as you can and fill up that blank page with words. They don’t have to be great words – they don’t even have to be good to start with – but if you write down enough stories, you’ll get there eventually. Be persistent and don’t give up, no matter how much rejection you face. This is a business you have to love with your whole heart and soul before it loves you back. It will always be a slog from start to finish. Keep writing no matter what.
Apart from "write, write, write!" what is the best advice you have ever been given as a writer?
More than a few years ago, I attended a one-day writer’s conference at Southern Connecticut State University. It was a free event put on by the college and had a variety of professors and graduating MFAs who were talking about their publishing experiences. While there was a fair amount of writing advice that was practical for newer writers, most were things that I already knew, having been in the business for a while.
Until one of the organizing professors took the stage. I wish I could remember who it was, but he said something that stuck with me, advice handed down from his own professor when he was in college. And it was this: “Write towards the fear.”
That struck me then as significant, and it still sticks with me today. It was a revelation about why some of my writing was much weaker than other pieces. To me, it means don’t shy away from what you’re afraid of. Don’t hesitate to write what you believe, what you feel, what you’ve experienced because it’s taboo or strange or you think no one can relate to it. Look fear in the face and put it down on the page. THAT’S where you will find your true voice, and that’s where you will find that what shocks and appalls you can be great literature.
Do you write full-time or around another job? How do you schedule your time to write?
I feel incredibly lucky that all of my work is writing-related. My day job is as a freelance editor and writing coach. I do get paid to write articles, and I have several books published and more on the way, but I’d say writing is about a quarter or less of what I consider as my “real” job that pays the bills.
A good editor is hard to find! How many hours a day do you write your own material?
I don’t believe in the advice “write every day.” That’s a great way to burn out the muse. However, it’s also a business, so if I have a deadline, you better believe I’m writing every day. Depending on what project I’m currently engaged with, if I’m on a book deadline that’s not too pressing, I’ll write about 3-10 hours a day. However, I might not write for weeks at a time when I’m in between projects, so it really depends on what deadlines I currently have.
Please tell us about your current release.
In The New Empire, the world undergoes a drastic change in the fourteenth century when Chinese ships land in what is currently known as the Bay Area of California. Fast forward four hundred years to a much different America than we know, a land dominated by a tribal confederacy grown out of a strong alliance with Beijing. Told from the main perspective of Jiangxi, a Chinese slave, it’s an epic story that highlights the experiences of characters often overlooked in the history books. In doing so, it tells a unique—but still emotionally relevant—tale of American slavery and freedom that will resonate with readers in today’s conflicted world.
And you have won a few awards?
And you have won a few awards?
I was thrilled when my book won the Gold Award at the When Words Count Pitch Week contest and was offered publication by Woodhall Press. I’m hoping that this book has enough dedicated readers that I can justify writing the sequel.
Can you read / provide us with a small exert?
In this excerpt, Jiangxi’s master Onas has just told a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tale about a girl who doesn’t listen to her family but is saved from her foolishness by a god.
The fire popped as Onas subsided and the spell of the story that held his visitors captive was released. Jiangxi re-gathered the bowls from supper as the men sat thinking. He turned and walked away.
As he cleaned the bowls, he thought about the kuksui’s story. And it was then that he had a plan on how to carry out his revenge. The girl in the story was spoiled, and he felt no sympathy with how she made her own unpleasant fate. In fact, he had wanted her harmed for her willfulness, for having the best of everything and being contented with none. It reminded him of the slaveholders, overflowing with abundance and giving the slaves nothing in return.
Jiangxi’s plan was simple. He would be the beautiful serpent in their midst. He would smile and nod and be agreeable, and he would lull them into following him into the dark.
He would find a way to free the slaves. All of them, not just himself. He would find a way, some way—any way he could—to lead his people to freedom.
What exciting story are you working on next?
My next book is being published chapter by chapter right now on Pocket FM, a free app for eBooks and audiobooks – the story is a contemporary romance about a woman who inherits a house with a zillion problems that she wants to turn into a B&B. She has two great guys who want to help her out – and ask her out too.
Who are your favorite authors?
There are so many great writers out there that this question is almost as hard to answer as, “What are your favorite words?” Well, depends on the circumstance. But some good ones: Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Moon, Kristan Higgins, Guy Gavriel Kay, Amy Tan, Tanya Huff, Tanith Lee, China Mieville… and about a million more. So many talented writers out there.
Yes there are!! I know I often struggle under their standard to do my own writing. What is your writer’s kryptonite?
Procrastination. I usually have about 100 things to do and can never get to everything at once. And I tend to prioritize the very LEAST important thing on my list – I don’t know why. I love to write and love the work that I do, but sometimes it’s a real struggle to just sit down and do it.
Are you involved in any writer groups?
I don’t think my work would exist without the many fabulous writers’ groups I belong to. First and foremost, those I consider family: the Fairfield Scribes. We write, we publish, we run a magazine together, and we’re the closest of friends. If you don’t have a group like that, try and find one – or even start one yourself. You’ll be thankful you did.
That is so key! I have the same sine quo non with my two groups:
That is so key! I have the same sine quo non with my two groups:
Also, a shoutout to Shut Up & Write, a great organization that helps writers do just that – they provide a space either online or in person to get your butt in the chair and write. They have free events all day, every day, and you can find them through the website Meetup or their own website: https://shutupwrite.com/.
That is great. I will have to check them out. One more time, how do we buy your work?
The New Empire
I appreciated the point of view shift as we watch a Chineese boy travel to America. However, the America is very different. It reminded me a lot of the world building in The Man in the High Castle. The America presented saw the Ming Dynasty arrive first. Europeans are on the horizon on the east coast, but they are not the first to settle and interact with Native Americans.
The story centers around Jiangxi who, though born of noble birth, finds himself sold into slavery. He finds nobility, I think , even in his low station as shown by the end of the novel. Without offering any spoilers, the ending is as real and raw as the world the story is set in. Overall, I would highly recommend this book for those who like alternate histories. The author seems to have done the research necessary to honor the past as well as draw new creativity from it to form a new vision.