June 11, 2011

Author Interview Sven M Davison "State Of Mind"

On June 3, 2011

 I had the privilege of interviewing Writestuff-Writenow's May-June Book Of The
Month pick and author of STATE OF MIND, Sven Davison, www.stateofmindbook.com/.
 It's been two days since I posted my book review on WSWN,  and I must say I've got a lot of positive e-mail feed back. The interview proved to be as I thought it would - an informative and enlightening encounter.

Q. State Of Mind, a P chip at the base of the skull. Tell me Sven, what creative seeds were sown to come up with this story,  and over what period of time? Also, what kind of research?

Sven  About ten years ago I read about subcutaneous chips being placed in pets for tracking purposes in Popular Science. Today physicians are placing chips into patent's with Parkinson's Disease to help  regulate higher function. Humankind married with machines is not a far-fetched idea if you look at the pacemaker, and what is coming next.
    I started this book as a screenplay ten years ago. In that time, the Ipod was introduced, then the smart phone. As real world technology advanced,  my plot device of shrinking the smart phone and placing it into the human body did not seem all that implausible. In fact I moved up the timetables in my book from forty to twenty years.
Another inspiration for the book was identity theft. having been a victim of it a few years ago, I was shocked at how a faceless stranger could hijack my identity. What would be the ultimate identity theft. It would be to have your mind hacked by someone else,  place your consciousness in a coma, and
and use your body like a puppet to commit crimes. These were all themes in the original draft ten years ago, but I tweaked them over time.

Q.  I'll be asking you about the business side of writing as well as the authors lifestyle. It's for the "newbie" authors out there. You have a background as a screenwriter for producers, directors and TV shows. Which do you prefer, screenwriting or churning out novels?

Sven.  They are both very different and I enjoy both. I 've been writing screenplays and novels a little over twenty years. I sold a screenplay in 1993, but I've always had to make ends meet with day jobs.
I played the starving artist roles in my twenties.  In my thirties, I applied myself and made VP in five years. After ten years there, I reached a cross roads: If I stayed at Fox,  I'd probably never write again (or not until I retired). I was putting in seventy to eighty hours a week and even bathroom breaks were hard to come by. My wife and I discussed it and she was willing to support me for a while if I wanted to write full time. I jumped on the opportunity and resigned from Fox.
      I was able to write two novels with my new lease on available time. I continued to pull in money as an entertainment technology consultant. When we had a son last year, we felt it was time for me to go back full time, so my wife could spend  more time with our child.
      Life is never static. I still write, but the six to eight hours I had my first year away from Fox 
are on hiatus. These days I squeeze in about an hour of writing a day
      In an ideal world, I'd love to write  six to eight hours a day.  I'm a morning person, I write around 6am. I treat my writing like an eight hour job with a lunch break,  and perhaps some time to read (every writer must read).  I've been fortunate to  make  money as a writer since my screenplay sold in 1993.  However I have never made enough to make a full transition. Very few authors make a living solely on their writing.  It 's something to aspire to though.

Q.  Sven do you have an agent ? A question from new authors who need to learn the business.

Sven.   I do not have an agent. I have a publicist, Gail Kearns, To Press and Beyond,  in Santa Barbara. Their "book shepherds" and do just about everything you can imagine to promote the book.

Q.  The buzz I'm getting even on Amazon and B&N. The Book Reviewers on line say this would make a great  movie?  STATE OF MIND should be on the top ten best seller's list according to Deb Shunamon?

Sven.  It's currently being shopped and discussed, but I keep my expectations in check. Hollywood has changed dramatically in the past few years. Hollywood doesn't buy spec scripts unless your name is JJ Abrams. Studios want sure things. If you look at this summer it's all sequels, prequels and franchises based on best selling novels, graphic novels and toys. Hollywood wants to know there is a built- in audience before they take a risk. My book is not on any best sellers list, although I thank the book reviewer, Deb Shunamon, for saying it should be.
Hollywood still takes risks but only if it's a passion project introduced by someone with a track record. Basically,  if you have a celebrity who attaches themselves to your work, they'll have a much better chance getting it made.

Q.   That's interesting. Coraline was written in 2002 or copyrights, and they made the movie in 2010. Go figure. I don't think it was well known?

Sven.  That was a smaller budget movie and a passion project. Plus it was green lit before the economy tanked and studios got even more risk adverse. It's all about the budget. Studios do make small budget films and generally have small expectations for them. The movies you see in the summer have massive budgets, and studios expect them to be blockbusters. It's an economy of scale. Sci Fi is generally expensive so there is greater risk. However, State Of Mind is set twenty years from now and would not be that expensive to pull off.
I'd say it could be done for $25 million or maybe less considering how cheap special effects are becoming. However, if you attach stars, the  budget could explode to $100 million very quickly. Suddenly there's far more pressure for the film to perform. Then again, stars get their salaries based on their box office draw. If the actor has a history or track record of opening their film at 30M and finishing at 100M minimum, she/he might be in the 20M salary range.

 Q   Who would play your protagonist, Jake Travissi, in STATE OF MIND the movie?

Sven.   Matt Damon is top of mind. He's a versatile actor and very likable. I'd have to think on it a bit to come up with other choices.

Q.   Character development, is something all  new writers/ authors struggle with. How did you come up with the style and character of  Jake Travissi?  I was shocked by chapter 1 and what happened to his family?

Sven.   Jake was tough for me, because he was my central character, and his mind was so hacked! It meant many of his ideas and emotions were not always his. I had a lot of trouble balancing the real Jake with the hacked Jake in my early drafts. However,  it is always important for me that the reader sympathizes with the hero as quickly as possible. I'm also extremely interested in people  who have experienced loss, are morally grounded and question things around them
Imagine how hacked into he was. I had to keep him human though. People who experience loss, but are morally grounded, and question things around them. I like my characters to have a  solid sense of self and an indomitable spirit.
Jake losses his family in Chapter 1, so the reader does not get a chance to see him as a compassionate husband and father. I needed to show that side of him, so I came up with the dog around the fifth draft.

Q. All the way to the end?

Sven.    In the end I wanted to leave Jake  and the reader with this conclusion:  When one is faced with a decision that means sacrificing your humanity...your soul, then you should walk away. Other characters in the book do sacrifice their humanity to varying degrees, but they are not aware of it.

Q.  That's right, you did keep him humane with all the things going on around him, and the way people were acting. Most of the people he dealt with didn't seem to have a natural affection? Take Marta for example?

Sven.    Marta was tragic. She is a  product of her experiences  (mainly her rape).  She escaped her  trauma and pain by diving into academia and then becoming a workaholic. And her personal relationships suffered greatly. She is not able to face and heal from the events prior  to this book, and because of it, she has a very warped view of morality and right and wrong. She becomes part of the group that hack into people's minds, because she is unable to have a human relationship.
 A gigantic sacrifice of self. People becoming machines.

*I left a part of his comment out as it proved to be a spoiler and revealer of too much plot.

Q.   Do you prefer writing in the sci-fi genre? What's next on the agenda?

Sven.  I prefer a really good storyline, and I don't care where it's set. I like John Krakauer, Cormac, and McCarthy, and Bill Bryson to name a few authors.  I read avidly. The last book I read was  Ship Of Fools  which did not impress me with the plot, but the characters and questions about philosophy, and theology were extremely intriguing. I highly recommend it for those reasons
     I have a minor in ancient history,  and I'd like to write historical fiction with themes I enjoy: philosophy, theology and psychology.  The second novel I wrote while on "sabbatical"  is part historical fiction and part memoir, set in the 1850's and 1990's.
I'm told I need a larger audience to sell this book, as it has to do with Mormons, and well, me (although I'm not a Mormon). Basically, I was told the book would be a hard sell, because it was not as commercial as STATE OF MIND.
I have outlined twelve more books in various genres but  right now,  I'm concentrating on the STATE OF MIND universe.

Q.  Do book trailers help book sales?  If a books optioned, then how does a producer or director feel about the trailer?

Sven A book trailer can't hurt. A lot of people gravitate to visuals and want to be sold in 90 seconds or less. A trailer is a good way to reach out to a larger audience. When your talking about Hollywood, a trailer has no impact on the creative vision of filmmakers.
 A producer or director will probably watch the trailer, but in the end, they will take the book and do what they want with it. It is their vision at that point not yours.
      If you're J K Rowling then you get to have a say. The majority of writers have their book optioned, and that's the last time they give input, unless the director asks for it.

Q.  There's a lot of visual minding going on in STATE OF MIND? You didn't use a lot of setting though?  It was plot driven and action adventurous. I liked the short chapters, too.

Sven. I started out as a screenwriter, so I like being brief and to the point. I love authors who have a command of language. If they really know how to craft sentences, I can't get enough. Great authors can make a novel read like poetry.
I try to have balance, I like to be brief, but not to the point of losing all adjectives and similes. Storytelling is an art, how much description an author puts in is up to that author's individual taste. However the trend I see is moving towards the philosophy that less is more. I just hope novels are not reduced to tweets in 140 characters or less.

Q.  Yet the focus was keeping Jake humane by not forfeiting his soul? The time period is 2030, is this what we'll be like?

Sven.  I don't think my version of 2030 is that far off the mark. If you believe in the law of accelerating returns, then all the technology I propose in the book is not only possible it is probable. After publishing STATE OF MIND, I found out about a man named Ray Kurzweil. He's a successful inventor/scientist who says the human mind will be mapped both emotionally and functionally by 2030. He predicts by 2040 humankind and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be joined to create a new hybrid race. A race that is immortal. He paints a rosy picture of this scenario. I explore the dark side of this marriage in STATE OF MIND.
In my book I explore the theme of  the individual versus the collective. I raise the question: What are you willing to sacrifice to become, beautiful, popular, or smarter? As human kind advances, and the basics of food and shelter become a given, more of us turn to luxuries as a way to define ourselves.
The Internet, smart phones, Skype, all these technological advances have made it possible to socialize, shop (hunting/gathering), and live out a life inside our own homes.
In a way, humankind is becoming less of a community than ever before - unless you feel virtual interaction is just as good as the real thing. STATE OF MIND is about questioning our current
 path. It's about taking a step back and asking ourselves: What does the word freedom mean?
  It's about being happy with who you are, and rejoicing in our differences rather than conforming to an ideal.

Q. To what super human dome as a tech chip?

Sven   The P Chip offers the recipient many benefits in the book. One is making a child smarter and more competitive. As a manager at Fox,  I was struck by how many people came into my office for a job interview and wanted flexible hours with one hundred thousand dollars to start.
 I am afraid America is raising children who don't know how to work, but are demanding the salaries of those who have spent years developing a skill or craft that should be compensated at a higher level.
I'm also getting a sense the mantra of society is more and more focused on self, instead of being a good, honest, and contributing person.
      In the book the Chip is popular because it focuses on the instant gratification that is becoming so prevalent. It's the best way to get people to say "yes" to mind control.

 Q   Lastly the business side of writing. E books for $0.99 cents and $2.99.  How low should we go short of a giveaway?

Sven:  I believe e-books should be priced at $9.99  There are a few reasons for this:
The first is that a writer spends hundreds if not thousands of hours writing a book. Writing is a skill that is developed over time and represents a colossal investment on the writer's part. $9.99 is fair compensation for all of that time and effort.
 The second is value for your dollar. If you can buy an album for $9.99 on iTunes and get between
50 and 70 minutes of entertainment, a book is a bargain as the average book is finished in about
10 hours.
  The third is the idea that entertainment should be free. Ask yourself if you would do any job
for nothing? What kind of entertainment would we have if those doing the entertainment weren't
compensated? Look at the home movies on You Tube, and you'll have your answer.

    Yes, those uploads can be cute in a slice - of - life mindset, but we'll never be taken on journey's or asked probing questions. Writers work hard to provide entertainment. I don't feel it is fair to ask them to live in a studio apartment and eat Ramen noodles for the rest of their lives as they hold a side job and slave away for nothing to entertain the masses. I feel this way about any artist and their craft.

Q.   Anything I didn't touch on that you'd like to add about  STATE OF MIND?

Sven M. Davison: Yes. Check out Ray Kurzweil and his philosophy. It's fascinating to see how many people are following him and how he paints the future. www.singularity.com/  

STATE OF MIND is my counterpoint to their belief system. www.stateofmindbook.com

Book Reviewer Max Nightjar's    Book of the Month   STATE OF MIND
Technology Is In The Saddle & It Rides Mankind.

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