Today, in the Forum, author Edwin Stark visits us all the way from South America.
I’m looking forward to getting a glimpse into both his life and his fascinating novel, Eco Station One.
Tim Greaton: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you for some time now, Edwin, but for our readers could you tell them a little bit about yourself. For instance, you were born and currently reside in Venezuela, which I know hasn’t been easy for you. Could you tell us a little about why?
Edwin Stark: Hello, Tim. Freaked out but glad to be here. Ok, a little about myself, I’m 44 years old and I live in Venezuela, which you got right, definitely isn’t easy. It's a little difficult to explain without going too much into local politics, and that’s even more difficult since here in my home country EVERYTHING has become a political issue lately. I suspect that one of these days even the fact that the sun rises everyday will have a political facet. All kidding aside, Venezuela is basically an oppressive authoritarian regime, running under a thin veneer of democracy. In the course of the past decade, I lost everything due to the political climate: I lost my livelihood, which was running the family business that was a moderately successful sporting goods manufacturing company; I miss all my friends, because all of them have spread all around the globe, running away from dismal living conditions. When I
lost my main source of income, I was forced to buy a house in the fringe of civilization, which was the only thing I could afford. In fact, a tropical rainforest starts about 50 yards beyond my backyard fence.
Tim Greaton: Friends of mine have some family ties in Venezuela. During the 1990s, one of them was almost kidnapped during a brief visit. Is it safe in your area?
Edwin Stark: Even though you're advising me to not get myself into trouble by answering, I'll do it. One of the many problems in this whole affair is the silence about it during all this time. And since I've no friends nor family down here, anyone willing to put some pressure on my persona will find that they have little leverage against me. The answer is NO... this place is definitely NOT SAFE. The crime rate is staggering, and the main fear which a Venezuelan has, once he sets foot out his house, is that he doesn't if he will return home alive.
Tim Greaton: Is there more danger for visitors than locals?
I could say that anyone's fair game at this time, Tim. Any local, be she or he poor or rich, is subject to this terrible crime wave, every single day. Visitors face more or less the same risks as the locals, although the fact that they're from abroad might be an attractive point to consider by the criminals. They usually carry hard currency, electronic gadgets and mainly a naive attitude, which may mark them as easy targets.
Tim Greaton: Infrastructure and finances seem to play a large role in your personal challenges in reaching English markets with your books. I was hoping you could explain a little more about your circumstances and the unbearable costs of even some basic items.
Edwin Stark: You got that right, Tim! Many of these obstacles come from my actual location. This place is so far away from civilization that I'm fortunate to even have electric power. I was basically without Internet for the best part of a decade, and it was only due to advances in cellular phone technology and new cell antenna relatively close to my home that I was finally able to reconnect to the world four years ago. Unfortunately, the small device that allowed me to reach the Web recently passed away, and replacing it will be an uphill battle. It's basically a cell phone that costs around 30-40 bucks elsewhere, but my Internet Service Provider will charge me about 700 dollars for it. And, unfortunately, I can't buy it online because they say it has to come from them…or nothing. Another example: a small HP notebook I have my eyes on (tiny thing, screen 9 inches wide but it'd certainly beat the 633 Pentium III old clunker I'm now using) costs online 300 bucks; the same machine would cost here something in the vicinity of $1,500 US dollars.
My home country doesn't allow Venezuelans to use their credit cards abroad. This is because they implemented a very Draconian currency exchange control, so you can no longer freely convert from one currency to another. They allotted us a yearly quota for travel and Internet shopping. The limit to Internet use in US currency is $400 per year, so this severely limits my advertising budget and the way I can reach my prospective readers. I have to choose wisely how many review copies I'll send out and who will get them. The same goes for placing ads in several related websites. I also can't set up my own webpage, because I don't have a way to pay for the name domain, even though I have the money. It's just that all my assets are in Venezuelan currency, which is a currency no one else in the world will accept, not even a gunpoint, because it's utterly worthless. Go to any currency exchange house in the world and ask them if they will exchange Venezuelan Bolivars. ( grinning awfully )
Tim Greaton: We’d love to know more about you and your interests and hobbies outside of writing?
Edwin Stark: Tim, I'm basically a renaissance man. I love to drawing, painting, photography and I even tried some sculpting. I also have a nearly fanatical interest in recycling, which regrettably my fellow countrymen don't share; they're generally litterbugs, so they think I'm crazy for walking everywhere with a plastic bag while I clean the streets of the area I live in and the shoulders of highways. Ironically, this interest has also sparked most of my better stories; there's a lot of time to think while you're trying to spot the silvery butt of the next aluminum can, you know! The Recycling Kid, maybe the best story in my Cuentos anthology, was directly inspired by it.
Tim Greaton: A lot of your work is simmered in humor. Are you just as funny in your personal life, or is that part of your personality reserved for your fiction?
Edwin Stark: Great question! I'm very glad that you made it! Aren't you glad that you made it? Next Question! Now, all kidding aside, I consider myself a very amusing guy. Although I'm going through a very dark period of my life at this moment, I try my best to keep my chin up by means of my good humor. Even though I have written some very somber and creepy books, you can see even there that impish spark of my lighter side, always trying to sneak in. In Eco Station One, the book we'll be discussing a bit later, I pulled all stops and let my personality run out unleashed.
Tim Greaton: I know you have been working diligently to get the word out about your work in English speaking markets. Do you currently publish in your local market or in Spanish at all?
Edwin Stark: Nah! I don't even bother to publish in the local market anymore. If you think that publishing with the Big Six in the English speaking market is TOUGH, you should try it down here to get a sudden shift in perspective, man! You can't get to an editor desk in South America if you aren't already famous by being a TV personality, politician or something similar. Somehow, the notion of reaching stardom by becoming a mass murderer and then getting a hundred book deals because of that doesn't appeal to me. I tried for almost twenty years, though, and I think two decades was quite a lenient time period to waste in that thankless effort. The final straw that made me switch languages was book piracy: there's a lot of that down here. Especially when a reporter, who was doing a piece on bootlegging, kindly asked me if I knew that the Spanish version of one of my books had been the most pirated. I think I looked quite funny to him when I just sat there, dumbfounded and blinking in surprise. Then he put a pirated copy of one of my books under my nose, telling me that all data indicated that at least 500,000 copies were circulating around.
Tim Greaton: How has publishing in the world market changed your hopes or plans?
Edwin Stark: Well, with the advent of self-publishing, my perspectives of finally being able to reach an audience considerably shifted. Since I no longer have to pitch my book to a prospective publisher (who probably in the end will send me a rejection letter stating that "we loved your book but it isn't commercial enough" anyway), I can directly address the part of the world's audience out there that may be interested in what I write. I know I have at least a million readers out there, even if I haven't been able reach them effectively…yet.
Tim Greaton: What is the title of the book we’re talking about today, and could you tell us a little about the story?
Edwin Stark: Ahhh...the plot thickens. The book's title is Eco Station One (as if we didn't see that coming). It's the tale of a good-for-nothing kinda guy and how he gets involved in a major scheme to siphon funds out from under a big Corporation. You see, the scoundrels behind this ploy just want him as a scapegoat to blame when the whole thing blows up in their faces. There's this small ecological research thingy running in the place that gives the book its name, and they're telling the big corporation that its costs run up to a million per month, while they're actually only a couple thousand bucks. Of course, this guy isn't as dumb as he seems, and he has a few tricks up his sleeve, so the schemers are getting more than they bargained for. This was a great setup for comedy and satire. Along the way my protagonist meets a great deal of new friends and his future girlfriend. He also has an extraordinary nemesis!
Tim Greaton: Tell us about your main character(s) and why you felt they were the right personalities for your story?
Edwin Stark: The main guy in question, Eduardo Sinnombre, is kind of an anti-hero figure. You could see your average Venezuelan represented there, always ready to outsmart everyone else. Marina, his future girlfriend is quite contradictory. She looks shy but she's passionate and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. She gave me a surprise about a third into the book, when she suddenly became a major character instead of just another spear carrier, as I originally planned. Marina was inspired by this lovely Mexican lady I met in a chat room, and with whom I chatted and corresponded for almost two years with high hopes of online romance (the only kind I can afford while being stuck in this tropical jungle). Fortunately, I was able to finish the book before we broke up due to financial reasons (she's in Mexico... I'm in Venezuela... neither one could afford to reach the other. 'nuff said). There are many others, but to talk about them might risk spoiling the surprise for the readers.
Tim Greaton: Did you laugh out loud or cry when writing or editing any of the scenes I in your novel?
Edwin Stark: I can't really say that I expressed those emotions while writing or editing, Tim. While I write, I tend to be rather clinical and a dispassionate observer of what happens inside my imagination. I'm used to working way ahead with my books, so almost every step is planned. I experienced some moments of amused cleverness, though, when I worked my way around some difficult scenes. Then I set the book down and let it cool off for a while before I give the book one last read more like a normal reader (with some minor editing). It is then that I find myself laughing or bordering on tears at times. I guess my deep involvement while writing gets sometimes in the way of the emotions.
Tim Greaton: Are you planning a sequel or are there other books available in this series?
Edwin Stark: Eco Station One was intended as a stand-alone book from the start. I usually manage without plans to write sequels, and I made a stern warning about that idea in my first book, AI Rebellion. But a few years later I found myself writing a sequel anyway. There are some loose ends in Eco Station One that might merit a sequel, but only time with tell.
Tim Greaton: Just for fun, if you wind up as a mega-bestselling author and money becomes no object, where in the world would you move? And what is the most expensive item you could see yourself purchasing just to show off?
Edwin Stark: Ah, money... the eternal question for a writer, isn't it? Well, that's an easy one. I'd move as fast as I could to Manhattan, New York. The crime rate there is significantly lower than anywhere in my entire country. I’d really enjoy being able to visit a grocery store, theaters, pizza shops and delis right at my corner, instead of fifty miles away as now. As for the most extravagant item I would purchase, I don’t think I’d try to show off. Instead, I think I might hire a private investigator to track down my Mexican lady friend…which kinda shows how bad my situation is, doesn't it?
Tim Greaton: It would be great if you could share your website/blogsite and links to where our audience could directly purchase your books.
Edwin Stark: Being disconnected from the world as now I am, keeping a website up or a blog would be quite irresponsible toward my readers: I wouldn't be able to update it as regularly as I would like. My books are readily available through all major online distributors, but I'll share with you the links of the places through which I'd like to increase my sales, as in:
ECO STATION ONE:
Tim Greaton: Edwin, I have found our time together absolutely fascinating and I really appreciate you being here with us today, even if only in a cyber-sense. I feel certain a number of new readers have just found a new favorite author. I know I have.
Edwin Stark: The pleasure is definitely mine, Tim. I enjoy every opportunity to reach past my borders to talk directly with readers. It’s been fun.