Monday, October 12, 2015

Interview with sci-fi author Clayton Barnett

It’s another new week and I’m kicking this one off by chatting with Clayton Barnett, the author of the science fiction novel The Fourth Law.

As Clayton does his virtual book tour, he’ll be giving away a $30 Amazon or Barnes and Noble (winner’s choice) gift card to a lucky randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit his other tour stops and enter there, too!

One-time design engineer; some-time pharmacy technician. Full-time father and husband. Born in Houston but raised in the Mountain West. Currently misplaced in central Ohio with his wife and two daughters. Took up writing on whim to make an 80k+ word visual novel. Decided to give traditional novels as try, too.

Welcome, Clayton. Please tell us about your current release.
The Fourth Law is set about a dozen years from now, in central Texas. It presumes a collapse of the US currency and Federal government some six years before the story opens. Things are just beginning to return to “normal,” and only in some locations.

Lily Barrett is 23-years old. A nurse apprentice at a local hospital and a live-in aide at a Catholic orphanage in Waxahachie, Texas. Her family is sundered and she is largely alone. Six months ago, online, she met a curious young woman about her own age, who calls herself Ai. They cautiously become friends.

The book commences with first Ai, and later Lily, opening themselves and their families to one another as they learn to trust and love as friends. Ai eventually goes so far as to come to visit Lily, only to have the attention she attracts to her friend redound with deadly consequences.

What inspired you to write this book?
National Novel Writing Month or, A friend mentioned it to me in passing three day in on November 3rd. Dangling that kind of irrational deadline in front of me was irresistible! A few ideas in my unconscious mind came together, and I sat down and started typing out what I saw.

Excerpt from The Fourth Law:
Lily stood with her father in the Nara Airport, in the queue to get a taxi. Her short hair was pulled back in a little ponytail, and given the heat and humidity, she was profoundly glad to be wearing a tee shirt and shorts. Looking at her dad, she saw he was already sweating in his short-sleeved shirt and slacks.

“Daijoubu desu ka?” She asked him. He grinned at her.

“Daijoubu! You’ve certainly outpaced your mother and I at picking up Japanese!” He said, the pride in his voice obvious.

She grinned back. “After you made it clear that you really were going to send me here for three months, I’d no choice!”

“And in that case,” as they both took a step forward in line, “get us a cab to the Kodokan Dojo, so we can get you settled in.”

“Hai...!” She nonchalantly replied.

As the island scenery flew by the car’s window, Lily found herself both excited and nervous. Three months away from home, in a foreign country, and training under some of the best masters of her school... sure, she had earned her black belt, but as her Master in Ohio told her, “That simply means ‘this monkey is trainable.’”

The dojo, it seemed, was located in an older but still nice neighborhood. While her father paid the driver, she pulled her single piece of luggage behind her as she walked to the main entrance. A young man, maybe in his mid-twenties, greeted her as she came in.

“May I help you?” He asked.

“Oh!… I’m Lily Barrett, from America.  I’ll be staying and training here for the summer!” She thought she got that out correctly. It would seem so, as he started flipping through some forms. Her father came up beside her.

“How’s things?” He asked.

“I think they’re okay....” She hesitantly replied.

The man grunted at the papers in front of him. “Ah.  Here you are.  I can show you to what will be your room.  The manager is leading a class right now, but you can meet him in about thirty minutes.  Is that alright?”

“Sure! Oops! Sorry, sure, that’s fine!” She heard her father chuckle at her little mistake. At this, the young man turned to him.

“You are her father?  Please be assured that we shall take the best care of your daughter.”

Getting about one word in three, Clive Barrett just nodded politely. The fellow turned back to Lily.

“My name is Isi, also a boarder here.  It is my turn today to watch the door; we all help out around the dojo.  Do you understand?”

“Very much, Isi-san.  I look forwards to working with you!” Or, was I supposed to say, ‘I’m in your care?’ Whatever.

Isi led them down a series of hallways that seem to surround the central training area. He showed them to a small, but clean room, and indicated that the toilets were at the end of the hall. Bowing, he left them alone.

“There’s no bed.” Her father said.

Lily gave an exasperated sigh. “Really, Daddy? I bet there’s a futon folded up in this cabinet... yep! I’ve about twenty minutes until my meeting, so I’ll unpack a bit.”

While she did this, her father stared out the window. Without looking at her, he spoke.

“Lily. Is this really okay, leaving you here? I mean, the other side of the planet, a mixed dorm...”

She smiled at that. So that’s what he’s worried about! What a dad! She took a few steps and gave his back a hug.

“I’ll be fine, Daddy! Go back to Tokyo and find Mom before she spends all our money, and I’ll be home in late August. Don’t worry about me! This is Okinawa; the crime rate is almost zero, your little girl’s a black belt, and,” she returned to her luggage, pulled out her Ka-Bar Marine knife that he’d got her for Christmas some years back, and placed it onto the desk, “you know what a careful person I am!”

With a smile, he returned her hug. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go see the manager then I’ll get out of your hair!”

Lily stared off the hospital roof into the horizon of central Texas. She closed her eyes.

“I think that was the last time I saw my father smile. Just a week later the Breakup began in the ‘States... and things got... bad. For all of us.” Not hearing anything, she looked at her phone. Ai’s image seemed downcast, staring towards the bottom of the screen, gently rocking forwards and back.

“Thank you for my present, Lily.” Ai stopped, then started again. “I like you, and want to know more about you—”

“Then why won’t you show me—!” Lily started to yell, then quickly stopped. No, I won’t have this argument again! “I... I’m sorry, Ai, I’ve got to get back to work...”

But as she moved to end the call, Ai suddenly looked at her, her rendered eyes piercing.

“Just now, in your present to me, you mentioned your father’s name. And you live in Texas. Are you really the daughter—”

“SHUT UP! I HATE YOU!!” Lily’s scream was enough to startle the others on the rooftop. Barely resisting the urge to throw her phone to the parking lot far below, she turned it completely off as she staggered back into the building.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Machine Civilization! That’s what I’ve taken to calling this series. The first sequel, which opens seconds after the closing of The Fourth Law, is “Echoes of Family Lost,” already published (and I look forwards to our next book tour!). I’ve written and contracted an illustrator for book #3, “Henge’s Big Day!”, a children’s book I’ll have out when the art is complete. I’ve notes for book #4… an espionage/thriller about Lily’s father’s chief assistant and the role she plays in the domestic secret police force of ExComm, five years before the events of “The Fourth Law” take place.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
About three years ago, this little exchange happened…

“That will be $10, please.” He handed me the money, and I gave him a copy of OTChi Kocchi. Dear God! I thought. Someone just gave me money for a story I wrote!

I’d say it was somewhere around there.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Heh. When I was giving a series of presentations to the kids at my girls’ primary school about creative writing and self-publishing, this question came up almost every time! As I told them, unless you’ve a trust-fund or one of your books has been made into a movie, you will have some kind of day job. Even luminaries such as Tolkien and Lewis had their jobs at university; until “Hunt for Red October” was filmed and released, Clancy was selling auto and home policies. My day job is actually a night job: I’m a third shift pharmacy technician at a local hospital. Once upon a time, BC (before children), I was a design engineer.

There is no way to ‘find’ time to write. Neither I, nor anyone, else ever will. I make time to write; and, more importantly, I make that time because I have SET AN IRRATIONAL DEADLINE as to when a work must get done. It’s something I stressed to those kids I spoke to: without a deadline – a harsh one – you will never get anything completed. For my visual novel, we were presenting it at a panel at an animecon in three months, for The Fourth Law, it was the challenge of NaNoWriMo. For “Echoes of Family Lost,” in February I decided it had to be complete by Easter. Without these deadlines, I would have finished and published exactly NOTHING, which, horribly, is about what 80% of people with great stories end up doing.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I do not consider myself a writer. I’m just transcribing these scenes that come into my head. That makes me more of an editor, I suppose. If that’s a little odd to read, consider that I found it odd to type; nonetheless, it’s true. Never once have I “forced” some kind of scene out. I might go hours or even a day or two with nothing, but I wait.

These are not my stories… they’re theirs.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When very young, an astronaut. My parents were taken aback when, as a 2.5 year old toddler, I wandered into the living room in the summer of 1969 and told them to wake me up in the morning so I could watch the Moon landing. Later, I wanted to be an engineer; I liked designing and making things. Still later, a Cold Warrior. That last didn’t work out after 1991, so back to engineer. Ten years later, I became a parent, and everything is subordinate to that. As you can see, I’m still growing up.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Irrational deadline!!! I wrote the 54k words of The Fourth Law in twenty three days. It sucked, but I saw potential in it. I decided to publish it. By Christmas, 26 days away. I had to learn editing, line-editing, formatting, self-publishing (on three different platforms) all while working my job, being a father, being a husband. Alone in my house around 2215 on Christmas Eve, I hit the ‘enter’ key and published my first traditional novel. If a middle-age drunk such as I can do it, I know you can, too. Get to it!


Thanks, Clayton!

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Mai T. said...

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Unknown said...

Firstly, thank to Lisa for hosting me today! (bit of a late start this morning!)

To answer your question, Mai T, why not drop by the CBY Book Club ( for my tour stop tomorrow and read the answer for Question #2!

Stormy Vixen said...

Enjoyed the interview and excerpt, sounds like an interesting book, thanks for sharing!

MomJane said...

Wow, what a great excerpt. I really loved it.

Unknown said...

Thanks, EM & MJ! That excerpt is what Ai wanted as a return "present" from Lily, after she'd got Lily a new keyboard. It's very early in the novel and they are still very curious about us. (Well, some of them are; I don't think Thaad could care less....) Anyway, as you can read, things get a little out of control at the end.

Unknown said...

Time is fleeting; thank you very much, Lisa Haselston, for hosting me today!

Victoria Alexander said...

Great post, I loved the excerpt. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the excerpt, thank you!

Unknown said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and excerpt! Do you speak Japanese or do you research the phrases for the books? I am impressed because I have read other books with Japanese dialog and they are often misspelled or something that irks me a little but yours are perfect! Thank you!