Leonard (Stoney) Compton [stoneycompton]
What is your profession? What is your title printed on your business card?
I am a senior graphic artist in my day job. But I consider myself a writer.
What did you study and why did you choose to study that field?
I studied art, American history, anthropology, education, and sociology in college. I delved into things that interested me and I've been a history freak since I was 8 and still remember not being satisfied with a drawing I did in kindergarten.
I like learning about people and customs different from my own heritage, and I also love the history of my people and our country.
What is expected of you in your job, and how do you accomplish it?
I work for an environmental engineering and consulting firm. I create maps, site diagrams, posters, PhotoShop "paintings" that illustrated what a location might look like once the project is finished, diagrams of how machines and natural phenomena work. It's an interesting job.
What links do you have on the Internet: website, blog, social networks?
My website needs to be updated: http://www.stoneycompton.com
and I am assistant art director for Jim Baen's Universe, an online science fiction & fantasy magazine: http://www.baens-universe.com/
Are you satisfied with the education that you received?
So far! I still read history works and am constantly researching various fields to give my fiction verisimilitude. I believe that a person never finishes their education if their brain is active.
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I first read pulp westerns and Nancy Drew mysteries (I was much more interested in girls than boys) and then I discovered a series of biographies of famous people when they were children. When I was 12 I discovered science fiction and began devouring that genre - I'm not finished yet.
I went into visual arts for many years and had my own studio in Juneau, Alaska. Then the economy tanked and my freelance contracts dried up. I had to give up the studio and move my etching press into a closet at home.
I need a creative outlet and when I came across the first anthology of the Writers of the Future contest I decided to try my hand at writing. I was one of the winners in the 9th anthology.
I pretty much let anyone who expressed an interest to read my work, but getting good critical feedback in the early days was tough. Not all critical feedback is good and can really mess with your mind.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I love history, historical fiction, alternative fiction, science fiction, speculative fiction, western fiction, and adventure.
My first novel Russian Amerika, was published by Baen Books in April 2007 and has just come out in mass market paperback.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
My creative process is rather like an internal combustion engine: everything I encounter goes into my head and some of it turns into stories, and I'm also getting the urge to create visual art again.
Whenever I get an idea, or figure out a scene, I will write it down on whatever is at hand. My desk in my home office is a mass of paper, from cocktail napkins to the back of grocery store receipts with scribbles on the back.
Usually when I sit down to write I have scenes and characters pounding on the inside of my skull demanding to be released.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Fiction and non fiction. Newspapers and magazines. I find it impossible to get through an issue of National Geographic without getting at least one idea for a story - and I subscribe! The difficult part is finding enough time to do justice to all the ideas.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Believable complex characters, human situations, conflicting elements and a comprehensive, believable universe/setting.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Third person. Although Alistair MacLean did some nice work using the first person I always thought he pulled a fast one by revealing facts about the protagonist quite late in the game, almost a deus ex machina, that suddenly pulls his literary fat out of the fire.
What well known writers do you admire most?
There are so many that I hesitate to try and list them for fear of leaving out a worthy wordsmith. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl, Connie Willis, Bob Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, Eric Flint, Walter D. Edmonds, W.P. Kinsella, Kenneth Roberts, Patrick O'Brian, James Warner Bellah, Dorothy Johnson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kris Rusch, Steven E. Ambrose, David McCollough, Barbara Tuchman, Ray Allen Billington, Doris Kerns Goodwin, Owen Parry, Richard K. Nelson, John Scalzi, Hector Chevigny, John Toland, John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck, William Manchester... and I know I'm forgetting at least a dozen more.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
A believable character has a complex personality, personal flaws, goals, self worth, and self-imposed rules they live by.
My characters start out with traits of people I have observed long or short term and I try to build other elements into them so they truly become a work of fiction.
In my historical fiction I also use real people and I endeavor to stay true to that person when interacting with my fictional characters.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Oh yeah, just ask my co-workers. One of my many past jobs was driving tour bus in Juneau, Alaska. Nothing like a captive audience for 3 hours.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I write for me first. But I also write for friends and fans. To be a working writer is my goal - no day job. So far, so good.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Of course it's personal therapy, how could it not be? As a fiction writer you get to explore every kink and bend you wish to pursue through your characters. And then you have to resolve it one way or another. What fun!
All conflicts are internal to some degree and therefore a creative force.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Absolutely! Good critical feedback is like gold to a writer. Just because I know what is going on in the story doesn't mean I have adequately related it to the reader. My group of readers are a treasure, they spot my story flaws and questionable elements long before the words see print.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Sometimes. I won 2nd place in the 4th quarter of the 1993 Writers of the Future Contest with a short story. I have entered other contests with less spectacular results. Currently I am focusing on novel writing and that rather negates any opportunity for entering contests.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Usually not until I have a complete first draft. Then my wonderful wife, Colette, will read it and inevitably finds the flaws and glitches. I am a lucky man.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
Yes, I guess I had it all along. I try to write as naturally as I speak.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I try to write every day. With two or three projects going on simultaneously I tend to focus on writing before household chores. Since I work a full time job and commute 3 hours per day, my writing time is limited and valuable, I tend not to waste it.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Books, photos, posters, brik-a-brak (spent Civil War bullets, model aircraft, a neon beer sign) and way too much clutter.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I bought my first computer so I could write fiction. I usually don't print until I have a complete first draft or such a lengthy ms that I need to have a paper copy to put it all in order. I just cut 30,000 words from a ms and then had to go back and creatively cauterize all the wounds. Thankfully that doesn't happen often.
What has been your experience with publishers?
So far I have only had one novel published. Baen Books is an excellent publisher to work with. They provide a galley proof for the author to go through before committing it to print. They answer all of my endless questions and provide a quick carton of books when the need arises. I just wish they published historical fiction!
What are you working on now?
I am seeking an agent primarily for my huge historical novel "Treadwell" which is complete, I am also trying to place a science fiction novel "Whalesong", the sequel to Russian Amerika which has the working title "Alaska Republik" is currently being critiqued by my readers group, and I just started a third title in that series with the working title "Cassidy's Revenge".
I also have a historical fiction mystery under way. If "Treadwell" finds a publisher I have three more novels outlined in what I call the "Gastineau Channel Quartet" and like "Treadwell" will be about Southeast Alaska.
And I have some ideas about new works.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Keep them. They are literary ore that can be mined again and again. They also keep you humble when you reread them years later. And no, I don't show them to anyone!
Leonard (Stoney) Compton