Axioms of Light

Interview With Ralph Kern, Author Of Endeavour

Recently, I had the great opportunity to visit with Ralph Kern and learn more about him as an author, person, and his hit release, Endeavour, published by Tickety Boo Press. Ralph and I have developed a professional friendship and I’m excited for his success thus far.

You can buy the kindle version of Endeavour here.

The audio version is available through Audible.com, here.

JC: Congrats on the success of Endeavour! I must admit I found the book on audible because of the narrator (Michael Kramer), which we’ll get to later. As a fantasy writer, I drift often into space science fiction, having read much of Jack Campbell, Kevin J. Anderson, Dan Simmons, and more recently, Andy Weir and Stephen Moss. To start off, who are your favorite authors in the genre? Who inspires you?

RK: Thank you, Jacob. It’s great to know that I am appealing to a cross-genre audience. Those last three authors you mentioned would, without a doubt, appear on my top ten – in fact Dan Simmons’ The Hyperion Cantos is one of my favorites. Stephen Moss, who I believe is an indie is definitely one to watch and I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of him. Alistair Reynolds, Clarke and Stephen Baxter would also appear on my list. The way they consider deep time issues is absolutely visionary.

JC: Those are some great names in the genre. Tell us a little about the story of Endeavour and where it strives to take the reader.

RK: When I started writing Endeavour, there were two themes I wanted to explore. The first was something that seems to be strangely underrepresented in SF for some reason; that of humanity first setting foot on a world circling another star. Sure there are lots of stories covering society once it has set up, or integrated itself into, a large galactic community, but not very much about simply being the first to explore out into deep space. The second theme was that of the Fermi Paradox.

SIMPLY PUT, WE SHOULD BE SEEING SIGNS OF ALIENS EVERYWHERE. WE DON’T. WHY IS THAT?

So a good portion of the story is exploring that aspect. The final theme fell out when I decided on the technology the explorers would use to cross interstellar distances. The time it would take the ship, Endeavour to travel to another star would be subjectively instantaneous – yet objectively would still take years. Humanity would move on and evolve in that time. Gradually the crew of Endeavour start to become more and more out of touch with their home. Together, these elements create a future history covering the next 400 years or so.

JC: That element was particularly interesting to me: following the same crew over 400 earth years but their time together has been much shorter relative to their space travels. Really opened the mind. How long did it take you to come up with the story for Endeavour? Did you pretty much have it all laid out from the beginning or did you just start writing with a few ideas?

RK: I love my running and much of the story of Endeavour was gestated while I was training for a half marathon as a means of distracting myself. That meant when I started writing it, I had a good portion of it laid out from the outset. Of course, there are odd little surprises and that came about. Much of the second expedition was initially going to take a different direction, but actually, once I started writing it, what made it into the final cut made more sense.

JC: I love it when my characters correct my outline. Along with the above, do you find yourself to be more of a discovery writer, a heavy outliner, or somewhere in between?

RK: I would say I’m a light outliner. I had around twenty or so ‘scenes’ in mind when I began writing Endeavour, which, when laid out accounts for around 60% of the word count. The other 40% I discovered along the way. Some were simple connecting scenes, others became a little more integral to the story – after a little bit of polishing of course.

JC: I listened to the book and really loved the concepts of it. Really, I just gave it a shot on a whim. There’s a lot of science in it, but I didn’t feel bogged down in the minutia of it, much how The Martian played out for me. Do you have a background in aeronautical science or astronomy? How much research did you have to put into the book to give it the authentic feel it has?

RK: My degree was in Aerospace Technology, and I spent a summer placement helping to design a satellite. So yes, I do have a bit of a background in it. Also, I always loved flying and actually got my pilots license before I learned to drive. I made some choices though, and ultimately decided that out of astronaut or cop, my two dream childhood jobs, cop was more achievable so I followed that line. I must admit, the research phase is by far the most fun bit of writing for me. I would happily spend hours reading up on things that might just get boiled down to a sentence in the book. The hardest bit was, as with any book that attempts to utilize cutting edge research, you find that some stuff you intend to use gets debunked in the year or so development cycle. This was particularly true around exo-planets as new information comes in. Fortunately I managed to reintegrate most of that new info as it came in, but there did have to come a point where I ‘froze’ what I had. Especially interesting was various competing theories, sometimes you just have to back a technological horse and follow it. Again, with cutting edge science, especially much of it which hasn’t been demonstrated experimentally, you have to pick a theory and say “that is true in the Sleeping Gods universe“.

JC: Tell us about your next book, Erebus. I understand it’s in the hands of the editors. Does that mean we’re close to a release? Did you have the book mostly complete before Endeavour was released?

RK: Erebus is in with my editor at the moment, and I have the first set of notes back for that, which I’m eager to get tucked into. One of the things I’m keen for is that the first edition is the final product, rather than the incremental approach I followed with Endeavour with four editions coming out as I honed my skills.

Erebus brings into play my other profession. It’s a cop story set in the Sleeping God’s universe. The starting point is roughly midway through Endeavour’s narrative and should pick up some unanswered questions a reader of Endeavour will have. It follows an investigation into a terrorist incident and a surrounding conspiracy that grows and grows in scope as the investigators uncover more. One of the things I’m balancing at the moment, is ensuring that my original readership won’t think “Oh he’s sold out and is just telling a boring action novel!” while bringing something new to the series. There’s still lots of exploration and ancient alien artifacts in it, while telling the story from a new perspective rather than that of seasoned astronauts. It isn’t necessary for someone to have read Endeavour to enjoy Erebus or vice versa, however to enjoy book three fully, one would preferably have read both.

JC: Tell us a little about your publishing experience. Who did you publish with? What’s your experience with them been? I understand the audio rights were sold to Tantor Media. How did that come about?

RK: I initially self-published Endeavour through Amazon. I was as surprised as anyone when sales really started to take off, and after three months I was approached by two publishers, Tantor Media, who wanted the audio rights and Tickety Boo Press, who wanted to handle the ebook and hardcopy. The audio rights were something I had never even considered before, so that made the decision easy. After some negotiation, Tantor had the rights. TBP was a little more involved as part of their deal was they would get a comprehensive edit completed through Ian Sales, an award winning hard SF author and Jennifer Carson, to ‘Americanize’ the book (where the majority of my readers were from). Jennifer actually went a lot deeper than that, and really worked on the structure to bring the story out. Once that was done the manuscript went back to Tantor who had enlisted Michael Kramer to narrate. I got incredibly lucky with having him assigned. To this day I’m not sure how that came about, but I am very grateful to have a narrator with his pedigree, skills and status.

JC: It seems to be paying off in all respects. With the rise of easy self-publishing, it seems “everyone’s an author” nowadays. Since you started out self-published, what nuggets of wisdom can you impart to those that are still working on that manuscript, dreaming of become an author?

RK: The biggest one is to not underestimate the need to have your work checked by a fresh pair of eyes (preferably many!), and then take their feedback on board. You don’t have to act on it, but you can read your own book until your eyes are ready to fall out, and still not spot all those annoying typos or plot holes. Get an edit done, preferably a professional one. I would also say that self-publishing may be easy, but to do it RIGHT is not the easy option. It means you have to wear a lot of hats, some of which are not ones you might have thought fell under an author’s remit, everything from accounting to cover art. Be prepared for those roles! Lastly, self-publishing is no longer the poor cousin of traditional. One just has to look at the fact out of the two major film adaptations and one TV show adaption in SF in 2015 – they originated from the SP pool.

JC: Self-publishing is indeed a task of wearing many hats. I’m not sure most authors understand that writing is only part of the gig–after that, you have to put a business hat on and get to work. Everyone would benefit from a marketing class. They don’t call it bestselling author for nothing.

Out of 137 ratings on Audible, 112 are 4 and 5 stars. That’s fantastic. Your book takes us on quite a journey through the galaxy. Tell us about your creative process. How did you come up with some of the races?

RK: Thanks, Jacob. Hmmm, I think to go into some of the specifics might be spoilers. What I was very keen for was not to have aliens with funny foreheads which seem to be in a lot of TV shows. I wanted to ensure the aliens were actually alien; for example, I was quite keen on an aquatic based intelligence. The problem with that is you then have to start considering their technologies and how they might overcome the limitations of their environment in terms of combustion etc. You quickly realize in order to come out with a believable race, that is truly different – you have to start getting creative with that kind of thing!

JC: Do you believe there’s life out there among the billions and billions of galaxies?

RK: I think there’s no way there can’t be. What I do think is that there is some kind of filter, some reason why an alien race can’t or won’t communicate after it reaches a certain point. If you want to know what theory I advocate the most… read Endeavour.

JC: Lastly, if Captain Kirk were on the ship Endeavour, how would the story have been different?

RK: Ha! Let me see, if Captain Kirk was on Endeavour, I imagine he would have probably tried to have his wicked way with any aliens they encounter, started an interplanetary war and wondered where the photon torpedoes were!

That concludes my interview with Ralph Kern. If you’re in the mood for a good space sci-fi read with an intelligent approach to exploration and cutting edge tech that won’t leave you clawing your eyes out with boredom, give Endeavour a shot.

You can find my award-winning #1 bestselling book, Circle of Reign, Book 1 of The Dying Lands Chronicle, on kindle, nook, paperback, hardback, and audible.

Altar of Influence: The Orsarian War kindle, nook, paperback, hardback, audible

Two short stories, The Red Grove and Remnants and Shadows, are also available in digital and audio format.