J. Dianne Dotson is a science fiction author, among many other things. She shares her life story and how she became an author, as well as words of advice for aspiring authors.
MEET J. DIANNE DOTSON
Hi J. Dianne, can you tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in eastern Tennessee. I grew up in a semi-rural area, disconnected a bit from a lot of resources in nearby cities. So I built my own worlds from imagination, acting out fantasies and adventures in the woods nearby, on my bike, or with action figures.
I eventually began writing as another outlet for creativity. As a childhood astronomy fan, I formed a neighborhood astronomy club to teach my friends about the Universe. Over time, I moved into the realm of science, and focused on zoology and genetic research in college.
I spent several years in both laboratory and clinical research. Today I am a parent, a science writer, and a science fiction author.
How did you become an author?
I started writing from a young age, often illustrating my stories. I began writing a magnum opus around age 13, with planets, continents, maps for all of it, glossaries of species, and a roster of heroes and villains. I drew albums full of wild, “galactic” fashions for these characters as well. In 8th grade, I finished my first science fiction and fantasy novel.
My English teacher helped me contact publishing companies about it. I even heard back from one, and was given encouragement to keep writing should I not place the novel. For whatever reason, I did not submit the novel at that time. After my college education and career unfolded,
I found myself stealing moments to write my stories or work on art. Both improved dramatically over the years, but my career and then parenting pushed the novel writing along the wayside. But one day I realized I needed to tell my stories to the world.
I wanted to introduce the universe I had created in a different way than I had originally written it. Hence, my first published novel, Heliopause: The Questrison Saga: Book One, which was published May 29, 2018.
Tell us about your book
My first book Heliopause: The Questrison Saga: Book One is a science fiction space opera with fantasy elements. In Heliopause, a man named Forster lives and works on Mandira Research Station at the boundary of the solar system and interstellar space: the heliopause.
One day, he begins to see flashes of light outside his window, yet none of his coworkers can see them. He and a friend determine someone is trying to send signals from beyond the heliopause.
An eccentric coworker named Efron takes a keen interest in Forster’s experiences, and alerts him to a missing daughter of their friend, Meredith.
At the same time, a captain on a supply ship to the station falls under attack by an invisible entity, which places him in perpetual suffering. Forster and his team must try to stop this force from taking over the station, and potentially the entire solar system.
Is it a side hustle or your main gig?
Currently I work as a freelance science writer, volunteer, and work-from-home parent. I sneak in fiction writing usually late at night, when I can. It is my hope I can continue writing fiction and eventually call that my main gig.
What is one thing you have learned being a successful author?
Being a published author, particularly a self-published one such as I am (with no agent), entails considerable self-promotion. I knew this going in to some extent, but I was unaware how broadly encompassing promotion has to be.
It’s absolutely essential, and must cross from online experience and social media into the real world of signings and public engagements. Luckily for me, I love all of these aspects of being an author.
What is one mistake you made that you wish you could change?
I would have saved considerably more money for self-publishing than I did! There were many unforeseen costs, such as trademarks, web design, and other elements that are not cheap. I did, however, choose to have a global reach, with both paperback and eBook versions available, rather than making this an eBook only.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Finish your book. Don’t get caught in the weeds, wondering if it’s good enough, or start editing in the middle. Finish it. Then get someone else to edit it. And get it out into the world! If you’re thinking of being a traditionally published author, submit your edited writing sample to literary agents who represent your genre, and be certain to follow each agency’s submission guidelines.
What are you most proud of?
In terms of being an author, I am most proud of finally taking the plunge to release my first published novel. This journey has been 30 years in the making, and I remember feeling so anxious about getting a book out there. But I’m so glad I did, as it’s been the most rewarding aspect of my career.
Many authors and bloggers have trouble finding time to write do you have any tips?
Being a busy parent and working from home already offers many challenges. Just finding quiet, undisturbed moments can be challenging. My best advice is to write whenever you can, squeeze it in the cracks of your day or night, and keep writing.
What authors are you digging right now? And why?
Maile Meloy writes scintillating books. Her Apothecary Series is terrific. I think she’s a word sorceress! I don’t know how she makes me so breathless, as if I really were in every scene with her characters.
Philip Pullman is someone whose works I’ve enjoyed for several years. He has such an eye for rich descriptions and scenes, and his characters evoke intense emotions.
John Le Carré is someone I’ve only recently begun reading. I’m now a rabid fan. His work makes your heart hammer in your throat!
What suggestion do you have for people that are looking for ideas or inspiration for stories?
Observe the world around you. Really listen to what people are saying, and how they are saying it. Then write your characters accordingly. I get a charge out of just experiencing people interacting, and it inspires my character-building.
And I may be a bit biased, but read the latest science articles, because I gain so much inspiration from science fiction from the endless possibilities of science fact.
Also, read other authors’ books and listen to your favorite music!
What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to more signings and possibly conventions where I can showcase Heliopause. I look forward to connecting with other writers, with fans, and also encouraging younger generations to write. I also look forward to finishing The Questrison Saga, which will contain four books in all.
Any upcoming projects you are working on?
I am almost finished with Book Two of The Questrison Saga and so I’m thrilled about that! I am excited to be interviewing professional writers as well as scientists in the coming months, so that I can provide unique content on my blog. I also aim to produce more artwork, perhaps for sale.
What social media are you using?
I avidly use Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Instagram.
What does your social media strategy look like?
I believe in engagement on social media. Social media can be very distracting, and it’s easy to get caught up in current events. But the fans and opportunities I’ve gained from social media are priceless! I will continue to engage in lively discussion and provide content for my followers.
Where can people find you online?
Please visit my website, jdiannedotson.com and sign up for my newsletter. I have links to several bookstore websites to buy Heliopause, a book trailer, links to my science writing, and all my social media links on the homepage.
I also have a blog, jdiannedotson.com/blog. I love newsletter followers! I tend to talk about things in a more leisurely manner in my newsletter than I do elsewhere.
Running a brand, promoting, and marketing can be a challenge; how do you manage it all? Any books or tips that you use?
I do not have any book recommendations for marketing. At this point I’m throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks! I do recommend seeking out professional authors and asking what worked for them.
Also, when it comes to your favorite authors, try to determine what it is about their website or social engagement that catches your eye. I highly recommend attending writing groups or publication classes. You’ll get tips from people who have already done this, and it’s a great way to network.
Any apps you can recommend?
Twitter is essential for writers, I think. Instagram is becoming another important avenue, especially with its short video capabilities. Other helpful apps include Notes or something along those lines, so if you get an idea when you’re out and about, you can quickly jot it down on your phone!
If someone was having a hard time managing projects is there a book you would recommend?
Anything by Donald Maass, particularly Writing the Breakout Novel. Some find his workbooks helpful. There is a trove of knowledge in his books.
How important is fitness?
Fitness is absolutely paramount. The first reason for this is, as an author, one remains sedentary for long stretches, which can lead to health problems.
Secondly, we as writers tend to get wrapped up in our minds, so to speak. Learning to get out and exercise can help work out some kinks both in our bodies as well as in our plots!
Anything works. I prefer brisk walks, which force me to be very present and to observe nature up close. Fitness as a regular routine just generally makes me happier, and I sleep better as well.
How do you find time to workout? Do you enjoy it? If not how do you stay motivated?
I carve out about 40 minutes most days either for a brisk walk, or to alternate days with strength training (which I do not do every day).
If I can’t get this in one big lump of time, I try to do this in clusters throughout the day. I enjoy exercising, because it makes me feel good. But sometimes it’s easy to let motivation slip when life is very busy.
I just remember it’s making me stronger, so that I can continue to work better and sleep better.
Anything I should ask that I have not?
How can we inspire young people to write? I was asked by one of my children’s 3rdgrade teachers if I could come in and talk about the process of writing a book. This was one of the best days of my life, and the children were rapt with attention. I wrote about it here: http://jdiannedotson.com/writing/inspiring-young-writers/.
I was asked by one of my children’s 3rd grade teachers if I could come in and talk about the process of writing a book. This was one of the best days of my life, and the children were rapt with attention. - J. Dianne Dotson Click To Tweet
What is the one thing you wish everyone knew?
Anyone can tell a story, and everyone should.
Many Sci-Fi franchises often take liberties with their portrait of physics in space. Which franchise do you feel gets it right? And which franchise do you think has the most fun with it?
I felt like Ronald Moore’s Battlestar Galactica (2004) captured well the emptiness and silence of space, particularly coupled with Zoic’s effects.
I think Babylon 5 had the most fun with physics in space, using an enormous variety of spacecraft, both mechanical and biomechanical. The B5 ships represented the vast diversity of civilizations in the galaxy. Babylon 5 also used jump gate/hyperspace modes of travel in addition to highly plausible Starfury ships.
Thank you, Dianne, for this wonderful opportunity to share your story and your new book, Heliopause! I am waiting for the next three books to come out.
Links to Dianne’s website, book and book recommendations are included above. If you enjoyed reading about her book and process of writing, here are a few other articles you’ll enjoy!