Christopher and NineStar Press, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on your partnership! To start, Christopher, I’d love to know more about your book and why you wrote it.
CHRISTOPHER: Blackwelder: 2164 is the story of a young military sharp shooter who has had a real miss in love. Spencer (the main character) starts off trying to find his place as a gay man in Earth’s military while preparing for war with an alien species determined to wipe out humanity. He’s got to learn to be a lover and a leader if they’re going to have any hope for success.
I wrote this book because I needed this story (or a story like this) to exist. I was watching Netflix one night (as we all do), and I thought to myself, I really want to watch something “space-y,” but also, with some gay characters. Or People of Color. Or, actually, both! Dream big, right? And there are definitely a few things out there that check one of those boxes or the other, but nothing I could find that night featured LGBT People of Color as lead characters, with their storylines being central to the plot, not just incidental. So I realized, if I wanted it, I would have to create it.
NineStar what was it about this manuscript that sealed the deal for you?
NINESTAR: I feel there is a dearth of good LGBT sci-fi and NineStar Press is looking to correct that. What we found in Christopher’s novel was not just an excellent sci-fi but a novel that should attract readers across genres with a strong LGBT/POC character as lead.
Christopher, how did you prepare this manuscript for submission? Do you work with outlines, schedules, or deadlines? Do you have critique partners and beta readers?
CHRISTOPHER: I have the most amazing writer’s group on Earth (we even have a group name, haha). There are four of us who graduated from the same master’s writing program. They’re very talented, they totally get me, and they are brutally honest. Our group meets regularly, so that provides me with working deadlines. I don’t really use outlines; I have a Point A and Point Z in mind, but the rest I tend to leave to the journey. One of the things I love about writing, that I also find frustrating, is when I’m expecting a plot or character to go one way, and the character says to me “Nah, I think I’d do/say this instead,” which leads us in a whole new direction.
I tapped several beta readers, including a couple folks who weren’t fans of the genre. I thought, if I can also get a positive read from someone who doesn’t necessarily like science fiction, or who has never read a story starring LGBT characters, then I might have something that is really working.
And how was the #DVpit experience for you, overall? Expectations? Doubts? Disappointments?
CHRISTOPHER: My friend Thea (@TheaMonyee) turned me on onto #DVPit a while back as she was on her journey to becoming a represented author. I checked it out and thought, this is amazing! I didn’t have a manuscript to pitch at the time, but I read through a bunch of the pitches and responses, and was really encouraged. It still seemed a little like winning the lotto, though, so I wasn’t necessarily expecting #DVPit to be my “in.” Maybe something I would try and learn from along the way. But overall, the experience was incredible, and not just because NineStar Press ended up wanting to work with me, but also because it was really cool to be a part of this movement. Because that’s what it is, really.
How was the experience for you, NineStar?
NINESTAR: We have been lucky enough to work with a number of authors as a result of #DVpit. We are thrilled to be part of such an important process and be a vessel for these deserving authors. At the end of the day, it’s also just a lot of fun.
Christopher, did you receive pitch help? Any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to future participants?
CHRISTOPHER: I ran my pitch past other past participants to get feedback. #PreDV was crucial because it gave me the chance to try out a couple different pitches to see which elements worked and which didn’t. To future participants, I would say seek and be open to the feedback. I, of course, thought my first pitch was perfect, haha! But when folks started to tell me this was missing, or this didn’t come through clearly, it reminded me that I have tens of thousands of words in my head that I’m trying to condense into 140 characters, so my perspective will always be skewed. The pitch won’t read to me the same way it does to everyone else.
Oh, and tags. Be sure to leave room for at least one tag.
And NineStar, do you have any advice for querying authors and/or for anyone planning to participate in a future #DVpit?
NINESTAR: Something we try to make clear on our Twitter is that we are okay with submissions that come days, even weeks, after the event. We understand that authors are looking for the best fit. That includes shopping around and researching. Don’t be afraid to come back later after you’ve done some of those things and still decide to submit to us. The door is open.
Tell us about The Call, Christopher!
CHRISTOPHER: Honestly, I think I was in shock. I got the email from my editor Jason saying NineStar wanted to offer me a contract, and I was like, wait, what? Is this real life?? Refreshed the mailbox a couple times to make sure the email didn’t get recalled. Called my mom. Texted my writer’s group. This was the first time for me, you know? I self-published a novel a few years ago, after many rejections. But this was the first time someone said yes. So it was a pretty special moment.
Christopher, what has the editing/publication process been like since #DVpit? Any news you can share about the book at this point? Publication date, cover, blurbs…?
CHRISTOPHER: Blackwelder was published on January 1st, so it was an awesome New Year's Day gift. The editing process was intense, but I actually really enjoyed it in the end. We had multiple rounds of revisions and edits, where the editors would make some suggestions, I would make changes and send it back, and then a new editor would read it and make suggestions. I think that was really helpful in sharpening characters, scenes, and plot. The cover is beautiful. I'm quite pleased with the way it turned out, and the feedback I received on it has been very positive as well. Next up is my world tour! Kidding. But I am looking into bookstores and campuses for readings. Especially campuses, through student resource centers, because the representation of LGBT characters and characters of color are things I'd like to highlight.
Give us the pitch that hooked your publisher!
CHRISTOPHER: “1/2 Kenyan sharpshooter must get past bad choices to fend off [alien] invaders. Can he save his squad, his planet, and the man he loves? #DVPit #LGBT”
NineStar, what was it about this pitch that caught your attention?
NINESTAR: Do I have to pick just one thing? This pitch was just so spot on. As a whole, it gave me an idea of what to expect, and boy, did I want to read it. When we say a pitch should capture you immediately, that’s exactly what this did.
Warm congratulations to Christopher and the team at NineStar Press for finding each other! I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next. Follow them on Twitter so you can do the same, and check out BLACKWELDER: 2164!
Christopher D. J. (@StopherJo) was born and raised in the American South, calling multiple cities home, but none more so than Daytona Beach, FL, where he graduated from Mainland High School. Christopher went on to complete his BA at Duke University and his MPW at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Blackwelder: 2164 and Between Two Brothers, and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he enjoys comic books, movies, cheeseburgers, French fries, and not having to worry too much about mosquitoes.
Click here to find out more about the team at NineStar Press.