Hi, Scott! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you live? What kind of work do you do?

I’m 31 years old and was born and raised in the United States. I’ve been a software developer for about nine years, and I’m currently working as a software architect, coordinating multiple development teams at a large company in the automotive industry.

While I was still studying, I was active in the hacker scene, but not doing what the news tries to frighten people with. I was what is called a “white-hat hacker” or “ethical hacker” which is basically someone using their security knowledge to try to improve security in the world by finding vulnerabilities in software and informing the owners before someone malicious exploits them. I still actively do this as part of my job, and I’m part of a security team at my current company.

I met my wife online through common interest in hacking and programming and that led me to move to Germany about eight years ago where I currently live with my wife and daughter.

Your newest book ‘The Galactic Idiot’ was released in early January. What’s it about and where did the idea for the book originate?

The idea for The Galactic Idiot came pretty randomly actually. The first page or two of the book just popped into my head, introducing the main character and the idea that he accidentally does something extremely big and stupid like destroying the moon (not a spoiler). After that, I just had to figure how he got to that point and what happened as a result.

A lot of other ideas came at random too, for example I came up with Megatroll, the chaos-weaving computer worm trapped in a robot vacuum cleaner, while at the playground with my daughter, who has a strange love/hate relationship with our robot vacuum cleaner. Some other ideas are parodies of things I’ve seen in other sci-fi stories or common fiction conventions.

The Galactic Idiot is about a good-hearted, naïve young man named Gary who grew up admiring the fictional heroes of TV and comics, always dreaming of becoming such a hero himself. When his frighteningly ill-tempered uncle, Virgil, gets him a job as a janitor aboard Terra One, humanity’s oldest and most run-down space station, Gary’s dream can finally come true.

The trouble with Gary is that he’s a moron. But he’s not just your average run-of-the-mill dimwit. Gary’s idiocy is special because, unlike most idiots, he’s stupid on a planetary level. Literally. The last thing he says before destroying the moon is, “Oops.”

After inadvertently causing the greatest catastrophe in human history, Gary is on the run from two of the galaxy’s most powerful and least forgiving empires in a broken and unpredictable ship, encountering many diverse friends and enemies along the way including: Shii’an the always-cool seven-limbed rogue; Mon Arun, the a shape-shifting reptilian spy; Korg, the dour purple goliath who just wants to tinker with machines; Megatroll, the most dangerous computer worm in history trapped in a robot vacuum cleaner; and Queen Morgaan the omnipresent insectoid mother of a trillion mindless drones and a single daughter she’ll protect at all costs.

The book is a comedy/sci-fi. Was writing comedy harder than writing more serious science fiction?

Actually I found this one to be much easier to write than my previous novels. Part of that came from the setting. In my other two novels, which are more hard science fiction and more rooted in a world like ours, making things believable was sometimes tough. For The Galactic Idiot, being far in the future out in space in a galaxy filled with aliens and fictional civilizations made it so the rules of my fictional universe were more open to be however I wanted them. Nobody is going to fact check exactly how the Pugrans destroyed their planet or when a stoned Antarean emperor launched all his nukes into space in a drug-induced misunderstanding.

Although that doesn’t mean it was entirely made up. I spent absurd amounts of time looking at lists of astronomical bodies and reading about astronomy and physics. Many of the planets, stars, and moons described are real. I also didn’t want to make just silly space fantasy, so I did try to make everything still make sense, also from a scientific perspective, for example with the concept of hyperdrive technology and how space travel would work with regards to designing ships and navigation, etc. The Vamra, a civilization made entirely of mindless drones controlled by a single queen, also took a lot of consideration, because such a society would be so radically different from our own.

One of the difficulties writing this style was in keeping the right tense and voice. When the narration makes an aside to explain something about the universe, I needed to switch to present tense because, for example, you wouldn’t say “tigers were large feline animals” in the past tense unless they were extinct. This switching back and forth while describing fictional things was sometimes difficult.

Are you planning sequels to ‘The Galactic Idiot’? What about your first two books—will they have sequels?

I set some things up at the end of The Galactic Idiot so that it would be open to the possibility of a sequel, or possibly a whole series of stories based in the same universe.

My hardboiled sci-fi detective novel, A Fatal Exception, has a lot of potential for sequels as well, and I have a lot of ideas.

At the moment I’m just writing whatever I have inspiration for.

I don’t know about you, but I always anxiously await the first few reviews of a new book of mine. ‘The Galactic Idiot’ got its first review on Goodreads. What was your reaction to this review? Was it what you were hoping for?

A hilarious romp!

This book was very fun, and very funny. Our hapless hero is a bumbling fool who’s likable and causes Mayhem and eventually saves the earth. It has ridiculously entertaining characters like an evil sentient vacuum cleaner, and a squid like beef with multiple arms. Great stuff highly recommended!

I was very pleasantly surprised because, being completely honest, I expected the first review to come from someone I knew. To my surprise, The Galactic Idiot immediately took off on Kindle Unlimited, and a lot of eager readers sped through it already in just a day or two after it was published. I’m pretty happy with the review, especially since it shows that I really managed to carry my intent across in the story.

In October 2019, you wrote and published a short story called ‘The Test Subject’. Can you tell us about it? Do you plan to write more short stories?

It’s difficult to say too much about The Test Subject without influencing your interpretation, because your interpretation as the reader is probably the most important part of the story. It’s a story told in the first person about someone who is suddenly and violently ripped away from his/her home and everything he/she knew and brought to a strange and terrifying new world occupied by a race of monstrous giants. The protagonist’s life becomes a constant science experiment, leaving the pitiful human weakened to the point of immobility and blindness. Soon the only thing keeping the captive sane is the thought of escape from this surrealistic nightmare and revenge against the wardens and the beings they report to.

I have a lot of other ideas for short stories, and they seem like a good way to experiment and test things out. I already wrote another, but realized it had potential for something bigger, so I continued it further, though it’s still a work-in-progress.

Your first two novels are cross-genre—part science fiction and part mystery. What draws you to each?

My engineering background is probably what draws me to both. Why being a software developer gives me an interest in science fiction is probably self-explanatory. I dream of the things that will one day come including robots, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, holograms, etc. With my security background, however, I also immediately see the problems that could arise with such technological advancements.

Why being a software developer draws me to mystery might be less obvious. In many ways I see myself as a sort of detective. I spend much of my day examining logs and graphs, trying to see patterns and fluctuations in them. I use this “evidence” regularly for debugging and investigating disruptions. A good detective is a being of logic, as is a good developer.

Do you have favorite authors in your genres?

Some of my favorite authors in the genres are Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Lately I’ve been really enjoying The Murderbot Diaries from Martha Wells.

Your first novel, A Fatal Exception, was released in early July, 2019. Can you tell us about the story?

A Fatal Exception is a hardboiled detective story set in Chicago, in a dystopian future we could very well see ourselves in not to far from now. It’s centered around a quirky robot who may be self-aware and nearly human, or perhaps he’s just the result of unusual programming and upbringing. Perhaps there’s no difference between the two. All that’s clear is that Seven Sinclair is a strange bird and a hard case, and when an investigation into a simple hack gets him framed for murder he has to try to solve the case and clear his name.

Sergeant Rizzo of the Chicago PD, one of the few uncorrupted cops left in a dirty town, was once the bane of every mobster in the metropolis, but he’s getting old, and since he always had an aversion to technology, he has trouble keeping up with the younger detectives. When he finally sees the chance to prove once and for all the he was right about those wretched robots all along, he’s ready to stop at nothing to catch the tin can.

What inspired you to write it, and did you have to do a lot of research for it?

I started writing my first book, Epoch, which I published shortly after A Fatal Exception because of an idea my wife had which she thought would make an interesting story. With some further encouragement from my wife, I started writing A Fatal Exception shortly after I finished the first draft of Epoch, and this one actually started with an idea for a totally different story, a young adult sci-fi. I had the idea for a quirky, sarcastic robot detective and then decided he belonged in his own story.

I was inspired by classic hardboiled detective stories and by Batman’s Gotham City while creating my dystopian setting. I was also inspired by current events and the current social and political situation in the world. Having lived in two continents gives me the ability to see a lot of things as an outsider, so I see a lot of problems in our society. I was inspired to write about the dystopian future which I hope we can avoid. After seeing what the year 2020 brought out in humanity, I think I have more than enough dystopian cyberpunk inspiration stocked up.

I didn’t need to do so much research for A Fatal Exception since a lot could be invented, one advantage of science fiction and fantasy, and I could draw a lot from my own knowledge. I did do some research on how to hack a prison’s locking mechanism and I tried to find blueprints for a Chicago police department. That, in combination with some of the bloody research I did for Epoch, probably puts me on a few NSA watchlists.

Your second novel, Epoch, was published in July 2019. Can you tell us about the story?

What if you woke up one morning lying on the floor, head pounding, and realized you had no idea what you were doing there? Even worse, what if you discovered you had no idea who you were or what your name was, and there was no way to find out because everyone else has lost all their memories as well? To top it off, what if all electronics suddenly stopped functioning at the same time?

This is precisely the situation one young man finds himself in. He’s forced to try to rediscover his identity while struggling to find a path between what’s right and what’s necessary for survival. Sometimes the what’s right and what’s wrong aren’t so easily discernible.

Forced to cope with a wasteland of useless, dead technology in a world that had grown to rely so heavily on machines, the people of Jerome must learn to rebuild society without the modern conveniences they depended upon so strongly. They suffer power struggles, death and disease, and are even forced to face the birth of a serial killer, all while fighting to reinvent themselves. Epoch is an epic of love, death, friendship, and inner struggles. It’s a story uniting post-apocalyptic horror with philosophy and sociology.

All three of your books are science fiction, and yet they are very different kinds of books in different sub-genres?  Does one genre/sub-genre feel more natural to you, and why?

I think each sub-genre felt the most natural at the time since I typically write what I’m inspired for and shift to something else when the inspiration is dry. I think The Galactic Idiot flowed the easiest though for some reason. Maybe with that story I was a little freer to go in whatever direction I felt like, also being able to shift between as many different perspectives as I wanted in order to develop the characters.

Who designed your book covers? Can you tell us about the design process? What inspired the designs?

My wife designed the cover for A Fatal Exception and created the image herself since she’s pretty artistic. It started with an idea to put a silhouette of the protagonist on the cover, so we found an old photo of Humphrey Bogart in a hat and trench coat and my wife turned it into a drawing. We decided we wanted it to look urban, but we wanted to show the less glorious side of city life, so we went with the idea of graffiti. The graffiti idea was also inspired partly by the street artist, Banksy, who is also well known for conveying social criticism in his art. To give it a sort of futuristic look still, we used a technical font.

My wife also created the cover for Epoch, which has a very simple cover intended to be very minimalistic. This minimalism symbolizes the sudden loss of all the memories, technology, and amenities which all the characters are forced to endure.

The cover of The Test Subject was also made by my wife, but again, it’s hard to describe the inspiration there without influencing your perspective while reading it.

For The Galactic Idiot, I actually created the cover myself using artwork from artists Vadim Sadovski and Willgard Krause. The asteroids are intended to be remnants of a destroyed moon, and the spherical space station, Terra One is visible in the background.

You work in a high-tech profession. Do your tech skills and knowledge help you in your writing and do they influence the types of stories you write?

I found that writing a book isn’t that different from writing code. You start by gathering product requirements, or building a premise. Then you start with architectural design, or creating an outline. After that comes implementation, or writing the actual story. Sometimes things didn’t turn out so cleanly so you need to do some refactoring, or revising. Having an editor take a look at it is basically the same as a peer review. It’s kind of the same thing just with different terminology.

My technical background also influenced the tools I use to write. For example, I keep my books in git repositories, a type of version control software. That way I have my work backed up along with a history of every change I made in the cloud. I also wrote about 50% of A Fatal Exception with my phone, and did 100% of the planning with it using tools like Evernote. 100% of The Test Subject and The Galactic Idiot were written on my phone, and I didn’t use a computer until I started formatting the manuscripts. I also think my engineering background helped with planning and research skills, which are pretty important when writing.

I was able to draw a lot from my experience as a developer in particular while writing A Fatal Exception, not only regarding purely technical topics but also cultural (regarding office culture and developer culture).

Your mother is also a writer, with thirteen published mystery novels. How does it feel to share the writing and publishing experience with her? Do you worry about being compared to each other?

I’m very proud of my mom for all the great novels she’s written and published. It’s pretty helpful too to have someone with experience to consult to know how things work and to be able to ask what’s normal.

I don’t really expect to be compared much since our writing styles and subject matter are so drastically different. I’m not sure if we really have the same target audiences either. If someone would be interested in both and want to compare them I would hope he or she has just positive things to say about both.

You are American but live in Germany. Are your books more popular in the U.S. or in Germany? Do you think you’ll ever translate any of your books into German?

I think it’s about even. I don’t think I would translate any of them because, at least at the moment, my general target audience tends to be the sort of people who, in Germany, speak pretty good English.

Please send photos and/or links to go along with your interview!

Scott’s Website: https://www.scottfinlayauthor.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SFinlayAuthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScottFinlayAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19319151.Scott_Finlay