Case Studies For Writers

a craft toolbox

Sep 4, 2019

Author Interview Series: Max Vonne


We are excited to interview Max Vonne, one of the earliest adopters of CritiqueMatch! Max is working on a soon-to-be published sci fi series and has stayed busy on multiple projects, from creating a software program to generate planets and stars for a fictional galaxy, to building a directory of resources for writers. Let’s see what he told us when he found time to sit down with Mike this week.

CritiqueMatch: Where did you get the idea to write the Star Faer series?


Max Vonne: Stan Lee was a huge influence on me.  I had the opportunity to meet him and spend some time with him in 2008-2011 when I was doing some work with him on comic book signings.  As he told me stories from his days at Marvel--low tech by modern standards--I kept thinking that if one were to build a fictional universe now, computer programming could facilitate it.  I didn’t do anything at the time, but I kept the idea in the back of my head.

When Game of Thrones started in 2011, I was riveted to the screen.  I couldn’t believe how good it was.  It also felt like a paradigm shift.  Main characters died.  Unexpected things happened.  Good and evil were nuanced.  

At the same time, I felt the Marvel MCU lacked that sense of blurred line between good and evil, hero and villain.  The heroes were great, flawed just as Stan Lee had intended, but the villains were incredibly one-dimensional and unengaging.  I started thinking about how I would do things differently.  I imagined combining fantasy and science fiction.  But I did nothing about it for seven years.  I finally got pushed over the edge in 2018 when I heard rumors about a Silver Surfer film being made.  He’s one of my favorite characters, but I was worried that they weren’t going to do him justice.  

Since I was so critical, I thought I should give my own ideas a try.  Sort of a put up or shut up moment.  It’s easy to criticize, much harder to do the actual work.  And now as I develop my work, I realize how hard it is, and I’m a lot less critical of Marvel.  My kids love their films.  And I really enjoyed Endgame.

Anyway, for my work, I felt it was very important to create a deep world for the stories to exist in.  So I asked myself how I could create a backdrop to the stories that was larger in scale than GOT and even larger than the MCU.  A huge ambition, I know, but if you’re going to dream, dream big.   


CritiqueMatch: Did you start with that in mind or was it a process that evolved while you were writing the first book?

Max Vonne: I imagined an ongoing series from the beginning.  I thought of it more in terms of a franchise, rather than a book.  I dreamed of a ubiquitous brand with books, comic books, merch, streaming series, film, and computer games.  My kids are after me to create the computer game, but I’m not a strong enough programmer to write games.  Again, dreaming big.  It would be wonderful if I can get any of it to happen.

CritiqueMatch: I am passionate about tech and was intrigued about the way you built the Star Faer world. You mention that you built a custom computer program to create thousands of stars and planets. Tell us more!

Max Vonne: I imagined a galaxy full of planets and people and reverse-engineered the story of how they came to be.  Once I had the creation story in my head, I realized that I had to have a well-thought out galaxy.  I named it Kaedra.  It’s a spiral galaxy divided into one hundred zones.  

I felt that Star Wars and Star Trek lacked sufficient knowledge of their own fictional landscapes from an astronomical standpoint.  For example, if you look up Star Trek planets, you get approximately 350 named planets.  At least that’s what I counted at some point.  A lot of those names are like Alpha Carinae V, so that isn’t a unique name since they also have Alpha Carinae II.  People living on those planets wouldn’t name them that way.  What stars do those planets orbit?  What quadrants are they in?  I have no easy way to answer those questions. 

I wanted to create the largest scale fictional universe for books, so I built a computer program to help me do it.  So far, it has over 1,000 named stars, over 12,000 named planets, and over 40,000 named moons.  You can see them all on StarFaer.com.  I’m still refining the names as of now.  But I’ve already created a lot of details for each celestial body.  I also created a very simple mapping system, so I know the location of each body relative to the others.  I put this together before writing any of the books.

So if I write about people on a planet, I know quite a lot about the planet and the star it revolves around.  I know how many planets are in the system, the age of the star, etc.  

The planets and stars are measured in size by comparing mass to our Sun and Earth.  So the star Halprae, for example, is .79 times the solar mass of our sun, so it’s a little smaller.  Planet Zori is 1.91 times the mass of Earth, so it’s almost twice as big.  Zori is the fifth planet revolving around Halprae.  Volumino, a gas giant, is the first planet and orbits closely to Halprae.  So from Zori, the people there can see it transiting across the face of their sun often, casting a giant shadow.  Those are the kind of geeky details I built before writing the stories.

CritiqueMatch: It gave me immense joy when you told me that you polished one of your books with help from one of CritiqueMatch’s top users, Bethany Tucker. Can you tell us what that experience was like for you? 

Max Vonne: Bethany really stepped up.  I got help from Marissa F. and some others as well.  Thank you to everyone.

Bethany and I were among the first to join the platform when it launched.  Her feedback was tough!  At first I thought she was an outlier because others weren’t that critical.  But when I researched her points, I realized that she was right. I had made fundamental mistakes involving point of view.  It was a nightmare, so bad that it took me ninety days to get the second draft done.  

Bethany stuck with me through numerous subsequent drafts, about seven months of work in total.  We took the work very seriously.  We both maintained a high work ethic.  No lagging on turnaround times.  Often we would do multiple submissions in a single day.  She had a novel similar in length to mine, so I helped her with that.  We developed a relationship of trust, which is important when being critical.  A lot of the feedback is negative; that’s the nature of editing, especially for new writers.  It’s useful if you can be open to it.

Bethany helped me at a very critical point in my development as a writer.  I got so incredibly lucky to find an experienced editor to help me work through the fundamentals.  Once you have the fundamentals of writing down, the rest falls into place fairly easily. 

CritiqueMatch: What advice would you give to a writer who is thinking about self-publishing their first book?

Max Vonne: I’m a very loud proponent of CritiqueMatch.  If you are going to self-publish, you need to get feedback from serious critiquers before doing so.  I discovered this by reading the reviews of self-published authors.  Reviewers on Good Reads don’t pull punches.  They will crush your book if you make amateur mistakes.  Sometimes you’ll get in-depth reviews, and I read several where they suggested that the author get beta readers before publishing.  That’s what caused me to seek out CritiqueMatch in the first place.  I’m so glad I did.

I can’t provide much advice on the actual publishing side because I haven’t done it yet.  But I can tell you why I decided to self-publish.  I don’t want to give up publishing rights early.  Creators like Stan Lee and Gene Roddenberry got screwed because they didn’t retain the rights to their work.  At one point, Roddenberry could have bought the rights to Star Trek for $150,000, but he didn’t have the money.   Wow.  Everything Stan Lee did was work-made-for-hire.  He owned nothing.  What a tragedy.  

Also, I don’t work at a snail’s pace.  I’m not a fit for the publishing industry.  I’m used to rapid-paced development.  One of the things I love about CritiqueMatch is I can get a constant feedback cycle going, just as I would if I were doing a tech start-up. 

The other thing I keep asking myself is, what would a publisher do for me that I couldn’t do myself?  I suppose they could drive publicity for books, but I feel like I should be able to find my audience online.  Might take a while, but I would retain all my rights.

Eventually, deals have to be done with publishers or other companies to take it to the next level.  But I’m going to try to gain leverage first by building my audience myself.   

CritiqueMatch: You have recently started a new project, the Writers Wiki. What is it about?

Max Vonne: Bethany and I started trading suggestions for books on technique, articles, podcasts, etc.  It turns out that we both had a passion for those kinds of books and other writing resources.  The problem was keeping track of everything.  So I came up with WritersWiki.com as a way for writers to share resources.  Now I pop my links in there, and they’re easy to find.  If I want to see what Bethany is recommending, I just check the site.  I can search by her name to see her contributions.  I just banged out the code for the site in a couple of weeks in between drafts for Star Faer.

CritiqueMatch: What other projects are you currently working on? 

Max Vonne: Star Faer is an all-consuming project at the moment.  I hope to have six books completed by the end of 2020.  That is the projected length of the initial series.  Subject to change, of course.

CritiqueMatch: When is Star Faer coming out and where can people buy it?

Max Vonne: I’m still working out the details of the release dates.  I have two books in the series written, C’artha’s Kiss and The Queen of Zori.  C’artha’s Kiss is in the editing phase.  I want to release both books at the same time, so somewhere between early October and early January is my best guess.  If I run too close to the end of the year, I’ll wait for 2020 to launch everything.  The books will be available on Amazon.com, both for kindle and paperback.




-------------


Max Vonne is a sci-fi writer who blends science fiction and fantasy, creating stories full of kings and queens, slaves, barbarians, elves, magic, and tech.  The Kaedra galaxy is at the heart of his work.  To develop it, he wrote a custom computer program that created thousands of stars and planets.  His books explore stories involving those worlds.  You can visit these worlds at www.StarFaer.com 
Max also founded www.WritersWiki.com to provide free resources to new writers.