‘‘The Red is a near-future military thriller, told in the voice of army infantry Lieutenant James Shelly, who commands a squad responsible for patrolling a remote district in the African Sahel. Shelley is very cynical about the reasons for war, but he’s also devoted to his duty and his squad – known as an LCS, a linked combat. The idea is that the squad is linked through a surveillance drone to what’s called Guidance, which is an office in the United States that provides background information and instant intelligence, and acts as another set of eyes on the terrain around them. They are also linked into the skullcaps they wear which communicate with a cyborg enhancement in their brains. The skullcap can pick up basic thoughts and translate them to voice which allows a very crude telepathy. The skullcaps are also used to moderate brain activity, helping to control and stabilize their emotional states. And, well, with all this cerebral enhancement, strange things begin to happen.”

‘‘Often writers seem to have intellectual or scholarly reasons for what they’re doing. My basic motive is, I like adventure stories. The military setting gave me a chance to write a fast-paced adventure story. That was my first priority. Beyond that I like to engage in a somewhat realistic technology that connects back to the world we live in. That’s where the skullnet/skullcap technology comes in. I read an article about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it talked about using a drug to treat the condition. If the drug was administered near the time of the traumatic experience, it would help relieve long-term impacts from the stress that lingers in the brain and has repercussions for years down the line. There are also some studies on how neurons can be trained to react to light within the brain. I put these things together and thought, ‘If you want to keep your soldiers in top shape, you need to treat their stress immediately and guide their emotional state while they’re in the field.’ Everything grew out of that initial concept.”

‘‘This is the first science fiction novel of mine to see publication in ten years. I basically stopped writing for a very long time. I gradually got back into it with a couple of little fantasy novels that I self-published. With The Red I felt that I needed to get some new science fiction out in the world as soon as I could. I was enjoying self-publishing, both the speed of it, and the control, and I didn’t want to spend months shopping the novel around and then waiting a year on top of that for it to be published. As I mentioned, I had already put out a couple of short, original novels on my own, and had republished my entire backlist, and I was feeling confident. When it comes to self-publishing, I had some advantages because I had worked in website development and programming for many years. The company I worked for was tiny, so we basically did it all. So I was preadapted to do all the coding for the e-book, and I know how to do graphics work. I had taught myself basic InDesign – a page layout program – a few years before self-publishing took off, because I had always intended to republish my far-future novel Vast in a print edition. I had great plans to do a ten-year anniversary edition, which I totally missed, but the new edition is out there now with an updated cover by Bruce Jensen who did the art for the original Bantam edition. So I was able to do the work to put out my backlist myself. Other writers hire the job out, but of course that takes a bigger initial investment. When I started self-publishing, I had no idea if it would be worth the effort, if it’d be worthwhile, but I’ve really enjoyed the experience.

‘‘So with The Red, I didn’t shop the manuscript around at all. For the third time, I went straight to self publishing – and the novel did pretty well. The consensus is that it’s the first self-published novel to be a Nebula-award finalist – and now I’ve pulled it off the market! But only temporarily. The exciting news is that it’s been acquired by Joe Monti at Saga Press, who is re-publishing it along with the two sequels. So it’s been a long, roundabout road back to traditional publishing.”

‘‘I don’t read nearly as much as I want to. The truth is that I’m a very slow reader, and that cuts way back on what I can consume. It also makes me appreciate shorter novels. It was one of my goals, to bring The Red in at around 100,000 words. It ended up at about 116,000. I give some of my fantasy-writer friends a hard time: ‘Write shorter books!’ There are so many books I’d like to read, but they are just so long I’m put off – if I remember to check the length. With ebooks, it’s not obvious. Sometimes I start reading a book. Three or four nights go by and I realize I’m only ten percent in. It’s a frustrating feeling.”

‘‘Science fiction is my first love, but I like being able to do both science fiction and fantasy. In 1995 there was no self-publishing option for a career, and of course things have changed incredibly since then. I hesitate to give career advice, because everybody’s career is going to go in a different direction, but I’d say, consider all your options. I think people with the best chance of finding self-publishing success are those who can produce two or three novels a year. Some writers can do that consistently. My own rate of production is slowing down dramatically. The sequel to The Red took me most of a year to write. If you’re not a fast writer, you’re going to have a harder time self-publishing. And, definitely, if you’re going to self-publish, you need to self-publish quality work.’’