The Designer’s Drugs: Andy Schoepp – Time Ninja

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Andy Schoepp – Time Ninja

Anno: 2010

 

Andy Schoepp’s first novel, The Martial Arts Murders, will always have a special place in my heart.  Having spent long periods of my life as a ninja film nerd, the blend of frantic martial arts action, frenzied screw scenes, and unapologetic machismo featured in this debut was right up my alley.  That said, while The Martial Arts Murders is my favorite of Schoepp’s work, I’d have to say that Time Ninja is his best work.

The trilogy that Murders commenced was hyperactive and occasionally flirted with science fiction, but it was also grounded in the geography and circumstances of the modern world.  Beyond the action, these books were essentially mysteries.  In Time Ninja, Schoepp finally leaps into the deep end of the sci-fi pool and gets his hands dirty with world-building.  The story begins with a ninja feud, a few decades from now, which propels the titular ninja, Ryu Kendo, into a future dystopia and the real focus of the plot.  It’s still Earth, but not the Earth as we know it, and it’s fascinating to see how he tweaks the planet.

I’m going to throw this out there, not as a specific criticism of this book but of the gimmick as a whole: no matter the medium, time travel usually doesn’t work well in fiction.  Loose ends and paradoxes tend to pop out and distract the audience from the narrative, and inevitably it becomes a cheap way to erase some awful thing that happened earlier (a step up from those catastrophes being a dream).  Time Ninja sometimes falls victim to these issues, but it’s to Schoepp’s great credit that he shows restraint and doesn’t get tangled up in gimmick. Time Ninja is noticeably more Ninja than Time, to its benefit.

With that in mind, the catastrophe erase which happens in this book actually leads to something I ended up liking a great deal.  In his Murders trilogy, Schoepp’s hero, Detective Michael Darts, was an unfailingly stand-up guy, the sort who held doors for ladies, helped grannies cross the street, and rescued kittens stuck in trees.  Yet in his quest to make everything right, Time Ninja’s hero flips out in a rather irrational manner, and he quickly descends into the moral crossroads of Dickhead Ave. and Monster Blvd.  Things get sorted out, of course, but I really enjoyed the temporary gray area where it wasn’t quite clear if Ryu had become the villain.

Beyond all this, Time Ninja is everything I’ve come to expect from an Andy Schoepp book: supersonic action, verbose dialogue, and, of course, the banging of hot babes.  But the new elements are equally intriguing.  I’d really like to see more science fiction out of Andy Schoepp.

Y Spy: Andy Schoepp, Time Ninja

As has become tradition, when Andy Schoepp releases a new book, I email him a few questions about the work, which he answers at his leisure.  That tradition continues with the completion of Time Ninja, leading to a discussion about time travel and publishing pitfalls.

Y Spy: How did Time Ninja come about?

Andy Schoepp: If you read the introduction to Time Ninja you will see I actually began work on it BEFORE I started working on The Martial Arts Murders.  I had the first three chapters of Time Ninja done when I began working on The Martial Arts Murders instead.  What prompted that decision was the fact that I had an outline of Time Ninja done and I knew the task was going to be daunting and as a new writer it scared me a little to undertake such a huge novel.  Besides, I didn’t like how I had written the first three chapters of Time Ninja so I thought maybe if I worked on The Martial Arts Murders books first (I had planned for them to be a trilogy from the start) that I would be a more accomplished and a better writer when I was done so I could do a better job with Time Ninja.  I worked on Time Ninja in bits and pieces while I wrote Life and Money Heist and Moral Executioners and when I was done I just had to go back and revise the portions of Time Ninja that were already done with my improved writing style and just complete the project from there.

Y Spy: How does one become a Time Ninja?

Schoepp: Actually, it would be impossible right now.  First, it takes 20 years of training to become a ninja and second, nobody has invented time travel yet.  That is why this novel is in the Science Fiction genre.

Y Spy: How do you work time travel into an action story?

Schoepp: I used it as a vehicle to try to put two things together that normally wouldn’t be able to coexist together.  In the case of Time Ninja I had to use Science Fiction and time travel in order to pit Ryu against high-tech weaponry.  And in order to pit him against the KIND of high-tech weaponry I wanted to use, it would have to be done in the future.  I would NOT recommend using time travel in a novel however.  It creates story and logistical challenges that will give a writer headaches and drive a person to drink (luckily I’m not much of a drinker).  This is also why I’m glad I put Time Ninja on the shelf and went ahead with The Martial Arts Murders trilogy first because there is NO WAY an inexperienced writer could have handled the logistical problems in Time Ninja, it would have been a huge mess and a disaster so I’m glad I waited with Time Ninja.

Y Spy: What research and ideas on time travel did you bring into this?

Schoepp: I didn’t really do any research into time travel.  If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that I went to great lengths to make the method of time travel in the novel as unique as possible.  In most stories involving time travel there was always some type of vehicle characters rode in to travel through time.  In Time Ninja, I had a time module that sends people and things through time without a vehicle or without the character riding in something.  The time module sends people and things through time but it stays behind.

Y Spy: What influenced you in the writing of Time Ninja?

Schoepp: I wanted to write a novel that was heavily weighted with Ninjutsu as opposed to just the martial arts in general.  Yes, I had Sho Katarugi in The Martial Arts Murders but I wanted to write a novel that was a mix of Ninjutsu and Science Fiction.  A Science Fiction novel allows the writer to incorporate futuristic weaponry and pit it against the ancient arts and techniques of Ninjutsu and this is where the idea for Chapter 18 entitled Armageddon came from.

Y Spy: Describe the transition from writing a trilogy of shorter stories to writing a larger yet independent novel.  Did you take a different approach?

Schoepp: Not really.  I have outlines and notes in my desk from each of The Martial Arts Murders trilogy novels and my outlines and notes for Time Ninja are just longer and there are more of them.  They’re also complicated too so nobody else could understand them, I even have outlines and notes that refer to other outlines and other notes to try to keep the time travel and the plot straight.  I also have a half a sheet of paper in my desk with calculations involving years and characters’ ages.  I stress again, I gave myself a headache more than once working on this novel and I do NOT recommend a new wirter trying to work on a novel like this.

Y Spy: How is Time Ninja different from The Martial Arts Murders?

Schoepp: Obviously Time Ninja is more in the Science Fiction genre where as The Martial Arts Murders trilogy novels are more in the action/adventure and police drama genres.  Time Ninja is a little bit darker and doesn’t have as many fun or comic relief moments like The Martial Arts Murders trilogy does (don’t get me wrong, The Martial Arts Murders trilogy are serious novels, but I added a few moments of comic relief and had some fun for the characters and there is less of that in Time Ninja, it’s less forgiving.)  Otherwise it is longer in length and scope so it is more epic.  I also left Time Ninja open for a sequel but it can also stand on its own so no fear of a cliffhanger or nagging feelings or anything like that.

Y Spy: You’ve mentioned that the process of getting Time Ninja out was longer and more difficult than those of the Martial Arts Murders books.  What happened?

Schoepp: Oh brother, let me see if I can list everything that went wrong with this book.  First I had an argument with Outskirts Press about combining a 40% trade discount with a retail returns contract, then my author representative from The Martial Arts Murders trilogy got a promotion so I had to work with a new author representative, then I ran into technical problems with Outskirts Press’ website in the pre-production phase, the cover had to be hand-drawn and proofs were coming in two week intervals from black and white to what you see now, then Outskirts Press refused to format the interior of the book until the cover was done, once the interior was formatted it was formatted wrong twice, then I had so submit 338 edits (that was my own damn fault though) and all of these 338 edits had to be done during Thanksgiving with my day job being in sales.  Not to mention all of the other small things that needed to be addressed when in the publishing process.  Yeah, getting this novel out was not easy but I think it was worth the wait; I’ll just have to wait to hear from my fans to find out if it was worth the wait.

Y Spy: Time Ninja’s physical release sells for a much greater price than your previous books.  Why is that?

Schoepp: First and foremost it is obviously a much longer novel (550 pages versus an average of 275 pages for the three books in The Martial Arts Murders trilogy).  And the trim size for Time Ninja is 1/2″ wider and a full inch taller so it is a mammoth novel (you almost have to hold a physical copy in your hands to understand how long this book is).  To put it into perspective, the Microsoft Word draft of this book was 726 pages that’s 8 1/2 X 11, double spaced with no headers or footers.  Also, in an effort to get the book into more bookstores, the book has a 40% trade discount (which means retailers get 40% off of the cover price when they order it for store stock).  Time Ninja also has a retail returns contract on it (which means retailers can return the book to Ingram if they have too many copies that are not selling).  These three factors, size/length, 40% trade discount and returnability all contribute to a higher retail price.  The cover art and the interior formatting alone though are worth the price of the book.  If you look at the interior formatting, you will probably be hard pressed to find a book that is as nicely done and as unique as Time Ninja.   It is indeed a handsome novel to have on your living room table or bedroom nightstand.

Y Spy: Do you still believe in working through an independent publisher?

Schoepp: Yes.  The problem with commercial publishers is if you are not already famous or a criminal (i.e. Balloon Boy’s parents) it’s almost impossible to even get an editor from a commercial publisher to even read your manuscript.  It seems like commercial publishers are only interested in making the rich and famous more rich and famous and giving people who commit crimes the notoriety and publicity they want.  Almost every time you turn on the news you hear about some criminal who just signed a multi-million-dollar book deal through a commercial publisher.  It seems like commercial publishers are more interested in celebritizing criminals and rewarding illegal behavior than helping unknown, law-abiding citizens.  Independently published books still have a chance of being picked up by a commercial publisher and that is what I’m working towards.  You have a better chance of getting published commercially if you have an independently published book than you do if you just let a manuscript sit in a desk collecting dust.

Y Spy: With the field of literature becoming more electronic, what is your opinion on electronic books?

Schoepp: I have no problem with electronic books.  In fact, there is a Kindle edition of Time Ninja available on Amazon.com.  There is also an e-book edition of Time Ninja on my author’s website at www.outskirtspress.com/timeninja.  There are however benefits of holding a physical book in your hands instead of an electronic device with the pages appearing on a screen.  A physical book requires a book mark and when you put it into the book you get a sense of accomplishment when you place it in the book, you can tell how much ground you covered since the last time you put it in the book.  There is also no substitute for the feeling you get after reading that last page and closing the back cover of the book.  I have no problem with electronic books though, I actually embrace the technology.

Y Spy: So the big writing projects you’ve been planning since the beginning of your writing career have been completed.  Are you going to continue writing?

Schoepp: I am still writing.  I am working on a collection of short stories in the Horror genre, another martial arts related novel that will be shorter (more like The Martial Arts Murders novels) and a sequel to Time Ninja.  I think I am going to put those other two novels on hold and work more on the sequel to Time Ninja, I did leave some questions unanswered so I want to get that sequel out there sometime in the future to tie up the loose ends I left in Time Ninja. If you have not read Time Ninja yet do NOT be afraid, I wrote Time Ninja so it CAN stand on its own so don’t worry about having a Matrix or Pirates of the Carribean let-down at the end.

Time Ninja is available now at Barnes & Noble and amazon.com.