It’s a joy and a pleasure to be able to interview my big brother, Thane Keller. Thane is a science fiction author and U.S. Army veteran who explores the depth of human nature under dire circumstances. After over a decade of service, he has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan where he was personally engaged in ground combat. Although busy at home as a husband and father to four, he has consistently made time to express his passion for writing.
- Many aspiring authors are town between the traditional and self-publishing routes. At the time of this interview, you currently have three science fiction novels and a collection of short stories and flash fiction self-published. What inspired you to choose that path? Do you have plans to become a hybrid author; one who seeks traditional and self-publishing avenues?
First off, thanks for hosting me, Rhys. Your own writing, love of literature, and beautiful family are an inspiration to the rest of us. Authors can go a variety of different paths when it comes to publishing and in my opinion, each has its benefits and drawbacks. While I was offered a publishing contract early on for my first novel, Trials, I ultimately decided to self-publish for two reasons. First, Amazon sells fifty percent of books worldwide and gives indie-authors a 70% royalty. This evens the playing field quite a bit. Second, there is a cost and time factor that goes into traditional publishing that I cannot yet commit to at this point in my career – promoting a book while defending Forward Operating Base Lightning, for example, is pretty hard to do.
I would love to be a hybrid author and maybe one day that will happen, but in the meantime, I’m more interested in a telling a story that challenges my reader and is widely distributed.
- I’ve written before on my site about what an accomplishment it is to write a single book, let alone multiple full-length novels. You’re an active serviceman with a growing family. How many years, and across how many continents, has your writing has taken you?
My first novel, Trials, was a two-year writing endeavor. I actually started the book after climbing off a helicopter at midnight in Afghanistan. Many people probably don’t realize that when you’re pulling security in the snow at fourteen-thousand feet, the discussion often turns to aliens, religion, and science. By the time I had completed Trials, I had written the book in Afghanistan, New York, Virginia, and finally Germany. In the Army, we like to say “If you don’t like your circumstances, change your perspective.” Fitting in writing throughout all of my adventures has been tough, but hopefully, readers will feel rewarded as they dive into the worlds I’ve created.
- Much of your writing gives the reader a sense that you know what you’re talking about, especially battle scenes and images of war. I’m reminded of a few scenes where characters struggle with their former experiences. How has your service influenced your writing style?
I think my service has made a significant impact on my writing style. In Trials, the main character’s dreams are lifted from my own experiences in war. He is a tormented soldier that struggles to come to grips with his current situation while keeping the past in perspective. This was the hardest part about Trials but it became a form of counseling and confession as well. In Fractal Space and Rogue Fleet, I take a different approach, instead choosing to highlight how an organized force will fight against a capable enemy. Most importantly, however, are how these action scenes should make you feel. If the sentence fragments and choppy thoughts of the characters get your heart racing, don’t worry. Mine races too.
- There is much debate between talent and hard work. It seems hard work typically wins the day, not to say you aren’t talented as well! Is there a level of grit necessary to finish a book that many aspiring authors simply aren’t resolving to deal with?
There is absolutely a level of grit. Every day we make choices to watch TV, hang out on the front porch, search Facebook endlessly, or get to work. The ones that get to work accomplish great things. The ones that don’t… don’t.
- The publishing industry has changed so much in recent years, yet still maintained a level of historic similarity in that publishing is a very subjective business depending on the book purchaser or editor of the day. Do you think the industry will continue to transform, and if so, in what ways?
I hope it transforms. In my opinion, publishing houses need to change or will face extinction. There is a false economy between publishers, agents, editors, and advertisers that take the money from an aspiring author and spend little time providing feedback or validation. Meanwhile, websites like Grammarly catch way more editing errors than an $800 dollar “professional” edit. Businesses like Apple and Amazon sell far more books than publishers do direct. Advertising is cheap and available. I think publishers will find themselves in trouble if they don’t change their model and adapt. In the information age, there isn’t much forgiveness.
- Every author has their style, areas where they will go and boundaries they won’t cross. Do you have any lines drawn in the sand that readers can say, “I know this author will have this or definitely won’t have this” in your books?
I want my children, my pastor, my parents, and my friends to read my work and not wonder “Where did this side of Thane come from?” Sex sells, but you won’t find it in my books. My hope is that my writing brings out the worst in my characters while forcing my reader to wonder who they are truly rooting for.
- I’m very excited to have been brought on to write the prequel to your science fiction novel, Trials. I understand you’re actively working on the sequel. Would you give our readers a high-level synopsis of the world of Trials that you’ve built? Keep the details, of course, but what can readers expect if they pick up any book in the Trials series?
Trials is a futuristic dystopian world where nationalism, war, and paranoia have all but ruined society. Old alliances don’t exist and corporations, not the government, are the ones trying to bring change, but they are unchecked. The main character, Jonah Shepherd, has been exiled from the love of his life to a Martian penal colony where he will serve a life sentence for treason. As Jonah’s world descends into chaos, he is forced to rely on his ingenuity and military training to escape the red planet and reunite with the love of his life, Evie. Standing in Jonah’s way is a megalomaniac named Malek, the shadowy mining company Unicore, and one hundred and forty million miles of empty space.
- You’ve expressed a lot of excitement about your other series, The Conquests of Brokk. Tell us what drives you to build this world and who exactly is Brokk?
I love this series for a few reasons. First, it is a space opera written by an actual soldier. War in space is violent and unforgiving; so is Brokk’s world. Second, Brokk is the bad guy. You’ll be rooting for him and against him throughout the whole series, but as you do, Brokk will change and hopefully, your concept of humanity will change with him. Third, this is a world that can go forever. For you lovers of Trials – I have bad news: Trials can only end one way and those books are accelerating towards that end. In The Conquests of Brokk and the larger galactic world, my imagination is without end. I’m truly loving it and I hope you pick up a copy to read. Oh, and Rhys, I hope you’ll consider throwing your weight behind a few of the characters too!
- I’ll keep that in mind. Writing together has been an incredible experience. Now, you’re a prolific writer and I know part of the answer to the question I’m about to ask but I’ll ask it anyways for our wonderful readers. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next 1-2 years besides more great books? What will your focus be on?
I really want to finish the world of Trials. I’ve taken a break for medical reasons and my move back to the United States, but you can expect a sequel in the next year. After that, plan on seeing some high-intensity conflict from the heroes of the galaxy.
If anyone is in Kansas City, look for me at your local Barnes and Noble. I’ll be doing a book signing soon and would love to chat!