Neal Holtschulte is a computer science instructor and sci-fi author whose short stories have been published in Amazing Stories magazine, Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror, and THEMA Literary Journal. In 2022, he released his debut novel, Crew of Exiles, a science fiction adventure that a reviewer calls “action-packed and mind-opening” and “an engrossing story with twists and turns, humor, [and] suspense.” You’ll find Neal on his website NealHoltschulte.com, his writing blog Haste Writing, and on Twitter. Check out his YouTube channel and look for Crew of Exiles on his Amazon author page.
What is your elevator pitch for Crew of Exiles?
A misanthropic transcendent being has been exiled to human form on Earth for a crime abhorrent to all transcendent kind. Hoping to live out his exile in peaceful distraction, he is instead swept up in the troubles of an optimistic VR gamer, an abandoned human shell, and a paranoid starship warden.
What challenges did this work pose for you?
I wrote Crew of Exiles by the seat of my pants, without an outline, without a planned ending. Revising the mess I had made into a coherent story with proper character arcs that were so perfectly fitting it seemed like they must have been planned, was a long and arduous process.
Who are your main characters, and what makes them unique in the sci-fi genre?
The story has four perspective characters. Beryl is the pessimistic and irritable misanthropic transcendent being discovering how itchy and irritating a human body can be. Fife is an optimistic, go-getter. She has been a hero in so many virtual reality games that heroism is second nature to her. Nesh is a genetically engineered human hermaphrodite who has been abandoned by their creator and must find what that means when no one is around to tell them what their purpose is. Last is Ohnsy, a paranoid starship warden and a villain!
What inspired you to write the story? How did the book come together after that?
The inspiration was: 1) I wanted to get back into writing after a long hiatus for graduate school. 2) I was interested in the character dynamics of the Cracked After Hours characters. 3) I kept thinking about the naiveté of the idea that mind and body are separable. I do not believe they are.
The first draft of the story was written in about six months in 2016. It was expanded and revised to over twice the original length over the course of two more years with the help of feedback from the Cyberscribes, a local writing group. More revision occurred as I queried agents and ultimately decided upon self-publishing in 2020. I contracted Aaxel Author Services to provide a proofreader, cover artist, interior designer, and formatter. The rest is history.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the book?
For me, it’s always challenging to balance imaginative play and internally consistent rules. I have a million ideas for fun worldbuilding stuff, but in the end, the puzzle pieces have to fit together into a coherent picture. Choosing which creative aspects had to get their edges sanded off was the hardest part for me.
Is there a scene in Crew of Exiles that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
There’s a scene in which Nesh carries an injured Beryl across a field of tall grass, bantering with each other as a storm rolls in. The weather is cinematic and the dialogue perfectly illustrates the two characters and the ways in which they will each be forced to grow as the story progresses. It’s one of my favorites and I would love to see a pair of great actors pull it off.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
My favorite part was being in a flow state at the keyboard and channeling the characters as they spoke with much more charm and wit than I could otherwise muster.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing career today?
I would copy more, write faster and sloppier, and play with fanfiction more. I got a slower start because I wanted my writing to be as good on the first try as any I was reading, and I wanted every word to potentially be publishable.
What is the best encouragement you’ve received in your writing journey?
Early encouragement of any variety has been, for me, the best encouragement.
How do you feel about fan fiction (writing it yourself or having another writer use your characters or story world)?
Fan fiction is fantastic. I’ve written Super Metroid and Final Fantasy 6 fan fiction. It’s great practice for any writer. I wrote and posted Kefka’s Legacy on fanfiction.net and I still think it’s really good. Check it out!
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve finished a second scifi novel about a divorced, alcoholic father with delusions of becoming a great starfighter pilot. He gets himself and his family embroiled in solar spy games and he has to overcome addiction, injury, and betrayal to find what’s truly valuable and save everyone he’s ever loved. I’m querying this novel now.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Since this interview is coming out on May 2nd, I would love to let readers know that the ebook version of Crew of Exiles will be on sale for 99¢ for a limited time from May 8th through May 13th.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.