Saturday, May 2, 2015

Heath Alberts - indie author, digital ninja, lifelong entrepreneur and, above all, a blissful husband

Greetings, commies! I have a very special guest, Heath Alberts, a digital marketing guru, indie author and entrepreneur.  Developing and implementing new concepts comes naturally to him, and he applies them in all his creative endeavors.  His beautiful multi-talented wife Wanda is an active partner in all his endeavors.

MJN: One of the benefits of publishing your work independently in a digital form is that you can make changes.  One thing I struggle with as an author with a third-party publisher is that I never consider my work finished. I always want to go back and make changes to the final manuscript.  At what point do you say, "Enough is enough. No more revisions."

HA: When I wrote my first book, it was a train wreck. The story was there. The story was good. The execution left a great deal to be desired. The problem was that I was too inexperienced to realize just how bad it was. As I continued creating, I began to develop a set of rules for birthing a book. In fact, once these were developed, I ended up going back and re-writing/editing/releasing my earlier works so that I wouldn’t have to cringe at the thought of someone seeing them.

I have a tiny group of beta readers, who function on different levels. One is a housewife in Texas whom I have known for most of my life. She works the ‘how does this make me feel?’ angle. My wife and my mother are the grammarians, the punctuation police, and also point out inconsistencies. My most valuable asset is a fellow who can do all of these things, as well as spot a loophole from a mile away. The guy is – literally – the smartest person I know, and his help and guidance have made my works far better things.

In the end, I find a point that feels right, and call the work done. I know I could always add more, but I just force myself to walk away. So far, I’ve gotten away with that. Part of the reason that I can is that I begin a story with a concept, and then just sort of let it lead me where it will. A lot of mystery writers do this, which makes sense in their genre. Having written only one mystery, I can say that it does work better there. It’s a heck of a lot more tumultuous outside of that genre. Still, I can’t imagine being handcuffed to a non-amorphous story. I don’t think I would have as much fun writing if I did that to myself – right or wrong.

MJN: There are so many speculative / sci-fi novels out.  It's becoming harder and harder to come up with original ideas.  What is your scientific/fantasy platform?  Meaning, what pool of knowledge do you go to while cultivating plots?  I imagine, you have seen every Twilight Zone episode.

HA: I can’t remember who said it, but there was a famous inventor, or scientist, or someone, who made the statement about a century ago that everything worth inventing had been invented already. At one time, I felt exactly as you’ve outlined above. Until I realized that famous author X was sort of putting his own spin on movie Y from thirty years ago, etc. This gave me hope. Now, I try to take a potentially concept, and put my own unique spin on it. In some ways, it might have ‘been done’, but in others I’m creating something new with new twists.

I’ve actually seen one or two ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes, but not too many. I’m also a fussy sci-fi watcher, believe it or not. Mostly, I read. My pool of knowledge comes from fiction and non-fiction alike. I was fortunate to have a love of reading and learning instilled in me at a young age by bot of my parents, and especially by my Grandfather (who worked on myriad NASA projects as an Engineer, and was a voracious learner). To this day, I also can’t stop learning. I have a compulsion to absorb. That may be why no one will play trivia games with me. What’s sad is I can sing entire obscure commercials from the 70’s, but I often can’t remember what I did this morning.

My favorite authors include Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Christopher Moore, Douglas Coupland, Neal Stephenson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Haruki Murakami, Michael Connelly, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, and Ayn Rand. So, reading-wise, I’m pretty much all over the place.

I also find that there is ALWAYS something to be learned in nearly every facet of everyday life. I Hoover in tidbits, mostly because I never know when it might be useful to call upon them.

MJN: I was captivated by the cover of TheBattery Man featuring an android figure.  The novel is told from the point of view of a robot in a post-apocalyptic setting where biological life is impossible.  And yet your protagonist, who is also the speaker, functions according to human principles. Are machines more human than the humans who created them?    
HA: This contains a spoiler, but it’s necessary to answer the question. ‘The Battery Man’ began as a weekend self-test in writing a first-person narrative. Since that time, I’ve continued the practice. Each time giving no name to my protagonist, nor much information about them, personally (an anthology of these is in the works as I write this, with the intent of releasing it in late fall/early winter). This is intentional, as I feel it allows the reader to identify with them more acutely. This particular work was actually meant to be written from the perspective of an android who had been imbued with the capability of comprehending the human condition during the final moment of his handler’s life (though he doesn’t realize it’s happened right away). It’s also meant to drive the reader to think about the cyclical nature of historical events in our collective lives, with most of the negative ones among them being entirely avoidable.

I’ve always been a devoted follower of William Gibson’s work. As a boy I read ‘Neuromancer’ and was blown away by the concept of Wintermute (the AI in the story’s background). That concept has stuck with me, and actually played a significant role in ‘Last Rights’ (though in an unconventional manner by comparison).

If you’re a geek like me, then you’ll probably be familiar with the concept of a Turing test. Alan Turing once posited that the true test of an artificial intelligence was whether it could pass as human or not. In essence, it would have to be un-governed by paradoxical happenings (remember HAL in 2001?), and also possess the capability to correctly choose how to interact with the individual or individuals interacting with it. Should it be empathetic? Should it be incensed? Should it show sympathy? Anger? Frustration? Et cetera.

I think that, inevitably, the capability to pass a Turing test will come to pass. The concern of all those who ponder self-sentience in machines is that they’ll realize that the human race is an ugly, broken thing and then proceed to determine whether our presence is a positive or negative thing when considered with regard to everything after the moment sentience is achieved. Then, in my mind, we’re pretty much screwed, and Hollywood has it right.

MJN: Your wife has a strong presence in your creative life.  Even your website is for the two of you - Heath and Wanda.  I must say, it's not surprising.  She plays the flute, oboe and clarinet.  Would you call yourself a golden couple of digital media?

HA: My wife is, for the record, an amazing and singular individual. She and I are a rare pair of individuals who live a blissful and symbiotic life. I’m outwardly mental for her, and I’d like to think that our marriage is an example of how to do a thing right. It’s built on a solid footing of trust, mutual respect and admiration, and out and out love and awe for one another. I find myself just looking at her, and thinking, “How in the world am I lucky enough to have this woman in my life?” I honestly feel spoiled. She’s amazing, she’s talented, and she’s done more in her life at 36 than most will do in the entirety of their own. We’ve also been apart for only three nights in the 20+ years that we’ve been together. We’d just as soon be in one another’s company than anyone else’s. That’s saying something, when you compare that sentiment to other marriages surrounding us each day.

When I chose to put the photo of the two of us on my first novel, some people thought it a bit odd. The reality is we’re a team. If I’m a success, then I know that she’s a part of the reason for that being so. Since then, I’ve used that photo on all of my works and social media outlets. It’s become my ‘brand’ or ‘trademark’. I have no embarrassment whatsoever in giving her all she is due, and letting the world know how important she is to me.

Within our personal business, she handles all of the web site design and implementation. For all that I myself am blessed to know, she knows many of the things that I don’t. This makes the symbiosis of our relationship all the more complete.

MJN: One time you mentioned to me in a mysterious voice that you have a series of other businesses and that training employees was second nature to you.  Can you tell us about the nature of your other endeavors?  I assume, Digital Ninjas is one of them.

HA: I like to learn as I go, and trying new things is something I love. Digital Ninjas Media’s creation was one, certainly. We’ve also done a house flip, and at one time I obtained an Illinois Real Estate License just to see what it was all about. I write, I blog, I speak. I’m active in politics (most notably the grassroots ‘Represent.US’ movement). My wife has a not-for-profit called ‘Tailored to Hire’ that functions to provide spam-free, genuine job listings to folks in our area that I help out with a bit as well. It’s grown far larger than she ever imagined, and is a testament to her tireless efforts to assist others. The program not only posts jobs, it also provides mock interviews, free resume development, transportation logistics to interviews, workplace attire, and ties in to the food pantry which is hosted by her church (which the program is chartered through).

I like to help folks to help themselves, so I find myself offering assistance in the forms of time, advice, administration of a large series of specialized Facebook groups that I’ve developed, etc. I like to believe that there is an untapped good in all of my fellow men and women, and if I can help them to let it out to shine, then I’ve done what I should be doing. Sometimes, all people need is someone to believe in them, and to show them the door to opportunity.

With the above in mind, I’ve edited a number of works for friends, and even assisted one in taking his raw memories about his addiction, and subsequent recovery, and turning it into a viable book. I like doing these things, without expectation of compensation, because I feel like they’re meaningful and worthwhile. I wish others took the time to give of themselves, because it not only feels amazing, it also makes the world a better place for someone other than oneself.

At one point I was asked to contribute to a then-budding blog about what was good in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois. At that time, it had found itself at the top of almost every list that a city never wants to find itself on. Still, the founder believed that a light needed to shine, and so he took up the cause. I was privileged to get to work with him. I didn’t know what to contribute, so I just sort of did what felt right. A few weeks ago, Digital Ninjas Media took sole ownership of The Rockford Blog (the founder had moved, and was in the midst of building a richer life for himself, but also didn’t want to see his blossoming work simply fold). It will be a continued labor of love, but one I look forward to carrying on. I just hope that I, and the other contributors, can do the founder proud. He’s a good man, and the world needs a hell of a lot more like him.

Some stranger facts: I love to sing karaoke, and once had the opportunity to do so in the 4-floor stage area at The Mall of America in front of thousands of people. It was awesome. I also have a satirical page for my alter-ego (Weird Uncle Pete).

My day job consists of running a multi-million dollar contract manufacturing enterprise that serves a multitude of industries nationwide.

I’m a busy guy, but I love it. I had my first job at 12, and during my late teens worked four jobs and 90+ hour weeks. My resume makes no logical sense, and I’ve worked in so many fields that I have lots of fodder for stories. My goal has always been to retire at fifty, and find something I love to do with my time. I’ve decided that writing and assisting others is that thing, if either of them will have me.

One last thing: I’m scared to death of heights. Even so, I was convinced to go skydiving a few years ago (I used to say I’d try anything once, and I called myself out on that one). My advice? Everyone needs to do it once. It’s cathartic. You won’t regret it.

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