Eric Tozzi is a well-know documentary film producer who has produced numerous films for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA, worked as film editor and who has won numerous awards and many accolades for his film Kaleidoscope, based on a Ray Bradbury short story. His debut novel, The Scout as well as participation in several anthologies have solidified his reputation as a talented SciFi writer.
I am thrilled to talk to Eric Tozzi about his past experiences and his newest novel, Phoenix Lights.
Melanie Rockett: Your amazing career has included creating an award winning web series The Dirty Bomb Diaries, working for NASA as a documentary film producer, and directing an award winning film based on Ray Bradbury’s short story, Kaleidoscope. Given this background, how did you come to write your first novel, “The Scout?”
Eric Tozzi: The Scout was originally a screenplay I wrote back in 2009. I was inspired by all the things I was learning about planetary exploration while working at JPL. But when I finished the screenplay I was very dissatisfied with it. I wanted to dive into much greater detail about the landing of an alien robotic geochemist and its ensuing mission. I put the script aside for several years and counted it a loss. But in 2011 I had an epiphany-why not write it as a novel instead. It was a lightbulb moment for me, and so I took two years to write and then publish The Scout. To date the book has done well; it’s sold well over 2,000 eBook copies, 215 audiobooks and nearly 100 print versions. Not massive or bestselling numbers to be sure, but for an indie debut book it’s done well and continues to sell weekly.
Melanie Rockett: I absolutely worship Ray Bradbury. Can you tell us about your experiences while directing the film, Kaleidoscope and meeting Ray Bradbury in person?
Eric Tozzi: I was given a gift (I see it as nothing less than that): the opportunity to direct a short film based on the iconic author’s short story, “Kaleidoscope,” from his book The Illustrated Man. The film itself took over a year to produce and involved a lot of visual effects that were painstakingly realized by some very talented artists. We had an amazing cast and crew. I know every director says that, but I swear we couldn’t have gotten it done without them. All of our visual effects were produced at the photo-real level. Stunning.
“Kaleidoscope” played at roughly two-dozen festivals and we won nine prizes including a Grand Prize at the New Media Film Festival in LA. We were nominated for a Golden Blaster award at the Octocon in Dublin, Ireland, and we played at the SciFi London festival. For a complete festival list and prizes:
The producer/star, Brett Stimely, and I were afforded the chance to screen the final film for Ray at his home just a few short months before he passed away. Getting a chance to meet Ray in person, especially having him love so deeply our adaptation of his work, was a life changing moment. I have to thank my friend and mentor, Marc Zicree, for setting that up for us. Ray talked about writing, and the last thing he told us before we left was to “go forth and produce more” (of his work.) I hope that someday I’ll be given the privilege of doing just that!
Melanie Rockett: Your latest book, Phoenix Lights is part of a project called Apocalypse Weird. Can you tell us what Apocalypse Weird is all about?
Eric Tozzi: Apocalypse Weird is a community created bookverse. It’s a long term series of books with stories and characters that intersect. It was created by USA Today bestelling author Michael Bunker and Harper Collins author Nick Cole. It draws on the talents of many different authors who have come together to create this world. So far there are 8 books in the series (mine is the latest addition), and from here forward there will be 2 more books released per month! Apocalypse Weird recently enjoyed a mention from author Anne Rice on her Facebook page as well as a write up in The Guardian UK. So the project is definitely drawing some attention!
Melanie Rockett: What is the premise of Phoenix Lights and how does it fit into the Apocalypse Weird Universe?
Eric Tozzi: I’m a big fan of Science Fiction, especially alien invasion stories. I used it as the backdrop for my debut novel, The Scout. As soon as I read the outline for the entire Apocalypse Weird universe, my mind landed in alien country. Big surprise, I know, but I felt the momentum on that field and wanted to keep it in motion.
Each Apocalypse Weird story takes place in a particular region with some sort of apocalyptic event happening there. I currently live in Phoenix, Arizona, so I tackled the central Arizona region. Keeping in mind I would use aliens as my apocalyptic device, I didn’t have to look far to connect my story with some incredible UFO events that have been reported in the Grand Canyon State.
I decided to use a well-known UFO sighting that occurred in March of 1997. It was a high profile event that was subsequently referred to as the “The Phoenix Lights Incident.” Anyone who Googles “Phoenix Lights” will immediately find a massive volume of links with pictures and articles. No matter what you believe about it-whether it was military aircraft or something else-it cannot be denied that the event left many thousands of people awestruck and to this day wondering what exactly happened.
The basic premise of my AW book centers on what happens 18 years after the Phoenix Lights incident. The V shaped ships have returned and it’s an all out attack on the valley. Additionally, I’ve incorporated the idea of a secret, underground facility-an Area 51 mirror site-buried in the desert near the Superstition Mountains. And in the book I imply that this site has something to do with the Vs showing back up.
In a world of reality TV shows that cover the unexplained and paranormal, I’ve built my lead characters around a documentary/reality TV crew who call themselves the UFO Busters. And needless to say, they’re going to get way more than they ever bargained for when the ships start falling from the sky over Phoenix. It’s a whole lot of fun writing in this world, and cannot wait to see how big this project actually becomes!
Melanie Rockett: I know you already have several other projects on your desk … can you tell us a bit about what to expect?
Eric Tozzi: First up I have a short story that will be published in an upcoming anthology titled, “Tales of Tinfoil.” It’s a collection of conspiracy theory short stories and it’s unlike anything I’ve written before. It releases in early May, so keep an eye out for that one! Additionally, I’m writing a superheroine piece that’s a mashup conceptually of the movie Galaxy Quest and Supergirl. It’s a fun story about an out-of-work actress who played a superhero, Mighty Woman on a short lived TV show, who must become the real thing in order to stop an evil force from basically wiping out the city. It’s mostly about her and raging insecurities about her career as an actress, turning 30, and her mercurial love life.
This project has a long history. I shot a concept trailer for it, and within a short amount of time it was optioned for TV, based solely on the trailer which you can find on YouTube by searching “Mighty Woman Trailer“.
Now, as is the case when a TV studio options your material, as a newcomer, you have no control over how things happen. And unfortunately, Mighty Woman never got produced as a show. It hovered in development purgatory for a year and then the rights came back to me. And I was majorly disappointed.
Not long after that I decided to write Mighty Woman as a series of novellas, with the first being titled THE GREATEST ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY WOMAN: RESURRECTION. Fitting title I think. I hope to have this first piece out sometime in April and re-energize the character and the story. And I’d really like to see this get a comic book or graphic novel treatment at some point!
I have another science fiction novel that I’ve started with the working title, “The Zoo.” Chances are that one won’t be surfacing until late 2016. I also hope to write a sequel to Phoenix Lights in the Apocalypse Weird universe, but that will be up to the publisher.
Be sure to take a peek at some of Eric Tozzi’s film work including samples of a NASA documentary, commercial, and television clips.
Check out his Amazon Author Page
and get his latest book Phoenix Lights, hot off the press!