Interview with Author and Podcast Host Hank Garner

I met Hank Garner through our indie author community and discovered that we have a lot in common. When we spoke about doing this interview, I asked him a very serious question. You can see the answer below. I’m glad he answered it in the way that he did for I would probably not have been able to continue with the interview if he would have answered differently.

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SB: Before we officially start, I need to ask you a question. You’re on a deserted island (and given that there is electricity, a DVD recorder and a TV [hopefully at least 55 inch flat screen)]. Which of the following would you want to have there: Lord of the Rings extended edition DVD set or Star Wars extended edition DVD set. Don’t say anything wrong now! You don’t want to start the interview on the wrong foot.

HG: So you brought out the big guns right off the bat didn’t you?!? This is a tough question because, and I am about to tell my age, I saw Star Wars in the first grade.  As a kid growing up in the rural south, Star Wars opened up my imagination to stories I never could have dreamed of.  Also, Star Wars gave us the hope that anyone could become a Jedi (This should also inform you of my opinion of the prequels.  (midi-chlorians ???? What?!?!?!?!)

Sometime around the third or fourth grade, I was introduced to The Hobbit.  From The Hobbit, I graduated to The Lord of the Rings, which was no small feat for a kid with dyslexia.  I kept being drawn into the story of these strange creatures in a strange world that were fighting this battle with ultimate evil while trying to maintain their core values and not lose sight of what they were fighting for.  Tolkien then led me into all manner of fantasy novels, and I am still a total fantasy geek.

So, I guess it ultimately comes down to a question of allegiance.  Yoda or Gandalf? Gandalf, all day long.

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SB: “Yoda, you shalt not pass?”

HG: “Pass, or do not pass, there is no try.”

SB: Perfect answer, haha!! If I may ask, what was your first brush with the writer in you? Was there a moment when it hit you and you realized that you wanted to write?

HG: I have always been a story teller.  I would walk through the woods where I grew up with my faithful beagle and dream up stories.  I would imagine faeries and dragons and wizards living just beyond a magic portal that was just behind my house.  I would only write these things down on occasion, but I would always have a running story in my head. When I got married and we started having children, I would make up stories at bedtime and share with the kids.

I eased into writing over the years by writing a column for my local newspaper and by blogging, but I always threatened to write a novel.  Last year my wife and I were talking and I shared with her an idea I had, and sitting in our swing, she helped we work out the plotting of what would become Bloom.  I would work on the story and would always come back to the swing and talk through problems I had.  Before I knew it, I had become a novelist.

SB: I might ask you for a picture of that swing before this interview is over. Can you tell us a little bit what Bloom is about?

HG: Bloom is about a man that goes through some struggles, like a lot of us do.  Huck, the protagonist, comes to the end of himself and is faced with whether he wants to go on or not.  Through the kindness of a perfect stranger, Huck is able to see that maybe life is worth living.

I didn’t want to write a story of simple platitudes, because life is more complex than that. Bloom is about how beauty can come out of seemingly random chance.   I hope people see that the answers are not always easy, but life is worth living.  Bloom is really a story of hope out of despair.  There are parts that are not easy to read, I have been told, but I have gotten numerous emails from people that have poured out their personal stories of struggle, and that is what makes it all worth it. Bloom might also have a time traveler.  We’ll see if you can spot him.

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SB: That sounds like a story worth reading. Having read your short, “The Witching Hour,” I will definitely put this one on my TBR list. You are, like me, still bound to a day-job (that only means we have to work harder to get our books in front of readers). May I ask what you do besides writing?

HG: I am an I.T. nerd for a small non-profit organization.  I do everything from network management to video production to website design and coding. In the past I have also been in radio and television production and worked for a musical instrument manufacturer.

SB: Okay, so, you have a full time job. I know you have at least 4 kids. Correct me if I ‘m wrong. When do you find the time to write?

HG: We actually have 5 kids.  They range in age from 19 to 10, all boys except for 3 girls. Don’t worry, my wife says that joke is awful, and if you didn’t find it funny, you aren’t the only one.

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We stay really busy with everyone’s schedules.  All of the kids are involved in theater and after school activities, so I write whenever I can;  sometimes on lunch break, sometimes late at night or early in the morning.  Luckily, I am not one of those people that holds his work space as sacred.  Whenever and where ever I can grab a few moments to get some thoughts down, I try to take advantage.

It also helps that my family are very supportive of what I do.  My wife is a photographer, and we try to give each other space and time to work on our respective art.  Having a loving, supportive spouse and family is the single most important secret to me getting to do what I do.

SB: I think you just collected major brownie points.

HG: Brownie points are what I live for. ;)

SB: We do indeed, Hank, we do indeed. Let me ask you something else. I have a fantasy phone call. It’s from Peter Jackson. In it, he’ll call me and ask me for film rights for one of my books. Do you have a fantasy phone call?

HG: That’s a great question, you should have a podcast. I don’t have a dream call per se’, but I like to think that Peter Jackson is a hobbit like me.  I would love to see one of my stories given film treatment.

When I write, I think cinematicly.  Everything begins with a visual in my mind, so I have cast every story in my mind already.  One day maybe I will share some of that.  I’m sure everyone would get a good laugh.

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SB: Okay, the moment Peter calls me, I’ll give him your number and vice versa. Deal? Is there anything you are working on now? Do you have a note pad next to your bed? And who shot JFK?

HG: Deal!

I am currently putting all my time into my next novel Mulligan.  I hope to release it in November.  I’m shooting for around the middle of the month.  Mulligan is about a man that time travels to three different points in the past. Mulligan develops psychic powers that begin to manifest when he is emotional. Through his travels Mulligan meets some interesting characters, and through his interactions with them, gets a second chance to set some things right.  Mulligan also looks at the questions of what it means to be human and what weight our decisions carry.

I have also been working on a middle grade/young adult novel about 2 kids that find a portal to another world hidden in a swamp.  There might be dragons in this one.

I have a constant collection of short stories that I am always stewing on as well.  I hope to release quite a few in the next year.

As far as JFK, I think we can all agree that the grassy knoll was really a interdimensional gateway that the grays used to take out our beloved president.  I also understand that these are not things that most people want to discuss in polite company.

SB: JFK aside (and I can see why your theory on the inter dimensional gateway theory sounds so plausible), there is this quote I have read a while back. For us fantasy and sci/fi writers, it’s one of those quotes that sits high on the geekometer scale. Here it is: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke said it. I wanted to know what you thought of it.

HG: My son and I had a conversation about this a while back, and I think it holds true. Looking back on history, it is easy to see how some superstitions came about from ignorance. That being said, I think it is a constant challenge for people in an era of constant technological change to keep an open mind to advancing technology.  I would like to also say that while I understand the desire to explain away everything that is unknown in some scientific way, I also never want to lose my sense of wonder.  I like to look at the world and believe that there are some things that I just can’t explain.  And I am ok with that.  Call it a spiritual longing, or having a child like sense of wonder, I just want to believe that there is more to the world than can be explained.  So, no offense to Mr. Clarke, but I believe in magic.

SB: None taken, I’m sure. Do your kids beta read some of your stories? Do you talk to them about your books?

HG: My wife and kids are my first beta readers.  They are the ones that I run crazy ideas past.  I know if I get the glassy eyed look from them, it is time to move on to another idea. Lol.  Seriously, though, I do talk to them about all of my ideas, and they provide enormous amounts of feedback.  The middle grade book that I am working on is something that started as a dream.  Dreams seem to be where all of my stories begin.  So anyway, I start telling Noah, my youngest son about this dream and he lit up like a light bulb.  I knew I was onto something then.  So I write a chapter and read it to the kids and they let me know if I am on track or not.  The same thing goes for the other stories, I can always count on them telling me the truth.  The story either works or it doesn’t, and believe me, they are not shy about telling me.

SB: I love when kids are brutally honest. You know exactly where you’re at. There’s nothing better. Hank, it has been a distinct pleasure to chat with you. Any final thoughts before we wrap this up?

HG: Stefan, it has been my pleasure.  I would just like to say how very grateful I am to have met so many new friends through this writing experience. I feel like story telling has always been a communal experience, or at least should be.  I am thankful that my stories have moved people in some way, and I hope they will continue to do so.  I am also thankful for people like you that make this community of authors such a great place to be. Thank you for sharing your gift as well, and thank you for having me.

Here is where you can find Hank Garner in cyberspace (including his podcasts in which he interviews fellow indie authors like Michael Bunker and Nick Cole):

http://hankgarner.com/

Hank Garner’s “Bloom” is on sale for kindle download today, Wednesday, October 22nd. Only $0.99. Go grab it!

http://www.amazon.com/Bloom-Hank-Garner-ebook/dp/B00IPOO38S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413916126&sr=8-1&keywords=hank+garner+bloom

And, last but not least, here is Hank’s author page on FB:

https://www.facebook.com/authorhankgarner

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Podcast interview with Author Stories Podcast host Hank Garner

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My friend Hank Garner and I sat down for his Author Stories Podcast series. We talked about writing, family life, and some other interesting things. If you’re up to it, here is the link: http://hankgarner.com/episode-8-bolz/

 

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My Interview with Author Lesley Smith

If you haven’t met Lesley Smith yet, you should. She lives in Norfolk, England, is a former freelance games journalist and has written, amongst many others, for Future PLC and The Guardian. Since 2012, her readers are enjoying her novels that she also self publishes. I sat down with Lesley to talk about her new book, The Changing of the Sun (out today) and other writing related stuff. So, without any further ado, let’s get started, shall we?

SB: Hey Lesley, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I read the first three lines of the blurb for your book The Changing of the Sun and was immediately hooked. In fact, those first three lines were the reason I thought, “I’d like to interview the girl who wrote those lines to see what it’s all about.” You probably know the words by heart but here they are:

The world is shifting and only the blind have eyes to see it. In a seaside village, a woman has come back from the dead, the only survivor of a tsunami which wiped out her clan. When she speaks, it is of things no Kashinai should know. She says danger is coming and only an Oracle can save them…one who has not yet been called.

Wow! How did you come up with the notion of, only the blind have eyes to see. What made you think of it and how did it occur to you to put it into a story?

LS: I’m visually impaired myself, registered legally so in the UK, but I have a little vision and a lot of people are surprised by that. I wanted to be able to have characters who reflected different impairments (Jashri, for example, has no vision, Saiara can see blur while Eirian sees light and shadow) but who are still strong and independent characters. They empowered themselves and the exchange of vision for wisdom or knowledge is an archetypal thing reaching back to Tiresias and Odin. The wordage in the blurb is also simple reference to the people with 20/20 miss the obvious while the visually impaired ‘see’ more because they pay attention.

SB: Tell us a little bit about The Changing of the Sun. What was the emotional hook for you that made you want to write the story?

LS: I wasn’t intending to write an epic but I did want to write a book from a completely alien perspective. Humans don’t even appear properly until the final book in the trilogy and while we share some similarities with the Kashinai physiologically, I wanted to make them very distinctly ‘not human’. I also wanted it to be one of those stories of survival where the very aspect of survival is in question. In a way, I suppose it’s the story of a civilisation’s downfall where a species survives literally by the skin of it’s collective teeth.

Each book is set in a different period in the history of the same planet, which humans will eventually nickname Coronis (yay for Classical mythology references) and follows a key number of people as they’re reborn down the years, each instalment focuses on the same collective of souls wearing different faces and forever changed by the experiences of the previous books. For the Kashinai, and in the the larger Ashteraiverse in general, reincarnation is a given and I loved being able to write the same characters as they grew through successive lifetimes. It’s not what I’d call a metaphysical book either. Technically it’s science fiction except the first book reads like fantasy while the second is a mixture and the final one is most definitely sci fi.

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SB: I’m always curious as to what makes a writer become a writer and wanted to ask you that question as well. What made you want to be a writer? And when did you start?

LS: Oh I’ve always written. I did a creative writing module during my religious studies and theology BA. Then, after training as a journalist, I found creative writing, as opposed to features and news pieces, kept me calm and gave me an avenue for escape. I officially retired from journalism in 2012, suffering chronic depression, and writing saved what was left of my sanity. I can’t draw to save my life or make things, instead I weave with words. If that fails I go get a bow and do some archery.

SB: We have a target made of straw bails in our back yard. There are times when archery seems like a good idea, yes. Just warn the neighbors :-). Do you have a preference whether to write in first or third person? Does one get you closer to your characters than the other?

LS: I routinely tell people that I’m just writing down what the residents in my head are saying. My narrators are residents, even when I’m writing third-person POVs. Normally, however, I write in first person and I enjoy doing it. I become a conduit for the people who have stories they want to tell. Some are tidier than others and they pass through, some stay for days, others months and if that happens things get finished. Being a writer does take a particular kind of odd insanity and, to be honest, I’m much happier in my own universes, following the adventures my protagonists are having. Their lives are so much more colourful than mine.

SB: Is there a character who seems to bug you more than others? Her voice more urgent than others, almost making you tell her story? If so, who is that?

LS: See this is the thing, the person whose story I want to tell, I have to set this trilogy up first. I have lots of narrators, male and female, human and alien. Some get short stories, other’s novellas and a couple entire books. Each of them has their own arc and sometimes one lifetime just isn’t enough. This is partly while I love the idea of having three different periods of history in which to set up camp … I liken it to watching American Horror Story where, more or less, the same cast plays different roles in each season. Sometimes there are guest stars and other times people cameo and that’s it.

SB: I was thinking about American Horror Story when you talked about the book having recurring characters over time. That’s a really cool concept and makes for an interesting reading experience. I’m curious what an average day looks like for you? When do you generally write? Do you have a special writing spot in your home? Do you need quiet or do you write to music?

LS: I need noise, usually this means a playlist on Spotify, audiobooks or a movie/TV series that I can binge-watch. It’s all about turning off — or in my case distracting — a part of my brain so that I can concentrate. If I’m at home, I’ll write on my iMac and have whatever it is I’m watching or listening to on my second screen. My Aspergers means I ususally abuse the repeat button a lot and I have particular playlists with songs for certain characters or relationships.

I can write anywhere and everywhere. I carry my life around with me in my leather backpack, it amuses me that I can replicate my at home set up in pubs, cafes or other people’s houses with just an iPad, a WiFi connection and my trusty MacBook Air. I have a particular Starbucks I like to write in, the staff are lovely, Uni (my guide dog) has her own bowl and gets lots of fuss and attention, there’s also Reverse Mochas almost on tap which is an added bonus as I’m very particular about how I like my coffee.

I’ve trained myself, partly through a decade of journalism, to write almost anywhere. I just have to put in my earbuds and get on with it. I do procrastinate though, especially at Starbucks, but once I’m firmly entrenched in a project that’s it. Writing is, for me, like running is for other people: it’s hard as hell once you first start but it gets easier each time, the ability to write is just a muscle which you need to exercise. The first ten miles seem like a slog but it gets easier the more you do it. I write every day, even when I don’t want to, and usually have at least four projects on the go so when I get tired of one, I’ll just jump to another.

SB: Those Reverse Mochas sound delicious.

LS: They’re a venti Starbucks hot chocolate with three extra pumps of mocha and two shots of whichever expresso is in the machine, extra hot, no whipped cream. They’re delicious. I actually don’t like the taste of coffee so this gives me the hit and covers the flavour. I’m getting the point in life, thanks to chronic illness and tiredness, that I do find coffee helps me function, especially when it’s cold outside.

SB: Do you have a note book next to your bed in case you wake up at night and jot something down?

LS: You know, I should. I usually have my iPad (that way I don’t need to faff with lights) next to my bed (It’s prime reading time).

SB: Do you feel like you draw from real life situations when you write?

LS: Oh good gracious yes. Sometimes it’s direct stuff, other times it’s just something which interests me. I got bored last year so did an Access course on Creative Writing a couple of days a week; we did a whole module on Zeitgeist and I’ve come to really appreciate that word a lot. I don’t write with an agenda but sometimes zeitgeist slips in.

SB: Where do you see yourself in five years with regard to your writing?

LS: I would simply like to continue being able to write, to have a small but dedicated following and be able to Kickstart a minimum of two books a year.

I’d love to find an agent and be signed by Tor or Orbit (I’m old school in that, in my head, that kind of publication validates things, even though I have more control as an indie author) but it would have to be on my terms.

SB: I love that, Lesley. I think you are a gifted writer and I’m in awe of your courage. The world needs more people like you. (I know there’s no question there but I just wanted to say that :-)

LS: I’m just trying to keep my head down and follow Michael Bunker’s example, helping folks up a couple of rungs as he helped me. I’m lucky in that I’m in a position where I can write full time, most people can’t.

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SB: Lesley, thanks so much for chatting with me. It was wonderful to get to know you a little more. As a closing, do you have any advice for other writers, a line of Lesley Wisdom perhaps?

LS: If it had to be a line, probably: Write. Always write. Try to finish what you start, edit, publish and repeat.

SB: Thanks Lesley, it has been a distinct pleasure to chat with you. Good luck with Changing of the Sun and all your other projects.

LS: Thanks.

The Changing of the Sun is out TODAY:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lesleysmith/the-changing-of-the-sun

Get free books by subscribing to Lesley’s newsletter!

Buy Lesley’s books on Amazon and iTunes:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lesley-Smith/e/B00BXA1MXA

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/lesley-smith/id663412366?mt=11

Pledge to Lesley’s Patreon campaign: http://www.patreon.com/lesleysmith

Visit Lesley’s blog: http://www.lesley-smith.co.uk

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“A thrilling dystopian epic that competes with some of the best YA out there”

Hi there,

I wanted to share this review of The Fourth Sage by Eamo The Geek with you here:

Eamo writes: In a world becoming versaturated with dystopian YA tales all vying for the hard-earned money of beleaguered parents and desperate to grab the attention of movie producers to become the Next Big Thing, it’s easy to become cynical about the genre. It’s become tired and formulaic and other than a few mainstream successes like The Hunger Games and Divergent (which quite frankly to me were tired and formulaic also, but I’m not a teen so what do I know?) there has been little new to the table of late. Please continue reading here. 

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A Review by Undiscovered Tomes

Stefan Bolz’s The Fourth Sage Makes Us Ask “Why”

 Is it science fiction? 
 
Or maybe fantasy? 
 
Perhaps it’s a blend of both? 

Nope. Definitely sci-fi. Though it did seem like a genre blend for quite some time. After all, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Ok, ok… that Arthur C. Clarke statement doesn’t quite fit, but it’s one of my favorites, so I’m using it anyway.

Why doesn’t it fit? What in the world am I going on about now? Well… just keep reading!

The Fourth Sage is the first installment of the sci-fi Circularity Saga, written by Stefan Bolz, who, by the way, has a spectacular author page. So be sure to click on the link in that last sentence!
So what’s it about?

In a world where every move a person makes is watched, every word is guarded, and every independent action is punished, Aries Egan is an anomaly. She has discovered how to steal one hour of freedom every night, evading the cameras that lurk everywhere.

But freedom comes with a price, and one mistake can mean re-education and pain, as Aries discovers. Forced to flee, knowing that her life as she knows it is gone, she finds herself on a quest to topple the Corporation and bring freedom to others, as well.

And did I mention that one of the main characters is a hawk? Keep reading here.

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Soulful Self Publishing – What I Took Away From a Bunker/Grahl Webinar

I came to writing novels after a long phase of writing screenplays. During that time, I studied many a script, from Good Will Hunting to Lord of the Rings, from The Crow to Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty. I looked at the techniques used, the character arcs, plot development, and imagery. I soaked it all up. My favorites were, by far, Aaron Sorkin’s scripts of The West Wing. They were so good, the dialogues so crisp and tight, the writing so beautiful, that I was devestated.  I was awed, inspired, and devestated all at once. I am trying to combine those three words into one but I’m not having much luck. Awspevestated? Despired? Devestired? I thought very often, “O my god, this is awesome! O my god, I’m screwed!” If you’re an author, you might know of what I speak.

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I was taking acting lessons for a while, just before the novel writing started. My coach, Sande Shurin, had a simple yet brililiant approach: “Don’t worry so much about what the character is supposed to feel. How do YOU feel? Right now? What’s going through your head? Be authentic. Be your most authentic self. Nobody can copy you because you’re you. You’re not Matt Damon, you’re not Al Pacino, neither will you ever be. Ever. You can only be you. But you can be you whole heartedly and in so doing, create a unique voice that cannot be replicated.”

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What’s my point? There is one, I promise. I was devestated yesterday. Despired. Awspevestired. Why? I took part in a webinar – my first one – with Michael Bunker and Tim Grahl. “Indie Launch Secrets” was three hours long, with two short breaks. There was so much information, it was hard to keep up. My head was spinning after a mere forty-five minutes. Thank goodness, the webinar is there for me to go back to AND I will be getting all the notes from it today in a PDF. Why the devestation? I felt it. I felt the truth in their words. It was honest, intelligent, and throroughly thought-out. There was nothing flashy about it. It was pure. It was plain and simple, like an Amish life. It was nothing short of genius. I predict that this will be the North Star of how to successfully self publish, for years to come. Michael Bunker talking so passionately about the interaction between the artist and the reader, the soulful exchange that is at the heart of his success in self publishing, was what stuck with me most.

I won’t get into specifics here. It’s doubly, nay, quadruply worth it for everyone who has taken this rocky road of self publishing to get their buts and laptops to the next webinar (not sure when this is going to be but I’m fairly certain there will be another one). The gist, for me, is this: I need to forget what I think I know about self-publishing. I need to regroup. Devestation is a good motivator to regroup. The old ways (yes, the ways self publishing was conducted in 2011 ARE old) are no longer valid.

There needs to be a foundation. That foundation, based on a long-term and life-long-lasting plan of living as a self published author, cannot be made of sand. The tide will wash it away. It will take the house, as big and fancy and solid as it might seem to be, and it will wash it away and there will be nothing left but the sand on which it was built.

The new paradigm of self publishing is based on, built upon, and held up through soulful interaction with fellow humans. Gone are the days of tweeting the same message five times a day; gone the “BUY MY BOOK NOOOOOOOW!” shout outs into an audience that is already saturated to the rim with that very same message from yesterday. No. Let the tide take that house, built on twitter posts and cheap one-liners. Let it be washed into the ocean. And let me stand here and gather my friends and together build something that will last a life time.

Now, let me put my smart and brilliant acting coach into the picture, to round it off. If the foundation of self publishing is real human interaction, then it cannot happen between a real reader and a fake author. Fake author has to be washed away together with the fake foundation of the fake house. The real author, the real me, is the only one who will be heard, the only one who can build a house on granite, set deeply within the soil, and thereby made impenetrable to the tide.

Tim Grahl said this, in his book, Your First 1000 Copies: “Marketing is two things: 1) creating lasting connections with people through 2) a focus on being relentlessly helpful.”

What a concept, right? I will leave it at that. For me, finding that which only I can offer, and offer it whole heartedly without reservation, is my goal from now on. Thanks Michael and Tim. Thanks for sharing your talents and passions and continuing to do so.

Stefan

“The goal of the journey is neither the journey in itself nor its end. It is but the companions we collect on the way.” [Joshua Aylong - The Three Feathers]

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The First Two Years of Being an Indie Author – An Honest Assessment

It’s been a bit over two years since I began this journey into the unknown, into the world of indie publishing – this ominous thing I’ve heard about; this possibility of leaping into a different carreer. It has been exciting, disappointing, fulfilling, and leaving me hanging on by a thread, all usally within a day’s time. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic but I definitely went through the highs and lows just like any other author who had just jumped out of the starting gates. After two years of white-water rafting the currents of the great river that is called self publishing, I feel that I’m finally heading toward calmer shores. This article is an assessment, as true as possible, of where I am currently.

I didn’t use a professional editor for my first book. I couldn’t afford it. Now I know I couldn’t afford not to. I got 50 reviews, mostly 4 and 5 stars, but some readers mentioned spelling mistakes and some editing issues. The first book, I know now, is not meant to be read by a lot of readers. Maybe later. Maybe once my tenth book has been written and readers are beginning to read my stuff. Maybe then. I’ve got a little time to bring it to an editor and polish it before that happens.

Pushing that button for the first book to go on Amazon was what I imagine it would have felt like for NASA to put the first man on the moon. It was epic. It was like the promise of the most spectacular fireworks in the history of fireworks, over Paris while standing on top of the Eifel Tower. Well… something must have gone wrong with the lighter or maybe the fuse got wet. There was one small fire cracker going off somewehre in the distance with a puff. Hugh Howey gave me a shout out on the day I published. I sold 25 copies that day. I was extatic. I thought that was it and that, from that day forward, I would be a world renowned author.

Hmm…

Dreams and expectations can coexist peacefully. I know that now.

Then came what I now call the Age of Oversharing (at least that was my perception of that time). I plastered facebook with quotes, links, (good) reviews, and whatever else I could find that had to do with my book. I was very excited and thought it wouldn’t hurt if others knew about it. I’m not sure if it did. I think there is a fine line between keeping readers and people informed and forcing someone to look at your posts several times a day. I’m still not sure where the line is but I’m more aware now and my outlook has changed since then.

My first book, The Three Feathers, sold about 450 paperbacks locally through my book store. That number is pretty high due to the fact that I visited about 15 schools in the last two years and did readings in 3rd through 5th grade classes. That must have been one of the highlights of the last two years in this my self appointed part-time job in indie publishing. For one of the author days I did, I received $1,200. Others I did for free. In some I sold two books, in others fourty. I made about $2,000 on the books I sold locally so far.

On Amazon, from May 2012 until and including June 2014, I made $350. Here is my sales chart from the last 90 days. The numbers on the left are units.

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So, I made about $3,500 in two years. Production costs for the three books I have out right now, were about $3,400. That does not include facebook adds. I am estimating that to be another $600 for the last 2 years which brings the whole number to about $4,000 in cost. This does NOT include the 50 paperbacks I gave away for free to friends, family and through giveaways.

Writing, right now, is a hobby and one that, besides taking up a good chunk of free time, isn’t that expensive. I see it as my apprentice years. In Germany, a large part of the educational system is based on apprenticeship. As an apprentice, you make very little money but you learn a tremendous amount about your craft which pays off in excellent jobs you can get once your apprenticeship has ended.

Where am I now?

I have learned an incredible amount of things in the last two years. A lot of that is, plain and simple, what NOT to do. But that’s just part of it all. There were many things that I did right as well and the learning curve has been steep. The one thing I know now, is that I should probably write roughly about one million words before even thinking about making a living as a writer. If it happens earlier, that’s fine but I’m in for the long haul so what’s 700,000 words among friends, right? That’s not that much in the grand scheme of things.

I know now that, besides that newsletter sign-up list everyone is talking about (I have 23 people on that list and roughly 50% of them actually open the thing), the back log of written books is the most important tool of my writing career. Keep writing the next story and don’t worry about present sales data. I’m still dreaming. Every day. But for now, I’m writing, working on getting closer to those one million words, honing my craft, becoming better and better, publishing all around higher quality products, and developing my voice, my individual voice as a writer.

That’s all.

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A Back Yard Photo Shoot or How to Produce Your Own Indie Book Cover

In order for this to come out right and to show the process in its intirety, I need to go back forteen years, to the year 2000. I have recently been working on a novella called Dark World. I had first written it as a screenplay in 2002, as part of an online writing workshop with Writer’s Boot Camp. The screenplay was based on a poem written during a Creative Writing class in College two years earlier. Once the script was done, I sent it out to several producers. They basically told me that it was good but without “known source material,” a.k.a. an already published and well known novel or comic book, it was a hard sell. I shelfed it. Last year, during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, I dug it up and converted the screenplay into a 24,000 word novella of the same name. Here is the poem that became the seed for the story.

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The Writer’s Boot Camp screen writing workshop is six weeks long and leads the student through all stages of screen writing up to a completed first draft. They teach a lot about structure, down to a thirty-second elevator pitch that tells the story in one sentence. I highly recommend their workshops to anyone who wants to get into writing for the screen.

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After NaNoWriMo 2013, the first draft of the novella was completed and the document landed, again, in a file on my computer. In June of 2014, I took it back out to work on the second draft. During that process,  I began looking for images I could use for the cover. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money but still hoped to get a decent quality cover. I looked for an illustrator in some of the Facebook groups I knew. One of them was https://www.facebook.com/groups/BookCoversandCoverArtists/. I posted in it that I was looking for an inexpensive cover designer and received an email from Stina Rubio, an up-and-coming illustrator from California. She wanted to get her name out and agreed to do the cover for free, given that I’d provide the images from a stock photo site.

At that point, I had searched many sites for images of models I could use. I had a vision of how the cover should look but none of what I saw was right for it. Then I had a crazy idea: Mary Felice works in my favorite indie book store in the town I live in. I had just seen her during a reading I did there for The Fourth Sage. I knew she would make a perfect Amber for the cover of Dark World. I also somehow knew she would say yes even though I hadn’t asked her yet. Before I asked her, I asked my friend Maxine Rosola if she would do the make-up. She is a theater make-up artist and has worked on many local shakespeare plays and other theater productions in Woodstock and surrounding areas. She said yes. Then I asked Iszy Szemcsak (https://www.facebook.com/IszySzem), a high school student who is a truly gifted photographer, if she would take pictures. She said yes.

Finally, I went to the bookstore and asked Mary if she would be the model for my new book cover. She said yes. Actually, after a few “really?” and “are you serious?” she said “O my God, Yes!”. We booked a date a week later and everyone met in the afternoon in my backyard. I had bought a piece of muslin from a fabric store as a back drop. Iszy brought her camera, Maxine her (huge) make-up duffle bag and we started shooting.

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I mean, how cool is that! There is a photo shoot going on in my back yard, I’m having the time of my life, and all kinds of creative people do what they love to do. Doesn’t get much better than that. The amazing thing about self publishing is this – right here.

Here is a short video with clips of the shoot: Dark World Photo Shoot

Afterwards, the pictures who made it through the elimination process, ended up on Stina’s computer, together with my rough vision of what I had in mind. Stina is starting out as cover creator and hasn’t made a name for herself yet. Well, wait until you see the finished product. I don’t think she’ll have a problem getting work. Here is the picture that made it onto the cover:

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Mary looks so evil in it :-) And to think that she has no evil bone in her body whatsoever…

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Above, Maxine and Mary at the outset of the make-up application. Below, the sword was getting heavier… and heavier… as the day went on.

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Below, Izsy and Mary during the shoot.

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It was getting late :-) I love Mary’s expression in this one: “Leave me ALONE!”

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It was hard for Mary not to smile. That’s just not in her nature. So we tried to come up with things to upset her which basically ended up in all of us laughing.

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Being an indie author has its challenges. We are responsible for everytyhing related to what we put out. However, the creative freedom this brings with it, makes up for it many times over. If someone would have told me a few years ago that I’m going to have a photo shoot for the cover of my own book in my backyard, I would have said, “that’s crazy talk!” My suggestion is this: You can’t reach the stars if you don’t reach for them. They might be closer than you think.

Here now, the final cover for Dark World by Stina Rubio of Cover Lust Designs:

Below is the e-book cover. Nick Cole was kind enough to read an advanced copy and provide a quote. If you’re in New Paltz, NY, stop by at Inquiring Minds, an indie bookstore you’ll love. You might find Mary there. No sword, though. Just a smile.

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The Moment it Hit Me: I Am Now a Writer

When I began writing my first novel, I had no idea what to expect. I was very much engrossed in creating the story, dreaming it, feeling it to the fullest and journeying with my characters through a world of peril and friendships. Those first three characters – a wolf, a rooster, and a warhorse – were my companions throughout the writing, editing and publishing of The Three Feathers. I loved having them around, listening to what they had to say, fearing for them, and enjoying their company. That was my reward – writing the story and figuring out, with them, what was next.

Then came the publishing phase. I had no clue what to do, what not to do and how it all worked. I read several books on self-publishing, followed a few blogs and made many friends on the way – friends who, like the characters in the book, stayed with me until this day. I dreamed of being a successful writer. I actually picked out a house in our neighborhood where we would live once I hit it big time. Peter Jackson was about to call me any second to offer me a movie deal on The Three Feathers. If you are a writer reading this, I know you know what I’m talking about. Okay, it might not be Peter Jackson who is optioning your book but I’m sure it’s someone of equal caliber.

After a while, reality set in and it occured to be that it wouldn’t be that easy. Who needs a bigger house anyway, right? Then came writing The Fourth Sage and with that the doubt that the book would never amount to anything and that, at the end of the story, I would just realize that I had wasted a whole year on nothing. Well, that’s not the case, obviously. I’ve gotten enough reviews to assure me that I didn’t pour my heart out for nothing. At least a few people liked it. That should be enough. But what is enough? I’ve been pondering this question for a while. Is Hugh Howey’s success enough? Am I enough for myself, right now? What does it mean to be successful? It can’t be sales rankings. That would be cruel and I don’t want to live my life like that. I am more than a bunch of numbers that may or may not have any meaning.

Where am I going with this, you might ask, and rightfully so. It hit me today. I went into my favorite local bookstore, INQUIRING MINDS in New Paltz, New York. I went in there as I do about twice a week, to check if they need more copies of my books. I’ve sold quite a few through them. About 400 of The Three Feathers and already ten in the last week of The Fourth Sage. So, when I walked in there this morning, it hit me. “I made it,” I thought. Two years ago,  I had barely begun the journey that is self publishing and today, I walked into the book store to see this:

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Today brought home to me how much had happened in the last two years. There is a book of mine on display in a book store – one of those stores that I had admired all my life – where you smell that old book smell and sit and read and talk to the owners who have most likely read a good number of the books they sell. What comes after this, after today, wherever this journey will take me, is just gravy.

 

 

 

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My interview with writer and cover designer Jason Gurley

I met Jason Gurley through our ever-growing indie publishing community. He had been designing covers for Hugh Howey, Michael Bunker and others for a while and I was lucky enough to get on his schedule to design the cover for one of my own books. In this interview, however, I’ll talk to him more about his writing. And his cowboy boots. And hot chocolate vs. coffee. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me briefly mention how the cover design process went down with Jason. I sent him a sketch my girlfriend’s daughter Chloe had done that I thought should somehow be incorporated into the cover. I also filled out a questionnaire on his web-site that goes into some of the specific themes of the book. A few days after the promised date for starting the project, he emailed me.

Jason: “Stefan, here are three suggestions for the cover. Let me know what you think.”

Me (screaming on the inside due to the utter awesomeness of one of them): “I’ll take number 2.”

Jason: “You got it.”

That was it. There was no back and forth. He nailed it on the first shot, one hundred percent.

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S.B. Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I know you’re very busy and I appreciate you taking the time. Speaking of which, what time is it now, the very moment you are reading this?

JG: Stefan, it’s my pleasure — thanks for inviting me! It’s seven p.m., Pacific time, on Monday, May 26th. I’ve been hanging out at coffee shops for most of the day, working very hard to finish the current edit of Eleanor. I’m about to call it a night, and go home to read bedtime stories to my daughter, Squish, and then I’ll probably be up until midnight or so working on the book.

I did take a small break today to see the new X-Men movie. It was really quite good. Lots of movies about time travel lately, aren’t there? I keep getting distracted by the trailers for Tom Cruise’s new movie, Edge of Tomorrow. I know there are a lot of Tom Cruise detractors in the world, but I can’t help it. I love the guy’s movies, no matter how cornball or serious they are, and this one looks like a really wonderful combination of Vanilla Sky and Oblivion.

I think this is the only interview I’ve ever started off with a bit of Tom Cruise cheerleading.

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SB: I’m glad you started the interview that way. Help me, help you, Jason. Help me, help you! I happened to read the screenplay to Vanilla Sky. It was in book form and in the foreword, the director talked about how they included more than 100 items (songs, phrases, and images) in the movie to make it deeper each time you watch it. Do you put items into your books that are usually only discovered on reading it for a second time? But the real question is, when you hang in coffeehouses, does your coffee contain cream, no cream, sugar, honey, or Mocha Cookie Crumble?

JG: Back when DVD players were still marvelous and new, I watched the Times Square sequence (at the beginning of Vanilla Sky) frame by frame. Mostly I wanted to catch all of the imagery that Cameron Crowe was slipping into the scene — there’s a lot — but also because, if you look closely, you can see people pressed against the glass of the buildings overlooking Times Square, staring down at the movie set below them, watching Tom Cruise run and act.

I love little discoveries like that.

I wouldn’t say that I consciously insert things into my books this way. But I do think that a lot of the things that happen in my books are a bit layered, and might read in a new or fresh way the second or third time a reader opens the book. At least, I hope so. You never can tell if you’re doing that well, or if you’re being too ham-fisted and obvious about it.

Here’s the thing: I do a lot of writing in coffee shops… but I don’t drink coffee. Hot chocolate all the way, my friend. Even on the hottest of days.

SB: Speaking of layers and coffee, I always think writing is like making coffee in a coffee maker. The water has to take time to go through the filter, absorb the coffee and come out on the other side, rich in taste, texture, and smell. No instant coffee can do that. Not sure how it works with hot chocolate but that might be a different metaphor altogether.

Let’s talk about Eleanor for a moment. I heard that you began writing the book about thirteen years ago. That’s a long time. Not only for a book, obviously, but also for you personally. You’re now thirteen years older, you’ve had thirteen years worth of experiences during that time. You got married and you got Emma, a.k.a. Squish, so I’m assuming your life changed completely within those years. When you now read the first few chapters of the book again, do you get the sense that you are reading something from a younger you? And do you see the changes in you reflected in the story?

JG: I started writing Eleanor in 2001. An enormous amount of change has transpired between then and now. I was twenty-three then, greener than I like to remember. I’m still young at thirty-five, but a bit more experienced. I can see the gaps in my approach back then.

But Eleanor has never been a linear process for me. I’ve stopped, started, restarted, thrown everything away, burned down the walls, dug up the foundation, laid new pipe — all of that, a dozen times over. The Eleanor that will be published in June is almost nothing like the Eleanor I began all those years ago. Its broad themes are entirely different, its specific characters barely resemble the ones I first wrote about. The entire novel is fresh, every word new.

You’re right, though, about the way things change over a period of time like that. When I began the book, I was married. Not long after, that marriage ended, and rightfully so. Years later I met the right woman for me, and we’re the proud parents of a dancing machine — Squish — and as a father and a husband, I think I’ve managed to write a better Eleanor than I could back then.

I hope I have, that is!

Hats!

SB: Speaking of dancing machines, what hobbies do you have? What interests you but you haven’t gotten around to yet? Ballroom dancing? Crocket? Sky diving? Stamps?

JG: As a teenager I was into baseball cards, which was simple enough until I discovered that I could forge autographs on them. I ripped off more than a few classmates. (This keeps me up nights even now.) I love movies, and these are my top five (though there are never only five): Contact. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Mosquito Coast. Almost Famous. The Abyss. And let’s throw Road to Perdition in there for good measure. That list leaves out an awful lot of movies I love — everything from the original Superman to Wonder Boys to Snow Falling on Cedars — but like I said, the list is never just five movies long. Maybe five hundred.

I also own cowboy boots, though I haven’t worn them in awhile, and I have a special affinity for going dancing in them. My wife and I used to go to a little place back in San Luis Obispo, California, where we would stomp around and two-step and learn how to do dances called the El Paso or the Continental. Fire up a country song and I still start clicking my heels around.

Other things, as you might expect, include baseball — I grew up with the Astros, switched allegiance to the Twins, and now I’m adrift in Oregon, no team to call my own; Darryl Strawberry was my favorite player as a kid — and sleeping, something I don’t do nearly enough of these days.

I can’t imagine these things are actually interesting to anybody…

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SB: I’m right there with you on Contact and The Abyss. The scope and depth of either were phenomenal. I don’t want to neglect your two-step dancing, trust me, but speaking of scope and depth, I believe Greatfall was one of the early Wool fan fics, right? I remember reading it and enjoying it tremendously. Do you have the sense that writing one book sparks the idea for the next one or would you, for example, have written Greatfall without having written The Settlers first? But seriously, let’s talk a little more about the “El Paso” afterwards.

JG: In retrospect, Greatfall was early to the party. But at the time, I certainly felt like I wasn’t doing anything original. Wes Davies had already struck gold with The Runner, and Patrice Fitzgerald was going gangbusters with The Sky Used to Be Blue. Thomas Robins had a book of silo-themed poetry out. Lyndon Perry, I think, had already published his first silo story. I can’t remember if Michael Bunker had yet published the first installment of his Silo Archipelago series. He and I may have landed around the same time.

I’ve been very fortunate that the book seems to click with Wool fans. In fact — and this is super fun for me to mention — tonight I’m going to talk with a book club here in Portland that’s just finished reading Greatfall. My only regret is that since Greatfall is only an ebook, I can’t bring signed copies for everyone.

I’m dodging your other question, though. I don’t know if books spark each other into existence. For me, I think it’s readers who do that. Each time one of my books finds an audience, and people enjoy and share it, I’m inspired to write something new. When I published The Man Who Ended the World, my first novel, sixty-four people bought it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I actually know sixty-four people — which meant that strangers took a chance on my book. That was amazing, and definitely inspired me to dive into my next project, which was The Settlers, then The Colonists, then Greatfall after that.

The El Paso is a courtly little couples dance. It’s easy to learn, and everybody should: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRJOMWFp8Yw. I can’t possibly by the only science fiction writer who does these kinds of things, can I?

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SB: Haha, Jason. If I like somebody’s work, I do become interested in other things about that person. I think we all do. Take On Writing by Stephen King, for example. One of his best books, in my opinion.

JG: I like to call that being a completionist. Or maybe a completist? For me, being a completist of Stephen King means extending my interest in trivial facts to his family — which, admittedly, sounds very stalkery right now. I had the chance to attend his son’s reading and book signing at Powell’s Books last year. Joe Hill looks startlingly like his father, but he’s also a damn fine writer — perhaps on his way to being an even better one than his father. He told some wonderful stories about growing up King — dinner conversations about Shirley Jackson and H.P. Lovecraft, or the typewriter in the foyer that they all visited, adding sentences to a collaborative short story. I recall him mentioning that they all went out of their way to be as risqué and offensive with their contributions as possible, even as kids.

I’m not the sort of person who is easily star struck, or who goes out of his way to talk to people who are famous. But I’d probably blubber a bit if I ever had the opportunity to meet Stephen King. He almost singlehandedly taught me to love writing.

SB: By the way, I watched the video you mention and it’s nice and all but I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a video of you doing the El Paso. I think your readers deserve to see you do it. In your cowboy boots. Maybe when Eleanor comes out? I’m not hinting on anything. Not in the least. But isn’t that a really great aspect of being an indie author? You can fully be there for your readers and listen to their comments and, as you mentioned earlier, be inspired by them. This might be a question with a short answer but If a major publisher would want to buy Eleanor in the months to come, do you know what you would do?

JG: I’m no Hugh Howey, though. Dance videos — not so much. My daughter, on the other hand, is all about dance parties right now.

I’m not sure what I would do if a publisher asked about Eleanor. It’s not something I think about all that often. As an indie author — or a self-published author, or author-publisher, or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days — it doesn’t matter all that much if a publisher notices the book or not. Come June 27, readers can dig in. That much I can do myself.

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SB: Jason, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you the utmost success with the Eleanor launch. I know you’re very busy so I’m going to let you go back to what you do best.

JG: I really enjoyed it — thanks for inviting me, Stefan! And I can’t wait to pick up The Fourth Sage!

Make sure you visit Jason’s website and sign up for his newsletter. He gives away free stuff. CRAZY! http://www.jasongurley.com/

Jason’s latest novel, Eleanor, already has 94 reviews on Amazon. Here is the link to pre-order it. Publication date is June 27th. Go and get it! http://www.amazon.com/Eleanor-Jason-Gurley-ebook/dp/B00K8IAZ68/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403621987&sr=8-1&keywords=eleanor

Cheers,

Stefan

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