Writers, Choose Your Side

Good morning world. I’m sipping coffee brewed in a melitta funnel and really enjoying that caffeinated buzz. And I need it too. Yesterday I ran to the top of Granite Mountain (West) in some very muggy, hot weather and then wrote a pile of words for COUNTERFEIT HORIZON. Oh yeah, and we got the washer-dryer stack replaced on the third floor of our townhouse. Good grief, I was productive.

During all of that doing I was patently unaware of the storm brewing in writer-land. It seems that authors all over the world were drawing lines in sand while I slept and now I’ve been asked to choose a side. Yes, we’re talking, once again, about the Hachette/Amazon battle that is still smoldering.

“What has changed?” you ask. A number of prominent, traditionally published authors have recently gone public. They are asking for reader condemnation of Amazon. Then, this morning, Hugh Howey published this petition asking for reader/writer support of Amazon.

Everyone is currently engaged in the truly enduring past time of second guessing one another via public media outlets such as Twitter. And I, I am left scratching my head in bewildered and somewhat misanthropic cloud of confusion. Some days, I can’t not hate you guys.

Where do I stand on this critical matter of the day? When I examine my soul, I find that I just don’t. Hachette and its army of apologists haven’t done anything that has made me like them any more. No book deals offered, not even misleading and unfruitful interest expressed. Amazon, despite being a key component of my “success” as a writer, isn’t making nice-nice with anyone either. The fact of the matter is that two really big corporations are acting worse than poorly raised and regulated toddlers at the play area. And making matters worse they’re both bandwagoning decisive and vocal support for their poorly articulated positions within a darkroom debate.

The best way to resolve any problem in the human world is for all sides to sit down and talk.
— Dalai Lama

People, here is a really fine example of the exact wrong moment to express your tightly held beliefs. Amazon and Hachette are using you and your incessant flame wars as an excuse to avoid solving their problem. And you fools are just playing into that dumb game. These corporations need to come to the table and fix their problems. Not you, traditionally published authors, and not you, independent published authors. Both of you are making resolution more difficult and the market much more hostile. This is not your fight, not your problem, and definitely not your job. Authors, your jobs are to write more and learn how to play well with others who write.

(negative 10 points for derp, and minus 40 points to House Indignation for snarky bullshit)

Do I like and thank Amazon for providing me the opportunity to be published? Hell yes, but that has nothing to do with them manipulating the sales of books for others. Do I care overly much about Hachette teetering no the brink of insolvency? Not my worry either. I’d really appreciate it if both Amazon and Hachette could, henceforth, avoid forcing authors of any publishing imprint into the unenviable position of having to chose between divorcing parents.

Yet More Drama

Alright already! SFF writers can we please move beyond the petty, boorish and un-funk worthy spectacle of the day? Seriously, you guys waste way too much time expressing your heart felt opinions while simultaneously developing an unrivaled skill for hyperbole.  What’s the beef de jour? This morning Hugh Howey wrote a brief bit about a weekend convention. Seems convention organizers decided to put some authors in a back room for some reason while other authors got big tables in a big, comfy room.

I agree with him, it was a bit of a dick move by RT Booklovers Convention organizers, how ever you cut it up. But these things happen. The insinuation that it was intentional or focused on one kind of writer or publisher as opposed to another are unlikely to be true. But even if the accusations are verifiable, the absolute best anyone can hope for at this point is that next year the convention organizers will lay out the guest list with a little more forethought.

If this situation affected you personally — I mean if you were there this weekend and you ended up sitting in the cramped back room not selling any books — might it be unlikely you plan on returning? No, didn’t think so. RT Booklovers Convention is probably going to experience a shortage of creative types in the future.

If it didn’t affect you personally, why do you care? There is a Facebook-turd forming under a series of names I thought were above this sort of nonsense. It’s really too bad because too, these sorts of opinions get tossed around all the time and they never go anywhere. I get it, you’re angry. You may dislike the way some people publish. Perhaps you’re envious of their successes or their set up. But folks, you’re spot on the money when you say that this stuff is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. You really need to pay attention to your own words, because if it’s truly an easily forgiven “faux pas” you’re making a mountain out a mole hill. Cultivating a culture of melodrama.

Beyond a relatively few SFF diehard fanatics who have previously made up their minds, it is exceptionally unlikely that anyone who encounters this sort of genre specific infighting will experience an epiphany and see the world anew, now well informed by your opinion. Rather, if in the process of sorting the day’s media catch they are unlucky enough to firmly grasp your infernal doo-doo might they then form a negative opinion about you, your writing, or perhaps the genre you write in?

I don’t mind reminding anyone that science fiction and fantasy writers already have a tough row to hoe. SFF is still perceived as “kids stuff” at best. Regardless of the way you publish, our collective lack of professionalism has not made anyone’s job any easier. Worse, SFF authors seem to be preternaturally primed to hop the bandwagon each and every time it trundles by. Do you realize that children’s authors and romance writers look down their noses at SFF? Yeah, chew on that for a bit.

I am so tired of talking to people about my stories, seeing the flame of interest in their eye, only to watch it be extinguished with the words “Oh, I don’t usually read sci-fi.” This is almost always accompanied by a sneer which I imagine as commentary on my working choice of literature. Our genre is still outside what most people consider normal or well-adjusted. It lacks the respect other writing commands.

Like all of you, I work hard on my craft. I’ve suffered personal indignities, and sure, I carry my fair share of spite around with me. But we’ve got to cultivate the respect we deserve. Your platform is yours, do with it as you will, but we’re all set up on the same stage of genre. This means your self destructive habits affect those near you. If you cannot resolve your personal problems without pasting them in flashing neon across the whole internet, you may have some room for personal growth.

Author Interview Mel Hearse

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you what may be the last in my series of author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Let me say, before we get to the introduction, that this has been a lot of fun for me. An eye opening experience, but alas all good things must come to an end. Currently, I don’t have any more scheduled interviews. If you’re reading this and thinking “Hey, what about my story?” don’t fret. I would very much like to speak with you. Drop me a line and we’ll make it happen.

Now, on to the introduction. Today we’ll be talking with author, journalist and Mom Melanie Hearse. Check out her website, she has a journalistic bibliography a mile and  a half long. Interestingly, however, her contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, THE GREATER GOOD, was a first step into the world of fiction. It’s an interesting mashup of Mother’s Day and Tales from the Dark Side and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Mel, who lives and works in Australia, has a novel on the way and has since produced several short stories. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Continue reading

The Guardian Legend Self-Published Book of the Month

During the flurry of twitter announcements from Hugo enthusiasts today I got this breath of fresh air from Hugh. Seriously made my day. As an author with a growing bibliography, little to no outside support or promotion, and exactly zero potential for a Hugo this gives me an aspiration of much more realistic scope. And is an direction that is potentially much more helpful.

Unfortunately, submissions to The Guardian Legend Self-Published Book of the Month are closed for April, but I imagine that if you start looking again near the beginning of May you’re likely going to find something similar.

The Guardian is set to become the first national newspaper to champion self-publishing on a regular basis with the launch of a new monthly prize that aims to find the best DIY novels.

The paper is teaming up with publisher Legend Times to support and showcase what it said was “the fantastic quality of writing that can be found from independent authors”, as the sector continues to boom. New figures from Nielsen’s Books & Consumers survey show that self-published books accounted for one in five of the 80m ebooks purchased in 2013. “No longer can the mainstream industry ignore what the general public have been reading and enjoying for a number of years, with many self-published authors outstripping the sales of novels published traditionally,” said the Guardian.

If you click on the article about the contest you’ll get a good bit of excellent information on the topic. Indies need something like this and I’m only happy to see it happening. I wonder how the lists will be curated? Honestly, I don’t think it matters much how you publish, the market has changed that much. But getting your work out there is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the never ending mountain of work you’ll be completing to find readers. Opportunities to showcase writing are an excellent and relatively low cost way to find these eyes and here, trad-pub and hybrid authors have a significant and enviable advantage. Check out the nominees for the 2014 Hugo if you need to confirm this.

 

Interview with Susan May

Susan May

Susan May


Not only has author Susan May written a very compelling contribution to the FROM THE INDIE SIDE anthology this collection is largely her brain child. The story of how this came to be is told well in this interview of Suspense Magazine and it too is compelling, much because it underscores the idea that all a writer needs is one part good idea, one part determination, and one part words in a manuscript to find success in publishing.

Susan May is a mom and a author who has turned out some excellent writing. I got the opportunity to talk shop with her recently and if you’re looking for some excellent advice than I recommend that you read on.


MT THE WAR VETERAN was a difficult story for me to read. Your descriptions of Jack Baker’s life long guilt and PTSD induced anxiety, while not the same as my experience, provoked me in a way I found simultaneously uncomfortable and familiar. Excellent writing from start to finish. Even while I suspected what you might be doing with the story I felt compelled to read on, knowing that there must be some resolution, wondering how Baker would end. All the while feeling some kinship with this survivor of a different conflict. What about the horrors of war and the example from Salinger compelled you to write this story? Without giving too much away, was there an idea, beyond the carnage of battle, that you wanted to explore with this piece?

SM Thank you for your wonderful compliment. I guess Jack Baker puts paid to the idea that writers cannibalize their our own experiences. I’m a mom in Perth, Western Australia and I’ve no experience of war except what I’ve seen in films and read in books. I’m a long way from being an octogenarian, too. So Jack’s about as far from my experience as you can get.

While watching the Salinger documentary I was simply struck by something said by one of Salinger’s war buddies. He talked of still seeing armaments explode in his living room and bedroom fifty years after he experienced them. He didn’t preface it with “visions” or “imagined,” he saw these things as if they were real. I couldn’t stop imagining how terrible the original event must be to create that.

I don’t plot my stories, so all I had was that image. The battle scene, Jack’s guilt, all came from Jack. In fact, the scene on Omaha Beach came as a surprise to me. When I realized Jack was taking me there, I was forced to do some research. So I listened to recordings of surviving soldiers and read transcripts. What I wanted to explore was the aftermath, not the battle. What happened on that beach to create Jack’s guilt was all Jack behaving instinctively as a character. I wanted him to be a hero because that’s what happens in the movies, right? But he couldn’t be. He was just a normal person faced with an extraordinary situation.

MT Michael Bunker has mentioned that you were the originator and primary orchestrator of the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project. Bringing together this many independents authors must have been a challenge at times. Were there low points, when you thought the project might not ever make it to press, that you were able to overcome? Were there learning experiences that you might share with writers who might be interested in following your lead?

SM I’m an eternal optimist, so I never thought we wouldn’t get the book published. What I didn’t realize at the onset was what a huge job it was to manage an anthology project, especially with three of us conferring with each other.

I’m twelve hours in time difference from David Gatewood and Brian Spangler who live on the east coast of the USA, and that was the thing that was most challenging. A few times I’d wake up to a dozen emails, in which I was copied in, of them discussing something that I missed because I was asleep.

When it came to bringing together the authors, that was easy. Hugh Howey had enthusiastically agreed to participate back in May 2013 after I interviewed him and reviewed WOOL for Suspense Magazine. He was the first author. I knew with him on board we’d be turning writers away. Brian wrangled a few of other authors and then some of them suggested others, and I had already a few I’d rounded up, so the group assembled pretty quickly.

My advice if you are crazy enough to want to manage an anthology to publication, is to set up a plan first that includes everything you need to decide on like price, costs, launch date, even how you want the chapters laid out—what side you want the numbers, etc., and then work back from there. Allow time before the launch for things to go wrong. We spent a week on formatting problems that sneaked in from a glitch in some coding that we hadn’t factored in.

I calculate I spent at least seventy to hundred hours on this. To me that’s a book I could have written that I will never get to write. So be certain that it’s worth it to you. It’s a great exercise in building your brand and connections and possibly there is a small amount of money in there. Of course, you are splitting it between thirteen people so there’s not a lot.

My other advice is to be firm on quality. You need to ensure the stories are good, put in a proviso to your offer that it’s only an invite to participate, not a given. We were just lucky. It was thrilling reading the stories as they came in. By the time we had Peter Cawdron’s in as the last story, we knew we had something special in our hands.

MT Beyond them all being speculative fiction and short stories the tales in FROM THE INDIE SIDE don’t seem to share much in common. They are not all set in the same place or time and they don’t have any common reference or theme. Was this freedom a conscious decision?

SM We’re indies and this book was to show the quality of work we indies are capable of, so the only limitation we had was that there was a limit of 10,000 words. Then Peter Cawdron and I ignored that. So there you go, indies can’t help but break rules. So freedom was in our blood before we even started. All the authors, except Sara Foster and Mel Hearse (who’d never written any fiction before—crazy, talented writer that she is) were already writing in the speculative fiction genre, so we knew they would all fit together but be varied enough to offer something for everyone.

MT Have you thought about organizing additional anthologies in the future? Is there anything in the works currently?

SM Absolutely it’s going to happen again. I love the opportunity of meeting and working with other authors. And I love the short story form, and I believe it is enjoying a resurgence with eBook publishing. I want to contribute to that. Watch this space for later in the year.

MT I share your belief that “when it comes to writing you know what needs doing; you just need to make yourself do it,” but I disagree that the first steps are not the most daunting. Rejection, regardless of its source, is a cruel instructor and obscurity is perhaps the most merciless judge. What advice can you offer writers, especially independents, who find themselves wallowed deep down on the best seller’s lists?

SM I stick by my original comment with reference to me, but that is my opinion and probably due to my life experience and personality. We all come to this business with different experience, lifestyles, skill, and expectations. So what I find difficult or easy will be different to you or another writer. When I first hopped back into writing seriously in 2010, I began by writing a lot of short stories and entering them in competitions. That is a quick way to accumulate rejections, but the positive is you build a body of work as you learn to handle the ego bashing. That first eighteen months I cried a lot—a lot, but slowly I started placing in competitions and eventually having stories published in anthologies. It built my confidence. The whole time I kept writing novels. I’ve got 1000 pages of two novels on a thumb drive—work that will probably never be published. Since then I’ve written a lot and when I jumped into indie publishing mid-2013 I’ve keep up a constant pace.

My advice is to keep writing and do it for the love. You must get better if you keep at it. It’s a natural progression like building muscles. Now with self-publishing you can build a body of work quickly. Put up your short stories, your novellas, essays and books. It’s all buying an extra ticket in the lottery of success and another product in your book store.

I love writing. It is part of my day now and if I miss a day, I feel itchy. If you can get to the point where you don’t have to tell yourself to do it, where the call of writing is the master, then I think you are on your way. Eventually, I believe, the walls of the dam must burst from the weight of your passion. So obstacles and wallowing seem to disappear.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced and the success of FROM THE INDIE SIDE is compelling and enviable. But there remains a lot of fuzziness between “I have a manuscript” and the publish button which results in plenty of amateur and unpolished books. In an ideal world, what might indies do to help each other plan and polish their work more completely?

SM I’m not big on workshopping my work. I don’t really believe in working with other indies on that level. I don’t have beta readers except for my husband, who is brilliant on pointing out pacing issues and confusing sentences. The minute I have to explain something to him, I know I’m going to have to rewrite that passage. He’s my average reader.

Then my next step is sending it off to my editor. Finding an editor with whom you work well and who is also available when you need them is a challenge. If you have niggling doubts about your editor’s work or even whether you are the right fit personality-wise listen to your gut. It’s been a search to find my current editor. I’ve tried a few, but the one I have now works really well with me, they don’t cost a fortune, and I’m learning from them as well.

So that’s my system and from that I believe I put out stories that are as polished and as entertaining as any traditional press. I review books directly for all the big publishers and, believe me, a lot of their releases definitely need more work. Everyone is trying to rush their work out there, including them. I believe you should do the best you can, use an editor, run it by a person or a few people you trust, and then put it out there and forget it. Don’t keep fiddling with improving it. That typo that you think you missed isn’t going to make a lot of difference to sales or fans. So in a nutshell, keep going and you will work out your own system and pace and if that includes other indie authors—great. If it doesn’t, then that’s okay as well.

Indies can help each other by sharing blog posts like what you are doing, Matthew, and highlighting other great authors they’ve read—spreading the word. So many authors write to me asking can I review their book, but the first thing an author should do is build a relationship and help other authors. Eventually, the goodwill will come back to you.

MT Do believe that there are any specific or unique challenges for Australian independent authors that citizens of other countries might not encounter?

SM Well Australians are lucky because we start the day before almost anyone else in the world. The only problem with that is that the biggest English speaking markets don’t wake up until our day is almost over and they are on the other side of the planet. In saying that, what a boon ePublishing has been for us because we can sell to anyone in the world.

The USA is the biggest English speaking market, so I write in American vernacular and have an American editor so they can pick up any Australian words that slip in. We think we speak the same language, but not quite. Certainly we spell many things differently. My spell checker is set to US, so even my emails are in American because I can’t be bothered changing the auto-correct. My friends must think I can’t spell.

As I mentioned earlier, if you’re collaborating, the time difference can get annoying in a slight way. It’s very expensive to ship from CreateSpace to here as well. The postage and time wait is a killer.

But these are minor niggles, and as everybody knows Australia is one of the best countries in the world in which to live, so I’m not going to complain about the tyranny of distance. There’s so much amazing talent coming out of Australia that clearly whatever challenges there are, the Aussie contingent has pushed through.

MT Is there anything you would like to say to your readers before we sign off?

SM I would like to thank you, Matthew, for having me on and being such a great supporter of FROM THE INDIE SIDE. I’m humbled. To the readers: I thank you for using your precious time to read anything that I write or another professional indie writes. I always know that readers have a choice how they spend their time, and reading is only one choice.

If readers take the time to read my book, that is just wonderful, and I hope that I repay them by ensuring they enjoy their time with my work. I write what I call commercial “everyman” fiction that most people should be able to get into quickly and enjoy an escape, with a satisfying ending. Changing people’s view on life or putting in some deep and meaningful message on purpose is not my thing.

In my mind, I’m welcoming readers to a great little party, providing some well-prepared food, introducing them to some fascinating people, and doing my best to ensure they have a good time. If I’ve done my job right, they’ll hopefully want to visit with me again. That is my only goal. My books won’t win any literary awards, but my goal is to win readers. They’re more important in my world.

Interview with Author Peter Cawdron

Peter Cawdron

I very much enjoyed Peter Cawdron‘s contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, and I say this while acknowledging that the story did not immediately pull me in. Yet, after a page or two I could not put the story down. The first time I read it, I set out to read a couple of pages and crash for the night; I had just run a good collection of miles. I was beat, but I couldn’t. THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY that good. Honestly, it made me want to hear this anthology as an audio collection similar to METAtropolis.

I really enjoyed Peter’s story and I also enjoyed working with him to create this interview. Dig in, you will too. And when you’re done, go pick up a copy. These stories are that good, you’ll lose sleep.


MT I really enjoyed THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY. Kareem became a hero because of circumstance not because of amazing prodigy. It was equal parts crime story and temporal switch, and while I never really understood what was happening to our hero’s memory, I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief to be convinced. Where did you find the inspiration for this compelling short?

PC Yeah, that’s the nice thing about short stories, not every detail needs to be supplied, some can be left for the reader to ponder. In this case, why Kareem remembers the future is never explained, but the implication is that he’s wrapped up in the fate of his brother.

Racial profiling is a big deal in our society, and not just for law enforcement. We make all sorts of judgement about people based on appearance without an iota of reason behind our conclusions. Often, these attitudes are subconscious and we don’t realize we’re pigeonholing people based on their race, their gender, etc. And that got me thinking about how awful it would be for someone to be caught up in a dragnet. I liked the quandary the story posed — that Kareem has knowledge of future events, is entirely innocent, but is powerless to get anyone to believe him.

MT The ending to THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY made me think that this might be the first installation in a series. Do you have plans to develop Kareem and Deb? If so what can you tell us about them.

PC I’m tempted. It really depends on how much readers warm to the story. If there’s interest in a sequel, I’d love to write one and so deliberately left the ending open for that reason. And besides, stories have ends, but life goes on. I wanted to show that our glimpse into their day was just one chapter of the larger story that is their lives.

MT How did you become involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

PC I was a late substitute, the guy called off the bench at the last minute. Jason Gurley reached out to me and asked me if I had any stories lying around that might suit an anthology. I didn’t, so I started hammering the keyboard. I’m glad he asked or this story would never have seen the light of day.

MT THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY seems like a bit of genre departure for you, compared to your bibliography. It is less classic science fiction and more speculative. Are you branching out?

PC Good writers challenge themselves. When choosing a story, I look for something that is both interesting to me from an exploratory perspective and technically challenging in one way or another. My latest novel, FEEDBACK was written largely because the storyline is so audacious I wanted to see if I could actually pull it off. I think I did, but I guess you’ll have to check the reader reviews to see if they agree. When it came to THE MAN WHO REMEMBERED TODAY, it was the challenge of not taking the easy path. I wanted to avoid the tried and tested scifi I love and dabble. Oh, and I loved the title. It’s anachronistic throwback to the pulp stories of the 50s, which hooked me right into the project.

MT I am very interested in the tools and processes other writers use to create their works. In THE MAN WHO REMEMBERS TODAY you have a impressive collection of action scenes. These are notoriously difficult scenes to write, especially with detail and clarity and you pulled them off well. How do you treat scenes like this? Do you use any special tools or techniques when writing action?

PC Normally, I’d do a mind map of a story, but with this story I couldn’t help but dive right in. When editing, though, I listen to my stories read back to me by the computer. By involving two senses while revising (sight and sound) I find I can get a good feel for the rhythm of a story.

MT In the afterword to your story you talk about the value of short fiction. And about how it has inspired some excellent movie productions. I usually dislike most film productions based on a novel length books, finding that the screen writers, directors, and editors necessarily need to chop up a perfectly good story in order to cram it into a watchable movie length. It occurs to me that short form may actually lend itself to this sort of transformation much better. Do you think this is true? If so, explain why, for instance, short fiction like Philip K Dick’s THE MINORITY REPORT makes a better film.

PC Novels establish character by peering inside the mind of a protagonist, which is something no movie can ever do. As much as I love watching a good movie, even with all their special effects they can never achieve the level of immersion you find in a novel. If stories are an iceberg, then the movie is all you see above the waterline, while the book is everything in the depths below. I think short stories and novellas work better as movies precisely because they’re a closer match. Like movies, they don’t have time to establish character familiarity and rely on interactions to reveal subtleties.

MT Was THE MAN WHO REMEMBERS TODAY something you had sitting in a drawer or did you write if specifically for the FROM THE INDIE SIDE anthology.

PC It was a vague what-if idea in the back of my mind that would have never been written outside of an anthology. Having written it, though, I’m now more interested in the short story format. Ideas are easy, execution is hard. The nice thing about a short story is the execution of the idea is that little bit easier. I look at what Jason Gurley has done with his short stories THE CARETAKER and THE DARK AGE and I’m inspired to write more in this manner. Being part of FROM THE INDIE SIDE has shown me that high-quality short stories are every bit as important as full length novels.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.

PC Oh, I don’t know that I’ve been discovered just yet. Indie writing is tough. You’ve got to be incredibly patient. It’s a slow, long hill to climb, but writers are not in competition with each other. We’re in competition with Candy Crush and Facebook, reality television and movies. I smile whenever someone says they couldn’t put a book down because it means reading was more important to them than a dozen other distractions. Reading is chicken soup for the soul.

How does an upcoming author get discovered? By respecting the reader. Books are cheap. Even at fifty bucks a copy, a book’s financial cost is pittance. The real cost is the reader’s time. I try to never lose sight of that.

Writing a novel is relatively easy if you stick with it. Getting someone to read your novel, that’s the challenge. The only way to get read by a broad variety of people is by showing the utmost respect for your readers, by refining and revising, and that’s something I’ve found takes time and growth in maturity. With half a dozen books to my name, I feel like I’m only just learning to write.

It takes time and exposure to grow as a writer so get something out there. Polish your work. Get involved in writing workshops. Refine, revise and edit. Personally, I’m growing from one paragraph to the next.

MT Does music influence you while you write? You’ve got a list of favorites on your web site and I’m wondering if you crank up U2 or Dire Straits when you sit down and bang out the next chapter.

PC I write to all sorts of music, from Norah Jones to David Bowie, John Mayer to INXS and, as you note, U2 and Dire Straits. I don’t know that it influences what I write, but I deeply appreciate music with a heartfelt message. Chasing pirates by Norah Jones, as an example, is a song about a book she was reading that kept her up all night. I’d love to know the title of that book, and would like to imagine my writing can be just as inspiring.

MT I take it you have a day job. A commute. You have a family that requires your attention too. The standard twenty-first century responsibility package. How do you make time for writing? Does your writing space reflect this?

PC Yes, I work for a company that conducts performance tests of computer applications. I have a 45 minute commute each way, and I’m torn between Twitter, Facebook and reading books while on the bus. I’m a reader wrestling with the same demands and distractions as everyone else. Reality TV was the best thing that ever happened to my writing career, driving me away from the television. Once the kids are in bed, I’ll try to get in anywhere from 60-90 minutes writing. My wife is very long-suffering in this regard, as she knows how much I enjoy getting lost in a fictional universe.

Thank you for your interest in my writing and all the best in your writing career.

Interview with Author Michael Bunker

Michael Bunker at WorkMichael Bunker‘s biography only grants the reader a momentary glimpse of a truly innovative and unique mind. He has been grinding out an amazing list of stories which include dystopian sci-fi, the WICK series, The Silo Archipelago, The Last Pilgrims, and the Amish/Sci-Fi novella Pennsylvania.  His latest short, the excellent REDOUBT, is part of FROM THE INDIE SIDE and is a bit of a prequel to some of his longer form fiction. It is also an excellent example of short fiction done well.

I sat down and talked with Michael about REDOUBT, the FROM THE INDIE PROJECT and his writing. I have a feeling you’re going to enjoy his thoughtful answers as well as his formative storytelling.


MT An anthology takes a lot of outside editorial effort. Finding all the authors, ensuring that all the different works make it into the collection on time and with requisite polish, and then there are the on going business aspect of publishing and imprint that must be managed. It is a difficult proposition for traditional publishers to undertake. How were these things managed by a bunch of independents spread all the way around the Earth? Were there hurdles along the way?

MB Susan May has written a wonderful article for Suspense Magazine that outlines how the whole thing came together. But basically it was a serendipitous conflagration of events and how I ended up involved I’ll probably never really know. From my perspective, it came as a total surprise, because – you have to understand – things have changed a lot for me since I first was invited into the project. When my friend Jason Gurley first asked me if I’d be interested, I was probably by far the most unknown author of the twelve. At least that is the way I saw it. I jumped at the opportunity to be connected to these other eleven authors, and I’d do it again. But my overall footprint in the Sci-Fi world was almost non-existent when this first came together. Since then, I’ve become slightly better known, but I’m still awed to be mentioned in the same breath with any of these other professionals. As for hurdles, I was surprised that there weren’t any that I knew about, because out of all the authors in the world, we ended up with 12 that worked really well together, and who were all willing to sacrifice, if necessary, to make this thing happen.

MT Tell us about how you became involved in the FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

MB I was contacted by my friend Jason Gurley. He’d been approached to write a short story for the project, and I was fired up for him.  Secretly, I might have been a tad envious, but I really think that Jason is a great author and I want good things to happen for him, so my excitement for him squashed the envious part.  So then Jason said that they might be looking for a few more Indies and asked if I would mind if he mentioned my name to them. He said that I’d already been discussed, and he was pretty sure they’d be glad to have me, but he wanted to clear it with me first.  I jumped all over the opportunity.  To be included in this anthology was – and is – a great honor for me.

MT After FROM THE INDIE SIDE would you consider future anthology projects?

MB Absolutely. I’d love to do more of them. I’ve tried to make myself more valuable to the big guns involved with FROM THE INDIE SIDE by working my reader base and turning out a bunch of reviews. Hopefully if anyone else out there is doing one they’ll ask, because I’m all for them.  I wrote a little piece on my blog about what I think about short stories and anthologies, because I’m a huge supporter of the form, and I always have been.

MT Your contribution REDOUBT parallels the world you’ve developed in your novels WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS in that it takes place at the beginning of an American collapse shared by those books and is the result of a series of attacks. Something that is unclear and never really answered in the short story is the question of who the aggressors are. Can you provide a little background about the conflict?

MB Yes. I wrote THE LAST PILGRIMS first, and it takes place 20 years after a worldwide collapse, the root of which I only hint about in that book. The next novel was the WICK Omnibus which details the events of that collapse.  In that book I started with some events that were really happening in the world. Economic problems, the sharp and acrimonious political divide in America, and then I added two very real natural disasters: Hurricane Sandy, followed by a Nor’easter that strikes the New York area leading up to the presidential election.  The fictional part comes in when my protagonist in WICK, lost in the snowstorm in the Catskill reserve, stumbles into a prison that turns out to be part of an actual top-secret town that turns out to be a Russianized village that is a privatized spy school – utilized to turn out authentically Russian intelligence operatives that can be sent into Russia to spy for America.  That part is based on some real events and locations that happened during the Cold War.

Through this bizarre landscape, we learn of a plot by hardliners in both America and Russia to destroy America and Russia as they are in the modern age. This leads to an EMP attack over America – carried out by corporate interests serving these hardliners – and eventually a full scale nuclear exchange.  Through all of this, my goal has been to show real people and how they deal with one another, and not so much to focus on huge events and the show that is going on.  WICK, THE LAST PIGLRIMS, and REDOUBT are essentially Russian style stories. They focus more on people, the real-world consequences of philosophies, and human interactions, with action only serving to move the story along.

MT Three of your main characters have a military background (SOF and SAS) and are currently survivalist militia members waiting for a collapse. Have you served previously? Are there other experiences that you draw on to create these characters?

MB I have not served in the military, although I was raised in a military family and as a student of history and human nature have spent a good part of my life studying the subject. I also, in my younger days, spent a lot of time around militia types and have many friends in lots of different political/social camps – including militia members, and people who are hostile to anything paramilitary.  The main background of THE LAST PILGRIMS, and therefore REDOUBT though was that TLP was written as a direct modernization of the story of the Ancient Waldenses. A religious community that lived in the Alps for centuries despite numerous genocidal attempts to destroy them as a people. So my military characters are almost all directly drawn from real life individuals in history who lived with and protected the Waldenses.

MT Near the end of REDOUBT there is an exchange between Phillip and Geoffrey in which the Taos artists says, “I don’t have any [politics] left. Except this place. This place is my politics.” Considering where and how he lives before the attacks, I found this sentiment a lot more believable than his earlier characterization. Why was it important to you or the story to make this Taos based artist a “socialist/communist” in the first place?

MB I wanted to have these wildly different characters who came from very different backgrounds. Goffrey Byrd who is the artist, is based on several real life people who I’ve known and befriended who have self-identified as socialists or communists, when in fact, once pressed really only adopted those labels as a way to be different and to shock some people while ingratiating themselves with others.  So I modeled Goffrey after some real artists.  My parents have a rental home in Angel Fire, New Mexico, only miles from the location I describe in the book, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Taos talking to people and drinking coffee. So many beatniks and hipsters and society dropouts who hang out in Taos identify themselves as socialists and communists, but I found that when I really got to know them, they had almost no political foundation at all. They were just like me, in fact. They just wanted to live life and be left alone.  That was their real politics.

MT Was REDOUBT something you had sitting a drawer or did you write it for the anthology?

MB Busted! I wrote REDOUBT originally as an Epilogue for WICK. Something that would lead into a third novel (or series) that would tie WICK and THE LAST PILGRIMS together. It was quite a bit longer, and it really ended with a cliffhanger.  When I talked to Brian Spangler and others about a story for the anthology, I was encouraged to use the story if it would introduce a whole new audience to my other works. So at first I submitted the longer REDOUBT story for FROM THE INDIE SIDE.  After thinking about it awhile, I realized that first – I shouldn’t end an anthology story with a cliffhanger, and also I didn’t want to introduce a whole bunch of ancillary conflicts that are not resolved in the story. So, I ended up pulling the submission and re-writing REDOUBT so that it became a shorter story, and one that had an ending that said what I wanted it to say, without it angering people by leaving the story with a cliffhanger. In the original story, there was a lot more about what was going on in Taos, which becomes “New Rome” in THE LAST PILGRIMS novel.

MT You live and work on a farm, take care of a family, and, without a doubt, you are a prolific writer. I often wonder how much time you put in on a day-to-day basis and where that time comes from given your other obligations and responsibilities.

MB I have a wonderful family, including four children – three of whom are either adults or teenagers. I’ve reached an age where my wife and family are really able to handle most of the farm requirements, which allows me to write full time.  I work at writing just like it is a full-time job. I am at my desk usually at 7:30 in the morning, and I work straight through until I’m done. Sometimes that is 5 p.m., sometimes it goes on until midnight.  I have a goal I try to hit every day, and I try to work until I’ve reached my goal.

MT In the Forward to FROM THE INDIE SIDE Hugh Howey makes a very compelling case for being an independent author. He writes, “Just think about how many other adventures await, how many unknown authors are out there, fully independent, bending the rules while creating something extraordinary and new.” As an independent author myself I’m convinced, but I want to know if you would offer Indies advice about what they can do to reach those readers? You seemed to have figured out the ins and outs of discoverability.

MB Well, I don’t think anyone has figured out the ins and outs of discoverability. There is a natural Catch-22 there, and I’ve talked about this in some of my blog posts. If ever the “way” is figured out and broadcast, everyone would do it, and it would instantaneously cease to work.

Discoverability is like Atlantis, or the Fountain of Youth. Maybe it is out there, but I don’t know where. I’m not sure anyone knows how it works or where they are. All we can do is increase the likelihood that IF someone finds us, they like us and want more of what we write.

There are three concrete things Indies can do to help themselves.

  • Write and publish. Build a backlist. It is possible for someone to have a hit book with their first title (and with nothing else out there,) but it is very, very unlikely. Too many authors go all-in to try to make their first novel a hit, without realizing that statistically your first novel sucks, and realistically – if there is nothing else out there for readers to buy, then they might be unwilling to take a shot on a debut title AND think that it is representative of what the author will continue to produce. There are some great debut titles, and some turn in to hits (people win the lottery)  – it just isn’t likely to happen to you or anyone you know. The answer is to work hard, and publish a lot.
  • Get better. Since in every field of endeavor people tend to improve as they practice and work at their chosen field, your next books is most likely going to be better than this one. Especially if you are studying to make your writing improve. So keep writing AND improve your skill at writing.
  • Be Nice. Say “yes” to opportunities, be a good member of the community, and try to help others.  All the marketing and promotion stuff – to me – is secondary. It is an afterthought after these three things. That way when the time to be “discovered” happens, you’ve increased the probability that what the discoverer finds, is worthwhile and can ignite into something much larger. There tends to be streams or paths of least resistance, which readers follow to find the things they might want to read. You usually cannot force your way into that stream. You have to grow into being a part of what people are looking for. Sometimes Indies get frustrated because there is no “Easy” button, or some system they can use that is guaranteed to work. And answers like mine only increase that frustration – but that is just because I don’t know how to be found, break out, or be successful at this.  I’m still trying to figure it out myself. All I know is that when I publish more, improve, and be nice, better things start happening for me.

MT I believe science fiction today is trending toward the dystopian. Many new stories are more survival epic than space opera. You write a great deal about what happens after the end of everything as we know it. Do you agree that this trend exists, and if so why?

MB I agree that it exists. Absolutely. I’m just against dystopia or post-apocalypticism being lumped in with Sci-Fi. I am not a Sci-Fi writer (Ok, with Amish/Sci-Fi I am, but still…). It is by accident of historical genre manipulation by companies that sell and categorize books that I am a sci-fi writer. I think there can be dystopianism or PA in Sci-Fi, but for the most part realistic dystopian and PA titles should not be considered Sci-Fi.

They are only considered Sci-Fi because there is world building, and usually it takes place in the future, and sometimes that imagined reality involves some technology that isn’t currently widespread.

Now, to answer your question. Why? Why is dystopianism popular today, and why is Sci-Fi really trending more dystopian? I think it is because we live in a world that is very troubling right now. There have always been pessimists, but I don’t think they’ve ever outnumbered the optimists. Not even close to doing so, probably. I think those numbers are probably growing closer together today. You know, I am a great pessimist, but I think I write optimistic fiction.  Whereas someone like my friend Hugh Howey, who is a great and evangelistic optimist, seems to me to write more pessimistic fiction. If that strange scenario is what is really happening, then maybe more Sci-Fi writers today are actually very optimistic about the future of the world! It’s just that I’m not. Because I’m a pessimist (mostly).

MT I am very interested in the tools other authors use to create their works. Give us a rundown of what your writing space looks like. What are the tools you keep in your tool box? Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? Is there anything you’re unhappy with or is there a feature request that you have for a particular tool?

MB I have a great work space.  I have an almost 600 square foot office that is a separate building on my property. It is almost solely used as my work space.  I have a huge library in my office, and I have a really ideal environment for creating.  I live off-grid, so my office is powered by alternative energy sources (solar power and a backup generator).  Ideally, I’d like to increase the amount of power I have available (for printers and perhaps some larger monitors) but I’m really happy with my space. I think I have all the tools I need, since I rely on some really talented people to do a lot of the graphic and formatting work.

MT Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers before we sign off?

MB I’m just glad to be asked to do this, and I appreciate the opportunity!