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.

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Not a Meritocracy

An excellent example of HuffPost muckraking has been making the rounds today. Honestly, I think author Lynn Shepherd wastes a lot of valuable screen space throwing a tantrum about JK Rowling’s relative success in publishing. But there is a point at which Shepherd gets my full attention.

It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

Lets get something straight, right from the beginning; publishing is a capitalist business, not a meritocracy. I understand this, and seldom even question the situation any more. If you publish use the tools you have at hand to sell more books. That’s the rule, that’s how it works. Right, wrong? That doesn’t matter.

Additionally, I’m not going to lay my neck down on the block and suggest that J.K. Rowling (or anyone else) stop writing, stop writing in my genre, or stop anything for that matter. Your success as a writer is your business. If you chose to tell the world about the details, good on ya.

Ultimately, I think that the foamy kerfuffle this article surfaced has a lot more to do with the way the big boys sell books than the quality of anyone’s writing. Per USA Today’s most up-to-date rating for THE CASUAL VACANCY saw a bump from not registering to #131 twenty-eight weeks after it was first listed coincidentally at the same time Shepherd published her story on HuffPost.

Shepherd goes on later in the opinion piece, but the whinge starts to gather mass and the reader is forced to ask the all to critical question “Why?”

The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books – just as well-written, and just as well-received – to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do. And now there’s going to be a sequel, and you can bet the same thing is going to happen all over again.

I have to say that I’m happy for Rowling’s success. And why not, she must have worked hard enough to get where she is. Writing takes a lot of time and energy. She should be allowed to write books, just like the rest of us. Good or bad, however, it is the readers that should determine how much of our collective mind space her works take up, not very deep pockets and well refined marketing strategies.

And there is the problem, ad execs and publishing mavins, convinced that anything a Big Name writes will sell a forest’s worth of paper, are tripping all over themselves in the mad dash to sell, sell, sell. They can signal boost in a way that most of us can never hope for.

In doing so they have exposed their hand. The tell is in the fact that they can and do lavish such treatments on a few authors while ignoring so many more. And yeah, this sort of market manipulation hides so many other good works. But what can be done? Nothing, publishing is not a meritocracy.

What I Want

Recently, all-around good guy and SpecFic author Ramez Naam wrote a blog post Publishing – We’re All On the Same Side in which he outlines some observations about publishing, publishers and the people who write. At the end of this piece he writes “What I’d Like to See”.

In my dream world, what I’d love to see:

  • A little more acknowledgement on the self-pub side that traditional publishing has various advantages. Yes, it has downsides too. Yes, self-pub will be better in some situations. But the dialogue right now simply waves away the advantages to authors that can come with traditional publishing deals.
  • Fewer insults cast at self-pub books as a class, particularly on issues of quality and so on, from traditionally published authors. Really, unless your goal is to get people good and angry and harden their hearts, there’s very little point to this.
  • Less taking it personally on both sides. More compassion for and cheering on everyone who writes.

Well, I can keep dreaming, can’t I?

I really enjoyed this post and it further underscores my belief that there is a middle ground. The concept has been smoldering for a while now and the Shepherd piece just blew on it. So Mez, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to take a crack at this too.

For context, I am a self-published author and will likely continue to be so. I have published traditionally; a number of non-fiction, short pieces, but honestly, I don’t count these. And my fiction is weird enough that traditional publication would be a tremendous stroke of luck. That said, I am pragmatic person and writing is a career choice, so ultimately, I will publish the way that works best.

Without further adieu, my thoughts:

  • Writers get respect, yo!

    Fiction writers especially. Yeah, it’s hard. You’ll lose much sleep if you become a writer. Your conversations will become one dimensional explorations of story ideas you want to develop later. You’ll likely lose friends, for a vast variety of annoying reasons, while you’re bleeding on the page.

    Writing isn’t just a vocation, or a career choice. It’s a life style. An already unnecessarily complicated and problematic lifestyle. Like becoming a monk or a nun with about the same amount of sex. If you write, you deserve respect.

  • Stop the Whinge

    There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of envy in this business. Hell, I feel it too. At ConFusion I felt envy when John Scalzi talked about when he felt like he had made it. I too, would someday like to buy a tank of gas and not worry about where the money to buy it might be coming. I too would love to swim in a J.K Rowling sized swimming pool of cash (or more realistically, write checks to the charity of my choice with lots of digits).

    Every last one of us pours as much of their self into their work as they can afford. And that’s why, when it’s done and up on Amazon, we sit and wonder why we’re sitting at #374,097 on the Paid in Kindle Store while that worthless piece of fluff won’t release its death grip on #1.

    Ultimately, I know that it is going to take a much larger pile of words to get there. To get anywhere close to there. But the whinge does nothing to get anyone there. Bitching about someone else’s success, endlessly comparing your works to theirs, whining (often publicly) about whatever is a WASTE OF TIME.

  • Publishing is Publishing

    This might be a corollary to the previous bulleted item, but the fact remains. Publishing is publishing.

    I am super-fucking tired of the constant, low-grade squabble that goes on between the different parts of the published world. As Mez correctly points out more is better, and both parts of the community can contribute to each other. They should contribute to each other. The belief that one way or the other is somehow “better” is just ridiculous.

    Is traditional publishing working for you? That is awesome! Do you prefer the indie route to print? Let this stand as a virtual hug and pat on the back. Just getting work out there is hard enough. The “I poop on your publishing mode” attitude has got to go; it’s simian and base and it makes you look silly.

  • Be nice to one another

    This bears repeating. In fact, it should become a mantra. If you feel the urge to tear someone else down, even if they’ve just invested lots of time and effort in the destruction of another (see Shepherd), ask yourself “am I being nice?”

    It’s a truism that authors don’t really compete with one another. We mostly compete with people not reading, with them sitting on the couch, or watching television, or simply not knowing of anything good to read. I trust that most of the authors I know are supporters of other writers as a class, and that we want to see more people make the leap from “I have a book!” to “People are reading my book!” and even “I’m making a living off of people reading my book(s)!” as we did at one point (or may be in the process of doing).

    So let’s cheer each other on, and point to success, anywhere we see it.

  • What I’d like to see

    This is my dream world statement. It is also me being a hopeless optimist, publicly and without shame.

    • I’d love to see more inclusiveness from professional organizations such as The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Guilds and Unions of yore did not increase their power and influence within their operating space by excluding a particular class of member. If there is a gateway for entry let it be legitimate. The SFWA bar for entry is antiquated at best and this hurts Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. All of ’em.All you need to be a full member of Romance Writers of America is the serious desire to pursue “a romance fiction writing career” and $95 a year. You get full benefits of membership (which are laudable) and voting rights. It makes me want to carve out time for at least one romance story a year (which would be crap I know, but still).

      Other professional organizations need to legitimize all parts of their slice of the pie. They need to do this quickly. When they do, they’ll see a huge bump in their membership and a precipitous drop in drama and ugliness.

    • More readers, yes, many more readers. And this isn’t just the self-interested sort of plea for you to be my reader. No, I think we need more readers.Guys, I’m a slow reader. I admit this because I know, in the past, it is the thing that has kept me from reading more. I’ve felt a fair amount of self-loathing and shame over this deficit.

      But stories are a critical and necessary part of our humanity. We have evolved to pass wisdom around using them. Your perfect story is out there. Whatever your handicap is – lack of time, slow reading, a crippling, misanthropic fear of overwhelming crowds in books stores – there is a ready made solution for you.

      It is my sincere belief that if more people read, even a little, every day (instead of relentlessly tuning into the boob tube or other distraction) the world as we know it would experience a dramatic and much needed shift toward the positive.

    • A lot more cross pollination. Meaning, if you read something you like SHOUT ABOUT IT. If you fear that the juggernaut hype machine of Big Ink is obscuring the voice of a really good writer you like than why are you letting that signal drown out that voice?There are ample options for feedback out there. Review the book on Amazon or GoodReads. Write a letter to the author. Tweet about your favorite read, or your last read. Tell someone at the coffee shop. The list of ready made options goes on and on. And every time you get someone else to ready, you’re cross pollinating.

      Or you could try and be really unique. Cause you’re hip and cool and your love of a story is also a sort of self-expression. Tattoo your devotion to a story on your hide. Name your child after a favorite character. Think outside the box, astound the masses, be awesome!

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!

Yo-ho, Yo-Ho, A Grinder’s Life for Me

Other things getting done

I’ve been reading a lot of opinions lately concerning the self-publishing and big-ink publishing businesses. There is a lot of focus on who is making money, how much money they might be making, and whether or not they are taking money from other parts of the print world. But much of this focus tends towards the extremes — the head and the feet — of these publishing segments.

I’m doing my best right now to aim for the middle, center-of-mass, of the markets I am beginning to inhabit. For a guy that has previously insisted that he has absolutely no desire to sell anything, this realization came as a bit of a shock. I actually find myself thinking about how I want my books to be situated, what I can do as a writer to cater to the tastes of my reading demographic, and what I am and am not willing to endure when it comes to selling anything to anyone.

From the beginning, the idea has always been to write stories and sell them. The stories were getting written before this, but when writing as a hobby, there was a lot less processing and refinement that happened. I certainly did not look for outside editorial input nor did I seek help with illustration or design. All that has been a new experience for me. I imagine that it was slower the for “The Big Red Buckle” than it will be for future projects.

But, from my current perspective as an independent author and publisher, end-to-end each story must still earn. And while I would certainly appreciate a golden egg to land in my lap, I have an ever growing pile of rejection letters essentially telling me that I’m not a good bet, because I have not published in big-ink previously. This pile of rejection is stifling.

Just as it is for most of you, time is a critical ingredient of this new career recipe I’m working on. As a professional author, independent or otherwise, I cannot afford months or even years of waiting for someone to buy a story idea that I’ve invested so much time and money into. There is too much at stake and too little to gain considering how unlikely the traditional publishing route appears.

I found this from Steven Zacharius CEO of Kensington Publishing on the Huff Book Club. In the article he worries that the glut of simple, free, immediate publishing tools available to indie authors might be watering down the market, and dragging down the price of books.

As a publisher, my biggest concern is the clutter of the books being put out by the major publishing houses along with those that are just put up directly by authors. The established publishers have to charge more money because they have paid the author an advance (for bestselling authors, a heck of a lot). Publishers couldn’t possibly afford to sell the book away for $ .99. If this were the business model and publishers were making greatly reduced revenue on the sales of these titles, the publishing industry would go belly-up. There would be no way for the publishing company to recoup their author advances and as a result, these advances would drop substantially. Free or reduced price books is not a viable business model for publishers.

And he is at least partially correct. If their going to amortize their investment costs over a short period of time they are stuck charging a higher rate.  Plus, there are a lot of hobbyists out there writing and publishing and pushing the average price of a book well below what you might expect if you walked into a store thirty years ago. But in my opinion, the business model has already changed.

Many indie authors see the long lists of stories in their genre selling for anything from pocket change to zero. So we do what is necessary to set ourselves apart. And that is not to give our work away. We write more, we write in series, we build compelling worlds, and we develop working, professional,  independent relationships with people who we can count on to keep that steady stream of fiction rolling off the on-demand press.

I forwarded this read a couple of days ago, but its worth mentioning here again because I think it will make sense to many of us and because Bunker hits the nail squarely on the head. Michael Bunker wrote in his post “Lets Hear from the Middle Class“.

I believe that the fastest growing block in all of writerdom is made up of people like me – writers who are making a good living (or on the verge of doing so) with their writing without an agent or a publisher in sight, and without having a single, outlying, breakout megahit in their whole catalog.

Bunker goes on to say something about not minding a megahit or even finding an editor and an agent, but he insists that any of this would have to be on terms that are suitable for him and to his readers. And, at least from this observer’s point of view, that is the direction my career and much of the market is going.

From my current perspective (on the verge of making a good living), the indie publishing route seems like a much better deal for both my readers and myself. Waiting around for a publisher to chose my writing, a la Jack London style, would just be an exercise in misery and rejection. An unnecessary period of personal sacrifice demanded by a 19th century business model with too much institutional inertia to do anything but die.

The submissions I have out now will all likely die on the vine. They’ll come back rejected and that’s too bad. If I waited for someone to take a risk on me, a former engineer branching out into fiction, I might need to wait a very long time. I’m not willing to wait for someone to make that wagger on my work. Rather I’d rather go it alone and pull myself over that threshold all the while giving my readers first crack at what I produce. Ensuring that they have the means and desire to tell me when they like what I’ve done and when they don’t like it at all is a feedback loop traditional ink lacks.

Working at the bleeding edge of this new way of doing things makes me feel a bit like a pirate. The kind that operates in a grey area creating advantage, thriving when it innovates. I know I need to develop better process and improve my reach, but those are growing pains any independent author/business person must necessarily endure. I believe that the Do-It-Yourself ethic is exposing the once great traditional publishers as little more than an up-scale relative of the “vanity houses” that used to pollute the market.

It’s Not the Cover

It’s also not the publisher. Or, for that matter, the medium by which the story is transmitted. I recently become aware of a kerfuffle involving the 2013 Hugo Awards Subcommittee and an author who was unfairly denied a chance at the 2013 novelette category.

The hairy details can be found here, but suffice it to say that by way of a novel application of the rules Mary Robinette Kowal‘s The Lady Astronauts of Mars was denied eligibility in the category where other stories, conveyed in a similar fashion, have been considered. If this was not lame enough on its own, it appears the that the Award Subcommittee further fumbled their handling of the story, waiting until the after-party to let MRK in on whole affair.

I would maintain that this is the result of humans handling things. It is likely that different humans were, for instance, responsible for managing the interpretation of the rules in 2008 to those that managed the whole affair in 2013.

Annalee Flower‘s post speculates this whole affair may the be the result of an unconscious “straight white male” selection bias. While this may be true, it is equally plausible that MRK’s unfortunate exclusion had nothing whatsoever to do with gender, race or any of the other all too common reasons for not letting others play.

The evidence should speak for itself.  The way the selection process worked this year was different than the way it has worked in the past.  I’m speculating that MRK’s The Lady Astronauts of Mars was incorrectly removed from consideration because the rules are vague about media and presentation. Obviously precedence was not a considered by this years subcommittee.

Tact and transparency were not on their list of requirements either. My suggestions are as follows. First, the Award Subcommittee needs to publicly acknowledge that mistakes have been made. Recognizing that Hugos have been, in the past, given to audiobook recordings of stories later published in print would be a good start. But acknowledging that consideration was incorrectly denied to MRK and others and then complicated by a failure to communicate would go a long way to resolving this mess once and for all.

Finally, that act of publishing, I feel, needs some reconsideration. Authors, those fine people who for some unknown reason feel compelled to spend endless hours penning entertaining tales for our amusement, are beholden to a backward, superannuated, somewhat parasitical industry that refuses change. It seems from here that Big Ink publication is antithetical, even aggressive, to process innovation.

Imagine, for instance, that you are an innovative, independent geneticist. You have spent countless hours in the lab working on a intracellular delivery method that could revolutionize modern medicine. What do you need to get this to market? Backing, and regardless of workability issues you might initially encounter, you can probably find a way.

In an industry like this, while you may at first be challenged to find that start up money, if your idea has merit, it is much more likely you will need to turn investment away. Not so in the world of Big Ink publishing. Regardless of the merits of your storytelling, if you are an undiscovered quantity, you are likely going to experience a long wait for recognition and compensation.

And, like it or not, authors who want their stories read are going to ever greater lengths to get them out to the public, bypassing the wait as much as they are able. I read more with my ears today, than I do with my eyes. Because these awards serve as a test bed for defining quality in writing, the Hugo needs to address these new methods for delivering good stories. The story, the quality of the story in fact, should be the primary concern of these evaluations. Not the gender of the story teller or the reputation of the company that did the printing.