Author Interviews

* you can find the original interviews and much more on my 'everything writing' blog (http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com), the main items being the interviews (new ones posted there 7am UK time daily) as well as author spotlights, guest posts, flash fiction or poetry 7pm.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Author interview no.78: James Dorr (revisited)


Back in July 2011, I interviewed author James Dorr for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the seventy-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today's is with multi-genre writer James Dorr. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello James. Please tell us how you came to be a writer.
James: I had originally thought of my talents as lying more in the visual arts and, in college, became art editor of the humor magazine as well as doing occasional illustration for the literary and science / engineering magazines.  However I also branched out into writing occasional articles, and, once in graduate school, I ended up doing a weekly science / humor column which led to an editorial post for an alternative newspaper, and then an arts weekly.  That led to a paying gig as a technical writer and editor, and later freelancing real estate, business, and consumer articles.  The freedom of that last phase was great, but the hand-to-mouth aspects were less so, so I traded it in for a relatively low-level non-writing job at an optometry clinic, and used my free time to get back to the more creative -- and fun -- side of writing.
Morgen: My goodness, what a mixture (so lots to write about :)). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
James: I’m a little bit of a switch hitter already, but I work mainly in short dark fantasy / horror fiction and poetry with some science fiction and mystery thrown in.  Some of my best magazine sales have been to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, for instance, and I was even a finalist for an Anthony award one year for a story I had in New Mystery.  As for science fiction, I started off as a science fiction fan so that was a natural, but I’d also discovered Edgar Allan Poe and the shadier sides of Ray Bradbury and, as time went on, my own artistic view became darker.  As for other genres, I might add that I do sometimes play with romantic elements (which isn’t so far from horror sometimes, by one way of thinking).
Morgen: Romantic horror, I like that idea. :) What have you had published to-date? How much of the marketing do you do?
James: I’ve published between three and four hundred individual pieces, short stories or poems, at this point, I think.  Possibly more if I count reprints, but after a point, I stopped really counting.  These are to all sorts of markets, of course, from the fully professional to the truly dreadful, although these do not count non-fiction work outside of my “creative” genres or earlier fan fiction / poetry done “4 the luv” only.  In addition I have one out-of-print poetry chapbook, Towers of Darkness, published as part of Nocturnal Publications’ “Night Visions” series in the early 1990s plus two current collections from Dark Regions Press, Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, which are still very much available.  Also, perhaps even as you are reading this, I have a full size book of poetry, Vamps (A Retrospective), coming from Sam’s Dot Publications, of which I will have more to say in a bit.  As for the self-marketing aspect of it, it varies according to the level of publication but does appear to be more and more the coming thing, so I’m trying to learn.
Morgen: Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
James: Shortlisted plenty.  I mentioned being an Anthony finalist above, the mystery equivalent of science fiction’s Hugo, for a story called “Paperboxing Art” which is also in my Darker Loves collection.  I’ve also been a Darrell finalist (stories set in the U.S. Mid-South), a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a multi-time Rhysling poetry finalist / 2nd place / 3rd place / honorable mention, as well as having a number of  honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and one in Circlet Press’s Best Fantastic Erotica. :-D  And there are three that went all the way: a story, “Flying,” won the Best of the Web 1998 competition, “La M├ęduse” (also reprinted in Strange Mistresses) came in first in the World Horror Convention 2002 Poetry Competition, and “The Edge of the World” won the Balticon 40 Poetry Contest.  As for helping with a writer’s success, you may have noticed you haven’t heard of many of these.  Still some carry prestige among the groups they represent and, with some circumspection, any could make good resume items, not to mention that any award is a boost to morale.  Also the prize for the Balticon contest included money.
Morgen: My goodness… that puts my submission history to shame. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
James: The two Dark Regions collections are in trade paperback only (well, also a deluxe hardbound edition of Darker Loves), but I do have one stand-alone long story, The Garden, out in both paper chapbook and electronic form from Damnation Books.  I have, of course, had many stories and poems published in electronic magazines and anthologies, and, as I write this, I’m in process of publishing another long story, Vanitas (originally published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine), in a stand-alone electronic edition by Untreed Reads, with possibly more coming in the future.  This too, I think, is a coming thing and, especially in terms of stories that have been published before in print but a number of years back, it’s something I may be pursuing more.
Morgen: With so much under your belt, can you remember what your first acceptance was and is being accepted still a thrill?
James: In a sense it’s almost impossible to say what my first acceptance was, but I do count a sword and sorcery story, “The Fourth Attempt,” that appeared in the long-defunct Fright Depot as my first sf / fantasy / horror / mystery genre sale that actually paid me real live money.  I received an acceptance by mail accompanied with a one dollar bill which I made a frame for and put on the wall.  (It’s still there, I think, but buried under untold other bulletin board items.)  What I count as my first professional genre sale, “The Wellmaster’s Daughter” (also in Strange Mistresses), was to Alfred Hitchcock’s and was paid by check which I Xeroxed and framed and put on the wall, while I cashed the original.  Any acceptance is still a thrill, though, and I make a point of rewarding myself with a cappuccino whenever one comes, although I’ll confess, especially in these recession-bound days of fading opportunities and lowering paychecks, that I’ve been pushing reprints harder and, since I don’t really want a strong coffee all that often, by now I owe myself several reward drinks.
Morgen: Another author I’ve interviewed said they’d framed their dollar bill payment. Mine was £10 cheque and was pretty so that’s gone in a display book. The second was an equally attractive book token but I colour copied it and put it towards the (then) latest copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
James: The other side of the writing game coin.  Of course I’ve had -- and still have -- many, many rejections.  They don’t feel nice, but it passes.  With some pieces I’ll have already decided on second-choice markets, so those go right out again.  Others I may think about for a while, being especially alert to any new anthologies they might seem fitted for, at the same time seeing what other stories I might send to the markets that just rejected me.  (To be sure, I’ll cross some off my list when I’ve been turned down enough that it doesn’t seem worth while chasing them further -- sometimes a given editor’s tastes and mine will just differ -- but I’m also constantly on the lookout for new, untried markets to send to.)
Morgen: I think what you say is the best thing to do with rejections. Don’t dwell and just resubmit. I learned of http://duotrope.com recently and it’s great for finding markets (I’d also recommend http://jbwb.co.uk and then http://womagwriter.blogspot.com for women’s magazine submission info). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
James: My “dirty little secret” is that I’m really quite undisciplined so, no, I don’t really write every day. That doesn’t mean I’m not plotting things in my head, or taking notes, or writing snippets of stories or poems on the backs of envelopes -- shopping lists too.  I even have a pad and pen on my night table for jotting down things that I might think of just before going to sleep.  For actual writing though, rear on the chair and hands on the keyboard, I like to have a space of at least several hours ahead of me so I’ll have time to procrastinate, make false starts, etc.  As for the most I’ve written in a day, I’ve often completed two and three-thousand word short stories in a sitting, but the record is probably about 7000 words.  I should mention also that not everything a writer does is actual writing so, on days when I might not be working on writing itself, I might be reading proof sheets, or dealing with editors, or submitting or planning places to submit work to, or even doing my taxes.
Morgen: Wow, if you’re not disciplined I wonder what your output would be if you were. :) What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
James: Is that a fancy name for procrastination?  I do that, certainly.  But I don’t know really because I’m not that sure what writer’s block is -- that is, I do get tired at times, for instance,  even feel temporarily burned out, but that could apply to any profession.  I do have trouble getting ideas too, at any time, which is why some of my work may seem a little quirky now and then, usually a symptom of not having a good idea at the time, so I had to make do with one a better writer than I might have chosen not to touch.  But even then I find picking up something else to do for a while can help, in my case often playing music (I lead and play tenor in a Renaissance recorder consort) or going for a walk.
Morgen: Renaissance… mmm… I’ve heard agents saying they want historical fiction. :) Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
James: Both.  I think as time has gone on, I’ve moved more and more toward getting an idea and running with it, but that’s because I’ve been developing skills for doing more of the work in my head and not having to think as consciously about what will come next.  Also, though, I’ve been tending more toward short shorts and flash fiction, which aren’t going to take as much formal plotting.
Morgen: They aren’t, isn’t that great? :) If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
James: That people are willing to read and even pay me for what I write?  But then I did a lot of grunt writing in my editing and freelancing days where it was easy to see that that kind of output served a purpose.  Someone has to explain the new computer program or how the latest mortgage works.  Or even whether the latest movie is any good.  So is it so strange then that someone might want to read my latest fiction (although, unfortunately, not usually be willing to pay nearly as much to do so)?
Morgen: I like that; ‘grunt writing’. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
James: Persevere.  Persevere.  Persevere.  Also stretch yourself and, even if what you come up with sucks (can I use that word?), think of it as a learning process.  The more you write, the better it should get.  Also read, and not just in your genre, or just current writers.  I count as my influences Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides  (that is, the Ancient Greek tragedies --  which are great for stealing from for horror writers!) along with Edgar Allan Poe, Allen Ginsberg and Bertolt Brecht along with Ray Bradbury, and I won’t even talk about Chaucer and  Shakespeare.  Also read nonfiction, biographies, travel books, books for research both for current projects and simply to file in your mind for future projects (speaking of that first Alfred Hitchcock’s sale, which came out of leftover research about deserts that I’d had to do for a different story), or just serendipity (also learn big words -- no, I really mean it, words are your tools and you should learn to love them).
Morgen: Absolutely. A successful writer is one who didn’t give up. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
James: Who can say?  Remember that films are written, ultimately, by writers; computer game scenarios are created by writers; even song lyrics are written by writers, whether they themselves realize it or not.  So I think there always will be writers, and a need for them in one form or another -- in nonfiction, printed newspapers may give way to informed blogs, but that’s still writing, as are the instruction books would-be bloggers need to read to get themselves started.  The only thing is -- and this is a universal too -- except for a few very good, very lucky stars, it doesn’t pay much.  Even Shakespeare got his real paychecks as an actor-producer.
Morgen: Another stable profession. :) Are there any new projects or anything else you’d like to mention?
James: While we’ve been discussing primarily fiction, one aspect we haven’t said too much about yet is poetry, so let me first mention that my newest book, Vamps (A Retrospective), has just been listed for July by Sam’s Dot Publishing.  This is an 84-page collection of poems about vampires and vampire-associated lore, approximately a third of which consists of previously unpublished material, with illustrations by artist and fellow poet Marge Simon.  Then, for a bit farther in the future, I’ve been having discussions with a publisher about a possible novel made up of individual stand-alone segments -- somewhat like Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles or Christopher Barzak’s The Love We Share Without Knowing -- that add up to a larger story set in the “Tombs,” a huge necropolis and its environs on a far-future, dying Earth (several Tombs stories have been published alone as short fiction already, as a sort of preview, including some in my Strange Mistresses and Darker Loves collections, though not all of these would necessarily  be in the novel too).  And then for the even farther future, I’ve been kicking around some thoughts about combining elements from both these projects -- vampirism entered into an exhausted, dying Tombs-like world, perhaps -- along with my Towers of Darkness chapbook that I mentioned before, but whether this would be poetry or prose, or possibly some combination of both, I don’t know yet. Other than that, as I’ve said before I’ve been making an effort to get more of my older work, ten or twenty or more years back, republished as well as continuing to write new stuff -- so perhaps another poetry book, say, in the next few years?  Or maybe another prose collection, as well of course as continued outings in magazines and books (a new short short, “The Glass Shoe,” just published this month in Pink Narcissus Press’s Rapunzel’s Daughters and Other Tales was mentioned by title in Publishers Weekly), so for information on my latest doings, plus occasional free sample poems or stories and even a movie review or two, please check out my site at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com and, if the spirit moves, feel free to linger, explore a bit, and comment and / or recommend it to others.
Morgen: Yes, please do. Thank you James. :)

Update From James, June 2012: My poetry book ‘Vamps (A Retrospective)’ has since come out from Sam's Dot Publishing although in August rather than July.  It can be ordered from the publisher or by going to my site and clicking its picture in the center column.  My reprint long story ‘Vanitas’ is now available from Untreed Reads Publishing (or look for its picture on my site too) listed under "science fiction" although it's really more steampunk/mystery, as is a shorter Christmas horror story ‘I'm Dreaming Of A…’ that came out in December 2011.  (Also for Christmas I had a short vampire story ‘Naughty or Nice’ on ‘Daily Science Fiction’ for December 21 and a special poem posted on ‘Abyss & Apex’ December 25.)  And I just received my copy of the signed contract today for a near-future novelette, ‘Peds’, that will also be published as an electronic book by Untreed Reads. That covers the major things, while as for the minor, may I once more invite readers to my blog, http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com, to scroll down and enjoy not just accounts of my doings, but occasional samples (or "lagniappes") of poems and stories, reviews of movies and DVDs (the most recent, ‘Dracula: Entre L'Amour et la Mort’), occasional mentions of my cat Wednesday, and as always an invitation to comment on anything there that strikes your fancy.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Author interview no.77: Darren Kirby (revisited)


Back in July 2011, I interviewed author Darren Kirby for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the seventy-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today's is with suspense / fantasy author Darren Kirby. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hi Darren. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Darren: I always like to give people a laugh and tell them that I'm weird and proud of it!
Morgen: Weird is great, I love weird. :)
Darren: I think normal is good sometimes, but being abnormal from time to time is good.  And it works really well if you want to be a writer!  I've dreamt about being a writer for years, since I was just a boy.  Unfortunately, I was too afraid to do anything about it – too afraid that I couldn't do it, or that no-one would like what I wrote.  Eventually, the dream got the best of me, and here I am working feverishly on my first novel, “Coordinates For Murder”.
Morgen: I was going to say that you’re lucky, knowing what you wanted to do from an early age but that may be more frustrating than, like me, only realising a few years ago what I wanted to do with my life, and now live and breathe it. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Darren: I don't think that I have a specific genre yet that I prefer to write in.  Right now, my first novel will be in the Suspense category, but I've also got an idea for a Fantasy series as well as a series based on a popular television series.  I would love to explore other genres, even if I'm the only one who read what I wrote.  Probably would avoid romance, but one should never say never!
Morgen: Romance is popular but really an author should only write what he or she wants to (otherwise it’s bound to come across in their writing). I’d toyed with the idea of doing Mills & Boons (as many authors probably have, it being seen as ‘easy’, which it really isn’t) but I’m not that kind of writer. I was recently told by an agent that I’m “a crime writer and should write crime”. With a definitive dark side, I didn’t need to be told twice. :) How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Darren: Presently, I'm just marketing myself and my forthcoming novel.  I've got the usual suspects for online marketing: Facebook, Twitter, blog, Goodreads, etc.  Additionally, I'll be doing some “real world” marketing, at least locally.
Morgen: Ooh great. I hope that goes well. A tip I heard a while back from an author was if you spot one doing a book signing go up and chat to them even if you don’t want to buy their book. They’d rather be talked to than left alone, although think twice if all you want to do is ask the way to the toilet as I know one has been asked at a conference! I mentioned agents a moment ago, do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Darren: Agents are one of those things that are in major flux right now in the publishing industry.  The traditional agent model is going to be a dwindling set, in my opinion.  Instead, the new agent model will be one that addresses the author more than ever, seeking to maximize the author's potential in a variety of formats, not just books.  I think the vitality question is answered on a case-by-case basis, as what works for me may not work for the next person.  And that's as it should be – nobody wants cookie-cutter books, right?
Morgen: Unless you’re a chef. :) Will your books be available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Darren: I am planning to offer my books as ebooks first, with print books next in line, followed by audiobook versions as well.  Wearing my marketing hat, it only makes sense to hit the largest potential audience that I can.  I know people that read ebooks and love them, others that still love the print book, and still others who listen to audiobooks the vast majority of the time.  Why would I choose to alienate a segment of my readership, especially since it's so easy to hit all of these relatively easily?  I highly recommend that an author go through the process of getting their ebook/pbook/abook together at least once, just so they understand the process.  Once you know that, you'll know what is possible and what isn't, and at that point you can effectively partner with someone else who can handle those aspects, if you want to go that route.
Morgen: I love audiobooks. They’re great for when I walk the dog / to work and have waded through the writing-related podcasts I subscribe to. I have one book ready to go as an eBook but have often heard that you shouldn’t just put one up (although this is a writing workbook rather than fiction) because if someone likes it and there’s nothing else for them to buy, they’ll move on. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Darren: I'm presently working on my first novel, “Coordinates For Murder”.  I've already got the sequel in the works, as well as book #3 in the series.  Also, I'm slowly putting together a unique world for my Fantasy series.  Did I mention that I have ZERO problems coming up with story ideas?  Pages and pages of them!  I love my brain!
Morgen: Me too. I love my brain, that is… and have more ideas than time (helped by over a dozen display books filled with newspaper cuttings). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Darren: No, and I'm such a slouch!  I need to be writing nearly every day, but lately I haven't been – life has been getting in the way.  I've managed to crank out pages of material in hours, but I don't like the quality.  I need things to stew a bit in my brain before they live on paper, and this is before I put on my editors cap.
Morgen: Ah but you’re getting it down/out. As the saying goes, you can’t edit a blank page and you never know if you come back to it later it may not be as bad as you think (or it might be but by then you’ll have forgotten the meaning behind it and it’ll be easier to pull apart). What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Darren: Some days I think it's a myth, other days I think it's managed to wrestle me to the floor and handcuff me!
Morgen: I like that image. :)
Darren: The thing that seems to work for me is just to get writing the first sentence, then the next one, and then the words start to flow a little more freely.  I guess that's the “push through” method!  LOL
Morgen: One of the exercises I often set for our Monday night writing workshop are sentence beginnings (I’ve posted loads at http://twitter.com/sentencestarts - sorry, quick plug :)) and whilst they work for me, one of my writers, Denny, said they’re her least favourite task and that struggles with them, although she usually comes out with a great end result! Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Darren: Up until tackling my first novel, I never plotted out my stories, which were all short stories.  Then I tried doing my novel for a first-go-round like this, and things quickly got bogged down.  I've since tried using the Snowflake Method for handling a novel, and I think I've fallen in love with it!
Morgen: I interviewed poet Chris Ringrose recently (for my podcast – details at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/bwt-podcast) and he mentioned the Snowflake Method which I’d not heard of before and I’ve been hearing it a lot since then. :) I’ve gone the route you’ve gone, short stories then novels and whilst I’ve enjoyed doing them (three for http://nanowrimo.org and one and a half in between) and plan to do NaNoWriMo every November I can, I’ve gone back to my first love and plan to put anthologies out as eBooks before / instead of the novels. We’ll see how that goes. Anyway, I’m rambling. You were talking about the Snowflake Method.
Darren: It has helped me tremendously with developing better characters, making sure that my story line doesn't get too off topic, etc.  In fact, I'm blogging about each of the steps on my blog, http://darrenkirby.blogspot.com.  I really think that there is some great information with the method, even if you only use part of the ideas Randy offers.
Morgen: You mentioned characters, how do you create your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Darren: What makes a really believable character is understanding as much about them as possible.  If you, as the writer, know everything there is to know about them, then you can write them as authentic, real, believable, three dimensional people.
Morgen: I totally agree.
Darren: For example, in my first novel, I know my characters’ parents, what they do, where they went to school, if they have any significant others (or not), what they like, love, dislike, loath, what their current job is, what aspirations they have, and so on.  This is what makes great characters, the nuances.  It's what makes people different from each other – the nuances!
Morgen: Very thorough. :) Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Darren: Well, I think it will probably be my wife.  She's waiting until I finish the whole novel before she reads it, but the little bit that she's read so far she really likes.  After that, I've got a few people that will read it for errors, continuity, etc., so those would be next.  After that, it's out to the world!
Morgen: Continuity; the joy of the novel. And the joining of threads by the end. That’s what I love about the short form… less of it! :) Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Darren: I do some editing along the way as I write, but I definitely need at least a second run-through to clean up more things.  I don't anticipate that this will change, although it would be nice if the editing portion took less and less time, as that would mean that I'm getting better and better at working things out in my head first.
Morgen: I think two edits is pretty good going. I do about four on average but a recent interviewee put his in the twenties! What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Darren: Lots and lots of mental energy expended!  Plus, a lot of pre-writing: plotting, character development, different story lines/threads.  After putting in hours on these things, then it's time to make things live on paper.
Morgen: And the fun starts. :) Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Darren: Absolutely the computer.  I think I would quit being a writer after a day if I had to use paper.  Too many mistakes!
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Darren: Probably.  However, you can never know.  I guess it depends on how dark/weird/bad the piece is.  Again, never say never.
Morgen: That sounds then like you have nothing so far that you’ve not done something with, that’s promising. :) What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Darren: I absolutely love coming up with ideas to explore!  I mentioned earlier that I have pages of ideas, and that keeps growing each week.  I will have no shortage of story ideas to keep me busy for more than my one lifetime.  This is definitely the most enjoyable part.  I'm least happy with my lack of time spent in the chair – actually sitting and writing the dang thing.  At least I've got control over that one, which is nice.
Morgen: You have but as you said, I think we all know how ‘life’ takes over. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Darren: The biggest surprise has been that others actually like what I'm writing about.  It's really a neat kick to know that someone else could identify and enjoy what I wrote.  It's a special connection that is really cool.
Morgen: Isn’t it just. My writing group have said that my writing’s the best it’s ever been and I do feel that I’m at a stage know where I know what I’m doing which is great, but I just need to get “writing the dang things” and sending them out again. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Darren: Write, write, and then write some more.  And definitely read, especially genres and authors that are outside your comfort zone.  Also, find more local authors – these are gems just waiting to be found.  Some of the best books I've ever read were done by authors that live within 2 hours of me!  Who would have thought that possible?
Morgen: That’s great! I know a few local authors and have enjoyed what they’ve written and it does make it special to be able to discuss it with them face-to-face. What do you like to read?
Darren: Plenty of different things: suspense, thrillers, techno/sci-fi, mystery, some non-fiction as well.  I've even read a chick-lit book!  And I'm not ashamed to say that I liked it.  Okay, maybe a little embarrased, but it was a fun read!
Morgen: Chick lit’s fun. And I think it’s important to have a mix of light and dark (I read crime too) to keep yourself balanced. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Darren: I live in the United States, in the state of Wisconsin.  Living here I think is a double-edged sword – we've got technology up the whazoo…
Morgen: I like that. :)
Darren: …but that just makes it harder to connect with my target audience.  Marketing is a thankless, never-ending job.
Morgen: It can be, yes, but necessary and rewarding when it goes somewhere. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Darren: You can read about me and my upcoming novel at my blog site:  http://darrenkirby.blogspot.com.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Darren: Writers today have so many options available to them that weren't possible just 10 years ago.  Now is the time to take advantage of things!  We will see more and more people making a successful career out of writing, no matter where in the world they are.  It used to be that one would be concerned with just their home country, but now I can have sales of my novel in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia, and a host of other countries.  Authors can truly be international bestsellers, and they can do it easier and faster than ever.  It's an exciting time to be an author!
Morgen: I totally agree and it’s got agents and publishers on the hop, which makes a change for the authors to have more control (which definitely suits me). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Darren: I can't wait to publish my first novel, and I hope that I can do this full-time very soon.  It's just so much fun!
Morgen: Isn’t it great! I don’t think there’s anything quite like it, for me anyway, and yes, I’d love to write full-time but bank manager wouldn’t approve just at this moment. :) Thanks Darren for taking part and do let me know how it all goes.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Author interview no.76: Don Britt (revisited)


Back in July 2011, I interviewed author Don Britt for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the seventy-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today's is with multi-genre writer Don Britt. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Don. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Don: I was born in California, brought up in Cape Breton and now live on the Canadian Prairies with my wife Georgia.  We have two daughters, Crystal and Caley.  I’m a hopeless liberal democrat trapped inside a kind of C.S. Lewis Christian.  These aspects collide inside me all the time.  I learned a long time ago, oh about fifteen years, that writing was the release valve on the steam kettle of my psyche.  It’s the best way to stop my head from blowing up.  The sad part is I’m not joking.
Morgen: It does have that effect on a lot of people. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Don: My first novel is historical fiction.  My last one is pedal to the metal horror.  My current project, which is seeing me write twenty four 3-Day novels in one year, all live online, is all over the map.  There’s historical fiction from my native Cape Breton Island, there’s police procedurals set in Chicago and Louisiana Bayou Country, there’s fantasy, horror, and even a romance.  About the only genre I haven’t tried is Science Fiction.  But I am a fanatical Star Trek fan.
Morgen: That’ll be next then. :) What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Don: Thus far I’ve self-published twice.  The first story in my 3-Day novel marathon, The Fall Man, is now a very limited edition book.  And my full-length horror novel Cambrian is available as an ebook through Kobo.  When I received the first copies of The Fall Man in the mail I broke down and cried.  Holding my words in the form of a book, even one as modest as a tiny self-published run, was an astonishing feeling.  The touch of it is what made me cry.  It gave substance to my dream.
Morgen: And keeps you going. :) How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Don: Yes, I see myself as a brand.  That’s what my entire act of insanity has been about.  I’ve finally come to the conclusion that pitching polished prose with a P.T. Barnum zeal isn’t enough, although it is a damn good start.  Today writers have to ravage their world to set themselves apart. We have to find a stage and sing our aria with all that we are.  I’ve done that literally.  This Spring I wrote a 3-Day novel on stage at West Edmonton Mall, North America’s largest shopping centre.  The story I wrote there is called Curtain Call, which you can find in the library on my website.  The opening line pretty well sums up the whole experience for me.  ‘It may be true that all the world’s a stage, but stages are even more so.’
Morgen: With so much writing under your belt, have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Don: I’ve entered precisely one contest in my life, and no I didn’t win.  But it just so happened to be the defining creative experience of my life.  It was the International 3-day Novel Contest in 2010.  It was the first time I ever wrote to a deadline, and it was a creative crack binge, only without the slipping pants.  It birthed my year-long marathon.  I’ll always be indebted to Melissa Edwards and the good folk at 3-Day.  Their contest opened up a creative floodgate inside me which hopefully won’t be closing any time soon.
Morgen: :) I love deadlines (and Douglas Adams’ quote about them and the sound they make as they ‘woosh’ by :)), but unlike him I’m pretty good at sticking to mine (although my editor doesn't set any so that helps!). Do you have an agent Don? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Don: No I don’t, and all I can do is hope that the answer to the second question is no as well.
Morgen: :)
Don: I’ve become a guerrilla writer after years of overtures to the industry, both to agents and to houses, with only blood, sweat and tears to show for my efforts.  The rise of Indie authors is a tectonic shift that’s shaking the whole writing world.  That said there are very few ‘indies’ who get to live the life of my dreams, that of a full time author.  That’s certainly the route I’m trying right now, but only because I haven’t been offered a contract with a traditional publisher to date.
Morgen: Me too, although I like the fact that now I can choose my cover, title, and content (with steering from my freelance editor). Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Don: My horror novel Cambrian is now available as an ebook through Kobo.  It was a completely effortless process.  Kobo offers an excellent contract for independent writers.  Straight royalties, no upfront fees.  I highly recommend them.  I should point out though that I had a computer wizard in my corner, and a very creative soul to boot.  My sister-in-law Rhonda Gunaratnam did the book and cover design, and submitted all the files for me.  If it wasn’t for her I certainly wouldn’t be able to call the process effortless. It wouldn’t have gotten done without her help.  I’ll confess that I’m not an ebook reader yet.  I’m still a Luddite when it comes to reading.  But the gift of an iPad would likely change that.
Morgen: Is that a hint Don? :) Christmas is only… oh heck, just under 5 months away. I have an eReader but only use it when I go away for a weekend or more as I have plenty to read at home, so I’m only just ahead of you on that score. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Don: I've been rejected more times than a university freshman who street walks in drag with a fake herpes sore on his lip, as part of his fraternity's hazing ritual. And it's understandable. Agents have to be highly selective about the authors they take on.  Publishing houses require submissions that are a perfect fit for their list, and which are compatible with their current needs.
Morgen: They do. And the ones I’ve spoken to are all after crime and historical.
Don: I could fill a Tolstoy epic with rejection letter quotes.
Morgen: I bought Anna Karenina for a book group I belonged to so know how thick (over 700 pages) that is. :) Don: You learn to roll with it.  If you don’t, the dream will die.
Morgen: That’s the best way to look at it. And having a dream is the best kind of motivation. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Don: I’m working on my first non-fiction project.  It’s the story of my year-long act of insanity.  I’ve just started sending out queries.  In fact I put the query up on my website:  http://24novels.com/?p=576. Any interested parties are warmly invited to contact me through my site.  There’s a contact email right under the feedback link.
Morgen: Yes, please take a look (after this interview of course :)). Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Don: The answer to that question used to be easy; 1,200 words a day.  My year-long marathon has revved that up with a vengeance.  Each 3-Day novel is actually a novella, coming in around 22,000 – 25,000 words.  So I need to clock in at around 8,000 words a day.  Between stories I try to live, and don’t mind taking days off.  Once my marathon is finished, hopefully by October’s end, I plan to settle back into my habit of daily writing, which of course should be the habit of every novelist.
Morgen: Should be (I’m just as guilty as most other writers… doing everything else but). What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Don: I’ve heard writers argue that it doesn’t exist.
Morgen: They have… in these blog interviews. :)
Don: I don’t know if I can be that bold.  I have suffered from hypergraphia in the past.
Morgen: Ooh, I’ve heard of that but don’t know… back in a tick… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypergraphia says that it’s “an overwhelming urge to write. It is not itself a disorder, but can be associated with temporal lobe changes in epilepsy and mania in the context of bipolar disorder.” Wow. I was going to say that always have an overwhelming urge to write but everything else gets in the way but that would sound too flippant. I’ll call my affliction ‘passion’. :)
Don: For one stretch of about a year I wrote about 5,000 words a day.  None of the words went anywhere.  A defining aspect of that time was a terror of narrative.  Whenever I tried to settle into a story I’d panic, and scamper back into a pointless flow.
Morgen: There’s something about having the words down but actually that sounds a terrible, almost frightening, way to do it.
Don: I consider that the worst case of writer’s block in my life, even though it was an endless torrent of words.  My ‘cure?’ I stopped writing cold turkey for three months straight.  When I came back I could write coherently again.
Morgen: Phew. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Don: I think it was from Kurt Vonnegut that I first heard of writers being divided into two groups, bashers, the outline types, and swoopers, who just wing that mother.  I’ve tried bashing, but it doesn’t work for me.  Whenever I proceed from an outline everything flatlines.  The weight of predestination makes my characters stop and stare at the camera in my head.  They know I know.
Morgen: I love that image. :)
Don: It’s just a matter of putting up a series of painful obstacles before reaching that preordained conclusion.  What I’m forever looking for is a character and a circumstance.  Once I have that I hop in a car and tear off down an unknown road to see where it takes me.  The more you swoop the easier it gets.  I’ve gotten to the point where I can usually see at least the start of the next chapter as the last one is winding down.  Swooping, with all its uncertainties, is what gives my work the energy and flow I’m after.  One quick caution though.  I’ve filled hard drives and countless notebooks doing this.  That’s why my ‘swoop engine’ hums along as well as it does today.  If you’re not willing to make that kind of commitment then swooping might not be for you.
Morgen: Filled hard drives, wow, that’s some going. Who do you first show your work to, Don?
Don: My wife Georgia is my first reader, and so much more.  She’s an uncompromising editor too, and she’s given me the kick in the butt I’ve needed on many occasions.
Morgen: I think we all need someone like that.
Don: During one of my three-day novels I woke up with the flu, and decided to abandon the story.  This was right after my marathon received national coverage, with CBC’s ‘As It Happens’ and in The National Post. (The Telegraph in the UK also chimed in with a few words that can best be described as a contemptuous snort.  But that was earlier, I think.)
Morgen: Oh dear, the UK says sorry about that. :)
Don: It was Georgia who made me realize that a lot of people were watching for the first time, and that I simply had to soldier on.  I thank God for her every day.
Morgen: :) What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Don: Here’s a great spot for an LOL.  When I say I’m a swooper I mean I am a hopeless swooper.  A character and a situation is all I bring to the table.  And trust me I’ve kicked myself because of it.  I’ve showed up to write 3-day novels in public venues with nothing but a notion, which now has to be transformed into a workable linear dump while the clock ticks down to doomsday.  That’s when I take the quotes off from around the words act of insanity.  I tell ya it’s just loopy.  But so far it’s worked for me.
Morgen: Well then, keep doing what you’re doing. :) But public venues… that’s brave. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Don: I’m now finally converted I think.  I wrote everything out on paper for years before taking it to a computer.  Now I use a single page of foolscap while I write my 3-Day novels live online.  I also wrote Cambrian that way, come to think of it.  That single page mainly holds my cast of characters.  Name drift is a real problem for me.
Morgen: What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Don: I don’t usually listen to music while writing.  But I’m a big fan of taking breaks where I leap around the house and dance to ridiculous tunes that have reached dizzying viral heights on the internet.  Recent selections have included The Moosebutter’s ‘John Williams is the Man’, Katy and Elmo’s ‘Hot N Cold’ and, of course, ‘I’m a Gummy Bear’.
Morgen: er…. pass. :) What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Don: Third person deep immersion.  Many have suggested that people stick to this until they make the break, and I think it’s good advice.  That said, my first novel was written in the first person.  I just couldn’t imagine telling that story any other way.  As for second person, uh, no.  I hate telling people what to do.
Morgen: Ah, that’s where we differ. I don’t… especially to my brother (who’s 46!). Probably why second person is my favourite. :) Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Don: I don’t like prologues.  I prefer starting right with the action, preferably with the main character on page one.
Morgen: Yes. I agree. A story should start with the action and I rarely read prologues although I used one for novel no. 2 but I’m converting it to a novella (losing some coincidences and making the whole thing tighter / sharper) so we shall see whether the prologue stays or becomes chapter 1).
Don: Prologues have always felt like voice overs in movies to me, and I’ve never been a fan of them either.  They proceed from a writer’s desire to explain things.  Readers are smart.  We should trust their ability to pick up the necessary details on the fly, while the story unfurls.  As for epilogues, I really don’t think they’re necessary if the denouement is handled well.  Often they feel like painting on the frame.
Morgen: No, I’ve never done an epilogue. I’ve recently seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt2 and while it was good to know what happened to him in the end (well, thereafter), it did feel a little flat. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Don: Other than every last word I’ve written in my life you mean?
Morgen: No just the early ‘got to practice at this thing called writing’ stuff. :)
Don: Sometimes it feels like nothing ever will.  But now, oddly, every single paragraph is seeing the light of day.
Morgen: Yay! See, it’s just practice.
Don: Everything in my marathon goes straight to web as soon as it’s written.  The counter on my homepage has gone up over 12,000 in the past four weeks.  That’s far from ‘Gummy Bear’ territory.  But someone is reading.
Morgen: Another yay! What do you like to read?
Don: My favourite novel is Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  When I die I would like to go to heaven and write like her.
Morgen: That would be a bit inconvenient, unless Amazon expands further than they already do. Can you not try for it a little earlier than that? :)
Don: I love Margaret Laurence, Yann Martell and Stephen Leacock (to show my Canadian Colours.)  At the same time I grew up reading Stephen King and Star Trek novels.  I once sent Stephen a fan letter saying ‘I grew up reading you and Star Trek novels!’ I haven’t heard back yet.
Morgen: Tush Mr King but then I blame him for me wearing glasses (book* / duvet / torch) so I shouldn’t be surprised. :) *Christine, Firestarter, Pet Semetary…
Don: A few other writers I admire are Neil Gaiman.
Morgen: Oh yes, such a nice guy. I have Coraline in paperback (it’s only thin) and want to read it before I see the film (not sure why it passed me by as the cinema’s my second home). Note to self: move Coraline up the pile. :)
Don: Kim Stanley Robinson, Chuck Palahniuk, Elmore Leonard, Jack Whyte and Carol Shields.
Morgen: I have some of Carol’s short stories and haven’t read them yet (slap wrist). Sorry, I keep interrupting (slap other wrist :)).
Don: The writer who has probably influenced me the most is Kurt Vonnegut.
Morgen: I have his Slaughterhouse 5 and haven’t… sorry, I’ll stop now. :)
Don: My soul just clicks in agreement when I read his stuff.  I wish he were with us still.  I can’t stop there though.  My writing has more allusions to the Bible than anything else.  In the end the library at the core of my faith has shaped me most profoundly.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Don: I think I can only answer this question with an anecdote.  Years ago I was driving along a country road in the Maritimes, listening to a book on tape.  One of my favourites, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones.  At one point a few words from that book hit me so hard that I had to pull over as I wept bitterly.
Morgen: Wow.
Don: I cried in heart and soul agreement with these words: “I used to think freedom meant doing whatever you want. It means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.”  Writing is that for me.  I have had so many people tell me that it isn’t.  I’ve had loved ones assure me that I’m wasting my life, sometimes with tears in their eyes.  I’ve been told that God has other plans for me, and that I need to quit this self-obsession.  I never will.  That is the most wonderful and terrible truth about my life as a writer.  It is all consuming.  If I’m wrong, if this really isn’t my destiny, then I will die a fool, having tilted at windmills all my life.  This is the ground on which I am prepared to bleed and die.  I’m a writer.  My year-long act of insanity is my attempt to get the world to agree that I am.
Morgen: I’ve done three month-long insanities (http://nanowrimo.org) so I’m right there with you. 99% of the people around me are supportive and the others just don’t understand what this feeling feels like. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Don: I’ll address these final remarks to writers with professional aspirations.  Writing can be a wonderful hobby.  So is chess.  But for all who want to make it their vocation I say assess your desire.  Do you want this life as much as you’d want to escape a burning building?  Are you willing to drag your pride kicking and shrieking to an altar and gut it, so that you can become truly and profoundly teachable?  Are you willing to devote yourself to a hard daily grind that doesn’t neglect any of these key areas – writing, marketing and professional development?  And is there any other way in the world that you can find happiness?  If so pursue it, with all your heart and soul and mind.
Morgen: I can answer your first question: I’d save the dog and laptop (and back-up external hard drive if I had time) closely followed by my new (to me) BlackBerry mobile – I love it but not as much as my hound and laptop. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Don: The gateway to it all is my website, http://24novels.com.
Morgen: And you're on Twitter (if you're reading this and you're on Twitter, please do follow Don). Is there anything else you’d like to mention Don or perhaps provide an extract of your writing?
Don: Here’s an excerpt from my latest 3-Day novel, The Bulwark by the Sea:
There came a familiar jingling sound behind Cartwright, who closed his eyes and lowered his head, still kneeling there as though for prayer.  There was that rock and hard place.  That devil and the deep blue sea.  Now Dale Cartwright, pit manager of Glace Bay's Number Two Colliery and veteran of the Second World War, was trapped in that hell between them.
A slow rhythmic clapping began behind him, set against the persistent barking from his comrade in the cause, who was stuck out in the hallway.  Cartwright felt a sudden pang of sorrow for that.  They should have stayed together to the end.  No man left behind.  No beloved pooch either.
Then the fiend spoke, in that sing song high-pitched voice.  "You've got a lot o’ heart, I'll give you that.  But isn't that what they always say about losers?  You're like that brain-damaged bag of puss and blood who went the distance and still lost, instead of taking a dive for the same prize money in the second.  You've got a lot o' heart Dale Cartwright.  Oh yes indeed you do."
Morgen: Ooh. Thank you Don (my dad's name was Don :)). It’s been great getting to know you a little better.

Update From Don, June 2012: there's an audio link now up at my site. I've recorded a couple of stories from my 3-Day novel marathon. It's a latte to go world out there. I'm hoping that podcasts will be more in keeping with it. Here's a link to my audio page: http://www.24novels.com/audio.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum and you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me.  I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.