As we get older we realize that the journey ahead is never a straight path. It is a zig-zag that takes you forwards, backwards, sideways and through terribly deep brush. The journey ahead is one that has lots of forks and unseen trails and most of the time we’ll find that the most valuable detours are along those little seen footpaths into the unknown. As many Self Help books as people may write there is no one set of guidelines or rules to journey ahead. All you can do is to be true to yourself, true to those you love, as honest as you’re able to be, and to do as little harm and as few ill deeds as possible. And even all of that can get tossed out the window as you realize that everyone is trying to do the same thing – find happiness and a sense of place. Such is life.
All of this is to say that when I started writing as a teenager in the 1990s, writing because I loved it, because it was the only thing I felt like I was not terrible at, and because my head was full of stories, I never would have believed I would be where I am today. I have written two novels, I have put out several books of short stories, and three books in a fantasy series. I have been vending at conventions for just over twenty years. I have been doing art shows and everything in between for over ten. I have written blogs for fifteen years, roughly. I have written movie reviews in some form for twenty years. PHEW! I am not a success with my writing but I have had a hell of a time with it. When I decided to call it a career last year I did so not out of anger or frustration but out of the sheer fact that I don’t want to become a joke. A punchline. I have nine books out. I love each and every one of those books and feel very lucky to have gotten a chance to put them out and to get them into people’s hands. I have gotten frustrated and burned out along the way, have questioned my skill, my self-promotion, and the path I was on and I will always wonder if the books are any good but I have never questioned my passion. I love to write. I have slowed down as I have gotten older and other things have come into my life but when I want to I can still throw a story down whenever it strikes me. So when I said I was done putting books out it was because I love myself and what I have done enough not to want to look like a clown. I have sold copies of every book I have put out but I am far from an economically successful writer and the last thing I want to do is to mortgage my future on something that isn’t working out. I also don’t want to be someone with a shelf full of books that I wrote which don’t sell. For me, and I can only speak for myself and will only speak about myself on this matter, I don’t want to become that author that keeps putting books out that people don’t want. I have said this a dozen times and I mean it. I can still write and put things on this blog and it isn’t the same but that’s OK. There’s a point where every hobby has to either evolve or die and I am willing to let mine evolve, or in this case, devolve a little.
Ah, but that path ahead well, it sometimes swings you around so that you see your own behind, doesn’t it?
I had no intention of writing another book. Again, not out of anger or childishness but out of pragmatism – why write a book I wasn’t going to put out. One night as I was lying in bed half-asleep a name came to my mind, a name and with it the skeleton of a story. The name and skeletal story stuck with me when I got up the next day and in no time I was roughing a story out and things were coming together in my mind. The story was inspired by two guests we had at the Flint Horror Convention in 2014, actors (directors, writers, and on and on) Chuck Williams and Daniel Roebuck, two friends who shared a deep love of horror that stemmed from their childhoods. Both men were what is known as Monster Kids, that is to say kids that grew up loving monsters and all things weird and wonderful. It was that sort of friendship and childhood which stuck with me and inspired the character in this new story. It was the mentality that monsters were cool and weren’t always the bad guy. As I finished the first draft of the story I realized that I really liked what I had. Liked it too much to relegate to being posted on a blog. I started thinking What If and I contacted a friend I have known since we were teenagers – which means for twenty some years now – about doing art for the book. He was immediately onboard and suddenly this little story was becoming something bigger – a book. I asked the advice of a friend, another writer who write’s kid’s book s from time to time and he liked the story and agreed with me about its potential. This could be more than what it was. A kid’s book. An illustrated kid’s book. My friend and I went back and forth about the look and feel and he was giving me some amazing sketches. I broke down what I thought would look good and he gave me more than I could have hoped. I had hoped I might be able to find a publisher for this book, and sent things out but of the eight I sent three were immediate rejections and I never heard from the rest. It’s been four months. You can see why I don’t put much faith in the mainstream publishing world. I’d rather control my own fate. That was not the only snag I was to hit though. Alas, my friend reached a point where he just wasn’t getting the look he felt the story needed and he had to step away. I was faced with the question of – do I find a new artist? Do I scrap the book? Do I do the art myself? I figured I would give the art a pass myself and started sketching out ideas. I toyed with a lot of looks for my main character and finally hit on it and when I hit on him the rest fell into place. As I was sketching though I realized that my skill was not up to the task I was asking of it. I have been drawing since I was a little kid and save for a stretch that was too long from my late teens to early twenties I was very serious about it. Unfortunately I was never really any good. That hasn’t changed. I can draw the occasional cute little image but it’s rare. It’s just not my forte. So now what?
I’d do the book without art.
I started thinking about the book, really thinking about it, and I realized that for the age range it was written for it didn’t need art. I would have LOVED there to be art, and I think it could be amazing with art but I also think that with this age range it gets dicey. It’s a book for young people but not one you want them to think ‘is for babies’. So I looked at the whole work, what I wanted it to be, what I wanted it to do, and I realized that it was strong as it was. I gave it one last pass and began working on layout and cover. The book, once I realized I was doing it without art, came together very, very quickly, the turnaround from hearing from my friend about the art to clearing the book to release and ordering copies was just shy of a week.
I really like this book.
DANNY FRANKENSTEIN is the story of a ten year old boy going through a rough patch in his life. At every turn it seems that his life is being turned upside-down and shaken and the only place he has to escape the changes are in old monster movies. The only way he can hide from the pain is to become Danny Frankenstein, a mimic of the Frankenstein monster that stomped and stamped through the world and didn’t let things get to him. There is more to the story than that but I like some things to be a surprise and this is no different. It’s my love letter to Monster Kids, of which I was one – basically, it wasn’t the same in the ’80s but still… – and my love letter to the genre I adore. For me it’s a very important book. It’s the book I never planned. The book I never intended. I would never have told you I would write a straight up ‘kid’s book’ but here I am at 40 and I have.
I couldn’t be happier.
I don’t know that anyone else will give a damn but I do. If I stopped writing today and this book became a sort of legacy I wouldn’t mind that at all. I love all of the books I have written but this is different because it’s SO different than everything else I have written. We’ll see what happens next.
Buy – Danny Frankenstein
I recently got to have the fun of desecrating some of my own books for the cause of creating some artwork for a flier for an upcoming event. I really had fun with it, despite having to sacrifice some books for the project. I took a bunch of pics but here are a few of the fun ones.
The Reason and the Why
I can’t claim to have many fans of my writing. I think everyone who publishes would like to think that there’s this group of people absolutely chomping at the bit for the next release but I am not much for lying to myself. Those people just don’t exist for me. I have people that support what I do but I don’t really have fans. Ah, well, maybe I have one. There’s a little old lady from the Flint area that writes really lovely poetry who I met years and years ago at an open mic event and whenever I see her we talk for a little while. She is, I think, a fan of the Meep Sheep books. I remember after I finished the second book, The Kreep Sheep, she kept asking me when the next was coming and for a long time I wasn’t sure. I ran into her again this past summer and she made sure to pick up the last of the Meep books and all was well with the world.
I ran into her again two weeks back at Flint’s monthly Art Walk and she had read The Last Sheep and had questions for me. Questions I didn’t necessarily have answers for. It was frustrating at first but then I realized that this was someone so invested in the series that she had genuine, thoughtful questions for me. It’d be great if I had clear and simple answers to give her but that fact was that I didn’t. I don’t. And that’s OK.
The thing about my writing is that it’s all done by ‘feel’. That’s how I approach anything artistic I do. I don’t necessarily have a plan, I just dive in and see what happens. With the last Meep book I had lots of ideas but a lot of them changed and I know the core of the plot was jettisoned. Not because I didn’t like it, I think it would have been a compelling book, it just didn’t fit the story that was unfolding. And that’s how I write. I sure as heck don’t know if I am any GOOD at it but that’s how I write – by feel. I keep thinking of things from my zombie novel Cemetery Earth that bother me until I force myself to remember that I know how I write, and why I make the choices I make. I just need to trust myself. I was thinking about the ending of CE last night and was pondering why I made a certain choice and was worried for a moment about the believability of the ending but reminded myself – it’s a book. It’s a story. It’s not reality. If people want reality they can go read a biography or some such. A story works by its own rules and logic and if it keeps to those rules and to that logic then you can’t worry about the rest. It doesn’t mean everyone will like those rules and that logic. It doesn’t mean that anyone will. But if the story is true to itself then that’s all you can ask. Sure, we all read a book that drives us crazy but it’s usually because it broke its own rules. No one wants to pick up a Winnie the Pooh book where Pooh Bear is never discovered when he gets stuck in his tree’s knothole and he dies there. It breaks the rules of the story. Saying all that I’d love to have all the answers as to why I write things the way I do but, honestly, I don’t really think about what things mean, I write what feels right and let it go at that. Now, maybe that’s a mistake but heck, if I am not going to be disrupting some huge fanbase and creating internet havoc somewhere then who cares?
Saying all this though it’s nice when someone does have thoughtful questions and general curiosity about something you pour so much of your heart into. That’s a thing someone could get used to.
It’s a shame that time and again the old dance of going after writing for being self-published still gets carted out from time to time. I have said it before and say it again – how is it that you can make movies yourself – INDIE – and music yourself – DIY – but god help you if you go through nontraditional means to get your work out there you’re suddenly a hack.
How does that make sense?
Now, I will grant you that let’s say that 95% of all self pub stuff released is OK to Not Good (my work is closer to Meh than either of those) which tends to be what people focus on, and that’s not unfair but it’s not a whole picture. Go into any bookstore or onto any book site and look at what’s there, that was published via traditional means, and how much of it is empirically good? How much is at least OK?
The difference between a published author in today’s market and a self pubbed one is luck as much as anything else. It’d be great to say – all of the people published today are genuinely talented authors with voices that cannot be denied.
That ain’t the case.
There’s a lot of crap out there, self pubbed and traditionally pubbed.
The greatest sin of self pub work, and I fall into this COMPLETELY, is the lack of editing and an editorial voice. Now, I prefer my work raw. I have a lot of things I can fix/do fix but I like that the work people get comes FROM me and isn’t filtered through other people. But that’s not always a good thing. Editors help keep the writer on task, cleans up the work, and makes sure the thing makes sense. Also, when a work is created for commerce it also forces those involved to take a harder look at it. I know I have enough stories written and more in my head that I could keep churning out book after book after book but knew that I needed to stop where I was. There’s a point of self-parody that you don’t want to reach.
The sins of self pubbed authors are many but most, MOST are self-inflicted and most only damage that author. When you look at some of the work that is picked up and put out traditionally, that to me is the problem.
Too much literal crap is put out.
There is a market for EVERY thing out there so variety is always great but having spent the last twenty years looking for publishers and getting no responses, or the same canned responses you start to pay more attention to trends. You start to laugh at the narrow focus the publishers have – We only want Christian fiction for babies – and you take heart a little. I was at a horror writing convention and had two pitches to publishers, a little one and a big one and each one I had ten minutes to pitch and each place yammered about themselves for six-eight of those minutes. They knew they were never going to buy anything from me, they knew it because that’s how that system works. Very, very few people get traditionally published these days.
And that’s fine.
But don’t tell me it’s because they have more talent than everyone else out there.
And don’t lecture me when I say to hell with the system and head in a different direction.
The biggest issue I have with the whole thing is that it takes away the common thread that binds us all together – we’re all writers. Good or bad, we are writers. I have a lot more respect for a writer that isn’t very good but writes out of passion and love for writing than I do for someone who has their works ghostwritten so they can keep cashing paychecks based off of their name value. Taking it all together there’s just a lot of crap out there, a lot, and it’s our job, your job, my job, OUR job to wade through it to get to what we want to read and what is worth our time. Don’t expect me to fight battles though for you, for anyone that belittles and denigrates what I do though. There is a battle being waged between Amazon and a large publishing house that has sweeping implications but the thing is that you can’t tell me what I do is invalid then ask me to take your side. Just like you can’t be on the sidelines catcalling people who have professional careers that are riding on how this turns out.
We need less They and Them and more US. We are all writers. We’re all trying to get our work out there and seen. The sad fact is that most of us, the greater part of most of us, will never live the dream of seeing our books in stores, having people anxious to read our work, and will never make but negligible money on what we do. I know so many authors that have their work put out traditionally but who still don’t make any money and it makes me see that it isn’t just Amazon that is broken but publishing as a whole. We began treating books and writing as if it was fast food to consume, crap out, then consume some more. The industry focused so much of its efforts on The Next Big Thing that it lost sight of the idea of finding and fostering talent. And book prices have made it easier to just get an e-book or not bother reading at all.
Books lost their magic.
We took it away.
Our fighting, our arguing, or finger pointing distracted us as the magic left.
The last time I stood in line for a book was to get the Seventh Harry Potter book and I expect that that is the very last time there’ll be a book that people stand in line for and that’s just sad.
Established authors need to remember where they came from and to encourage and nurture young writers. Not just kids but adults. Anyone who wants to write. Most people won’t see the stories and novels through to completion but they should be encouraged to do it. We need to spend less time bashing self pub authors and more time seeing why they went that way and how their work differs from traditionally published work. We need to stop acting as if we are better than one another.
It’s about stories, about telling stories, not about how we tell them.
So yeah, I AM self published. After spending years and years and too much money looking for someone to give my work a chance I decided to go the DIY route, the same route I took for all of the projects I have ever done. I would love to say my work is polished and will blow you away but it isn’t, and it won’t, but my stories deserve to be told. I deserve to tell them. If people aren’t interested then fine, but to tell me that my stories are invalid because of how they reach people is crap, and it’s lazy, and it’s the sort of thing that has made the publishing world the elitist manure factory that it’s become. I have spent hundreds of hours on my work, have created my own covers, have laid my work out, and have worked to get these stories and books out there. You can tell me my stories aren’t any good but you can’t convince me that they don’t deserve to be seen.