It’s possible our house was built on an old industrial spill, with some toxic chemicals that leached up through the loam and into our very bones. If that’s the case, I’ve been super unlucky with living in houses built on old spill sites, because I’ve had weird ideas since as long as I can remember.
It could have easily have been something baked into the old Crayola crayon set I had when I was a kid. It’s hard to be sure — was there ever a recall? How do they make those colours?
I read a lot. I watch a lot of movies. I talk to people who read a lot and watch a lot of movies. I like taking something that’s a little familiar to people — say, a nice werewolf legend — and then sprucing it up with a bit of industrial magic, a virus or two, see where it goes.
Ideas are not something I’m short on. How many of them are good ideas is probably a bit subjective, but I feel like I could sit down and write books until the end of my days, until the tips of my fingers were worn away, and not hit the bottom of the barrel.
I just want to do those ideas justice. I want the stories to be fun and insightful — I don’t want to start writing without a good idea about the story that wants to be told. I try and ask myself, what makes this story different?
What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?
Getting published, by a long shot.
Marketing, there’s some dudes out there who can help you, if you’re unable to do it yourself. Lots of companies and people exist with a special flare for this — heck, this interview here is a great example. Generous people, with a real talent for helping you get visibility? They’re out there.
Writing is probably the easiest part, for a writer. If it’s not, you might be in the wrong profession. I don’t want to come across as conceited, but this is the thing we’re doing here.
The publishing part is still shrouded in mystery. I figure I’d have a better chance of getting a deal with Tor if I did some Pagan rituals in my back garden: it’s not like the path is clear. Every so often a major publisher will throw open their doors: Angry Robot, or Harper Collins, or whatever. This is rare, though, and you’re up against a fair level of noise in that funnel to get noticed. I can just imagine some poor bastard at Angry Robot, trying to sift through the manuscripts, and in a fit of rage dumping their entire desk into the trash. If you’re that guy, I’m sorry.
To get a real shot, it feels like you need to get a good agent, and finding a good agent is just as hard a tower to climb. There’s no easy path, no three-step process, no recipe for how to bake that cake.
I suspect this is in part why I lot of people go indie. It’s not that indie makes you more successful, but with indie you get your product out there, and people can actually read it. And they can read it before one of our Earth years have passed. Fuck sake, but have you seen some of the publisher submission timelines? 6 months before they let you know if they like it, and another 18 months before it’ll be on a shelf. And a lot of contracts are really unbecoming, very biased in favour of the publisher. There’s no partnership there, no win-win, and there’s a real problem in a contractual relationship where both parties aren’t out for the equal success of the other. Publishers? If your contracts look like you’re treating your writers like cattle to be farmed, they’re going to stampede away.
Compare that to click-to-print with an indie system, and you can see the attraction. Maybe your book isn’t at your corner store, but unless your surname is King it’s probably not going to be anyway.
I digress, but yeah: publishing. I think that’s still an area needing a bit of work. And there’s tremendous opportunity here: you see companies like Penguin and Random House merging in response to market pressure. People are going to crash and burn in this new future we’re already inside. And yet: publishers are uniquely suited to be able to still serve as a robust quality gate for content, if only they shift the model significantly in the favour of win/win for authors and themselves, think about the outcome for the customer, and adopt a more rapid distribution system. Sure, I’m simplifying for the sake of a pithy paragraph, but the success stories of the next five years will be told by publishers who’ve made the shift from their traditional model.
What marketing works for you?
Generally, it’s been word of mouth, and reviews. The more reviews, the better the success, but those only start with a few people who know you, willing to give you a shot.
You’d be surprised how many people who know you are really uncomfortable with reading your stuff. What if they don’t like it?
I try and let people know there’s no obligation, that not every book is for everyone. I get that it’s creepy and weird to write a review for someone that you know. You give a four-star review to them, and suddenly the de-friend you on Facebook, kill your cat, and burn down your house.
It should have been five stars, asshole.
I get that. But it’s still great marketing, to have people in your corner, telling people about this great new read they found.
It makes sense: of the last ten books I’ve read, eight of them were recommendations by people I know. I learn their tastes, where those tastes align with mine, and pick a book based on what they say. Sometimes I’ll get a book by randomly surfing through Amazon’s recommendations, but that seems fraught with peril, noisy, and subject to some weird analytics that I don’t quite grok.
Do you find it hard to share your work?
Those first drafts, sure. I’ve got some beta readers who are awesome, there is no amount of money or sexual favours that can make up for the first drafts some of them read.
Once the draft starts to gain a bit more coherency, I find it easier to share — I’m proud of the thing I made, and I’m happy to put it out there.
Is your family supportive? Do your friends support you?
Beyond all reason and sanity, yes.
Some of the people I know kind of tilt their head sideways when I tell them I’m a writer, that I write novels, and they kind of say, “Really?” Like it’s a thing you catch from doing unwholesome things in Thailand.
But those people aren’t really friends, more acquaintances. Friends and family have my back, fully, and do things that are unexpected. They send me articles on writing, or publishing. They share their thoughts and ideas with me, and listen with endless patience about my ideas. They’ll read excerpts that I throw at them and provide feedback. I can bounce off half-formed ideas and they’ll be there with a catcher’s mitt, ready to help even though it’s not quite fair, that they don’t have all the pieces.
Speaking of patience, they are all enthusiastic about my next work, and claim impatience for it to be delivered.
It helps. It helps a lot. It’s fair to say that I write for me, because it’s a thing I enjoy and that I want to do.
But I can’t help but think that my stories want to be read by other people. And if my friends and family like those stories, even if the rest of the world doesn’t? It’s okay. That’s enough.
Do you plan to publish more books?
You couldn’t stop me if you tried.
Okay, before someone steps up with a big CHALLENGE ACCEPTED shirt and cuts off my fingers, there are probablyways you could stop me. Let’s not go down that road.
I have a current plan to release a new title about once a year. A lot depends on the title, and how much work’s needed. For example, Night’s Favour is about 108,000 words, give or take, and I know how long that took to write. Upgrade is looking to be more like 150,000 words.
The complexity ramps up. I look at books like REAMDE by Stephenson, and I’m not quite sure how he does it, to keep coherence throughout. I’m sure Stephenson has a brain the size of Mars, but still, the editing process must belegendary.
That aside, I have four more books to be released about one-a-year to make a five-for-five plan. I’ve got a few people asking for a sequel to Night’s Favour, and one of those books is that sequel — you’ll get your story, to find out where Val and Danny go, what John does with his life, where Carlisle ends up. One of them will be a sequel toUpgrade. I don’t want to say too much about that, as it’ll spoil the surprise, except to say that I plan to deliverUpgrade in a full complete story when it’s done. It’ll stand alone without a sequel: the tale will be complete, and you’ll be able to choose — as with Night’s Favour — whether you want to dip a toe into the sequel.
The fifth book is a new thing for me — it’ll be my first book with a female lead. This one is going to be the hardest one of them all to write, because (being a male human) I don’t easily understand what life’s like to be a woman. I hope the book doesn’t suck.
What else do you do to make money, other than write? It is rare today for writers to be full time…
I used to say that I played piano in a whorehouse, because it was more honourable than my actual job, until someone asked me to play a tune.
I can’t play the piano.
“Something in computers,” is my usual answer. I work for the government, with the usual bunch of Top Men*, trying to help make realistic investment planning advice in information systems, along with planning for disruptive innovation.
It’s a little less awesome than it sounds.
Totally, it pays the bills, and pays quite well. But the skills aren’t easily transferrable: it’s not like all that business writing maps to a page of character-driven storytelling. And the biggest challenge is keeping my head straight, my creativity on tap, to generate good stories.
Mostly what I want to do when I get home is drink. That’s not great for creativity.
I’d love a job where I could work part-time, a couple days a week. I only need so much money to survive, and I’d much rather write — even if it pays poorly — most of the time. It’s nice to dream.
What other jobs have you had in your life?
For a few years I worked as a consultant. That’s kind of interesting, if you don’t mind having your brain fried on a sort of hourly basis.
The way I pitch consulting is a bit like this: imagine you’re walking on a tightrope. You’ve got to get to the other end, and someone’s shooting at you. Along the way, someone sets fire to the rope, and it’s about to break. You, and only you, have the skills to repair that rope.
And you can’t walk a tightrope.
That’s kind of what it’s like. It’s exciting! But it’s not something I can handle for more than two or three years at a throw. I wouldn’t mind doing more of it, but again, in brief spurts.
If you could study any subject at university what would you pick?
I’ve thought about this a surprising amount. It’s one of the things I’d like to do: when I retire, spend the rest of my days at a university learning stuff because it’s cool, not because it’s something to monetise.
My early answer would have been Philosophy, but now I think it’d be Religion. Most of the things I find interesting are about people and how they work, and much of the way the world is today is about what people believe, and have believed, throughout history. Understanding how all that fits together — or at least getting a bit of insight into it, if not the whole thing — would be a lot of fun.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
It might be somewhere mediterranean. I loved Italy, the people, the food, the climate. There’s not much to not like about the place, except for serious things like the economy and the government.
Failing that, somewhere quiet. It’d be nice to have a house on the edge of a remote lake, a fridge of beer and a satellite uplink, to spend my days how I choose. I’d write, and probably fish a little. I never catch anything, but I don’t think that’s why people go fishing.
Valentine’s an ordinary guy with ordinary problems. His boss is an asshole. He’s an alcoholic. And he’s getting that middle age spread just a bit too early. One night — the one night he can’t remember — changes everything. What happened at the popular downtown bar, The Elephant Blues? Why is Biomne, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, so interested in him — and the virus he carries? How is he getting stronger, faster, and more fit? And what’s the connection between Valentine and the criminally insane Russian, Volk?
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Genre – Action, Thriller, Urban Fantasy
Rating – R16
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