“Meet My Character” Blog Hop

Grindhouse1The “Meet My Character” Blog Hop is a tour through the blogs of various independent speculative fiction authors as they talk about a character from their latest work. Each week a new author discusses what makes their character tick, and this week I’m up.

But first, big thanks to Marina Finlayson for hosting the previous stop on the Blog Hop. Marina is a reformed wedding organist who now writes fantasy. She is married and shares her Sydney home with three kids, a large collection of dragon statues, and one very stupid dog with a death wish.

Twiceborn, the first book in The Proving trilogy, is her first novel.

Now it’s time to meet my character.

What is the name of your character?

Mimi St. Laurent. She’s the protagonist of the short story, “Deviltown,” from my latest release, Grindhouse.

When and where is the story set?

This is a great question – I don’t even know! When I wrote this story, I had it in my mind that it was going to be very dark, very noir – I don’t think I really pinned down exactly where it would be set though. Maybe New York in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s? But then I hesitate to even say that because there may be some modern references in the piece that wouldn’t lend themselves to that time period so whatever. I think the mood of the story is more important than where it’s set.

What should we know about him or her?

Mimi is probably one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written. She’s a pre-op trans hooker with dreams of becoming the woman she always wanted to be, and dreams of escaping the streets. She’s incredibly savvy, sassy, and she takes no shit. She’s probably the character most like me personality-wise.

She’s also a recycled character. I was writing a story for a literary magazine about a young boy who grows up around drag queens and Mimi was from that piece. She was the boy’s drag mother and I liked her so much that when that story didn’t quite pan out the way I wanted it to, I took her from that world and put her in this one. It’s kind of a shame because bad shit happens to her in this story.

What is the main conflict? What messes up his or her life?

All three stories in Grindhouse are revenge tales. They deal with women who have been victimized mentally, spiritually, and oftentimes sexually, seeking vengeance against those who hurt them. Mimi is brutalized by one of her johns and it really fucks up her head. She can’t think of anything else besides retribution. Her attacker committed a hate crime against her, tried to kill her even, and when she realizes the police don’t give a shit about bringing this man to justice (because of her lifestyle and gender issues), she decides she has to take measures into her own hands.

What is the personal goal of the character?

Mimi’s personal goal at the beginning of the story is to get out of the life and to have surgery to become a woman. She’s been trapped in the wrong body her entire life and she’s thisclose to having enough money to make her dream come true.

Her goal towards the middle and end of the story is to kill the bastard who raped and beat her, leaving her for dead in an alley.

What is the title of the book, and where can we find out more?

Like I said above, “Deviltown” is a short story in my micro collection of shorts called Grindhouse. You can find this book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, and other e-retailers.

When was the book published?

December 31, 2014. It’s my first non-spec fic publication (though the final story in Grindhouse, “The Beautiful People,” may or may not have a spec fic element to it).

Next week’s “Meet My Character” Blog Hop participant is Jennifer R. Povey.

As a fiction writer, Jennifer R. Povey has short fiction credits from a number of magazines including the Australian popular science magazine Cosmos (for their website) and long-running ezines Big Pulp and Bards & Sages Quarterly.

As a freelancer, she offers quality, human-readable web content and copy to individuals and businesses at reasonable rates. She also writes articles and guest blog posts on a variety of subjects, but specializes in material related to fiction writing, equestrian activities and travel. She also provides proofreading and basic copy editing services.

She also enjoys horseback riding, travel, role-playing games and hanging out with her highly supportive and wonderful husband, Greg.

The Writing Process Blog Hop

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this site, but trust me – I’m not dead. Although this post would be very interesting if in fact I was dead. I mean, trying to figure out the metaphysics involved alone…

Anyhow, I’ve been invited to participate in a spec-fic blog hop, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to get acquainted with some very talented writers like this one:

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Michael Patrick Hicks has worked as a probation officer, a comic book reviewer, news writer and photographer, and, now, author. His work has appeared in various newspapers in Michigan, as well as several The University of Michigan publications, and websites, such as Graphic Novel Reporter and Leelanau.com. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from The University of Michigan in Journalism & Screen Studies and Behavioral Science. His first novel is CONVERGENCE.

http://michaelpatrickhicks.com

Go check him out, folks!

Now, onto the topic at hand: my writing process. I’m sure many of you have lain awake at night, tossing and turning, wondering how it is I come up with my stories. You’ve probably racked your brains trying to discover the method to my madness – I know I have. So when I saw the questions we blog hop participants were being asked to answer, I thought, “How in the world am I supposed to talk about my ‘process’ when I don’t even know what it is?”

Well, since I’ve deemed 2014 my year of introspection, I’m going to attempt to make sense of what’s going on in this crazy head of mine. Bear with me, Dear Readers – this could get messy.

1) What am I working on?

I have several things going at the moment. First, I need to finish one final story for a new short collection (Grindhouse, release TBD) I’ve been working on since November (!). All three stories in Grindhouse are very different from anything I’ve ever written. For starters, they’re more violent. They also have a ton of graphic language and explicit sex – it’s like a 1970s B movie in print. Or a Tarantino film. Same diff.

Then I’m getting back to my roots with an erotic horror novella. I’ll be tackling a second zombie novella, and of course, I’m always trying to craft the best pieces I can for my Dark Tales series. eVolume Three needs to be released soon and I kind of want to mine classic horror tropes again since eVolume Two was more thriller/suspense.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think my work is different, but maybe it’s not – maybe it’s incredibly derivative. I’ve been heavily influenced by film and television, oddly enough more so than books. Maybe a lot of what I put in print is something Carpenter or Craven or Argento have already done. I don’t know; I haven’t seen every film they, or their peers, have made. But I know I take inspiration from them, as do many of my peers, so I can’t claim to be a special snowflake in that regard.

I would also say my stories are darkly humorous, but again, that’s not unique to me. Stephen King does dark humor better than just about anybody. He’s the first author I can remember reading so of course some of his style would rub off on me.

When I read this back, I’m like, “Damn – I’m not original at all.” This realization would probably bother me if I didn’t know there are only something, like, seven plots in literature and they’ve all been done before. Hell, even Shakespeare cribbed things from writers who came before him.

So maybe the point isn’t to try and be original. Maybe the point is to give audiences tropes they’re familiar with, but do it in such a way that it feels fresh and new. Context is everything. If you tweak and twist a trope enough, it becomes something else entirely. Throw in interesting, vivid characters, sparkling dialogue, and a killer hook and ending, then voila! You’ll have a kickass story that nobody else has (assuming you can tell a good story to begin with). I think I do a decent job of this. I’m always striving to improve my craft, though, always pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and always trying new things.

For instance, I never thought I’d write about zombies. I love zombies as much as the next person, but I thought, “God, that’s so played. How many ways can you tell a post-apocalyptic zombie story?” Turns out, there are an endless number of ways to do it, some of which have been brilliant. Others…not so much. Still, I knew I couldn’t do it. If I was going to write about zombies, I had to do it on a more intimate level. So I wrote a novella called Good Eats and took the zombie myth back to its Haitian roots. There’s no virus, no survival camps, no bullets to the brain. It’s all hoodoo and dark magic. I wanted to write a novel about grief and loss; how those two things can drive seemingly rational people to do unspeakable things in the name of love – and the devastating consequences that occur once those wheels are set in motion.

Like most things I write, most people either love Good Eats or hate it. Some folks thought it was just “eh.” I’d never written a novella before so I thought I did a decent job of it my first time around. Plus, I love the story. It resonates with me; it’s one of the few things I’ve written where I’ve been physically moved while pounding out a scene. And the rising action all the way through to the denouement was wicked fun times.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating: I love to be afraid. It’s perverse, I know, but facing Big Bads in fiction and coming through it (relatively) unscathed makes me feel I can do anything in real life. I like to think there are others who feel that way too, so I write for them as well.

4) How does my writing process work?

Okay, this is the part where things will probably be nonsensical (note: you were all warned at the top this was coming).

I don’t have a process per se. If I did, it would probably look something like this:

– turn on laptop

– stare at blank screen and flashing cursor on white page for twenty minutes

– stare at the ceiling and count how many cracks are in the old plaster

– stare out the window at all of the fancy rich people going in and out of the private club across the street from my apartment

– wish I drove an Audi or Jaguar like those fancy rich people

– go back to staring at my blank laptop screen until I go cross-eyed

– slam the laptop shut and turn on old Buffy episodes and wish I could write anything half as inventive and witty

– two hours later, weep because I’ve made zero progress on my WIP

See? This is why I dread questions like this because that’s legitimately how my actual “process” works. At some point, I’ll get hit with enough inspiration/energy/luck/whatever to get off my lazy ass and put words to page, but for the most part, the above is how I spend my evenings when I’m supposed to be writing.

Hey – maybe if I am dead, I can be reanimated as a more efficient, more disciplined version of me?!

Ah, who am I kidding? I’d come back even slower, and more brain dead, than I already am.

***

Next up on the blog hop?

S. Elliot Brandis has studied both psychology and engineering. He can tell you not only how they built that bridge, but why they felt the need to in the first place. Or so he would have you believe. In truth, he enjoys the little things in life: Bloody Marys with too much tabasco, and jeans that haven’t been washed. He often wears a cowboy hat when he writes. It keeps the light out of his eyes.

In May he publishes his first novel, Irradiated: a tale of two sisters living in Brisbane, Australia, post-civilization. He invites you to visit him at selliotbrandis.com.

***

Before signing off, I’d like to thank all of the writers, editors, publishers, cover artists, etc. who nominated “Child’s Play” from Dark Tales: eVolume One for Best Short Story for the 2014 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards! I had no idea this was a thing, I only heard about it Saturday for the first time on KBoards, so imagine my shock when I clicked on the link and saw my story listed as a nominee. I still keep refreshing the page expecting it not to be there, as if it were a figment of my overactive imagination. But it’s there and I couldn’t be happier. Even if I don’t make it to the finals, I’m thrilled to have been acknowledged since I’m still a noob to the industry. I had no idea other indies knew I existed, let alone read my work. So thanks for the shout out. I’m in good company.

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Question Corner: How to Become Your Own Publisher

Dear Indie Spirit Press: 

I’ve just finished my first novel after years of writing short fiction and I’m not sure whether I want to send the manuscript out to agents. In fact, I’ve been reading some blogs that have suggested self-publishing may be the way of the future and so I’m thinking of bypassing a traditional publisher altogether. Can you tell me how much it costs to become your own publisher and to produce your own books?

– Newbie Ned

First of all, congratulations on completing your first novel! That’s very exciting. No matter what you ultimately decide to do with it, celebrate the fact that you did something many people dream of doing and never manage to accomplish.

Now – this question is very complex because the truth is, it’s different for everyone. Some people can indie publish and spend little to no money and others have to, or choose to, spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get their work out to readers. We’re going to talk about the different steps of self-pubbing and the many ways you can try to make this cost effective if self-publishing is the avenue you choose to take with your manuscript.

1.       Find some good first readers to critique your manuscript. This is extremely important as you need to know before you put out any money to publish whether or not this manuscript is publishable. What we mean by that is, does the story work on a base level? If it doesn’t, you will need to find a way to rework the draft so it does. Readers will forgive spelling errors and grammatical slips if the story behind these mistakes is a good one. If the story is severely flawed or flat out nonsensical, readers will be less forgiving. You want to make the first best impression on readers you can so get some betas, preferably people who know your genre well, and find out where your story falls apart (if it does at all).

2.       Research distributors. Not all self-publishing outfits are created equal. Some are so expensive they might as well be vanity publishers, which is a means of distribution you want to avoid at all costs if you want to be taken seriously as an author and have a career. The biggest print distributor of self-published works at the moment appears to be Amazon’s CreateSpace. Lulu was pretty popular for a while, but we haven’t heard much from indie authors on them, good or bad, for quite some time.

Anyway, there are also outfits like BookBaby that state they will do everything from cover design to marketing for the self-published author so the author doesn’t have to. Personally, we don’t recommend these types of distributors because a lot of the things they charge authors for, like formatting, are things the author can learn to do himself if he takes the time to learn the functions of Microsoft Word.  Our philosophy is that the indie author should try to keep costs to a minimum, especially if the author intends to publish more than one book a year, and do as much as you can on your own. We don’t even recommend using CreateSpace’s design or marketing services, assuming you choose to go with them as a distributor, because most of their additional services are ridiculously overpriced.

However, CreateSpace is free for authors to use. Yes, that’s right – free. If all you want is your print novel in Amazon’s online catalog and your own separate e-store to sell books, all you have to do is upload your manuscript to CreateSpace, fix any formatting errors their system may find, proof your final document and press publish. You will now have standard distribution of your work through Amazon for free. If you would like to see your print book in other online retail stores such as Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or The Book Depository, CreateSpace charges you a fee of $25 per title. Cheap, right? It’s a pretty good deal if you ask us.

If you are asked to spend more than this for trade paperback books from a self-publishing unit, we would strongly advise you to reconsider. You are the author – money should be flowing to you, not away from you. And run (don’t walk) away from any company claiming to help you self-publish and distribute your books in exchange for rights to your work. Self-publishing means all rights remain with you the author, NOT the distributor.

3.       Hire help. Now, if you decide to self-publish but you know that you don’t have the time to edit, format, design, and do layout all on your own, you can always farm out this work to a professional. But like we said above – you want to do this in the most cost effective way possible. Most first novels will not earn back the money spent on them right away so never put out more money than you’re willing to lose. With that said, there are some very talented freelance editors, designers, formatters, and public relations gurus out there looking for work.

Take the time to make a budget of how much you want to spend producing your novel, then get online and check out other indie published books. When you see covers you really like, check the credits or the front matter of the book to see if a designer/illustrator is listed. If so, Google that person and try to find an online portfolio of their work (many graphic designers will have this available on their own sites). Make a list of your top designers, then ask the authors they’ve worked with for references. You want to know how fast this person is, how much they cost, how willing they are to listen to ideas and how well they take direction, how many cover choices will you get to choose from, what their refund policies are, etc.  Then once you’ve figured that out, do the same thing for editors, formatters, etc.  

If you can do any of these things listed above yourself, do it. We know there are writers out there who are also graphic designers by trade or work as editors or copy writers. Think about what you can reasonably accomplish on your own given your time constraints and then make sure your skills are at a professional level before you proceed. You want your final product to be able to stand next to traditionally published novels.  If you’ve only been playing around with Photoshop for a week, you may want to have someone else step in and help you with your cover design.

Good freelance designers can be found online for as little as $20 or $40 and if you write YA, chick lit, or mysteries, we highly recommend you contact designer Allison Marie for help. She charges $60/hour for cover design, works fast (she finished the Preppy Little Liars cover in a few hours), and also designs other author must haves like Web site graphics, bookmarks, and business cards.

As far as editing goes, we’ve said it before and will say it again: if an editorial service is asking you to pay two cents a word or more for basic line editing, run in the opposite direction. Unless the editor in question has edited multiple New York Times bestsellers and has worked with traditional publishing companies, they have no business charging those prices to independent authors for their services. Do the math: if you have a 60,000 word manuscript and you’re being charged two cents per word, you’re looking at over a thousand dollars for one book. Now, if you have a substantial savings account, a rich spouse, or a trust fund, that price might not seem so outrageous to you.

But if you don’t have those things and your budget per project is modest, we suggest you get creative about having your manuscript edited. For example, if your local newspaper or magazine has a copy editor and proofreader (or someone who does both), why not reach out to the editor and ask if he wouldn’t mind looking over your work for a small fee? Then offer to pay him a reasonable wage that is within your budget. The worst that can happen is he says no. If that happens, there are free critique sites like Critique Circle where you can put your novel up, chapter by chapter, and get edits from fellow writers. And if you’re willing to pay a small fee, Critique Circle will allow you to have your own private reading queue where you can invite a select group of people to read your WIP without the general CC audience being able to see it.

As you can see, Newbie, there are many things you have to consider if you decide to go the self-publishing route (and this post didn’t even cover half of it!). But if you’re smart, and willing to put in some legwork, self-publishing your novel doesn’t have to be expensive. Amber Turner’s first novel Preppy Little Liars only cost $210 to produce – that is $150 for the cover, $25 for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution, and $35 for her copyright. We spent a whopping zero dollars producing Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers. Her cover was designed by a writer/artist friend in exchange for future editing services and a photo credit.

If you want to learn more about self-publishing, we recommend you check out Dean Wesley Smith’s site for more in-depth information. Happy reading and good luck!

Question Corner: How to Become a Fiction Writer

Dear Indie Spirit Press,

I’ve always wanted to write novels since I was a little girl, but I never knew where or how to start. Can you give me some advice on how to begin? How does someone become a fiction writer?

– Clueless in Kentucky

This is a question writers get all the time, along with “Where do your ideas come from?” and “How long does it take you to write?” The answers to these questions are usually really general and very vague. The fact is, we writers don’t often like to share our secret rituals with outsiders. If too many people know how we do what we do, then it kills the allure of the author and no one wants that.

But since you have ambitions to join this illustrious world of words, Clueless, it’s only right that you know exactly what it is you’re signing up for. Below are the five ways to become an author of fiction:

1.       Acquire an addiction.  All writers have one. For some, it’s food; for others, it’s booze. Those vices are for amateurs. No – the real addiction you need to get is the addiction to caffeine. Coffee will become your best friend, keeping you awake at 3 am when your eyes are drooping and your body’s begging you for a reprieve from your uncomfortable desk chair; it will comfort you when every word you put on the page sounds like utter horseshit. If you’re not consuming a half pound bag of coffee grounds per day, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re a female writer with a baby and your kid gets milk when you breastfeed instead of a caramel latte, you need to rethink your commitment to the craft. Clearly, you’re not drinking enough so you can’t be writing enough.

2.       Which leads to this point: Forsake all others (routines that is). Some writers will tell you that in order to be a real writer, not just a hobbyist, but a professional, you need to write every day. Well bullocks to that! You need to write every second to be a professional fiction writer. Say goodbye to home cooked meals – the time you’d spend in front of the stove could be better spent at your laptop, hacking away at your opus. (They make Top Ramen for a reason.) And sleep? Ha! I gave that up ten years ago. Get yourself hooked up to an IV drip for nourishment (and the occasional energy booster) and a year’s supply of Depends and you’ll be good to go on your novelling adventure.

Note: if your family hasn’t put out an Amber Alert for you in the last 24 hours, you need to get back into your closet and write!

3.       Connect to your story in a personal way. This is a big one. The only time you should be writing something because it’s on trend or because it’s what someone else wants is if you’re writing on spec. You’ve got to write things that appeal to you on an individual level – however, you can’t make things up. Oh no, if you do that, the critics will complain that you didn’t adhere strictly to real world facts, regardless of the fact that you’re writing fiction which by definition means “not real.” No – if you want to write a story about, say, an axe-wielding psycho killer, you better find an axe and go Abe Lincoln on somebody’s ass or else you’ll get reamed for not being authentic. You’re supposed to write what you know after all.

4.       Edit until your fingers bleed. So many writers think that three to four editing passes are all they need to craft a publishable story. This is a myth. Real writers edit until they can no longer see the words on the page; until the story they end up with no longer resembles the story they started with; until their fingers go numb and a strange, crimson liquid makes its way onto the keyboard. You should be in physical pain by the time the story is done – if you’re not, you’re not yet finished. This process can take up to twenty years to complete so don’t panic if you reach what you think is the end of your story and realize that you don’t feel like keeling over.

5.       Sacrifice a small goat to the goddess Nobelalaureata during the solstice.  You must also be naked while doing this and preferably standing on your head while chanting the names of all the bestselling authors you wish to emulate. Once your bonfire has gone out and the goat has been thoroughly smoked, sit back and wait for your book or story to hit Best Of lists and the riches to start pouring in.

Note: this is not a Satanic ritual. You are not sacrificing your soul to the Dark Prince. That’s so passé. Not to mention, a raw deal. Look at Robert Johnson. He (allegedly) sold his soul to Lucifer in exchange for career success and most people had no clue who he was while he was alive. Even now, people are like, “Robert Who?” Yeah – he probably should’ve had an agent look over that contract before signing.