I never thought I would blog about my balloon collection, but as the cliche goes, never say never. Today was an unusual day for grocery trips. I went to a different supermarket, one that didn’t tempt me to buy balloons. More bad weather was coming our way, so I concentrated on buying supplies. I decided to check out the dollar discount store to see if I could buy some of the things needed for less. The dollar discount had a huge array of paper products, everything costing $1.00 each. Since birthdays are coming up for people I care about, I headed down the gift aisle for wrapping paper and cards.
That was when the balloon trees nailed me.
Actually, the courtship began as soon as I walked in. Balloon trees filled with bright reds, silver, and Valentine messages swarmed toward me. The individual balloons there, plenty of them at that, didn’t tempt me so much, but they might have if the balloon trees hadn’t overwhelmed me. There were so many, they literally ran wild. Even the storekeeper couldn’t contain them. Each tree boasts six smaller foil balloons, plus one large one. It could be a Valentine frog or bear. I went with the frog because of its pretty shade of green. Total: seven balloons for $8.00.
I had to sit my passenger seat flat to fit the balloons in the car. They threatened to break loose, so I shut the door fast. Later, after I’d gone to the supermarket and came back, I noticed balloon ribbons sticking out between the door and floorboard.
Why a balloon tree? Perhaps I am celebrating Alien Worlds, the book that I collaborated with Tom Johnson. Newly released, it will be available on Amazon in a few weeks. Maybe I was thinking of giving a couple to Mike for his birthday, and I will. Maybe it’s just because I love balloons so much and couldn’t resist the call of the wild.
We lay in bed all day waiting for Barbara to lie down.
I’m referring to one of the verbs that give me and other writers a lot of grief – the difference between lie, lay, and laid. That and certain words that mean one thing when used as a compound, and something else when used separately, can mess up an otherwise well-written tale.
And so therein “lies” the problem:
Lie as an intransitive verb: I am lying down with my balloons.
Lay as a transitive verb: John, please lay the balloon tree on the table.
Sounds simple but when we move to the past tense, complications arise. For example, the present tense of lie is lie. Example: He lies on the rug. The past tense is lay. Example: Robert lay on the floor. The past participle is lain. Example: He’d lain in that bed for some time.
The present tense of lay is lay. Example: I lay my purse on the table. The past tense is laid. Example: Barbara laid her balloons in the cart. The past participle is laid. She’d laid the bags on the table an hour ago.
Looking at compound words, I found that certain words, when used separately or as a compound, mean two different things. One example is setup. Is it set up, set-up or setup? So I went to my trusty dictionary.
“Setup” is a noun, while “set up” is a verb. But it’s not quite that simple. You always use “set up” when you’re using it for a verb, so….
You must set up your computer software.
Mary set up her balloon tree.
Frank set up a bank account for his client.
As a noun and adjective, you would use either setup or set-up and each means different things. Setup is the noun or adjective used pertaining to computers and their setup. Set-up is the noun or adjective used pertaining to things unrelated to computers and their setup. So…
This PC setup screen is unique.
The computer’s setup is compact.
That bag of pot was a set-up from the beginning.
Some banks charge exorbitant set-up fees
The set-up of her entertainment center is precarious.
Sometime versus some time. It sounds simple, but isn’t…quite. When “some time” is used as a certain / unspecified duration of time, use “some time.” Example: I spent some time looking for the rose balloon. When “sometime” is used as an adjective meaning “former,” it’s one word. Example: That balloon salesperson is my sometime friend. If we’re referring to an unspecified point of time in the future, either “sometime” or “some time” is appropriate. Example. I plan to travel to the islands sometime / some time next year.
As I continue my work, if I find other compound words that stump me, I will post them in a future blog. For now, I have it clear in my mind which of the above words to use in my work-in-progress. Somehow, though, when I get engrossed in the heat of the scene, I’m liable to forget and mix up the verbs. A wise instructor once told me that English was the most difficult language to learn. I think she had it right.
Do you find yourself struggling with “lie” versus “lay,” or any of the compound words? I would like to hear about your experiences with compounds and words like “lie/lay,” and how you worked your way around them.
Yesterday, I learned about the evils of clutter when I purchased an outdoor trash can and attempted to load it into my Honda Fit. It looked so easy. Folding down the back seats would give plenty of room for my purchase, but so much stuff had congregated in the back seats and floor. Bending the trashcan wasn’t an option; I had to move all my stuff into the front seat. A Christopher Columbus expedition followed where I discovered books, throw rugs, pillows, magazines, tools, bags of old clothes, and more. All up, it took ½ hour to clear enough space for the trash can.
Then I got to thinking about the clutter in my stories and the way I try to jam my characters so that they’ll fit into the clutter, and then wonder why the story doesn’t make sense. In any novel, you have your central plot, with the subplots revolving around it. Let’s say a vampire flees his land and attempts to live among humans until his enemy catches up with him. Then you add subplots – perhaps the vampire falls in love with his neighbor, then he gets a night job, perhaps his enemy tries to steal his girlfriend. The clutter starts if you throw in werewolves, aliens, and a plethora of “walk-on” characters without duly preparing the reader for them. And whatever goes down, your character has to act true to his role. You can’t have someone with a phobia of heights climb the side of a building unless you’ve motivated and prepared him to do this way in advance. If your character prays in a monastery on one page, and then on the next, he commits a mass murder, you’ll lose your reader unless you’ve set up the story in a way that your reader might expect this.
At the last writer’s conference, a workshop leader gave me wise advice. Don’t just write a resume for your character. Take your character out to dinner. Watch TV with him at home. Bring him to work and family functions. Observe in your mind how he might interact with family members, what foods he might like, etc. Then let him tell you the story. This will help you avoid extraneous scenes that clutter your story, and the reader will keep turning the pages.
With the lessons at the conference and shopping trip in mind, I’m cleaning out the clutter from my present work in progress, and scolding myself in the process. That is my biggest challenge – the mess! It will take longer than ½ hour to clear it, but clear it I will.
What do you find most challenging about rewrites? Does clutter creep into your tales? How do you address it?
Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Chris Bauer. His debut novel, Scars on the Face of God: The Devil’s Bible has drawn attention from the National Writers Association and other media since its publication in November, 2009. He wrote this one with passion, addressing the mysteries of faith and fear, creating a plot that sizzles with suspense and tension. His work has earned 5-star reviews on Amazon asking for more, and he has made finalist for a 2009 Eppie award. So let’s hear what Chris has to say about the marketing process and future work.
BARBARA: I heard Scars on the Face of God: The Devil’s Bible made you a finalist for the 2010 EPIC award. Could you tell the readers a little about SCARS and how the publishing process went for you?
CHRIS: Yes, Scars is a finalist for the aforementioned award (awards were formerly known as “Eppies”) as best eBook horror novel of 2009. Winners will be announced in March 2010 at the EPICon Convention in New Orleans.
The elevator speech: Church caretaker Wump Hozer, 65, survived a knockabout childhood as an orphan and a stint in prison (nickname is from the sound a crowbar makes when it hits a man’s head) with the help of his beloved wife Viola. He’s lost his faith and has given up on one front, the Catholic Church, the Church having ignored the local monsignor’s salacious behavior. On a second front he’s taking matters into his own hands, looking for satisfaction against a tannery that is dumping waste into the local water supply, something Wump is sure has caused his son’s leukemia. What he doesn’t count on is resurrecting a nineteenthcentury hysteria that leads to confronting what may or may not be the anti-Christ. It’s old-school horror, suspense and mystery set in 1964 in the fictitious town of Three Bridges, PA, just outside Philadelphia.
The novel took three years to complete – think “day job,” then over a year to interest a publisher in it. Publisher Drollerie Press is an engine-that-could small press that delivers stories steeped in legend and fairy tale. Inspired by The Devil’s Bible, a thirteenth century religious artifact that according to legend was written in one night with the help of the Devil, the novel was a natural fit for the publisher. Available first as an eBook, Scars was also released as a trade paperback on 12/1/2009.
BARBARA: I read your excerpt and was intrigued, enough to want a print copy when I next visit Doylestown. What motivated the title?
CHRIS: Religious instruction during my formative years included talk of God’s perfect face. Hell, that sounds so sanitized. The grade school nuns and their discipline around having us learn our catechism drilled this and other teachings into our fertile young minds. But common sectarian sense (such a thing?) might say that if the anti-Christ expects to confront the Almighty, it’s only natural he’d want to scar his face up a bit, know what I’m saying? But I honestly can’t remember exactly how/when the title popped into my head. Best guess is it came from one early-morning Dunkin’ Donuts coffee-fueled epiphany or another.
BARBARA: I suspect Scars required a fair amount of research. How did you go about it?
CHRIS: The novel took shape in three areas. First, I began questioning what I recalled to be an abnormal cluster of impaired children I knew during my northeast Philadelphia childhood. Couple that with having just read Jonathan Harr’s non-fiction A Civil Action which chronicled the alleged effects of dumping carcinogens into the environment by corporations with leather tannery operations in the small town of Woburn, MA. Subsequent research taught me that there was a proliferation of leather tanneries around the Philadelphia region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Be advised here that the tannery waste dumping issues and the impact they have on the novel’s Philadelphia setting is strictly fictitious.) When I learned through a writer friend of mine that tanning leather was hastened by the introduction of dog feces into the process, I endowed my protagonist’s childhood with a neighborhood doggie-dung-for-dollars (actually pennies) business.
Second, my social worker wife Terry told me that in the mid to late nineteenth century there weren’t enough U. S. laws to protect children from abuse by their parents. [Alert! Graphic image coming!] Child protection groups cite anecdotally that orphanages were built in some urban environments simply because the local sewer systems couldn’t handle the volume of infant bodies being discarded into them by poor families with too many mouths to feed. Plus, since there weren’t enough laws to stop such barbarism, it wasn’t uncommon for some of the citizenry to resort to invoking local animal rights/abuse statutes and penalties in attempts to stem this and other child mistreatment when it was discovered.
Third, the movie The Devil’s Advocate (Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves) produced an “aha” moment when Pacino’s Satan talks of rewriting history. It made me ask if religious history had ever been recorded from Satan’s viewpoint. A quick internet search produced The Devil’s Bible (aka Codex Gigas aka The Giant Book) mentioned earlier. This legendary tome became a plot anchor.
BARBARA: How did your signings go at Doylestown and Claymont? What are the advantages of working with an independent bookstore?
CHRIS: Had a great time at both. My post-signings Facebook entry: “Sign this, eat that, smile here, no, smile here, is there a real Devil’s Bible, can my eight-year-old read this (no), it cost what?!!, can I get the recipe for the cookies, you look mean in your picture, you’re shorter than I thought, nice poster.” Thanks to all who were able to stop by. I ENJOYED EVERY BIT OF IT.
Working with the independents is a more personal experience for both the author and the customer. Independent owners are in it more for their love of the literature itself, much as authors are. They’re readers and writers and community organizers and charity-givers and neighbors. And authors love the independents for the same reason actors like to do stage work: it’s more of an up-close and personal venue for serious, dedicated readers to interact with the authors they follow.
BARBARA: What suggestion would you give authors trying to market their first novel?
CHRIS: They need to realize that it won’t sell itself. That there’s a reason why agents and publishers are so damn picky: NOBODY KNOWS YOU. That even those of you with major publishing deals will still end up doing most of the work. That there’s a direct relationship between face time (internet based or other) and reader interest. The standards: you need a website; you need to blog, which I do woefully little of; you need to join Facebook, MySpace, Goodreads, Librarything, Shelfari, any place where readers and writers will friend each other because they, ah, read and/or write. If your book lends itself to identification with a group or a community organization or hometown, exploit the connection. Case in point: writer friend of mine author Marie Lamba (What I Meant…, an excellent YA title from Random House with a bi-ethnic teenage protagonist) does talks for Girl Scout troops. This has produced mucho publicity for her. I’m still looking for this type of plank for my platform. My novel has too much explicit language, violence and fright material for me to consider a marketing venue like the Scouts, however. Even knowing there are some less impressionable Scouts out there who no doubt already read graphic comics, pulp fiction and the like with their Scout-issue penlights at night, I of course can’t market directly to them. But you get the idea; these types of venues are of interest. I am accepting suggestions.
BARBARA: Like me, you’ve had the benefit of The Writers’ Coffeehouse meetings and forum. Have you taken any of Jonathan Maberry’s nine-month writing courses? How has Jonathan and other well-published authors influenced your writing?
CHRIS: My Jonathan Maberry exposure has been limited to the wonderfully interactive Writers’ Coffeehouse meetings plus one very nice gesture Jonathan made to me. A few years back he went out of his way to deliver on the spoils of winning a horror contest, this after the group hosting the contest had closed its doors due to financial issues. FYI my winning entry for this contest was the first chapter of Scars.
One other horror author I’m enamored with is Dean Koontz, this because of his Odd Thomas series and the terrific voice he’s given this twenty-something I-see-dead-people fry-cook protagonist. Great storytelling on Odd’s part. And this character’s first person POV delivery forced Mr. Koontz into more of a minimalistic approach with his prose, keeping the storylines on task and less literary, something I found refreshing.
BARBARA: Where may someone get information on the Devil’s Bible, other than the Library at Sweden?
CHRIS: Plenty of info on the internet. Pictures, background, real and legendary history. When Googling the topic you’ll also find it returned to the country of its origin, the Czech Republic, in early 2008 to be displayed for a short time. And the National Geographic Channel did a documentary on it which they occasionally repeat. I’ve never seen the show since my cable company doesn’t carry the channel and Blockbuster didn’t have it on disk the last time I checked, but I’m on the lookout for it.
BARBARA: Do you have any sequels in the works?
CHRIS: Pardon the pun, but it’s a long story. The short answer is maybe. I loved doing Wump Hozer’s voice so much that I feel I need to bring him back. My first novel The Rabbit, Stilled, unpublished as so many first novels are, actually begins where Scars left off (yes, this potential sequel in large measure had been written before the original) but with no Wump. And it’s a mainstream novel, not horror. Acknowledging that these are two formidable challenges to overcome in making The Rabbit, Stilled a sequel to Scars, I can only say “We’ll see.”
BARBARA: I notice you have a WIP: Hop Skip Jump. How is that work going for you?
CHRIS: I love the story but the writing’s not moving along as fast as I’d like. It’s a paranormal mystery about reincarnation and what might happen if a person returns to a place and time where she’s needed the most. I’m about midway through the first draft. Haven’t really tried to market it on spec. I’d much rather it be finished so I can deliver on any interest it might generate.
BARBARA: What do you think the future holds for horror / dark fantasy / SF and other genre fiction sales?
CHRIS: The future’s plenty bright for the dark arts for sure. Just look at the popularity of zombies and vampires and wizards. I do have a short story I’m just starting to shop called Zombie Chimps from Mars. Yep, we’re covering a few bases with this one: the walking dead; monkeys (they like to throw their own, ahem, excrement; how cool is that?); and a hint of fantasy/sci-fi. And while these topics are all worked into this 2000-word piece, I feel the story is about something else entirely.
Barbara, in closing, I want to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to talk shop with you. Folks can check out my website or reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Continued success with all your writing endeavors, and wishing good things for all of us in 2010.
Tonight, I’d like to chat with author Cynthia Vespia. Her project Demon Hunter has evolved into a trilogy, the kind of fiction that will compel you to sleep with your lights on. Demon Hunter: the Chosen One has attracted many readers, and Part II, Demon Hunter: Seek and Destroy will be out in print November 27, 2009. Cynthia has been a freelance journalist since high school, and has penned several other novels before joining Aspen Mountain Press. Stop by her website, www.CynthiaVespia.com; her trailers are awesome to see. She brings all her writing experience to the printed page. So let’s hear what Cynthia has to say about her Demon Hunter project.
BARBARA: Could you tell your readers a little about Demon Hunter? Would you summarize the theme by saying, “Be careful what you wish for?”
CYNTHIA: Absolutely. We can all find ourselves secretly wishing for a certain aspect of our lives to change but sometimes you get your wish and it winds up not being worth it, or not what you thought it would be. And sometimes it IS what you were looking for…but things don’t always come easily or run smoothly.
Demon Hunter really plays on changes. Life changes, changes of the soul, changes of who you thought you once were or where you were going. Costa Calabrese has just uncovered the truth about his past. Some truths should never be revealed. When you learn you’re the son of the world’s foremost and feared hunter of demons, life’s rules inevitably change. As his lineage is uncovered he must stay one step ahead of the demons who are intent on the destruction of his famed family. With the aide of companions he meets along the way, Costa will travel the great expanse of the land walking in his famed father’s footsteps and taking up the role his blood line now demands of him…whether he wants to or not.
Exploring the classic theme of good versus evil, Demon Hunter blends the highly popular elements of dark fantasy with the proven concept of high-adventure novels where believable, down-to-earth characters take the reader on a journey. It is the story about a nobody who becomes a somebody in the bloodiest of ways.
BARBARA: I was impressed with your book trailers especially DH on YouTube. How do they work for you? How did you set up YouTube?
CYNTHIA: Thank you, I make most of my own trailers. I believe that even readers are very visual by nature. Let’s face it, these days everyone has a touch of ADD! We want info now and we want it fast. Not everyone has the time to read a blurb; but if you can encapsulate your story in a compelling 2 minute trailer and hook them with the imagery, they are far more likely to seek out your novel for the big read. YouTube is a great place to host your trailers. It gets millions upon millions of hits per day. I essentially started my YouTube to showcase my fitness videos and the video editing projects I’ve done work on in the past. From there I segued into using it as another vehicle for my writing by displaying the trailers.
BARBARA: I see you’ve been a freelance journalist since high school. Could you describe a typical writing day for you?
CYNTHIA: Really no two days are alike…it’s chaos. I juggle a lot of different things (way too much right now) and I’m a terrible procrastinator. But if I have a deadline in front of me, watch me fly. Right now as I work on the third and final installment of the Demon Hunter trilogy I find I get drawn to it at odd hours. If my Muse is awake and wanting to play, I don’t dare deny her, I just go with it. It has honestly been a long while since something kept me up late or woke me up early to work on it so that tells me that DH3 is going to be something very special.
BARBARA:Demon Hunter and your other works have enjoyed great reviews, I notice. Do you have any forthcoming signings or writing events? Where?
CYNTHIA: As of this writing I’m making the rounds on the interview circuit to promote the release of Demon Hunter: Seek & Destroy. It’s the second installment in the DH trilogy. You can catch me on Reader’s Entertainment Radio on 9/13 at 8:30 est. and on Sin City Sessions on 9/25 at 9pm. And as always stay up to date on my official website www.CynthiaVespia.com where you can find the latest news and developments.
BARBARA: Do you think e-books will eventually outsell paperbacks? Why or why not?
CYNTHIA: I don’t necessarily think they will outsell paperbacks. Readers are always going to want to have the feel of a book in their hands. But I do think e-books have found their niche and they are here to stay. It is the era of technology and you have to be ready to embrace every possible angle. My trilogy of terror Demon Hunter is a proud component of the e-book agenda. You will see a lot more e-books and e-book readers in the future but there is no fear that bookstores will go out of business…people enjoy it as a social gathering, and most bookstores have great coffee too!
BARBARA: What is the once piece of advice you’d give a writer trying to promote their work?
CYNTHIA: Marketing and promoting your work is as important as writing the novel in the first place. You can write the Great American Novel but if nobody knows it exists then you’re going to have a hard time. You have to be a marketing machine. No one is going to be behind your work as much as you are. Even the biggest publishing houses can only delegate so much time and money to new authors. The rest is up to you. And my best advice would be to think outside the box. If you’re doing what everybody else is doing, someone is always doing it better…you need to do something different so you stand out from the pack and get noticed.
BARBARA: I notice that you’re a fan of Dean Koontz. How do you feel the up and coming dark fantasy writers compare with greats like Koontz and King?
CYNTHIA: Oh yes, Koontz got me started on my career as a writer! There will only ever be one Koontz and one King, but some of the new writers coming up have some really unique story ideas. Not everything is black and white in this world and I like when an author mixes shades of gray. There are so many really great authors out there getting lost in the shuffle of the mediocre writers due to the simple fact that they just don’t get enough exposure. I’d like to invite readers to step outside their comfort zone next time they’re picking out a book and try on a different author. You may find a new favorite. An easy way to do that is to get an e-book. They are convenient and not very costly. Demon Hunter: The Chosen One is running for $6.00 per download.
BARBARA: I hear you’re working on a new novel, a dark fantasy, but the rest is a military secret. Can you give us a few hints?
CYNTHIA: I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you! Heh, heh…no, I’ll let my stories slay you instead. The secret is out…Demon Hunter was always meant to be a trilogy. The second installment titled Demon Hunter: Seek & Destroy will be out on Nov 27, 2009. The main players are back from The Chosen One and this time they find their adventures take them out to sea, to the land of the dragons, and straight down into the pit of Hell. There is also a love triangle of sorts added to the mix with some very surprising outcomes. I am currently writing the third and final chapter to the series…I can’t give away too much here, but I will say the opening chapter alone will take you by surprise!
BARBARA: Can you tell us a little about the Fiction Writer’s Guild and how they help authors?
CYNTHIA: Anytime you’re part of a group of authors, you can always benefit from exchanging ideas, critiques, and the latest news events. Just be choosy in whose advice you seek.
BARBARA: Where may people order copies of Demon Hunter?
A lot of writers (I know I did) have groaned over the frustration of rejected submissions. What catches an editor’s eye? What are publishers and readers looking for? And so tonight, I will be chatting with SDP editor Cathy Buburuz. Cathy has been sending poetry, fiction, and art to Night to Dawn since I became editor in 2004. Her work has appeared in magazines across the USA, Canada, Australia, England, Romania, Japan, Yugoslavia, and other countries. Along with her horror writing and illustration, she edits Champagne Shivers and other magazines for Sam’s Dot Publishing. Cathy’s got some interesting insights on the industry, so let’s hear what she has to say.
BARBARA: You wear several hats – editor, illustrator, fiction writer, and poet. Do you have any one favourite?
CATHY: I don’t have a favourite task and I’ve always enjoyed that luxury of going from one creative project to another. Doing all four keeps things fresh and interesting. To me, all four are meaningful and fulfilling forms of creativity, but it’s the writing of fiction that helps me work off the anger and frustrations associated with the aches and pains of our society and everyday life.
Right here in my hometown there was a news story about a man who beat his toddler to death for touching the family’s television. The story stayed with me far too long and writing was a way to deal with it. I wanted to draw attention to the problem and promote the idea that as parents we need to pay more attention to our children, our own little world, and the world around us. We often forget how important love and kindness are to a child and how easily they can fall prey to sly monsters that single them out because they’re starved for affection, or even a little attention. This thought resulted in my story Jesus God in Heaven, about a little girl who falls victim to the least expected villain. The story has seen publication no less than six times in three different countries, so I have to believe it succeeds in its intent and purpose which is to make a solid connection and to awaken readers’ emotions.
I don’t always write with a serious goal or purpose in mind. Most times I write for the natural high that it brings. When you’re on a roll with a great idea, it’s an unequalled magic, a thing that has a way of blocking out all else, taking you to places you wouldn’t otherwise explore.
BARBARA: Some folks say Stephen’s King’s writing has changed since his accident. I beg to differ, although I couldn’t get into the Dark Tower Series like the others. In particular, I enjoyed Duma Key. What say you?
CATHY: Stephen King’s earlier novels were his most impressive, and his short story collections were outstanding. His sense of humour and his ability to connect with readers through convincing fiction are his charm. I loved Carrie, Salem’s Lot, Misery, and Dolores Claiborne, and I thought Nightshift, Skeleton Crew, Nightmares & Dreamscapes, and Everything’s Eventual were fantastic. King writes for the common man and in doing so he’s gained the world as his audience because, when you cut it to the bone, we’re all emotional beings faced with everyday decisions and dilemmas that could change the course of our lives in a flash.
My first experience with Stephen King was a well worn copy of Salem’s Lot, probably read by a dozen others before I discovered it. I own a lot of his books, and movies based on his books, and I still enjoy going back to these year after year. The movie Stand by Me (based on his short story, The Body) is among my favourites. In so many ways, that story reflected my own childhood and the things that were going on in my head at the time. I loved Dolores Claiborne for its high level of believability and the authenticity of its characters. King’s characters are always memorable.
Years ago, Inscriptions held a poetry contest. To enter, all you had to do was submit a poem by e-mail about Stephen King. My short tribute won the contest and netted me the prizes, $50 and a hardcover copy of King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have won because I enjoyed that book immensely. The poem that won went something like this:
Ink is blood
the thought, an artery
as psychotic razors
slash his creativity
gushing a story
on a winter white page.
Do I admire the man and his work? Most definitely.
Am I awestruck by every word he has ever written? No, I am not.
For a writer to please every reader 100% of the time is an impossible, unattainable task, simply because we all have different tastes in fiction and in writing styles. Still, when you look at the man’s career, it’d be impossible to deny that he’s done an amazing job, is envied by many, and ultimately deserves respect.
BARBARA: The economy has hurt paperback sales in the USA. Have you noticed any of this in Canada?
CATHY: Chapters is my favourite Canadian bookstore because you can enjoy a Starbucks coffee while cruising its many bookshelves for the latest releases. There’s something special about the aroma of coffee in a bookstore. Whether it’s the sale of books or the sale of coffee, or a combination of the two, this phenomenal bookstore has survived despite the challenges. I can’t deny that the cover price of a book is downright depressing sometimes, but a book is a unique form of entertainment, a journey, an often intimate experience between writer and reader that opens minds, changes minds, and expands minds. To me, it’s worth the price of admission.
Despite harsh economic times, book lovers continue to read. The only difference now is that more and more used books are being traded or sold, and that’s having a negative impact on sales of new books. More and more avid readers are turning to garage sales, yard sales, flea markets, libraries and used bookstores to fill the need.
BARBARA: What advice would you give writers hoping to get into Sam’s Dot Publishing’s books and magazines?
CATHY: All it takes is a well written story that’s in harmony with each publication’s guidelines.
It’s important for writers to know that an editor can read just a few paragraphs of your story and know whether or not you’ve bothered to read the guidelines, whether or not you’re a professional or an amateur. The opening paragraphs of your story send signals about whether or not you’re serious about your craft, or whether you’re just another wannabe. The great thing about Sam’s Dot Publishing is that we take pride in publishing stories and art by new and upcoming writers as well as the seasoned pros, but you have to be willing to perfect your manuscript, to work with us on it if it needs work. If your manuscript needs a major rewrite, chances are we’ll decline it, not because we don’t want to help, but because we believe it’s your responsibility to learn the rules of good writing and submission beforehand, and our time is just as valuable as yours.
BARBARA: I notice a lot of writers/illustrators promote their work through www.cafeshops.com. How does that work for you?
CATHY: I believe that self-promotion that could fill an ocean is the key to success.
If you type your name into a search engine and only about a hundred web pages come up, you’ve failed miserably in online promotion. Getting your name and your product all over cyberspace is time-consuming but it can be done. Work toward a presence on as many websites as possible, preferably reputable websites that have their origins in several different countries. If your work is leaving an impression on those who experience it, typing your name into a search engine will help you locate those comments. Although reviewers are fast becoming a rarity, they can be found, but searches do take time. Not so long ago, there were many more science fiction, fantasy and horror magazines with review columns – even entire magazines dedicated to reviews – but the world is ever-changing and good reviewers are few.
If you’re an illustrator, focus on what counts. Paint, market, and sell. If you sell your art on products, strive for representation by many different companies and galleries, preferably those who take advertising and promotion of their artists seriously.
If you’re a writer, the same applies. Write, market, and sell. Seek out reputable publishers who go the extra mile to promote the work of their contributors.
If you’re an editor, you have to take the time to comment on manuscripts and work with potential contributors to perfect their craft so that you can produce a noteworthy and memorable publication.
There are hundreds of writers out there who relentlessly market the same old manuscript to dozens of editors, sometimes simultaneously, instead of admitting to themselves that their manuscript needs work before it will sell. The only way they’re going to know that is if the editor they submit to makes the decision to offer an honest assessment of the manuscript, even if that honesty comes in the form of a single sentence. Don’t look at it as rejection; look at it as constructive criticism. When an editor takes the time to point out the problems with your manuscript, learn from that. Do not continue to make the same mistakes over and over ’til death do us part.
BARBARA: Could you talk a little about Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) and its current projects?
CATHY: Sam’s Dot Publishing (SDP) is owned and operated by Tyree Campbell, who took over all responsibilities and changed the company name when James B. Baker of ProMart Publishing passed away. Mr. Baker had many admirable goals, but the one that meant the most to him was to publish and promote new talent. Mr. Campbell has carried on in this tradition and has expanded the numbers and the kinds of publications produced each year. He publishes upcoming artists and writers alongside the pros. We have several editors on staff, and we take pride in the publications we produce. The novels, anthologies, and magazines have in recent years progressed to perfect bound publications, most with full colour covers. I’m responsible for the editing of Champagne Shivers, Expressions, the Potter’s Field anthologies, and the Side Show 2: Tales of the Big Top and the Bizarre anthologies.
Our publications are sold in the electronic store on the SDP website, in a couple of brick and mortar bookstores, and in The Genre Mall. Mr. Campbell also travels across the USA each summer to promote and sell SDP publications at many conventions.
BARBARA: Where do you see the publishing industry five years from now? Do you think e-book sales will outrun those of paperbacks?
CATHY: I love paperbacks. I don’t read e-books. I’ve paid $35+ for a book written by someone whose work I admire, yet I decline the generosity when writers and publishers offer free e-books. In my line of work I spend anywhere from six to fourteen hours a day looking at a computer screen, so a paperback will always win me over. And for the record, that goes for review copies as well; especially review copies.
BARBARA: Your illustrations have drawn many compliments from NTD readers. What do you find most enjoyable about the work in process? The most challenging?
CATHY: All art is a challenge for me, simply because I’m one of the slowest artists on the planet. It takes me two to five hours to design a piece of filler art, and a minimum of ten hours to complete a full page artwork. For some, art comes easy. For me, it does not. I’m hard on myself as an artist and because I have a deep love for the physical aspects of drawing, I never want the painting to end.
I’m not as flexible as most artists, nor am I as talented, and it just blows me away when I receive a compliment, a kind review, a fan letter, or someone actually takes the time to hunt me down to ask if they can buy one of my originals. The truth be known, the reason why I became an artist in the first place was because I dared to send a small piece of filler art to an editor and he published it on his cover. That editor changed my life because he gave me the confidence to continue, to experiment, and to submit more of my work to other publications. American artist Marge Simon saw that very first cover and invited me to collaborate with her. At the time, she was the most published artist I was aware of – she’d won great recognition and awards for her art and her cartoons – so I was as nervous as hell about working with her. I gave collaboration a shot. I loved it, and I learned from it. Over the years I’ve worked on art collaborations with more than a dozen artists and illustrators, and I’ll always be grateful for that experience because it served as an education in its purist form.
BARBARA: Could you describe what a typical work day is like?
CATHY: My typical work day is spent multi-tasking. One day never resembles another. I chose to work on what I’m interested in at the time, what my mood or creative energy dictates, and the job I feel I’m best suited for on any given day. I might spend three or four hours reading and responding to submissions to my projects or spend an hour researching potential markets for my own work and my online monthly newsletter, Expressions. Every now and then, to give my work variety, I take on a private job editing a novel or a chapbook.
I tend to do artwork during the day because I prefer natural light. I write the majority of my stories, poems, and reviews in the evening because that just happens to be the time when I’m the most creative and productive, and it’s also a time when the phone or the doorbell is less likely to ring. When I need a break, I wander out into my flower garden and pull weeds or water the lawn, or go on facebook to play a few rounds of Word Twist or to learn more about what other creative people are working on. To dump the junk in my head, I read a good book or magazine, watch a movie or an episode of North of 60, Bones,Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, or CSI Las Vegas.
No matter what I’m working on, I like to take breaks every three or four hours. The only exception to that rule is when the writing is going well. I never stop writing when the words are coming faster than I can type them. I’ve also been known to dive out of bed at five in the morning because of an idea I fear losing. I’ve also been known to work until six in the morning because I’m on a roll.
I seem to thrive on maximum overload so, in an effort to hang on to my own sanity and stay grounded, I try to spend as much down time as possible with my family, and I always shoot for one to three short vacations each year.
BARBARA: Which forums would you recommend to authors hoping to promote their work? Any other advice?
CATHY: I choose forums that suit my particular wants and needs, places where my levels of privacy and comfort aren’t in jeopardy, a forum that feels like home. While I believe that a writer can’t spend too much time on promotion, I think writers have to allot a fair amount of time to their craft. In fact, most of us work so long and hard at our chosen professions, we wish we had more time for self-promotion. There are those of us who would much rather work on an illustration, a short story, or a novel than tackle the chore of marketing and promoting ourselves.
Still, I’d have to say that the absolute best form of self-promotion is publication. The more you’re published in reputable books and magazines, the wider your audience, and the more likely you’ll be acknowledged as someone who’s serious about their craft.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to remember that readers don’t admire you because you’ve had 500 or 600 illustrations, poems or stories published. The reality is, truckloads of crap are published each year. Readers admire writers simply because they enjoyed their work, they could relate to it, and it lit an emotion in them.
It’ll always be quality, not quantity that counts most in this business. If you can accomplish both of these simultaneously, you’ve more than done your job.