Sunday, November 29, 2009

[Interview: Part 2 of 2] Tonia Brown

Earlier, Tonia Brown talked about the books she's written and published.

In the final part of this interview, she talks about her concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I have always written creatively in one from or another, for as long as I can remember.

I used to write a fair amount of poetry, and still turn to the task from time to time. I toyed for a number of years with the idea of writing longer works, a story or perhaps even a book, but always abandoned it after reading something from one of my favorite authors and realizing that I could never produce work that good.

Then, about four years ago, I was at my third shift job reading some new book by some new author, whose name I shall leave to the imagination. Even at four in the morning I could tell the book lacked substance, style and character. Yet I had paid full price for the thing and was reading it from cover to cover. It was at that point I decided that I had a story to tell and maybe it was time to get it out there.

So I penned a full-length novel in the next year and set about to find an agent.

The reality of how terribly hard it is to get published hit me hard, like so many other new authors to the craft, and I nearly gave up. A friend of mine stepped in and suggested e-publishers, and I gave it a shot.

I have had a moderate amount of success in the e-book field, with two full-length novels and several novellas accepted for publication so far. I also turned my hand to short stories, which have also been a great experience for me.

How would you describe your writing ?

Funny, sharp, horrifying, erotic.

I like to leave the reader with a sense of wonder or terror, depending on what the tale involves.

Who is your target audience?

Depends on which personality you address.

As Tonia Brown, I write for the speculative fiction audience. I lean toward horror, but have been known to turn out a sci-fi and fantasy piece every so often. I write for this audience because I am a part of it.

As Regina Riley, I write all forms of romance, from sweet to erotic. I began to write for this genre on a dare, and I enjoyed it so much I stuck with it!

Which authors influenced you most?

Neil Gaiman is the largest influence on me as a writer. I love his classic style and ability to cross genres as though the lines aren’t even there. I have said many a time, if there was one person I would love to have my work mistaken for, it would be Gaiman.

Along with Gaiman I am a huge [Edgar Allan] Poe fan. You have to love a man that can blame a murder on a monkey!

I’m also a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, and Isaac Asimov.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I grew up as a military B.R.A.T. and an identical twin, both of which really affected the way I view the world.

As a military family, we moved a lot. I never got the chance to make lifelong bonds with folks, but I learned that you had to make new friends quickly or get left out of the loop so to speak. I think this comes out in my writing a bit, especially the easy way new people meet and immediately open up without much prompting. It may seem unrealistic to some, but that’s how we grew up.

As a twin, I have always been slightly co-dependent. When I married, I shifted this burden onto my husband, and he bares the weight like an old pro. I feel this comes across in my work because I tend to favor characters that feel incomplete, until they meet their true love, of course!

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Making sure the reader can identify with a character. There is nothing worse than reading a book where you don’t care what happens to the characters. I try to give mine some personality, and history. Hopefully you come away feeling like you’ve read a detailed description of something that happened to a friend, as apposed to a tale about a complete stranger.

As an independent writer, I think the largest challenge I face is lack of self-confidence. I have trouble selling myself. I know my work is good. I can see it on the paper. I can feel it in my bones. But when asked if it’s any good I will more than likely say, “It's okay.”

Who wants to read okay?

I should scream how great it is, but my self-doubt kicks in and shuts me up. I’ve been trying to work on this, but I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome it.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

A reader once told me she had to take a smoke break between chapters because the scenes were so hot for her.

One reader let me know how much she cried at one of my books. She said this happened in front of a break room full of other employees who were very curious as to why she was weeping.

Another told me that her husband received some much needed affection after she finished reading The Blooming. She even passed along his thanks!

Any time someone reads and enjoys what I have written, I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible. Anything else is really just icing. Although I must admit, I am an icing fan!

Possibly related books:


Related article:

[Interview: Part 1 of 2] Tonia Brown, Conversations with Writers, November 28, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

[Interview: Part 1 of 2] Tonia Brown

Speculative fiction author, Tonia Brown writes fantasy, science fiction and horror stories.

Her books include Epiphany (Sugar and Spice Press, 2009) and White Elephant (Sugar and Spice Press, 2009).

Her work has also been featured in anthologies that include Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes; Zany Zombie Poetry for the Undead Head (Coscom Entertainment, 2009) and Tooth Decay: Vampires and Zombies stories (Sonar4 Publications, 2009).

In this interview, Tonia Brown talks about her writing:

Do you write everyday?

I try to write at least an hour a day, with Saturdays as a break, although I usually end up in front of the laptop editing some piece.

Depending on where I am in a story, I might work just an hour or so, or go for days writing hours at a time. I tend to get obsessive near the end of a tale, and all other aspects of my life suffer because of it. I like to call writing my second job. My poor husband has spent many a weekend completely ignored because of the second job.

How many books have you written so far?

Four full-length books, two of which are published, and three novellas all of which have been accepted for publication.

My first novel to be published was Epiphany and came out May 2009 with Sugar and Spice Press. The tale is full of sex, intrigue, violence, vampires, shape shifters, and nymphs. It’s a torrid tale of a woman named Chloe Bright who learns on her twenty-ninth birthday that she is part fairy with the remarkable power of the Epiphany. Anyone she sleeps with and brings to orgasm is granted a live changing flash of insight, but this comes at the cost of their interest in her. Can Chloe handle her new found talent while it wreaks havoc on her real world life, all while saving her only source of income?

My second book out is White Elephant and will be out late 2009 with Sugar and Spice Press. It’s the story of a teenage girl that can talk to house cats, and hates herself for it. Her world is turned on its ear when she finds a young man hiding in her broom closet and fate conspires to toss the two of them together. There’s murder, mayhem and a whole lot of teenage angst and flirting.

I have also penned two other books and am seeking representation for each of them.

My first novella was Flirting with Death and will be available with Phaze late 2009. Five years after the death of her husband, Anna is still in mourning. Her friend Trish takes her out on the town, where Anna meets and has a one night stand with a dashing man named Todd. It turns out to be the best night of her life, but he is long gone by the next day. Two weeks later, she sees Todd again and events lead her to suspect he is responsible for a woman’s death. When he comes to her to explain himself, Anna learns the truth is much worse than anything she could have possibly imagined.

Clockworks and Corsets was my next novella, accepted for publication with Lyrical Press. There is no publishing date set yet. This one is an erotic steam punk adventure that takes place aboard the airship The Merry Widow. Rose Maddigan and her girls sail the skies in search of adventure and pay, both of which are few and far between for the all female crew. A well paying opportunity takes them into the thick of an island jungle in search of abandoned treasure. What, or rather, who they find, forever alters the course of the Widow and the hearts of her crew.

My third published novella is The Blooming and is due out with Sonar4 Publications March 2010. This one is a bit different because it combines my love of erotica with my love of horror: When a documentary film crew is hired by an award winning botanist to film the wild life of a remote tropical island, they end up with more than just footage of trees and samples of bugs. The doctor is in hot pursuit of a rare and powerful flower, while the rest of the crew is overwhelmed with sudden desire and find themselves in hot pursuit of each other. But things take a turn for the deadly when they learn the flower they are seeking is not only a powerful aphrodisiac, it also causes a unique infection that changes its victims hunger for flesh from sexual, to literal.

How do you balance running for your life from flesh eating zombies, with the overwhelming need to screw the brains out of anything still alive?

How long did it take you to write The Blooming?

My latest project, The Blooming is an erotic zombie novella. It took an amazingly short three weeks to pen. I really don’t feel like I wrote it, so much as it wrote me.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I had worked with Sonar4 in the past with some short stories, and am proud to be part of their expanding family of authors. The owner, Shells Walter, asked me to write the novella, and I have enjoyed working with her on the project.

With The Blooming, the hardest challenge was working the sex into the story on a believable level, while staying away from the dreaded idea of necrophilia.

When Shells first suggested an erotic zombie story, I worried that she wanted the zombies to be the ones having the sex. I wasn’t sure I could pull that one off. But after a few emails, and assurances that she wasn’t looking for zombie love, we worked out a great plot line that really married the sex to the death and violence, without making it seem like the folks involved are just stopping in mid flee for a little poorly timed nookie.

I really enjoyed writing about the sudden and terrible acts of violence. I have no idea why I liked it so much. Maybe it’s the inner psycho coming out in me. All I know is the sexuality tied into the gruesome nature of some of the character’s deaths really got my creative juices flowing!

What sets The Blooming apart from other things you've written

The mix of eroticism and horror.

I usually limit my horror works to short stories, because maintaining a level of darkness required for me to pen a terrible tale for that length of time would drain me dry. So this is the longest horror piece I’ve done, and I do believe I shall do another novella length piece in the future.

The Blooming is similar to other things I have written in that the main couple carries that aching need to be made whole by one another person. I tend to write about that a lot.

What will your next book be on?

Not sure, but I’m thinking I might explore some overlooked mythology or fairy tale. I love the idea of re-working tales to modern times. With loads of either gruesome deaths or sexy sex, or both!

Possibly related books:


Related articles:

Friday, November 27, 2009

[Interview] Brick Marlin

Horror and science fiction author, Brick Marlin lives in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

His short stories have been featured in a number of print and online magazines, among them, Blood Moon Rising, Necrotic Tissue, MicroHorror and Sand: A Journal Of Strange Tales.

His books include Dark Places of Rest (Sonar 4 Publications, 2009); Saturated and Crimson (Publish America, 2009) and The Darkened Image (Publish America, 2007).

In this interview, Brick Marlin talks about his concerns as a writer:

When did you start writing?

I started writing at a very young age, back when I was in sixth grade. It was a few days before Halloween and our teacher gave us an assignment to make up a scary story. Most of the kids in class wrote about ghosts, pumpkins with smiling faces, and Frankenstein-like monsters, but I wrote one up about a serial killer murdering children for fun. (Yeah, I know, I'm a little disturbed) And, if I'm not mistaken, my teacher had a long talk with my parents afterward.

When did you decide wanted to get published?

A few years ago. Being published, I think, is a great achievement in itself. It takes a lot of hard work to not only come up with creative tales that will be of interest to an editor, but to make sure that your grammar and spelling is written well.

I started sending in short stories back in 2001, and was really not serious with it until 2006 arrived. Mainly, [I was] just happy to have a tale published.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

Mostly dark fiction. I used to say I wrote in the horror genre, but I mix sci-fi and fantasy into my work.

Lately, I have been writing for a wider audience, not only for adults, but for the kids too.

What motivated you to start writing for this audience?

I would have to say Ray Bradbury, one of my all time favorite writers.

Which authors influenced you most?

Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett [because of] multiple reasons. Their creativity, their great writing, the chill along the spine, and what lies beyond the imagination.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I would say how people react to others. Some are nice and pleasant to talk with; while others still haven't grasped the fact to treat people as they would like to be treated.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

To write the very best that I can and hope that my readers enjoy my work. Right now I've collected a small group of fans in tow and I do hope that it'll becomes larger during time.

How do you deal with these concerns?

Read and write as much as I can. I think that is the key.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Writers block. It's rather odd, but sometimes ideas are fed to me one after the other; while sometimes I think the writing demons have a sick sense of humor, making me starve for words.

Do you write everyday?

I try and cough up about a minimum of a thousand words five days a week in between working 40 hours a week and, now, returning to playing music; though sometimes it doesn't work out that way, such as having the dreaded disease of writer's block.

How many books have you written so far?

I've written about eight. I have three published and two forthcoming.

Here's a list:
The Darkened Image, Saturated and Crimson, and Dark Places of Rest are all part of a series. It's my idea of an apocalyptic world where aliens have taken over the planet, murdering humans one by one, while keeping a small group around to enslave them to build a new alien world on the planet. Later, the humans form a Rebellion and begin sending warriors back in time to eliminate serial killers. They believe that if they can rid their terrifying history, the world's population will be larger before the arrival of the aliens, larger to fight against their race. What they don't realize is that the aliens are onto their plans, sending their own race back in time, possessing humans, turning them into serial killers...

Raising Riley is about a boy who is thrown into an abusive world with his father and the bullies at school. Not to mention what lurks inside his closet...

An Ensanguined Path is about a werewolf hunter who hunts down the lycanthrope. At a very young age her parents were slaughtered by the beasts and now, as a member of the Krimson Alliance, she takes revenge on their race...

How long did it take you to write Dark Places of Rest?

In this book, I explain how the aliens possess the humans of the past. It took about three weeks to write, trying to research a few things to make sure that the facts would be clear.

Dark Places of Rest was published through Sonar 4 Publications, and I chose this publisher because I had already published a few short stories through the web zine as well as having the opportunity to collaborate with the editor and two other writers on a fun project.

And I think the editor has done exceptional work on promoting me.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work that you put into Dark Places of Rest?

Originally the story called for me to research how to embalm a corpse, which I had to consult with a very good friend of mine who is a mortician. I was lucky he was around.

I loved the chill of the tale because some things that I write, then go back and re-read, gives me a bit of a scare.

What sets Dark Places of Rest apart from other things you've written?

Not really a whole lot. It still stays with the sci-fi genre.

What will your next book be about?

Well, I've already written a few more to add to the list, still not published, but I think I may dive back into the world of my werewolf hunter.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I would have to say the enjoyment of hearing my small group of fans tell me how much they love my work.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

[Interview] Andrew Hook, author of 'Residue', Conversations with Writers, August 1, 2007

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

[Interview] Christian Saunders

Welsh author, Christian Saunders has been published in several magazines and anthologies.

His first book, Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales was published in 2003. Since returning to the horror fiction fold, he has had a story run in Screams of Terror e-zine and another featured in the anthology, Return of the Raven.

His novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story is available through Damnation Books.

In this interview, Christian Saunders talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing back in 1997. Actually I always wrote, for as long as I can remember, but it was around then that I began to try and get my stuff published.

I remember telling my careers adviser in school that I wanted to be a writer and he just laughed at me, said I wasn't bright enough and tried to persuade me to join the army instead (I am from a strictly working class area, and the school I attended didn't exactly encourage creativity!). In a perverse way, I took great inspiration from that, and set about proving him wrong.

My first few short stories were published in the small press, which was at its peak in the late 90's. However, the small press didn't pay, and as I worked in a factory at the time, I needed a second source of income so I moved over to mainstream journalism for a few years where I was a real media whore. I wrote anything, for anyone who would pay me.

My non-fiction has appeared in Fortean Times, Enigma, Bizarre, Record Collector, Big Cheese, Maxim, Nuts, Urban Ink, Chat... Its Fate, and many others.

I also had a book published in 2003 called Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales.

As for how do I do it, the best advice I can give is: identify your market, then submit, submit, submit. Never doubt yourself and never be discouraged by the haters. Over the years I've had literally hundreds of rejection letters, and each one makes me stronger.

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

In recent years I have arrived at a stage in my life where I am not so motivated by money so I have been able to return to my first love -- horror fiction (though I am still a regular contributor to the Vital Football website where I write about the ups and downs of Cardiff City FC).

This year I've had several short stories published in different places and my novella, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story was published on paperback and PDF by Damnation Books on September 1st.

Who is your target audience?

As a freelance writer my target audience changes and is dictated by the readership of the publication I am working for at the time. A smart writer will tailor his writing to suit the market.

When I write fiction I have no specific audience in mind, I write what I want and then try and find a suitable market when I finish. I believe it's the only way to stay true to yourself.

Which authors influenced you most?

I suppose my biggest single influence has been Stephen King. He is a master of the art of mystery and suspense. He doesn't get the respect he deserves in literary circles, but he is one of the all-time greats. I read my first King book when I was barely in my teens, I think it was Christine, and it totally captivated me.

Also, Dean Koontz is a great, prolific writer. With King it's about the story and characterization whereas with Koontz it's more about the words and language he uses.

I also like Joe Hill (Stephen King's son), Conrad Williams, Paul Kane and the late Richard Laymon.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Personal experience influences every writer, whether they are aware of it or not.

When I was in my mid 20's I left the small town in south Wales where I grew up and moved to Southampton to study journalism, living the city life was a huge culture shock at the time. After 5 years there I moved to China to teach English -- first in Beijing then Tianjin, and now Changsha (south China). This will be my third year there. China is a constant source of great material -- food, travel, culture, history, its all so different to the western model. I find it fascinating, this is why my new book is based in China.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concerns are not being original. I'd hate to ever be boring, and not give someone satisfaction for the time and money they invest in me. It's a great responsibility.

Also, I'd hate to write something that was factually inaccurate. I've been pulled up once or twice in my career for making stupid mistakes, and it's always embarrassing.

The biggest challenges I face are the same ones that every other writer faces I think... struggling to fit everything in -- finding time to research and write, then identify markets, pitch ideas, and if you are lucky enough to have a substantial piece of work accepted anywhere, then you have all your own promo to do.

There is no real way to deal with it, it's just something that comes with the territory. It's also sometimes hard to come up with any good ideas, we all suffer from the dreaded writers block at some point.

Do you write everyday?

Yes I try to write every day, though I don't always write anything useful.

My day starts with reading my emails, then replying to any that require a response. I am constantly pitching various projects to editors and agents so my inbox is always overflowing. I try to have several different projects on the go at any given time because that way if you hit the wall with one you can just move on to something else. There are also other things I do -- I do various pieces of ghostwriting for different clients, maintain a MySpace page (come and say hello!) and keep a professional log (which should really be an online blog, but I haven't got around to that yet) where I write ideas for stories, any developments, and keep a record of what I've submitted and where.

Anything I do has to be structured around my teaching job.

How many books have you written so far?

Into the Dragon's Lair: A Supernatural History of Wales (published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 2003). Four years in the making this is a compendium of various stories I found about wales, mostly with a supernatural slant.

I've written other books but none were picked up by publishers. At the moment I am looking for an agent to represent a Young Adult novel I finished this year, which is a kind of adventure mystery story, and I might do an anthology of some of my short stories at some point in the future.

What is Apartment 14F about?

Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story was published by Damnation Books on September 1, 2009. It's about a guy that leaves London to take up a teaching position in Beijing. When he moves into his new apartment he learns of the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, and then things start going bump in the night. Yes, some of it is based on personal experience, though I made up all the ghostly stuff. Thankfully!

How did you find a publisher for the book?

I saw an ad the publisher had placed in a trade magazine, they were a new company and looking for authors to submit work. I had this story that I didn't know what to do with because it was an awkward length -- 10,000 words, so I submitted it and they liked it but told me to re-write it in novella form. So I went away, re-wrote parts of it, added about 5,000 words, and submitted it again.

What advantages or disadvantages has this presented?

At the moment the publisher is doing some very cool promotions. You can get free PDF's just by joining their yahoo group (just search yahoo groups for Damnation Books) and on release day, the first person to buy a copy of mine or another writer's book can get it for just 5 cents. After that the price will increase by 5 cents with every order until it reaches its full price (which is $4.50 for the PDF and $7.50 for the paperback). Its a superb marketing strategy.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I found the editing process tough to deal with. I didn't agree with all the editorial decisions that were made, but I had to conform or else they wouldn't have published the book.

We'll have to wait and see who was right!

What did you enjoy most about the work that went into the novella?

I have always been fascinated by different cultures and I enjoyed using various characters in the book to illustrate the contrast between east and west. It's a far more complex and subtle way of doing it than just sitting there writing a travelogue.

What sets Apartment 14F apart from other things you've written?

It's the most substantial piece of fiction I have ever had published, and I am quite excited by it!

A lot of my work seems to have a recurring theme, whereby someone is searching for answers. Even a lot of my non-fiction work evolved around the great mysteries of the world. I've always had a restless spirit, and been haunted by this feeling that I'm supposed to be looking for something, though I don't know what it is iIm supposed to be looking for. Maybe a lot of people think this way, or maybe I'm the only one, I don't know. I've never really addressed it to be honest. A lot of my work, consciously or otherwise, reflects this.

What will your next book be about?

I'd love to write a zombie story! Just for the fun of it. I'm not sure how I'll do it, or whether it will be a short story, a novella or a full-blown novel -- there is only so much you can do with zombies, but it's a very popular sub-genre within the horror sphere.

I'd also like to write an apocalyptic End of the World-type opus, which might even be a trilogy of books, but I think I'll keep that for when I'm old!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Probably my first book, Into the Dragon's Lair, for a variety of reasons.

It proved a lot of people wrong because not many people believed in me at first, so that was my big "F**k you".

Also, it got me a lot of recognition within the industry and opened all kinds of doors for me. Editors immediately took me more seriously and I won a place at uni purely on the strength of the book as I was a hopeless student at school and left without a single qualification to my name.

Possibly related books:


Related article:

[Interview] Jeani Rector, author of 'Around A Dark Corner', Conversations with Writers, August 15, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

[Interview] Jonathan Vining

Jonathan Vining is the author of Diary of a First Year Grad Student, a work-in-progress which he describes as a novel about "the absurdities of academic life".

In this interview, Vining talks about what his concerns as a writer.

Is Jonathan Vining your real name or a pseudonym?

It’s a pseudonym.

Why are you using a pseudonym?

Like other books, mine will primarily be met either with praise, criticism, or indifference. Since the latter two possibilities would not exactly enhance my academic reputation and career, I prefer that Jonathan receive them instead of me.

Seriously, I think there is a non-trivial possibility that if Diary of a First Year Grad Student gets much attention, it could lead to the sort of needless academic brouhaha described in it. Some of my colleagues have been caught up in these, and they are not pleasant. So using a pseudonym here is intended as pro-active damage control.

Under what conditions would you reveal your true identity?

I might do so if the blog novel, by some miracle, receives a lot of praise -- or perhaps even if it receives only a little. I will decide whether or not to reveal my true identity when I post the last installment of the blog -- which will be in September 2010.

When did you start writing?

I started writing in 1971, shortly after the start of my last year in high school. My father had just died and our family finances declined sharply. We had to sell our home quickly. At a time when life was in chaos, what I wrote or typed on a sheet of paper was one of the few things that I could control. I valued that immensely. I wanted to publish what I wrote, but I soon found, of course, that that wasn’t so easy. None of my early writing was accepted by a publisher -- for good reason, I am sure.

How would you describe your writing?

I do different kinds of writing: academic, journalistic, and creative. The creative includes essays, travel narratives, and fiction.

My academic writing is targeted at specialists. My journalistic writing is targeted at a broader audience concerned with policy issues. I do creative writing just to please myself -- though I hope it will please others too.

Which authors influenced you most?

When I was younger, I loved what I thought of as the classic comic authors: [Miguel de] Cervantes, [Fran├žois] Rabelais, [William] Shakespeare’s comedies, Moliere, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire’s Candide, [Edmond] Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, and the like.

Later, I came to appreciate how George MacDonald Fraser weaved comedy with a deep knowledge of history in his Flashman series. I also love too many Irish comic authors to name, but especially Brendan Behan and Roddy Doyle.

More recently, I have come to appreciate some of the great 19th century English female authors: Jane Austen, all three Bronte sisters, and George Eliot. What I like about all these books is how the protagonist in each of them was able to overcome difficult circumstances partly by having a sense of humor.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

My fiction is based mainly on my personal experience with the many absurdities of academic life.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main concern is not having as much quiet time as I need to write. I deal with it by writing when and where there is opportunity to do so.

The biggest challenge I face at present is that it is far easier for me to publish my academic and journalistic writing than my creative writing -- especially my fiction. Despite the absurdities of academic life that I alluded to earlier, one thing I appreciate about it is that if one’s academic writing is good, it is highly likely to be accepted for publication somewhere. Writing good fiction, by contrast, is not good enough to get it published. This is because, I believe, academic publishing is far less concerned about profitability than commercial publishing.

Do you write everyday?

Life is hectic, so I write when I can for as long as I can. I don’t have a set routine.

How many books have you written so far?

I am the author of five academic books and the editor of three more. I don’t want to talk about them here, though.

What is your latest book about?

My latest book is the blog novel that I am now posting: Diary of a First Year Grad Student. It is about the absurdities of academic life -- some of their own making -- that even what Americans call grad students (and Britons call post-graduates) can face. It only took about three months to write, but I never succeeded in finding a publisher for it -- which is why I am now publishing it as a blog novel.

The main advantage of this format is that since it is free, it is clearly accessible to anyone with an internet connection who wants to read it. The disadvantage, of course, is that blog novels don’t pay royalties (at least, not as far as I know). I am far more interested, though, in its getting some (hopefully positive) attention.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Diary of a First Year Grad Student?

Two aspects of life in academia that my book deals with are, I believe, serious and sensitive issues.

One is how the concern that some academics express for the plight of minorities is based less on actual concern for them and more on a desire to use this issue for manipulative purposes, including discrediting others.

Another is how those charged with enforcing sexual misconduct rules at universities sometimes do not follow these rules themselves.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

As other fiction writers have reported, I enjoyed how the characters I created took control of the narrative as I wrote it. After a certain point, I felt that I was merely the instrument of their will. This helped make the writing process go by easily.

What sets Diary of a First Year Grad Student apart from other things you've written?

What sets it apart is that it is a work of fiction; what I mainly write and (more importantly) publish is non-fiction.

There really isn’t any similarity between writing academic non-fiction on the one hand and fiction on the other. Writing academic non-fiction requires a knowledge of what others have written. But fiction -- at least, the way I write it -- does not.

What will your next book be about?

I have written another novel about the trials and tribulations of the tenure process. I don’t think, however, that this one would lend itself to the blog novel format.

I started another novel about the hypocrisy of democratization efforts in the Middle East, but did not finish it. I was discouraged at not succeeding at publishing the other two novels, and distracted by increasing demand for my academic writing. If my Diary of a First Year Grad Student manages to receive positive attention, then perhaps I’ll finish it.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

That’s for others to judge.

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[Interview] Bryce Beattie, author of 'Oasis', Conversations with Writers, July 6, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

[Interview: Part 2 of 2] Neil Marr

Publisher and author, Neil Marr worked as a journalist for over 35 years before he and his son, Alex, set up BeWrite (a non-commercial writers’ website which offered free professional editorial services and optional online showcasing).

After three years, they transformed the website into BeWrite Books publishing house and have gone on to release over 120 paperback titles.

In this interview, Neil Marr talks the formation of BeWrite Books, the use they are making of print-on-demand technology and their plans for the future.

What made you decide to transform BeWrite into BeWrite Books publishing house?

Quite simply, the talent out there that wasn’t getting a look in. The big houses are swamped (that is not a criticism) and their slushpiles are never cleared.

We read every proposal. OK, 98% might be knocked back at first fence with no request for full MS, but everything gets a fair crack of the whip -- not by interns, but by one of four experienced pro editors. Often a rejection is accompanied by a line edit and masses of editorial notes to guide the author in revision.

What challenges did this transformation present?

Hard work. Twenty-four-hour days. Simple as that... sheer hard graft and ever-producing mindplay.

I’ve worked 62-hour shifts for this wee house regularly. Partner (and son) Sandy took a full year off from his high-paying IT day job to help put things together.

How has BeWrite Books been received?

We’re still battling against the stigma of producing mostly with PoD, which -- unfairly -- lumps us in with the vanity cowboys, to the uninitiated.

We’re getting over that.

Folks are beginning to see that PoD ain’t necessarily a four-letter word. You will never Google up a negative review of BeWrite Books. We’re listed in all the publishing ‘bibles’ and our reputation for editorial excellence and general square dealing is always emphasised.

Who are these 'vanity cowboys' you talk about?

Sadly, the revolutionary new print-on-demand production system was soon hijacked by vanity press operators who simply convert a raw manuscript into a print-ready PDF at the touch of a button, and the innocent initials PoD came to often mean Publish on Demand.

The internet is bursting at the seams with companies offering to ‘publish’ anything that comes their way... at a price. There is no selection process, no editorial input and no quality control. The only books these companies are interested in are authors’ check books.

There are companies releasing up to three titles an hour... and still claiming editorial input. Nonsense. I sometimes have a novel in edit for over a year. Even with a pro editorial team of four, we’re hard pressed to release a dozen titles a year.

Some Publish on Demand operators boast of being ‘traditional’ (whatever that means) and don’t charge an author up front or even offer a single dollar advance. Instead they ask the author for a list of family and friends and press them into buying. Few sales are made to the general reading public. But production cost with no editorial input is so low that they’re soon making huge profits by playing the numbers game. Such companies have become known as ‘author mills’.

Why is it a fallacy to associate all PoD with vanity publishing?

Vanity press self-publishing was always risky for the author. There was the cost of a short run of a few hundred books and the difficulty of distributing and selling the books. Hardly ever would a self-published author recover his expenses, and he’d be left with a stack of unsold books gathering dust in the garage. Print on Demand technology has reduced the risk for genuine small press but it also presents an opportunity for Publish on Demand outfits to cash in on the enthusiasm of unpublished writers.

I think there’s little chance of vanity press and self-publishing ever going away. In fact, it’s in its hay day. Word processing computers make it simple (too simple?) for someone to knock out 60,000 words, call it a novel and tout it around electronically at zero cost and effort. We’ll always see thousands of sub-standard books released this way every year. And even more as time goes by.


Simply look at rejection rates with a genuinely selective publishing house. Even a small company like ours accepts less than four percent of what we’re offered (often, even then, after full author revision before it goes into full edit). Bigger houses and agencies reject an even greater percentage of submissions (because they receive more, not because they’re more choosey).

Some authors will learn from rejection and improve their work. And that’s exciting to see. Many others think they know better and self-publish or go the publish on demand route to by-pass the critical selection process.

Having said all this, I must add that some self-published work is quite fine -- usually when its author has employed a professional editor. But that’s a tiny, tiny minority, and it’s swamped by second, third and fourth rate self-published or author mill releases.

What does PoD allow you, as publishers, to do that you couldn't have done had the technology not been available?

In our case, PoD is a print term describing a process by which books are instantly printed on order -- one single copy or a few dozen at a time depending on the day’s demand. We use the excellent Lightning Source print company and set our titles both at their US and their UK bases. Books are printed and despatched by the press closest to the ordering party. Distribution and exposure is usually via online sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

This process allowed smaller companies like BeWrite Books to launch. Before then, publishing was a hugely expensive venture to set up with thousands necessary up front to pay for a mass print run. Then, of course, the books had to be stored and physically peddled around high street stores. And about 60 percent remain unsold and are returned or destroyed for a full rebate to the retailer by the publisher.

A PoD title costs relatively little to set up digitally for press, packaging and distribution is handled by the print shop, and there’s zero wastage. We covered all expenses -- not inconsiderable -- out of our own pockets for the first three years or so before starting to break even.

Our most valuable input, though, is not in money so much as professional editorial, technical and administration know-how. The editorial team of four, for instance, shares nearly 150 years of pro experience. I work long hours at least six days a week. But we’re not at the stage even now where we can afford to take salaries, which is why I occasionally have to moonlight for other publishers and -- like yesterday for Murdoch’s News International -- run a story for a big newspaper or magazine to go toward the household bills.

We do have working capital now, though, and we’re planning our first venture into short-run and stacking the shelves at physical (rather than online) bookshops with a thriller by David Hough called Prestwick (BeWrite Books, 2009) later this year.

What would you say sets BeWrite Books apart from other similar ventures (if that is the right word) that are out there?

In a word, editorial. There’s not a giant house to match our editorial expertise (almost two centuries combined experience), our eventual proofing. And we’re as selective as hell. The reader of a BB book will never be disappointed. We’re too darned smart for that.

What are your plans for the future?

Immediate future? A chilled beer and a tuna and cucumber sandwich.

Later this year, out first venture into short-run with David Hough’s Prestwick which we are short-run printing and plan to launch at all major UK airports over the next four months. One heck of a book!

Earlier, you mentioned that you started publishing with one or two co-authored collections from the BeWrite Community. What are the titles and characteristics of these collections, who were they by and are they still in circulation?

Actually, our first venture into publishing was an experiment to showcase the short story work of three particularly talented and prolific contributors to the website -- our first two members back in 2000, Peter Lee and Terri Pine (now Terri Nixon) and another regular poster, Andrew Muller. I added a piece to make up page count. We had no cover artists at the time, so the book, Chill (BeWrite Books, 2002) was covered by my son, Alex -- a fine photographer -- who used sugar to simulate ice with a ghostly image of a screaming skull showing through. Pretty effective.

A second collection by BeWriters was The Creature in the Rose (BeWrite Books, 2004), love stories with a macabre twist and co-authored by a whole bunch of gifted scribes.

We were becoming very, very busy on the publishing front by this time, though, and we had no choice but to close down the community and its forums. The lads and lassies all agreed that it was for the best. The BeWrite Community had done its job and it was time to move on to the natural second stage, helping authors into print. With a technologist pal in Canada, however, I opened a new writers’ group to pick up where BeWrite Community left off. Many old BeWriters meet up there and exchange work for critique. You’ll find it at

These days, we no longer run collections and concentrate on full novels. Several genres (no horror or fantasy, chick lit, etc), but our main interest is in what’s become known as ‘literary fiction’: all about wordcraft.

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[Interview: Part 1 0f 2] Neil Marr, Conversations with Writers, November 5, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

[Interview: Part 1 of 2] Neil Marr

Publisher, author and former journalist, Neil Marr is the author of Bullycide: Death at Playtime (Success Unlimited, 2001), a groundbreaking book which exposed the epidemic of bully-related child suicides in the UK.

Bullycide received rave reviews around the world and sparked countless campaigns and Bullycide-dedicated websites, official studies, several follow up books and government and education authority action to combat school bullying in several countries.

In this interview, Neil Marr talks about his writing and the challenges he and his partners faced when they set up, a publishing house that started off as a non-commercial writers’ website offering free professional editorial services and optional online showcasing.

How did the idea for Bullycide: Death at Playtime come about?

In the sixties, when I was a cub reporter of about seventeen or eighteen, I covered a huge police search for a missing child who lived just down the road from me. It was just after the horrific 1960s’ Moors Murders in England.

The search for Stephen Shepherd was the biggest UK police operation in UK history. When a child went missing, folks paled and talked of paedophile killings similar to those committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Turned out that the wee boy -- twelve year old Steve -- hadn’t been murdered at all: He’d taken his own life because he could no longer face school bullies.

The media then lost interest and dropped the story ... no juicy murder.

I never did lose interest. It haunted me for over thirty years. This was Bullycide (a catchy word I had to invent to snatch attention and to conveniently fit newspaper headlines – it’s now entered specialist vocabulary).

I was driven to do wee Steve justice; tell his tale and that of others in his predicament. More than thirty years later I kept the promise I’d secretly made at his funeral to tell the whole truth.

How long did it take you to write the book?

Writing a non fiction book is not a problem. It’s like a news story -- off the top. Second nature as a journo. The heavy work is in the research, making sure that your claims are fireproof and that your publisher will catch no flak. Like the investigative journalism I spent so many years with for major -- and attractively sueable (that a word?) newspapers and magazines -- it’s a matter of being able to back up every single line with signed shorthand notes and tapes.

Every single line of what you read in my book was self-edited by the bereaved families involved to be sure there wasn’t the slightest error or misunderstanding on my part. No shocks or heartache. They became part of the effort. They became friends.

The process took three years -- and I don’t begrudge a day of it. It’s a sensitive issue and had to be handled gently and with profound understanding.

How did you go about it? What was involved?

Gosh. That’s a big question. Like a reporter, I guess. Someone who listens, probes and seldom intrudes. I’d been an award-winning investigative journalist, on the street for thirty years. You might as well ask Al Pacino to teach you how to act King Lear over the phone. My work rested on decades of experience. I just did the job I was built for.

Where and when was Bullycide published?

2000. Small press in Oxford.

How did you choose a publisher for the book?

I didn’t. The publisher chose me. A big mainstream publisher bought the book and paid me an advance of a few thousand pounds on the idea alone. That financed some of my travel and research (I’m in France, the story was in Britain). He later disagreed with my figures and methodology, so I went elsewhere to a small press in Oxford and pulled in a ‘qualified’ co-author to back up my findings; the late Tim Field.

Of course, it later turned out that I had my ducks in a row and -- if anything -- my startling numbers were conservative.

How was the book received?

Amazingly (am attaching early reviews). More than I could have dreamed of.

But there’s more...

On the back of the book have been several other book publications, countless internet campaigns, moves by education authorities and central government in several countries, plays, movies ... the book’s done its job. I’m chuffed with that. That was the whole idea.

Have you written other books since?

Oh yes, but I’m keeping those to myself because they’re mainly ghosted (fiction and non-fiction for other people to keep body and soul together) but I have edited/co-written 120 novels over the past ten years. Some authors acknowledge my input, others don’t bother. Fair enough because I’m a back-room boy by nature and don’t ask for up-front credit.

What made you decide to leave journalism?

Newspapers and magazines that pay worth a darn no longer compete with TV; they compete with the TV Guide. I was bored to tears and also embarrassed to be prostituted. Also, heart and vascular problems kicked in and I could no longer flit around the world as I used to. Can’t even catch a bus. Funnily enough, though, the Sun in the UK (rotten paper but great payer and I still have old pals there) called me today for 500 words on an Italian football yarn that will pay me more in an hour or so than I’ve collected from BB this year!

How easy or difficult was the transition from being a foreign correspondent to being an entrepreneur, editor and publisher?

Hey, I’m no ‘entrepreneur’. I’m just at old hack who knows his job and loves his writers and their words. The transition hasn’t been too traumatic because I apply the same principles I always did... are these pages worth reading? Health hassles slowed me down, too, so I’ve learned to live with those. These days, I hardly miss my suitcase.

What were some of the challenges that you faced when you first set up BeWrite?

Money. We were broke. And we were dedicated to keeping things in the black and absolutely independent. We’ve never been short of the cash to pay our dues, admin costs, print fees and royalties, but have resisted all outside financial help. We’re always a couple of books ahead of the shoe-shine and two steps away from the county line. I doubt that any one of our stable of writers realises that we’ve all worked for the past eight years without a salary, mostly covering our own expenses. That everything’s for free. Why should they when they’re coming up with the most valuable commodity of all -- the raw material? We’ve only just started to break even so that one book helps finance the next release (if it sells OK). Before now. every penny of expenses has come from the shallow pockets of the partners, me and Sandy.

There are other wee hitches, of course, but we can live with those because our authors and the other folks we deal with -- printers, distributors, publicists and reviewers -- very soon become good, trusting friends. We play from a square bat and it seems to count.

What reception did BeWrite receive? (the non-commercial website) had 3,000 members. There was free professional editing and enormous feedback (I handled over four million words myself). Everyone was happy. But we had to move to stage two -- publishing -- because so many people deserved that.

We started with one or two co-authored collections by BeWrite Community writers as an experiment while we got to understand the technology, then we moved on. When it comes to selection, BB is as tough as old boots, you know, but we do read every line submitted.

We would take non-agented work from writers who knew they were only almost there and work with it to make it spot on there ... at no cost whatsoever and with some tremendous results. BB produces beautiful books.

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