Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Author Interview - Joe Peacock

Today I interview Joe Peacock.  I've been a fan of Joe's for several years.  He began by publishing chapters of a personal memoir on the internet, and he turned it into several very good books.  Recently, he has decided to take on writing fiction, and his serialized novel, Marlowe Kana, is quickly gaining momentum on Amazon.  He has three parts out for the moment, and an almost perfect star rating(out of 39 reviews, he has 37 five star ratings and only two four star ratings).  Joe is a tremendous writer, and I highly recommend his work if you're into cyberpunk, or even just plain old good fiction.

Your previous books in the Mentally Incontinent series were mostly anthologies about your rather extraordinary life.  Marlowe Kana is totally different.  What made you decide to write it?
I went through a pretty big life upheaval in 2013. After it all happened, I looked back at who I was before, and who I am now, and decided that I wasn’t really into making myself and my memories the subject of all my writing anymore. I was challenged by several friends to try my hand at fiction over the years. It was intimidating, and every time I tried, the work was just meh. Writing fiction is SO MUCH HARDER than writing about yourself or “thinkpieces.” You have to make everything up, then you have to make it all make sense, THEN you have to tell the story in a way that doesn’t bore people. So I always thought “someday, I’ll tell this grand cyberpunk story I’ve wanted to write since I was 16.”
Then one day, a longtime reader and now dear friend, Beth, wrote me to let me know she’s terminal with cancer. You can never feel so helpless as when a friend tells you they’re dying, and there’s literally nothing you can do about it. Your instincts to help kick in, but having had a few friends in my life pass from disease, I knew the conversation couldn’t dive into “Oh, I’m so sorry” territory. So, I offered to write something for her, in her honor. She mentioned a science fiction story I attempted years ago, Marlowe Kana. I facepalmed… Of all the things she could ever ask me to do, that HAD to be it, right?

Needless to say, I couldn’t say no. My first few drafts were awful -- and I mean true stinkers. A few friends pointed me to a treasure trove of writing education, and I became enamored. I fell in love with concepts like flow, story structure, theme, setting, character development… I couldn’t stop learning (and still haven’t -- every single day, I learn something new). Beth loved the book, and while I feel like I’m just barely past the starting line on my learning how to write, that fact made me happy. She’s still reading, and I’m still writing. Nothing goes to the public without going to her first.

The novel starts off with Major Marlowe Kana being transported in a prison van after being convicted of attempted murder, conduct unbecoming, and treason.  Yet she also has a massive following, and people are still following her “feed.”  Many have feeds of their own.  Can you tell us about the concept of the feeds, as well as what inspired them?

Youtube. Twitter. Tumblr. Snapchat. Every single day, more and more people build their own personal “Feeds” and share them with billions of people. Some even do it for a living. Considering we intake the vast majority of our movies, television, news, and other entertainment via broadband and cellular connections, the idea of news sources, citizens, or just about anything that can connect to the net having a “feed” seems inevitable to me. So does the idea that soon, things like jobs, politicians, and government will be irrelevant. We will someday all work for the same corporation -- should we choose to work, as I also believe advancements in AI, robotics, and automated logistics are going to force us into a Basic Minimum Income societally. To me, the idea that fame and attention being the only currencies that matter is not a question of “if,” it’s a matter of how soon. 

Marlowe Kana is a serialized novel.  Why did you decide to write it that way?

I made a pledge when I first started writing 15 years ago that everything I ever write will always be available for free in some way, so publishing it to the internet was a foregone conclusion. Since this book is vastly different from anything I’ve ever done before, I wanted to give people an easy way to check it out and support it before spending money. I also wanted to give people something to look forward to weekly, but that was more of a crapshoot. I felt like simply hitting the shelves with an eBook, with months between each volume, was going to result in fewer people trying it out and seeing what they think.

There’s also something to be said about having something to look forward to each week!

You say that you don’t mind people sharing your work, so long as they buy the next installment if they like the one they received.  Why do you not mind sharing?  What do you say to those who think you’re missing out on potential sales?

It’s simple: the internet exists. It’s not going away. Every single piece of content created in the modern era WILL INEVITABLY be uploaded to it. You can fight this, but it’s futile. My philosophy is that anyone who wasn’t going to buy it before downloading it wasn’t your customer in the first place. They would have opted to ignore you instead of reaching into their wallet. I’d rather give that person a chance to read my stuff. If they hate it, so what? They didn’t spend a dime on it. And if they love it, there’s a VERY high chance they’ll buy the book (1.99 for an ebook, 6.99 for a paperback, small prices to pay to support a writer you like). It also keeps me honest: I can’t write crap. I have to keep working to make better stuff, or I lose that person who has decided to support me.

Please describe your ideal writing session, and then what reality is for you when it comes to writing.

Ideal: I sit down and the work is already done, in perfect form, and I just look at it and go “oh wow, nice, that came out of my brain-chip and into the computer nicely!”

Reality: at first, it was a chore to write. And when I take breaks for more than a few days, it’s a chore to get going again. But just like working out, or eating right, or learning any new skill, when you make a habit of it it becomes not only routine, but you begin to miss it if you don’t do it.

I currently have a day job, so my writing begins after I get home and have dinner with my girlfriend and spend time with the pups and cats. I grab a cigar and a drink, open the laptop, turn off WiFi (VITAL!!!!) and start pecking away. When the cigar is done, i take a break, then find another cigar and get back to it. Some nights, I produce total garbage. Some nights, I come away with something I think I can work with. No chapter I’ve written has sprung forth from my fingertips in final form. I ALWAYS have to go back and redraft, then redraft again, then flesh out and fix up. Always.

It sucks on its surface, because who in their right mind loves redoing stuff over and over? It’s not misery, mind you. It’s just hard. And we are predisposed to avoid hard things.  But much like any meditation or work worth doing, you learn to love the process.

You’ve published both indie and traditional.  Which do you prefer and why?

Indie for the control and freedom and flexibility. Traditional has its merits -- the publisher handles printing and distribution. They copy edit. They design the books. They make deals with booksellers. But the truth is, even at my highest selling point when I was with Penguin, I was still hustling outside of writing words on the page. I was calling every place I could, arranging book signings myself, trying to get into book clubs and colleges and everywhere I could. And I still had to work with the editor for editing, and I still had to give input on design…

Today, with Amazon and CreateSpace, you can let them do an easy 80% of what any publisher does for you. The missing 20% is the prestige of the name, and with enough hustle and enough people reading your stuff, you can make up for that too. And the best part: every sale is yours. Every part of the process -- from design to when you decide to release it -- is under your control. It’s a lot more work, but again, the work is something you learn to love.  

Once Marlowe Kana is complete, what plans do you have for future books, either fiction or non-fiction?

I think for the foreseeable future, I’ll be working in fiction. It’s just plain more fun than talking about myself anymore. The internet is BEYOND full of people doing what I used to do, and it just doesn’t need another one. But the market for original stories that take you out of your day-to-day and transport you someplace where you can get excitement, adventure, intrigue… See new tech or creatures or ideas you never knew you wanted to learn more about… It’s huge and growing with every single day we have to live through this current news cycle of despair, hate, anger, argument, fighting, racism, violence and other crap.

Finally, what advice would you give to those looking to do this whole writing thing?

READ. A lot. Everyone will tell you, this is the very first step and it never stops. You never get to mark it “complete”. You don’t necessarily have to read about story structure, construction, storytelling, plot, or the mechanics (although I highly advise you do). You do, however, need to learn how to tell a story. You need to learn how to construct it. You need to learn how to advance a plot. And there’s no better way than diving into the work of literally thousands of amazing, talented, brilliant writers who did it their way. I’ve learned more reading Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Issac Asimov, Andy Weir, and dozens of other geniuses than I have from manuals and texts on how to write (but I do have to say, I learned a lot from those too).  

Thanks for your time, Joe!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Tax Man Cometh

As most of you know, I began my business this past year so I could officially start publishing as an indie writer.  The freedom that has come with it has been great.  However, today I finished the one thing every business owner dreads - taxes.

Taxes are a part of life in America.  I'd be paying them regardless of whether I published through indie or traditional.  The only real difference is in how I report them - as income(through royalty payments by a traditional publisher), or through a Schedule C(filed as the head of a business).  As a business owner, I can do things I can't do when filing as regular income, like deduct the cost of inventory and business expenses.  These deductions mean that I have more income that's not taxable.

Make no mistake - I lost money this year.  I expected that.  This was my first year, and I know I still likely have a few more years of slogging through, plus the need of a break, to start showing a profit.  My losses weren't staggering, but they were real.  Lucky for me, I had a few thousand bucks set aside specifically for my business.

The nerve racking thing, however, is the labyrinth of IRS rules, as well as the risk of an audit.  I was very careful in annotating expenses.  There were probably even a few I could've taken but didn't since I was unsure of some.  I played as strictly by the book as I possibly could, mostly because the IRS scares the shit out of me(as it does most people).  That doesn't mean that my caution and double-checking of everything has totally alleviated my anxiety.  The IRS audits about three times as many returns of folks who have Schedule Cs than they do regular folks, so even with my meager amount, I'm at greater risk of an audit.  I don't know about you, but I went into writing to tell stories, not to get lambasted by a government agency.

This is part of life as an indie author.  That doesn't make it any more pleasant.  I advise caution and complete honesty as a business owner, as well as plenty of time to make sure you get things right.  With all of that, even I might not have gotten everything right(I hope I did, but I'm as human as the next person).  This is why it's crucial to know how to run a business and not just muddle through.  I'm sure you'd rather not have your next novel be a first hand account of losing everything in taxes.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Sorry, but it's tax season, so I'm a bit busy trying to not give Uncle Sam all of my money.  In the meantime, I wanted to let everybody know that I'll be entering both Akeldama and Salvation Day in the Writer's Digest Self Published Book Contests.  Here's hoping that they do well!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Fighting That Feeling

On the heels of my last post, I'm going to confess something that I think a lot of writers feel at times - I sometimes feel like a fraud.

No, I don't mean that I'm plagiarizing anything.  What I mean is that I often wonder if I'm any good at writing, or if I'm just a charlatan.  Do those who claim to love my work really love it, or are they simply being nice?  Sometimes a clever twist of a phrase makes me feel good one minute, and the next I wonder if I just got lucky.  After all, it seems like anyone could've written that.

And when I look back at some of the garbage I've written...bleh.

What I have to remember, and most writers need to occasionally remind themselves of, is that such feelings are natural.  As we grow up, we're used to getting validation - our teachers, our parents, our coaches, etc.  However, with our writing, those authority figures don't really exist.  We have to rely on much more nebulous stuff, and it can create insecurity.  This often goes against the confidence/arrogance we tend to project.

In some ways, this can be a good thing.  It can lead us to better develop our writing, as well as make sure we're pumping out good stuff.  On the other hand, it can also lead to paralysis if we're not careful, agonizing over every word and refusing to put something out there for fear that other people will see right through us.

This phenomenon isn't limited to writers.  Studies have shown this to be common to people in every field of work.  Even the most successful feel that people will see them for the frauds they are.  I wish I knew, beyond insecurity, what causes this.  Maybe it's success we feel we don't deserve.  For whatever it is, it can be maddening.

I guess the takeaway is to remember that you're not a fraud.  Frauds get exposed.  Frauds rely on other people to do the work for them.  If you're putting your heart into what you write, then it's real, regardless of how you feel.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Great Reviews!

I've been getting some great reviews for both Akeldama and Salvation Day!

Regarding Akeldama, on Amazon, VeganTourGuide wrote, "5.0 out of 5 starsI am glad this book was recommended to me and I will be recommending it to others in return. Until now, this wasn't my genre of reading, however I love the action and story and so I'm IN and looking forward to more!"

CC Case wrote, "Imagine if Tom Clancy were running your Vampire: The Masquerade Campaign."

Gregory C. Scrivens wrote, "5.0 out of 5 starsFantastic. Grabbed you at the beginning and kept you holding on. Great seque to historical factish. Read it in a weekend. Great job. Looking for the sequel."

On Goodreads, Vanessa Eccles said," 4.0 out of 5 starsVampires and the church? Definitely an interesting and unexpected read!" 4.0 out of 5 starsVampires and the church? Definitely an interesting and unexpected read!

And Sir Reader of Iowa said, " 4.0 out of 5 starsI got this from Fantastic read! I got hooked since first page of the book."4.0 out of 5 starsI got this from Fantastic read! I got hooked since first page of the book.

Salvation Day is beginning to get similar reviews.  On Amazon, Redskier wrote, "5.0 out of 5 starsUnique topic and handling of various beliefs. But underlying is a story which keeps the pages turning and the mind engaged on your own religious beliefs."

Finally, Tonya Adrian-hill writes on Goodreads, "5.0 out of 5 starsExcellent read, my husband wants to read it as I kept reading sections out loud to him. I would love to hear more of this author’s ideas on God and religion."

Please keep writing reviews - I love getting feedback from readers!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Same Character?

I feel like I'm caught in a trap that many writers face - are my main characters really just the same person with minor variations?

One of the oldest pieces of writing advice is to "write what you know."  Though I think that such a sentiment is often garbage - not many of us have gone to Mars or are endowed with the powers of a witch - there are times the phrase has meaning, and it's usually when you put yourself into your characters.  Most of the folks I write are exaggerations of myself and how I might react in a situation.  I do that because I know my own mind and motives better than I do anyone else's, so it makes the character more easily believable(for me).

Of course, the danger here is that the characters in a series of novels can end up being pretty similar, and that's frustrating.  I want to branch out into more interesting people, but my lone attempt - the first draft of Wrongful Death, where I tried to make the main character a high school girl - went so poorly that I had to start over.  It turns out I have no idea how to realistically portray a high school girl, but I remembered what I was like in high school, so I changed the main character to a high school boy with little difficulty.  Was that a cop out?  Sure, but it was also the only way I could produce what I needed to produce in a compelling way.

But how do we fix this issue?  Once a writer gets into a groove, it's tough to shift.  I think the solution is to ask your beta readers to look at your characters and figure out if they're the same person.  Do my scientist and my vampire hunter do things the same way?  Can I distinguish between the historian in my science fiction and the vigilante in my war about a new American Civil War?

It takes outside eyes to look at a work and figure out if, compared to other works by the same author, the main characters are the same person.  This critique can be crushing for a writer, but the sooner you figure it out, the better.  After all, while I love Jack Torrence, I doubt he'd have been as compelling fighting Pennywise.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Enjoying Work

On the heels of my last post(I know I missed earlier this week...sorry), someone asked me if I read my own books.  The only thing I can say is...well...yeah.

No, I don't obsess over my novels, lovingly caressing them before bed each night, but I look at them off and on, and for several reasons.  First off, both Akeldama and Salvation Day have upcoming sequels, so I have to make sure I can remember various pieces for the sake of consistency.  Readers remember the original well enough to catch flaws in new work that the author may have forgotten about.

Beyond that, though, I just like them.  I've often spoken of writing what I want to read, so why wouldn't I enjoy going back to my own work the same way I've read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince or Guns of the South over and over?  Authors, I hope, don't write something and then think, "Wow, that's crap.  But I hope people still buy my book."  Just as any reader does, I get attached to my characters and like to remember their travails and triumphs.

In addition to that, going back and re-reading my own books reminds me of where I was in life when I wrote them.  Ask any writer, and he or she will tell you the energy and life circumstances that went into writing a novel.  I can look at a chapter, a plot line, or a character and remember, Yup, that's what was going on at that time.  I can then see how the book evolved as my life evolved.  It's also fun to retrace the evolution of not just my life, but my writing style.  You can find what you did not as well, and how you might change it today.  It aids with growth as a writer.

This is not to say I read only my own books, or even that I do so very often, but I do it, and it'd be dishonest not to admit that.  I'd wager that any writer worth his or her salt will cop to that.