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!