Annnnd we’re back with another episode of Get Jack’d. This time around I have the pleasure of jacking fellow author du’ grim Axel Howerton. As everyone on the Jackverse knows, the getting of jack’d is a deep, funky process… so let’s skip the pleasantries and get knee deep into the big funky.
JW: You wrote, for Red Tash about knock-off novels and how writers should do everything they can to walk away from the “prefab visual stimulus machines”. The main focus of that post was to let your artistic brain do its job and create. To that I must say BRAVO! It’s a shame so many writers (and filmmakers and musicians) seem to prefer to ride on the coattails of those that created something that gained some traction, instead of spending their creative energy giving life to a new idea or a different twist on an old idea. I realize there are only so many stories to be told and only so many archetypes with which to tell those stories. But that doesn’t mean the author can’t use their own voices to add their own twist to the tale. And who knows, maybe those very twists will give birth to a different genre all together.
But it’s an inevitability in this new era. In droves, people will latch onto someone’s fame in hopes of catching a bit of the special sauce. It’s not just in books – it’s in everything. Some of this mess can be traced back to Joss Whedon and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (loved that show). Not only did that show offer one of the first main-stream, kick ass young females – it also brought to light a perfect metaphor for the high school experience. When that show went away, people tried desperately to re-create what it had and/or ride what Whedon and Co had done into the sunset.
It seems to me, though, that horror is one of the few genres that doesn’t so readily succumb to that behavior. Anyone that dives into the dark waters that is horror knows they better come with their A game or they’ll be laughed off the playground.
AH: I wish it were so, Jack. Unfortunately, it seems like there are a lot of people out there bringing ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’ game. ‘Z’ game I’m okay with. Once you get to that level of nonsensical haphazardry, it usually leads to genius. My problem is with the people, in every genre, who think that conventions and archetypes are to be followed like blueprints. I guess that’s how you separate the authors – the real storytellers – from the writers who just slap out story after story. What gets my goat too, is that a lot of these people think they’re veteran artists after a year or two of crapping out the same old shit. I can’t even begin to count how many of these “writers”, most of whom have no real training and no real professional experience or expertise, that are pushing books on writing, or offering writing tips to “new writers”. I’ve written every godawful type of project you can imagine – commercials, reviews, celebrity interviews, websites, product manuals, HR Manifestos, ad copy, scripts, poetry, form letters, you name it. I’ve been doing this for most of my life. I studied Literature and Poetry at one of the finest Universities in the land. I have drawers full of short stories, shelves full of books on writing. I’ve gotten first-hand advice from guys like WP Kinsella, Chuck Pahlaniuk and Elmore Leonard. You know what all of that has taught me? That I have no business telling anybody else how to write, outside of being true to their style and their vision. If you don’t have a vision? If you’re in this because you think it’s an easy way to get rich or famous? Just GTFO and go watch some more Netflix.
Writing fiction is not a job, it is not a vocation and it is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s an artform. A serious undertaking that requires suffering, and sacrifice, and deep reflection. It is the wholesale creation of entire universes. DO NOT take it lightly, or you will fail. Utterly. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is what it is, because Joss Whedon and his writers made it so. There was already a Buffy universe. It was funny, and cute, and disposable. Whedon and his crew took the germ of the idea and grew a whole new garden. They created a whole new world from the basic concept. Had they just aped the film, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Buffy: The Series would have lasted half a season, and Whedon would be washing cars in Reseda instead of laying claim to the biggest opening weekend in box office history.
JW: I’ve had others say to me “This is a business.” I must confess that statement bothers me. I get that your “brand” is a business – but most indie authors aren’t really experienced enough to go the lengths really necessary to create a “brand”. But to treat the craft of writing as a business is to not only demean the artistic nature of the beast, it also puts an unnecessary stress on getting product out. When I first started out on this hayride, I rushed everything. In the end, the work suffered. Now, I have no editorial calendar, I have no set schedule. I have no plan on getting X books out in Y months. My plan now – honor my process and do whatever is necessary to create the best possible piece of fiction I can. The very moment I adopted that philosophy (if one can call it a philosophy), everything just eased into a lovely rhythm and I could really give the craft the love and attention it needed and deserved. This is especially beneficial as I now write without a net on nearly everything I do. I love an organic process. I did when I was an actor and I do as a writer. It’s a good thing – seeing as how I don’t have the training many writers have. My training as a storyteller came from spending nearly thirty years as an actor. Graduate school taught me, with great depth, the ins and outs of character development and the form and function of story. Plus with the amount of improvisation and actor skill training I received, dialog comes quite naturally.
But… a good editor is my best friend. I am the first to admit that I very much rely on sound editing. It’s quite unfortunate that more writers aren’t willing to admit that tragic flaw. I am currently reading an indie novel I absolutely LOVE. It’s filled with formatting and grammar issues, but the story and characters are so charming, I can’t stop reading. Will I contact the author and let her know of the issues? Maybe. Will I mention it in a review? Hell no! That last thing the indie world needs is yet another person pointing out yet another indie author needs a good editor. But it’s truth in absolutes and it’s the best advice I can give an indie author new to the scene. Don’t, for a second, think you can edit your own work! Find an editor and pay them to work over you manuscript. Just make sure your unique voice isn’t lost in the process.
AH: Absolutely. Also, have someone do the formatting for you, unless you are an expert yourself. Some people can do a quick edit as well as formatting for any and all e-reader file types and provide you everything you need to upload to every machine out there, as well as properly formatted files for CreateSpace or whoever you may be publishing POD with. There really is no excuse, outside of laziness, blind stupidity, being a cheapskate, or just plain willful ignorance. Okay, that is a lot of excuses, that a lot of people employ on a daily basis for many things. Still, the point remains – if you intend to take this seriously, whether as an art, or a business, or both – you need editing and formatting and eye-catching art and advertising. Respect yourself, respect your work, respect the work of everyone who has come before you.
I think another issue that ties into this, is that of “authors” who attack their reviewers and critics. Never attack your readers. NEVER. All that does is make you look like a spoiled, temperamental narcissist. Nine times out of ten, a really horrible review is a zero reflection on your work or your talent. Most likely it’s a person who has ulterior motives (trying to lighten the competition for their own work, or a friends; personal vendetta against the type of story you’ve written; drunken and disgraced rodeo clown who once had a lover with your same name; crazed right-wing syphilitic with a hate-on for your multi-racial, bi-gendered abortionist protag.) Don’t take it personally. Unless it’s your sister-in-law, in which case, feel free to hunt that bitch down and punch her in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
JW: When I was an actor, I refused to read reviews. Why? Because I knew – either good or bad they would effect me. If they were bad it might subconsciously change what I was doing in the show – which would do a disservice to both the director’s and the other actor’s work. If they were good it might cause me to subconsciously focus on the good things the review mentioned and cause me to start focusing on one aspect of my performance, thereby neglecting the other facets of the character or the story. Either way, they were dangerous. So instead of waiting with baited breath for those select few to share their opinions of my work, I opted to not bother with them. Instead, I did my job to the best of my ability, and forged on.
And you’re right – there is so often an agenda. The average reader simply doesn’t write reviews. It’s a special kind of person that takes the time to write a review for a book, movie, or music. Don’t get me wrong, there are special people out there that love to review books. Those are the people that really, truly love to read. Either that or a personal that has an honest passion for a particular genre.
But in the end – everyone should know art is subjective. There will always be someone who loves and someone who hates your work. Those are the people you should hope will read your books. Let the lovers and haters fight it out – it’ll bring out the curiosity of everyone in between. And seeing how the “everyone in between” is always the vast majority of people – those are the ones you want picking up your title and giving it a go. The masses in the middle are always the hardest to entice. Why? Because there is so much shiny, sparkly, beautiful stuff out there to get their attention. We are becoming a world filled with ADHD children who need louder, faster, funnier to keep our attention.
AH: I’m really of the mind that – regardless of trends, fads and popular facebook opinions – all you can do is love your work, put your heart and soul into it, and be secure in the knowledge that you’ve done your best. Success has become such a one-sided die. If you aren’t a millionaire, or headlining a reality show, you are not considered a success. Writers have always had it bad in this department. Unless you’re Stephen King or James Patterson or Nora Roberts, it doesn’t matter if you wrote a truly great piece of art. You really are only as good as people say your last book was. Of course, that’s as long as people remember your last book, usually three weeks after the movie comes out on DVD. Some of the greatest writers out there – Pahlaniuk, Eggers, Chabon… they’re not bazillionaires. If anything, they owe most of their wealth to movie deals and tie-ins. Even as “successful writers” they might be doing as well as the average corporate lawyer. We have to stop chasing money and fame, and start realizing that we are creating realities and making art. At least, we should be. This society, in general, needs to stop chasing money and fame, get back to living our lives and focusing on surviving, thriving, and improving the species by teaching our kids to be smarter than we were. Right now, everything seems too easy. Everything is handed to us and we want more, faster, NOW! That way lies madness and sloth and inevitable destruction. Who gives a fuck what some Kardashian spread across her ass last week, teach your kid to say ‘please’, and how to balance a check book. Then send ‘em over to show me how to do it.
JW: Well said. And I agree with you whole heartedly. Thanks to social networking, reality TV, and corporate culture we are living in a period of “look at me” worse than any to date. Polite society and a humane spirit has been violently shoved aside when it couldn’t immediately answer the question “What have you done for me lately?” (With a nod to Miss Jackson, since I’m nasty). Hopefully, someday, we can breed a generation of children that doesn’t so easily succumb to such idiocy. I doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime – but you never know.
Thank you so much for your words of brilliant wisdom.
About Axel Howerton
Axel Howerton is usually described, in order of import, as: Badass Dad. Attendant Hubby. Author. Film/Music/Book reviewer. Coffee Addict. Ovalteen. Time Lord. Bookhouse Boy. Dudeist. Sox National. Ink Monkey.
Best known for his work as an entertainment journalist, Axel is the former long-time Managing Editor of www.eyecrave.net, where he is still a contributor and general pain-in-the-ass. Axel is the co-founder of the annual online horror-author “fest” Coffin Hop, and will be one of the senior editors of the upcoming Coffin Hop 2012 anthology. His story Hum is featured in the anthology A Career Guide To Your Job In Hell, alongside the likes of Scott Phillips, Robert Vardeman, Scott S. Phillips, Nathan Long and Victor Milan. Axel is currently working on several short stories for various anthologies, comics and magazines, as well as putting the finishing touches on his novel, Hot Sinatra, which will be released in 2012. His work has been seen in numerable magazines and digests, including Dark Moon Digest, EWR: Short Stories, Kitschykoo, Fires on the Plain, Dark Eclipse, and The Den of Iniquity. A short collection of short stories, headlined by Living Dead at Zigfreidt & Roy will be available on Amazon and Smashwords TODAY!
Axel spends most of his time in Calgary, Alberta, braving the frigid tundra of Canada – usually two steps behind his two brilliant young sons and a wife that is way out of his league.
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Or visit him at www.axelhowerton.com