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EDDIE & SUNNY launch interview with author Stacey Cochran

In November I interviewed author Stacey Cochran about his book, EDDIE & SUNNY, while it took part in the Kindle Scout program. Back then, I asked all of you nice people to nominate it so it could get published by Amazon and, guess what? It got picked! YES! Now, months later, the book’s digital version has been published through Kindle Press and a paperback version is available thanks to Down & Out Books.

EddieSunnyCover.jpg.w560h730So I sat again with Stacey to have a chat about nomination/publishing/what’s next. Check it out:

Q1: Okay Stacey, first of all, thank you for being here and for choosing my page as one of your stops after your book’s launch. Last time we chatted you were campaigning for EDDIE & SUNNY to be picked on Kindle Scout. Can you give us a refresher on what is Kindle Scout?

So, Kindle Scout is a new program by Amazon to discover unpublished novelists. It is essentially replacing the Amazon ABNA Award. In a lot of ways, it’s probably better for most writers than the ABNA contest because Kindle Scout is acquiring a lot more books. The old contest selected just like 3-4 per year. Scout has already acquired close to 30 books in its first few months.

That’s a huge difference right there.

And so far, the first ten titles have launched and we’re all doing pretty well in the first week or so. It’s been a fun ride.

Can you tell us about what happened behind closed doors after your book was selected for publishing?

One of the most surprising things that has been a benefit of getting published via Kindle Scout is that I’ve connected with all the other Kindle Scout selected authors, and we’ve formed a pretty cohesive group on Facebook. There seems to be an interest building in various media places from FB to Twitter to Amazon discussion boards to our books linking on one another’s Amazon book pages that involves a bunch of us, and all the titles are solid, so there’s this strength in numbers thing going on that I couldn’t have imagined before getting into the program.

Q2: I’m really curious about the process that took place right after the campaign was over. We all got notifications about your book having been selected and were super excited. How was it on your end? What took place between being selected and getting the book published, Stacey?

Well, once you’re selected you get 30 days to sign the contracts. During that 30-day period I hired Stacia Rogan to do a copyedit of the manuscript because at the time, the word was that KS was not going to do a copyedit. So that was the first thing. My agent managed to sell the print rights for Eddie & Sunny to Eric Campbell who owns Down and Out Books. That was the second big thing. And then I learned that Kindle Scout was going to do a copyedit, and so much of February, my manuscript went through another professional copyedit process. I also had to prepare a few things for press materials for Kindle Press. I re-designed my cover with a blurb. I secured the rights to the photo in the cover from Javier de la Torre Photography. There was a lot happening between December and now, and the Kindle Press team has been absolutely amazing to work with. They’re great.

I feel tired just by reading this! And that takes me to the third question I want to ask you (that deviates a bit from the book and into the writing).

There have been some sleepless nights, believe you me.

Q3: One thing lots of people don’t realize is the amount of work that has to be done behind the scenes before a book is published. I know you’re a runner and, lately, I’ve picked up running to complement my CrossFit workouts. The blood, the sweat, the occasional tears are all there. Would you say writing and endurance sports have things in common?

Yes, both require a certain degree of self motivation and a lot of internal discipline. They’re also very lonely pursuits, running and writing, and I suspect it suits a particular temperament. I know when I’m out on a 14-mile run, I keep repeating to myself “I’ll just not quit. I may die. But I’m not going to quit.” And that mentality is very much my mantra with my writing as well. Good question.

Love this answer!!

Maybe, too, they’re both in a best-case scenario healthy pursuits. Writing is all about becoming a more compassionate, understanding, complete human being. It’s all about mental health, right? Running, for me, is certainly a physically healthy pursuit. It helps me process my anxieties and worries. I always feel clear headed and free of worry after a run… even if my legs feel like rubber.

My feelings exactly. Running and lifting heavy weights feels like a cleansing at times. Getting rid of negative and stressful thoughts and coming out renewed.

Q4: Writing, like running or any other sport, is also about learning. I bet you’ve learned lots of things after all this. Can you share some of that knowledge with us? What did you learn from writing this particular book? What did you learn from the publishing industry through your Kindle Scout experience?

There are so many things I’m not even sure where to begin.

With the novel, I did do a good bit of research with the homeless. I talked with them in multiple contexts, and one of the key things I came away with from all of those conversations is that every homeless person has a story to tell. So often, people cross to the other side of the street or hurry to their 40-grand SUV in the parking lot when they see a homeless person approaching. I would challenge people to (at least one time in your life) stop and actually talk to one of them. Ask them if they are in fact homeless and living on the street. Ask them how they came to be homeless. Ask them if they have a plan for getting out of the street and into a home. Ask them if they have a dream for where they’ll be in a few years or later in life.

What you’ll find is if you approach them with compassion and understanding and just *listen* to them, they all have a story to tell. And often, their self-esteem just needs a bump from someone acknowledging their situation. Sometimes that’s all you need to do. It’s the little things.

Everyone needs to be acknowledged as a human being. We tend to dehumanize homeless people and that’s super sad.

I also learned that in America at least an extraordinarily high number of families are homeless or live in poverty. I think there’s this perception around the world that Americans are all rich and fat and thoughtless. But in the county where I live, the capital of North Carolina, something like 46% of children in public schools are on free or reduced lunch, which means they have completed paperwork and been vetted to get that food because their family income falls below a poverty threshold. 46% and this is in an urban area. It’s far worse in rural communities. America has become a nation absolutely saddled with poverty, and we have this really screwed up criminal justice system that tends to reward police arresting high numbers of people for petty offenses, which then gets them into jails and prisons and pretty much ruins any chance of meaningful employment for life.

I think the depth of America’s problems with poverty was one of the things that I learned about while researching and writing this novel over 2-3 years. Americans like to pretend they’re rich and live big and drive fancy cars, but for a lot of people, it’s an illusion and they’re living on the brink of financial disaster, bankruptcy, and home foreclosures. I think we’re force fed this rich lifestyle via television and movies, and people’s expectations for how to live are seriously out of whack. And I mean *a lot* of people. Tens of millions of Americans live way beyond their means. And the banks feed it.

Okay, down off my soapbox.

It’s eye opening research you’ve done! What about the publishing industry? Anything new you’ve learned?

It’s a tough business. How’s that? I’m kidding.

Well, obviously the ebook landscape has changed dramatically in the past three years. There was a time in 2009-2010 maybe even into 2011 a bit, where it was relatively easy to get noticed self-publishing an ebook. My novels Claws, The Colorado Sequence, and The Loneliest all cracked the Top 200 overall on Kindle. Those days are over. There has been such a flood of self-published novels into the market (literally millions) and traditional publishing has regained its footing in this market, that’s it’s practically impossible to self-publish as successfully as you could 4-6 years ago.

That’s why innovative programs like #KindleScout are so important to recognize early and take advantage of. If I’ve learned one thing in my career this past decade or so, it’s that the authors who recognize emerging media, emerging technologies, and act on those things… they’re the ones who tend to do well. Maybe not get rich, but certainly get recognized and sell a few thousand copies of your book. And occasionally, a rare talent or two who capitalizes on these kinds of emerging technologies really do knock it out of the park and make a lot of money.

But most people don’t like to be the first to try out a system. They’re either not aware of the new system or they’re afraid it’ll fail, or something. And so they wait and see how others do it. But the problem is if you wait and see how others do it, you’re going to be in that 2nd or 3rd wave and you’re going to get lost in the sea of others who wait and see how it shakes out before trying it. Be bold. Be brave. Give it a shot. And embrace new technologies. There are far worse philosophies with which to approach a writing career.

That’s awesome advise right there!

Now, of course, if you have just wicked talent and a relentless work ethic and luck on your side, you can knock it out of the park in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wave. People do that all the time. I just tend to try things out first. It hasn’t always paid off, and I’m sure some people chuckle silently at their home computers and say “What an idiot.” People do that, sure. But it seems like practically every new technology I’ve tried since starting in the early 2000s was initially stigmatized ruthlessly, and then over time eventually accepted as viable, and then it becomes “old” technology. I’ve seen that happen a few times.

As with anything new, there’s always skepticism. It’s those who don’t let it stop them that often succeed.

Q5: I have to start wrapping this up but want to know: What are your plans for the future regarding EDDIE & SUNNY? Also, are you working on anything new right now?

Well, Eddie & Sunny has just launched. I imagine this will be the book that I’m pushing for the next year or two. I would absolutely *love* to sell the film rights for it. I think the novel’s 3-act structure, love story, regionalism, and sociological underpinnings would make for terrific source material for an indie film. So I need to push that front somehow, maybe through my agent, maybe by hitting some film festivals. I need to continue to get favorable 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. If I can get up to 30 of those, it would be a good start. So far, we have 10, and they’re all pretty solid. Of course, I’m chairing Bouchercon this October and that has become literally a full-time job, working 40+ hours per week.

And there is a new novel in the works.

Anything you can tell us about that new novel?

It’s spec fiction. Here’s the premise: A man wakes up floating in the middle of the ocean in an airline emergency life vest. He has no memory of who he is, how he came to be floating in the ocean, or where he is. As the novel unfolds, he finds his way to an island where the inhabitants have all arrived the same way as him. And none of them know who they are or why they are there. And they all come to discover various panopticon-esque cameras watching them on the island.

Sounds interesting, and creepy! Will you be self-publishing it or selling it to publishing houses?

Too far away to tell. My writing pace is so slow right now, it’ll probably be 2017 at least before the first draft of this one is complete.

You take all the time you need! We’ll be here waiting while enjoying E&S! Thank you so much for being here today!

Thank you for chatting with me, Astrid!

Be sure to get your copy of EDDIE & SUNNY today!

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On Book Reviews

I’ve been writing this blog post for days and thinking about writing it for even longer because I know how touchy this subject is. Still, I’d like to address it, to write about it through the eyes of a not-so-seasoned author that is still developing some thicker skin.

Googling the term “what is a book review” brings this up:

A book review is a form of literary criticism in which a book is analyzed based on content, style, and merit. A book review can be a primary source opinion piece, summary review or scholarly review. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_review)

Book reviews have become the modern day/virtual version of word-of-mouth. Readers can post them to retail sites, blogs, and places dedicated to them like Goodreads and Librarything. For a writer in this digital era reviews are crucial, since a huge percentage of readers will base their decision to buy your book or not on them.

Thing is, book reviews aren’t always a writer’s friend. As an author, you need to have in mind the fact that not everyone will like your book, that some people will hate it while others will be telling their friends about how much they loved everything about it and how much they need to read it, NAO. However, our books are like our children. We love them to death and are ready to fight anyone that dares tell us they’re not as pretty as our eyes see them.

“They are all my children. Maybe some are cross-eyed, but I love them all.”

~ Carlos Fuentes on his books

You still haven’t explained the pic of the running girl above.

Last time I blogged I talked about how I was going back to my running days. It’s still going strong and I’m super happy about it and how it has also sparked my CrossFit workouts. My core’s still shaking from working on them overhead squats! But when it comes to running I’ve noticed how much outside things influence me, more so than when I’m lifting heavy weights.

Back when I still had a smartphone (my Note 2 died on me a week ago and I still haven’t been able to replace it) one of the first things I used to do when I woke up was check KDP and my latest release’s Amazon and Goodreads pages. Bad, I know. Whatever feeling I got from that, either good or bad, permeated towards my morning run. Especially when it came to bad reviews, which in turn made me run like a madwoman, almost punishing myself for whatever it was I had done.

I have a really nice network of friends and supporters and I can summarize all the advice I’ve either received from them or read about the whole authors and reviews dilemma with:

“Don’t read them.” “Don’t take them personally.” “It’s just some asshole who hates everything and doesn’t deserve your attention… or your tears.”

The problem is that when you self-publish you can’t have the luxury of not reading your book’s reviews. The problem is that when you self-publish you also become your publicist, marketer, agent, all of the above, and you can’t ignore the fact that people are writing things about the product (your work) you’re selling. You have to be on top of all that stuff so you can design marketing strategies or even writing strategies for future works. You have to read the reviews so you know what’s happening with your book after releasing it into that big, dark, and scary wilderness called The Internet.

Thanks to Nikki Nelson-Hicks for this. ;)

Thanks to Nikki Nelson-Hicks for this. 😉

Weeks ago my book The Last Superhero got an awful review on Goodreads. It was a 3 star one which isn’t that bad, but the language the reviewer used was rather inappropriate. As I read it I thought “well, okay, he pretty much hated the book. Whatever.” I can live with people hating my books, hating on my characters, hating the plot, the settings, the covers, whatever they want to hate.

What I can’t live with is someone calling me “a lazy cunt.” The Last Superhero’s first chapters are filled with curse words so reviews with strong language don’t bother me. And, as I said before, I can totally get it if you hate my characters or story, but personal insults? That’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed by any reviewer, ever. We self-pubbed authors work really hard. Our families think we’ll never do anything worthwhile (unless we hit a bestseller list, if we ever do), we battle with characters that populate our minds and are fighting for our attention All. The. Fucking. Time. And then there’s the whole business side of things with the edits and the formatting and designing and marketing and STRESS.

Of course, not everything’s bad. I’ve gotten some glowing reviews for The Last Superhero that have helped me cope with the whole I-wanna-die ones (like this one from Reading… Dreaming or this one from Indieberlin). And, yes, I know this is part of the process of developing that armor all artists need once they decide to come out into the world, yet, as an author, I beg to all the reviewers out there to treat us authors as they’d like to be treated: with the respect we all deserve. Is that too hard a thing to ask for?

In the meantime, I’ll be out there running while muttering under my breath about those reviews. Oh, and writing, because no amount of bad reviews can ever stop that.

I know the Paper Rats agree with me on that. 😉

The Last Superhero – How it came to be

TLS Twitter HeaderIt may sound absurd but don’t be naïve. Even heroes have the right to bleed.

Back in 2008-2009 I had an idea for a story focusing on a retired superhero. Songs like 3 Doors Down’s Kryptonite and Five for Fighting’s Superman inspired me to create a superhero character exploring a more intimate, human side of it. That’s how Steven S. Waldorf came to be. The last superhero to roam the Earth.

My friends and family liked the idea and a first draft was born. A first draft that was passed around and read and edited and I thought I had it so I started posting chapters on my Tumblr.

That was when one certain person told me to stop and rewrite the whole thing. To say I was angry is an understatement. If so many people liked it why couldn’t he?

Still, I do listen to this one person I shall not mention by name since he’s old and wise. I stowed the manuscript and waited, not for the world to change, but for my world to change.

Four years and a couple of books published later, I decided to revisit this story, rewrite it from scratch. My world has changed considerably. I’ve been married for 10 years and life has given me a bunch of lessons about love, family, friendship, and loss. All this, of course, spills into my writing and what was once a novella has blown up into a 93k words novel with not only science fiction elements but fantasy and thriller too.

THE LAST SUPERHERO was reborn with a vengeance. A story that has lived inside me for years grew to what I believe is its full potential.

So, what’s the story about?

An aging superhero marked by rejection and tragedy meets a young woman that will put her life on the line to save him from his nightmares. Literally.

Steven S. Waldorf is the last superhero to roam the Earth. He’s been living in seclusion for 28 years and only now is coming back out into the world. Giana’s a twenty-nine year old woman trying to keep it together while searching for a way to get out of a rut. They meet one night when he saves her from getting mugged and that sparks a relationship between them that will throw her right into the center of his continuous unknown-to-the-world torment.

See, Steven’s got the power of telekinesis and can project fantasies into people’s minds, this last one being his most controversial power and the culprit of his torment.

But you’re going to have to read the book to know more about it.

I like to call it a sci-fi fantasy story for the non-sci-fi fantasy reader. It’s, above all, a love story between two people who’ve been through a lot and are able to find solace in each other.

Roles are switched, and it’s the superhero the one that needs to be saved from his internal battles. It’s a psychology thing, using Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego theory and research on dreams from people like Carl Jung.

The writing style

Last year I published a short story called At the Corner of Mars and Neptune (FREE 11/25-11/26 2014). I’m going to steal Stacey Cochran’s term and call it a noir romance. With it I wanted to try out a looser type of writing than the one I use on The Caregiver Series, a more poetic one, resembling how I talk to myself (yeah, I do that… a lot).

Knock. Knock.
He looks at me. I look at him. We both know.
I stride to the door faster than he can reach an outstretched hand to me.
Turn the doorknob, hold my breath.
Open the door and the punch lands square on my face.
“Hey!” Noah exclaims.
I’m on all fours, trying to get up, when a foot kicks me to the side.
“He’s clear!” I shout when I see John closing the distance. “Don’t hurt him, he’s got nothing.”
“He’s a cop!” He’s pointing a gun at Noah’s face. “What the fuck is wrong with you, bitch? Bringing cops in here?”
I have to get up. Noah’s holding his hands in the air—so policeman of him. The pink straw pointing at his face, as if it was looking at him and telling him: you’re fucked.
“Leave him, John. He’s leaving now.”
“He better.”
“Go fuck someone else, John.”
“You,” he turns to point the gun at me now because I’m on my feet again, “stop fucking around.”
“I never fuck around.” I push the gun barrel out of my sight. “I said he’s leaving.”
John lets a couple of beats pass. Like techno, just the bass of his chest marking each one. He lowers the gun, turns to Noah. “Next time I see you ‘round here Imma a pop one in your skull, you fucking pig.” And exits like he’s some kind of warrior, looking down at us, flexing his chest muscles so he looks bigger.
Noah runs to me, checking my face. I slap his hands away.
“Go. Before he comes back.”
“Your cheekbone is busted.”
I touch it with my fingertips. Yeah, it’s open. “Whatevs. Just go before he comes back and kills you.”
“Meet me tomorrow. Ten. You know the Greek restaurant a couple of blocks from here?”
“Yeah.”
“There.”
“Okay.”
He gives me another look, his eyes stray to the place in my face sporting the open wound. Go, I mouth, shoving him out the door and locking it. Locking him out. Locking me in. And I don’t know why but I’m silently praying he makes it out in one piece.
~ At the Corner of Mars and Neptune – Chapter 3
That story got some nice praise from readers and fellow authors so I decided to give it a shot with this book too and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.
I park in front of his house and turn the car off.
Shiver again at the thought of that cop.
I’m not telling Steven. No.
Deep breaths.
It’s early in the afternoon and I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I need to see him.
And I’m out of cigarettes.
He ain’t got a phone so I can’t call him up and say ‘hey can I come over?’
So I get out of my car, walk up to the gate, and search for something like an intercom or even a bell.
Nope, no such luck.
Gate’s locked and the path to the door is pretty long.
How tall is this wall?
Do I really want to see him that bad?
Ponder.
Use the padlock, tap it on the gate a couple of times.
No answer.
I am not shouting his name and I am not honking either.
I’ve climbed walls before. And this one’s got some sturdy looking ivy branches.
Grab one, wrap it around your wrist, pull on it, think it’ll hold.
And it does. It will.
Move the fuck over Tarzan, ’cause here goes Jane.
Just like one of those rock climbing walls people are so amused by, only this surface’s flat and slippery, and I’m not wearing a harness.
Some small scratches on my hands and I’ve made it to the top.
Who’s awesome, eh? Who’s fucking awesome?
Get off before someone drives by and sees you straddling the top of the wall like it’s a horse.
Grab some branches and lower yourself.
Easy. Easy.
They say it’s the climb, man, but going down is nerve-wracking sometimes.
Crack.
Crap!
~ The Last Superhero – Chapter 8
I thought my editor would hate it. The style, the story, the characters, everything. Until she read it and told me “I can honestly say the most compelling story I’ve read in longass while has been yours.” That made me feel somewhat better. Here’s to hoping you all enjoy it as well.

Interview with author Stacey Cochran

Earlier today I had author Stacey Cochran over at my Artistikem Facebook Author Page chatting about his novel EDDIE & SUNNY, currently needing your vote over at the Amazon Kindle Scout program. The interview went so much better than I thought it would (I was super nervous!) and it gave me a change to flex my interviewing muscles. Stacey’s a wonderful author and person and I’m glad he let me be part of this. So I decided to transcribe it and post it here for all to enjoy.

A bit about the book:

EddieSunnyCover.jpg.w560h730

The love story to end all love stories.

Eddie and Sunny have never had much in life, save for each other’s love. For months they’ve lived out of a car with their young son. A tragedy on the road one night turns the couple into fugitives of the law, separates them, and eventually leads each to believe that the other has died and all hope is lost. A passionate, triumphant conclusion follows as the very essence of love, hope, and the American Dream unite in a novel of beautiful simplicity.

Go nominate it here https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/M7D0F455B1R5, it only takes a couple of seconds!

And now, for a transcript of our interview:

Me: Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. Can you introduce yourself for those who don’t know you yet (and totally should by now 😉 )?

Stacey: Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here. I’m a writer. I live in North Carolina. My novel Eddie & Sunny is in the Kindle Scout program this month for 30 days.

Me: What is Kindle Scout and why did you decide to go for it?

Stacey: #Kindle #Scout is a new program at #Amazon. The purpose of the program is for the imprints at Amazon (Thomas & Mercer, Montlake, 47N, etc.) to discover novels that are unpublished, yet have a strong potential for sales. Books are allowed a 30-day campaign to earn as many nominations from fans and readers as possible. The books with the most nominations in 30 days are given consideration for a publishing contract, $1500 advance, and good royalty rates for five years.

Me: It sounds like a really good idea from Amazon, staying up with technology and customer participation. What drew you to it?

Stacey: That’s a great question. I’ve been trying to find a home at one of the Amazon imprints for years… dating back to the earliest Encore days, in fact. I think I was the first person to interview Cayla Kluver, who was the first Amazon Encore author. I realized that Amazon was doing very, very smart things in publishing and wanted to be a part of that team. So, I had this novel Eddie & Sunny out with my agent, and he mentioned that he’d heard about this Kindle Scout thing. I read about it, and thought it suited my skills as a self-starter and so decided to enter Eddie & Sunny into the program. It just so happens that I was chosen for the first wave trial of Kindle Scout. So the book launched its 30-day campaign period last Sunday, and I’ve been working hard ever since to earn nominations for the book. Have been blessed with an extraordinarily supportive group of friends who have helped me along the way.

Me: Before we dive into the book, I’d like to ask: when and why did you decide to become a writer?

Stacey: Another great question, Astrid! I didn’t totally understand that writing was a “profession” until I was about 19 or 20. That was when I met my first published novelists. I’d been “writing” fiction and poetry as a kid and teenager, and I actually submitted a short story to Random House when I was 17. Random House was the only publisher I’d heard of, and I read the address on the copyright page of a book, and I sent them a short story written on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter.

Me: Oh wow! And how did that go?

Stacey: I actually got a personalized response from the publisher. They passed (Random House publishes books, not short stories 🙂 ) but it made an impact in that I learned that people would respond if you wrote something good, in earnest, and submitted it. That would have been around 1991. Have pretty much been writing obsessively ever since.

Me: Actually sending it out is a step lots of people never get to. It shows you’ve got drive to get out there and do things. How did you come around self-publishing?

Stacey: Another great question! When I was in grad school, I worked on an academic journal (http://www.thoreausociety.org/reading-room/concord-saunterer) I was an editor for three years and worked on publishing that journal from scratch once per year. That taught me a LOT about how to format, compile, use a computer, printer, cover design, etc. This would have been 1998-2001. That experience played into my understanding of how to publish a book, if you were to do it on your own. I completed my first full-length novel in 2002. Began submitting it the traditional way, to agents, editors, going to conferences, etc. I followed up that first (terrible) novel with a Private Eye novel. The PI novel ended up being selected as a finalist by St. Martin’s Press for the 2004 PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest by the late Ruth Cavin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Cavin) Still despite this early recognition I could not find a good fit in terms of an editor, publisher, etc. And I worked very, very hard to find one. For about four years. At this same time, I’d hear occasional stories of writers who had self-published and “broken out.” Then in 2004, Lulu.com launched, and I decided to give that a try. I was one of the first authors to publish there. Around 2006 (?) I tried publishing an audiobook on my own with Podiobooks.com.

Me: I see a pioneering trend with you!

Stacey: And a stubborn “don’t ever quit” mentality that has pretty much driven me my whole adult life. At one point I think I’d collected over 3,000 rejection letters.

Me: That’s the best mentality to have in this business.

Stacey: That combined with a little grace, compassion, and humility can go a long way in life.

Me: Ok, so, let’s lasso this towards the book. You’ve talked about your experience working on a documentary about homeless women and children and how it inspired this story. Can you talk a bit more about that?

Stacey: Right, so a buddy of mine asked me to work on a film series he’d been commissioned to shoot regarding life in a homeless shelter. I was the camera operator and we did interviews with (mainly) women who lived in the shelter with their kids. The rooms where they slept were filled with bunkbeds, maybe 20-30 per room, and all these amazing folks lived there and were going to school, trying to get jobs, trying to get back on their feet. This affected me emotionally. Profoundly. I wanted to write a novel through the lens of compassion that pulled from the emotions that I felt at that time. Something that would try to illustrate the dignity of their lives. I settled on a love story between a couple that was homeless with a young son, and another child on the way.

Me: How long did it take you from that filming experience to actually sit down and start writing it? Did you have to process it all before writing or did you get to it right away?

Stacey: Great question. The timeline is a bit hazy in my memory. The novel itself took three years to write. As it’s only 50k words, that’s a grindingly slow pace to write a novel. The process was such that I would not allow myself to write until I fully and intuitively knew it was time to write a scene. It had to be torn from me, so to speak. And I refused to just put words on the page to meet a word count for a given day. It was more about patience and letting my life experience and thinking about a novel filter out all the clutter and put the absolute *right* scene on the page. I originally thought it’d be a novella, around 30k words because around 2011 or so that was actually an optimal length for self-publishing a book as an ebook. When my agent read the novel, he felt very strongly about it. Read it flat-out in less than 24 hours and said it was the best “sociological” crime fiction novel he’d ever read. So, naturally he didn’t want me to self-publish it. It’s actually a very simple story. There’s no complicated stylistic issues going on in the book, flashbacks, unclear narrators, etc. Timeline jumps, etc. I wanted to tell a simple story, sequentially through time, with the “camera lens” squarely on this family the whole time.

Me: Sounds a lot like a good candidate for an indie film.

Stacey: Well, if someone made this story into a film, they’d have something very, very big on their hands I suspect. At least my agent thinks so. I mean it’s a fucking love story of down-and-out people who deserve a break in life. It’s a story of the triumph of the human spirit. Eryk Pruitt would probably win all sorts of awards if he adapted it!

Me: I’m super curious about your process since, in your first video of the campaign, you choked up while reading the excerpt (which starts with a father and son prayer), fact that leads me to believe this story’s coming from somewhere really deep/close to you and I know you’re a wonderful father to your kids. I really want to ask you: what part has fatherhood played in your writing?

Stacey: Excellent question. You are an amazing interviewer, Astrid.

Me: Aww, thank you!

Stacey: I have had the absolute hardest time reading this story in public. I tried to read it at NC Writers’ Network a few years ago and it just did not work well at all. There’s something happening in that opening scene that absolutely stirs my emotions in a way unlike anything else I’ve ever written in my life. I think it’s the combination of innocence, graciousness, love, and compassion that this father/mother has for their child, despite being absolutely destitute and worthless in the eyes of society. That tension is very close to my heart. Being a parent changes everything. Having a child, a special needs child at that, turns your entire life inside out. There is *no way* you can be selfish or self-absorbed around your children. They simply won’t allow it. They become the focus of your entire life, and compassion, love, caring, kindness, patience, perseverance, all of that must rise to the occasion for the rest of your life. My life is no longer about me. It’s about my wife and children. That shift in perspective was central in my mind when I began Eddie & Sunny. The funny thing is, being a writer is the most self-absorbed profession on earth. Maybe quite literally. And so having children pulls you away from that. And ironically, it allows these moments (a book tour for example) to work because you’ve earned it in a way. You’ve earned “me” time.

Me: I was afraid to ask about that, the self-absorbing quality of writing. Because I can see where you’re coming, only from another light, having been the sister to a special needs child. I see you and Susan and I see my own parents.

Stacey: Life is all about balances and compromise. To me anyways. And if all you live for is your writing, that doesn’t seem balanced. And ultimately the work will suffer.

Me: I’m choking up a bit here so maybe next question and then a wrap up? Since I’m awful at genres… Can you talk about the “noir romance” genre? I read in another interview that you wrote three different endings for this book (which I think is completely nuts), how did you come around this genre? Or did it force itself on you/the story somehow?

Stacey: You should seriously become a professional interviewer. These are great questions.

Me: You’re the second person to tell me this, I’m starting to believe it.

Stacey: It’s true. So, well, “Noir Romance.” I wanted to tell a love story. And I wanted this family to have absolutely nothing at the start of the novel. Nothing except the clothes on their back and love, grace, and their shared past and struggles. I was reading lots of Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Carver, William Gay, Larry Brown, Flannery O’Connor. But these two genres aren’t usually considered in the same sentence. Romance and Noir. In a lot of ways, their genre tropes are diametrically opposed. Chic lit is about as far afield from noir as anything you could possibly write. But ultimately it’s a love story. It just happens to feature characters you would not ordinarily see in a “romance” novel. And I wanted their to be a crime at the start of the novel that propels the story forward. The result very much straddles genres and is probably most appropriately called a “Noir Love Story” or “Noir Romance.” If it had to be put on a shelf in Barnes & Noble, it’d probably go on “mainstream fiction” or “crime fiction.”

Me: And don’t get me started on those people that read romance and think it’s equal to bodice ripping.

Stacey: Right, any talk of genre tropes is likely going to create debate about what is stereotypical of that genre. Genre is problematic by its very nature. Lives aren’t easily categorizable. Why should books be?

Me: This is why I say I’m awful at genres because I like to write and read stuff that resembles life and how it flows. I’ve got criminals all over my books but I like to show how they’re human too, their lives isn’t crime 24/7, they’ve got families and loved ones and such.

Stacey: Which is why people need to check out: http://www.amazon.com/Corner-Mars-Neptune…/dp/B00CQI093C.

Me: Thank you!! One last thing before we wrap it: Any tips for new writers looking to publish their works? Any marketing tips?

Stacey: Embrace new technologies, no matter how fearful it may be. And try to find your most authentic self in your writing, the things that make you vulnerable and embarrassed and that you don’t want anyone else to see. That’s what we want to see.

I want to thank Stacey Cochran for being so awesome and everyone that tuned in! Remember to nominate Stacey’s book over at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/M7D0F455B1R5, it only takes a couple of seconds and you’ll be backing a heartfelt, beautiful story!

On Self-love, CrossFit, and Writing

This post is going to deal with a topic that even when it isn’t directly related to writing, in a way, it is.

This last week The CrossFit Games happened and last night one of my favorite athletes, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet got crowned as Fittest Woman on Earth. I was super excited to be able to see her win this because she’s been a huge inspiration and I’ve been following her career ever since I started getting involved in CrossFit.

Which isn’t too long ago but feels like a lifetime away. Why? Let me explain.

At the beginning of the year I fell into a depression that crippled the one thing that worked when I needed to channel my feelings: writing. Christmas 2013 was horrible and it stuck with me for months on end during which I’d find myself not even able to finish my dinner plate because I’d burst into tears. The same thing happened when I reopened the manuscripts for the books I’d been writing before then. It was terrible and exhausting to try and push out words when my whole body was giving up on me. I thought I’d never get out of that slump. That until I remembered a birthday promise I’d made to myself last year that involved gifting myself at least the start of a new body for my 30th birthday. So I started visiting the track and running sprints (which I love) and started feeling better, awakening from that dormant state I was in.

But I can’t just run and run forever, it’s not me.

Back in 2006 I had taken on the idea of getting into bodybuilding. It was something I wanted to do since I was a little girl (yes, I did). My love for lifting heavy things took me to try my hand at this, so hubby helped me purchase some weights and protein powders and shit and, even when I did get some progress, I started bulking up due to not knowing how to tweak workouts to meet my goals. I used programs from T-Nation.com, participating in their forums, reading everything about the subject I could get my hands on, but kept doing heavy sets with no cardio that made me bigger and not leaner. Then I got a full-time job and stopped working out completely.

Very very bad because then the weight started piling up, who knew?

Now, 50 pounds heavier me had to kick her own ass in order to get her gears in motion. I’d wanted to go back to the weights ever since but didn’t really know how. Then I came across CrossFit and thought hey, this looks like all my dreams come true, let’s try it! So I did. At home. No box for me since the fees are out of my reach, so I researched and researched and back in March found this 30 Day At Home Crossfit Challenge over at Life Made Full and started with that, complementing it with some strength training with my old but not forgotten weights and more running.

It was the best decision I’ve made this year so far. It not only got me up and about but I’ve been writing like crazy again. And when I say crazy I mean that some days I can put 2k words into a story, no big deal.

So, what’s up with that renewed energy when it comes to the craft? I think it goes hand in hand with the fact that practicing CrossFit has led to a more confident me. It has taken the blob of emotions I had become and made me blossom into someone I never knew I could be, someone that went to the beach the other day and felt sexy in a swimsuit (until this girl came with her six-pack abs and I told hubby “we’re leaving!” Haha. Nah, I just thought damn, that’s gonna be future me). Even back when I was 50 pounds lighter I never felt this good in my own skin.

It’s because I’ve fallen in love with what my body can do and not with how it looks. Self-love is a word I’ve had to relearn.

Christian Thibaudeau wrote over at T-Nation in his Bodybuilder Goes CrossFit article:

I walk differently. I look more fluid and am more confident. I look like a different person when you see me approaching and it’s not even from the physical changes!

I feel the same way. Even hubby has noticed a little something in my walk that wasn’t there before. I haven’t lost tons of weight but I feel tighter, leaner, stronger, and more importantly, capable.

Of course, I’m not the only one. There are lots of posts out there where people talk about how CrossFit has helped them love themselves, see themselves in a different more positive light. For me, it hasn’t been only about that, it has been about reclaiming what I had lost for a while. Depression was affecting my craft and I couldn’t let that happen. I’m a writer, goddammit, I can’t just stop.

Exactly like when you’re half-way through a WOD, feeling like you’re dying, but you don’t stop, because you’re not stopping until you’re done. I’m not letting anything stop my writing, no sir, I’m not even close to done with that.

The writer and the photographer

One of the many things I’m grateful in life is my husband. Yes, as cheesy as it may sound, that man is the best thing that’s ever happened to me (aaawwwwee).

Okay, enough of the pink stuff.

Of the many things I wanted to be in life (rock star, marine biologist, stripper, architect, etc.) there were two that were always on the top of my list: writer and photographer. I met my husband thanks to the photography classes I took during my B.A. in Audiovisual Communication. He, a photographer with 20+ years experience, me a student with an expensive camera and what everyone called ‘a good eye’. I love photography and I’m not that bad at it. However, the art that I’ve focused on the most as of late is writing and it has, apparently, taken over the rest of me.

Why do I say this? Let me give you an example:

We have a 6 month old doberman puppy-pony that could give the Energizer Bunny a run for his money. She’s goofy, she’s curious, and she can’t leave our cat alone, no matter how many times Jin-Jing slashes her, she’s always coming for more. One morning hubby walked out to the terrace and saw Carola, the puppy, staring at JJ up on a tree branch. The light was beautiful, the tree leaves looked so green and vivid, Carola’s pose was perfect, you could see JJ clearly through the leaves… “Astrid come out here!” I heard him and, after thinking ‘what does he want now?!’, went to check on what was happening. I was mesmerized by the scene, it was so beautiful. “Where’s the camera!” Hubby cut through my thoughts and my instant reply was “WHY?!”

Why? Because he’s a photographer! He needs to press the shutter on scenes like that to validate its existence. I, on the contrary, assimilate it and store it in my head so I can replay it later.

That’s why I know I’ll never be another one of those things I wanted to be at some point in my life: a photojournalist. Because I’d rather tell you what I saw (write about it to be exact) than show you a photographic reproduction of the moment.

And, to tell you the truth, as long as my readers are okay with that, I’m also okay with that.

So hubby better either carry his own camera or learn to store those images in his mind (and maybe learn to paint?). Yeah.