When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you start?
I could give you an approximate date but I think the bigger answer here is when I knew I wanted to tell stories. I think these days people look at writing as a technical craft involving the wholesale distribution of words within the ideal parameters. That’s shortsighted. The best writers are the best storytellers.
When I was a child I was very bored, most of the time. My solution to this boredom wasn’t to escape into books, at least not at first. The first escape came from building whole worlds. Worlds of robots, werewolves, and superheroes. (All three of those appear in my writings, FYI. Actually, all three appear in just one book if you can believe it.) I built these worlds by marching up and down a dirt road or a paved road in the ghetto where we lived, talking to myself. Sure, it sounds a little nutty, but writers are just grown-ups who talk to themselves and let other people listen in.
My first attempt at really penning fiction was a story when I was twelve and it was sword and sorcery fantasy. I actually fell in love not with storytelling, but in creating. I had this one kind of mechanical pencil and a legal pad and the act of writing the story, of seeing the graphite marks on the paper, became a sort of medium to me. I could see a shape and a pattern and felt in control of my world, for once, there on that paper.
Didn’t finish that first story, or my second one about dinosaurs on Mars (yes, really), and eventually tucked my self-talk deep inside.
I wrote my first book when I was nineteen. It was horrible. It was an attempt to be a writer, not a storyteller. It was long, contrived, full of more holes than mysteries. I got an agent for it. A schmagent, I think they call it these days. She was a scam artist and she took my money in exchange for a book that should have been rejected. To quote Monty Python, “I got better…”
I know firsthand that breaking into the world of publishing is difficult. What has your writing journey been like so far?
The best word would be frustrating. My second book, which I call my first because I don’t even recognize the dreck I first produced, was readable. I remember I was reading Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman and I literally put the book down, I still remember which part, and walked out of the room. I cranked five thousand words of what would become the first chapter of the first decent story I ever told.
I tried to get an agent for it but neither the work nor I was ready for that. So after getting a few beta readers, I self-published it. This was before Amazon was a platform so I actually printed it through a print on demand publisher. Sold about one hundred copies. Was shocked because some people disagreed with my own assessment of myself and my writing. They didn’t think I was the best writer around.
After that I wrote three more books in fairly quick succession and then my life spun on me in a way I couldn’t have predicted. I stopped writing between 2006-2011. I would produce a short story every now and then, but no books. I gave up numerous things in my life during that time and just assumed writing was one of them.
In 2011 I met a friend who wanted to read something I had written. So I sent her an unfinished book. She got to where I’d left it and then asked me about a dozen questions about the story. Not the technical structure of it, not the style, not the genre. Just straight up, “Why is the Queen a little girl? Why is her brother killing all those people?”
These little sparks scattered on the dry tinder and everything caught fire again. I finished that book. Then life spun again. I planned a book and prepared to write it but didn’t for another year. When I did settle in to write that book, it just sort of exploded out of me. I wrote 144K words in 33 days (It’s available for free on my website). That was 2013. Last year I wrote two books, and I am currently about to finish up my third for this year.
What genre(s) do you write in? What is it that you love about them?
I write all over the map. I have written non fiction, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, horror/thriller, sci-fi, and YA. I don’t tend to have a favorite. I write whatever challenges me most. In fact, when I tried YA, I set a couple of handicaps in place to make it more appealing for me: I didn’t allow myself any curse words or graphic descriptions of sex or violence. Tying my hands like that made me more creative for the task.
Who are some of your favorite authors? Why them and not me?
Stephen King and Dean Koontz are my greatest influences. King because there’s grit between his letters that rubs me just right and Koontz because there’s hope in his work that doesn’t appear in King’s work nearly as often. In fantasy, I loved Robert Jordan for being able to write a world so large as he did. In sci-fi I love Asimov and Heinlein and Scalzi, but Heinlein is probably at the top of that list. In YA I guess Rowling, even though that sounds cliche. And I am also an exceedingly harsh critic of the Potter series, though I do love it. And you, of course, Kelly. You rock.
(YAY! THANKS GABE!)
What inspires your ideas? How do you come up with them?
Let me give you some specifics:
a.) I saw a man, in real life, walking into a bank one day and then immediately thought he was about to rob it. Then I asked myself, “What if he had the help of a vampire? A zombie? Maybe some other supernatural teammates?”
b.) I saw a teenage girl, in my mind’s eye, in the center of a summoning circle drawn inside a chicken processing plant and wondered what had happened to get her there.
c.) I heard one of my characters ‘say’, “The Moon sucks.”
What are you working on now?
I’m about to finish my first draft of my participation with NaNoWriMo. It’s a new book with a silly premise and a dark execution. Mainly I just wanted to be one of the cool kids. I’m not sure that it will be a record for me, but it fits in my record pace with 70K words in two weeks’ time.
I’m also still agent searching and trying to solve the “Big Problem.”
What’s the “Big Problem”?
The Big Problem is that people aren’t reading. Our rhythms, as human beings, are in flux right now. Though we’re in the 2010’s, we’re experiencing a shift in the way people entertain themselves that was only seen when the radio and television were invented. People will watch twelve hours of Netflix in a row, but they won’t sit down with a book for an hour. The problem isn’t that Amazon provides an alternative platform. That works, in a sense, to raise the whole tide. But the Big Problem fights Amazon and traditional publishers.
The Big Problem, for authors, is how to be a storyteller in this market. Most authors spend their time writing and reading. I do, as well, but I want to figure out how to make reading attractive to people who don’t read. If we authors, and also agents and publishers generally, could figure out how to sell the concept of reading to the average consumer, then we wouldn’t be operating with what Seth Godin refers to as a “scarcity mentality.” Then there would be no shortage of agents, good books, authors getting paid for their work, etc.
I don’t have the answer yet, in case you were wondering.
(I ACTUALLY WAS so…)
What does a typical writing day look like for you/what is your process?
I wish I knew what a typical day is. And that’s not a joke. I have five kids, a full-time job, a social life, extracurricular activities like birthday parties, and date nights.
So during NaNo, I carved out moments to throw myself at the words. They were small little gaps in the barrage that life shoots at me. During those gaps, I’d do what I refer to as “cranking.” Just writing as fast as I possibly could. I got strange looks in the airport, recently, because one of the things I do in that moment is write with my eyes closed. Yes, I know how that sounds. I just need to not worry about the words as they flow and I can go faster when I’m blind.
I do get that most writers aren’t like me. I seize on a story like an alligator doing a death roll, taking it to the bottom of the murk, and only coming up to chew.
(AHH poetic imagery at its finest.)
You are a pretty prolific writer. If you had to pick one of your novels to be made into a movie, which would you choose and what actors would you cast to play the three main roles?
What a great question. I would say the one that stands out is the sci-fi trilogy I wrote, Little Grey Angels. Matthew McConaughey as the lead, Shane, Emma Watson as Dicey, and maybe John Rhys-Davies as Curt. That book is about so much more than I can even explain here, but I really wish it could get turned into a series on Netflix. I’ve written a few screenplays and I think the way I structured it would work so well in that format.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about craft?
Don’t base your worth on being a writer. Ever. If someone tells you how amazing you are, thank them, but don’t pin that to your proverbial wall. Likewise, if someone says you suck, don’t pin that up there either. You’re a human being and anything with regard to your work will have seasons, rhythms, ebbs and flows. If I meet you and the first thing you tell me is that you’re a writer, I know immediately that you’re holding onto that gossamer thread, hoping people don’t want to know who you really are.
That’s pretty dark. Why is that important for being a writer?
There’s a section from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, that says, “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…”
I’m okay at telling stories but trying to impress people with that will, in the end, leave me feeling empty and alone. But if you got to know the real Gabe? The unimpressive me? And you still wanted to hang out? Well that’s something rare and beautiful. Don’t hang everything you are on the nail of being a writer. Let being a writer be where you shine and glimmer but remember it’s really just a reflection of glory, not the source of it.
What advice or thoughts do you have for aspiring writers about writing?
Write what makes you uncomfortable. Don’t spend your time in writing cul de sacs. If you like YA, great, but read literary fiction too. If you like sci-fi, awesome, but read some children’s books. If you spend your time only reading the same things and writing the same things, you’ll never grow.
Write because it’s amazing and enjoyable and terrible and punishing and uplifting and enslaving and freeing. Write because you’re a walking contradiction and so is it.
What about the process of trying to get published?
If you want to get an agent, offer to read slush for one. Read that stuff like crazy and offer your honest opinions. See how your opinions differ from an agent’s. I got to do that recently and it opened my eyes up to so much. It helped me see the Big Problem from their side and made me want to solve it more.
Anything else you would like to add or talk about?
I love interacting with folks in every way so if anybody ever wants to ask me a question, I am happy to answer. You might not like the answer I give, but I want to help everybody, everywhere, all the time.
Thank you so much Gabe! Where can people find out more about you and your books? Awesome interview!
On my website I have gratuitous amounts of information about me, my thoughts, my recorded short stories, etc. Go nuts.
Online at: https://twitter.com/gabeposey, https://www.facebook.com/gabrielposeycom/,