A Vampire Appetizer

In the summer of 2011, I officially threw my hat into the arena of publishing, releasing my debut novel Inside the Outside. While I've spent a great majority of the last year promoting my novel, working tirelessly to build my readership, I've also been working just as tirelessly on my second novel, The Vampire, the Hunter, and the Girl.

When I first penned "Adam & Olivia," I wasn't sure if it would simply be a short story or the beginning of something longer.  Naturally, I began writing a second story, just to see if this vampire idea of mine had any legs. That story became "Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter." Between "Adam & Olivia" and "Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter," I knew I had the first two chapters of my next novel.

While I had no idea what the novel would actually be about or how Adam, Jesus, and Olivia—the vampire, the hunter, and the girl—would come to affect one another, I felt confident that there was enough potential there to warrant a novel.

Well now, here we are in 2012 and that little seedling of an idea is nearly complete. The Vampire, the Hunter, and the Girl is loosely slated to be released in 2013. In the meantime, I've released both "Adam & Olivia" and "Jesus the Mexican Vampire Hunter" exclusively in Amazon's Kindle Store, as Vampire Shorts.

Each Vampire Short, in my estimation, can be read and enjoyed as self-contained stories, but they can also be enjoyed as companion pieces. And, in the big picture, I hope they will whet your appetite in anticipation of the forthcoming publication of my second novel.

What Inspires a Writer to Tell a Story?

This article originally appeared as a guest post on Alive on the Shelves in August 2011.

Since the publication of my debut novel, Inside the Outside, I’m often asked the question: What made you want to write about cannibals? For me the answer is obvious: Why wouldn’t I want to write about cannibals?! I mean, seriously, how fascinating are cannibals?  They’re people who eat other people. Why isn’t everybody writing about cannibals?  But, of course, it doesn’t take much looking around to realize that there are not a whole lot of authors who are as interested in cannibalism as I am. Which leads me to wonder: Why isn’t everybody writing about cannibals? Don’t they find them as interesting as I do? And, on the whole, the answer appears to be a resounding no.

So in the end, it seems that the very simple answer as to why I decided to write about cannibals is because they interest me. This isn’t to say I’m interested in cannibalism as a lifestyle or even as a hobby, just that the idea of cannibalism—the idea that, even as I write this, there is a cannibal out there, somewhere, making his lunch—is infinitely fascinating to me. While the initial seeds were planted with my viewing of Wes Craven's 1985 horror film The Hills Have Eyes: Part 2, much of my interest in cannibalism stems from my being a vegetarian. Vegetarians and carnivores alike, at some point or another, have ventured down that slippery slope of questioning when eating meat goes from acceptable to unacceptable (Cows and chickens: “Yes!”; Dogs and people: “No!”). As a writer, this made me curious to explore those people who say “Yes!” to eating other people.

So I created a society of cannibals who live in a remote combine in the San Bernardino Mountains, a society of people for whom eating human flesh is every bit as normal as eating cows and chickens. I wasn’t, however, interested in writing any sort of didactic diatribe about dietary choices. I simply wanted to explore who these people might be and what their little corner of the world might look like. The theme of cannibalism naturally lends itself to the elements of horror, however, I wasn’t primarily motivated to write a horror novel. Ultimately, everything about my novel—every character and plot point—was motivated simply by the things that interest me in my everyday life.

And I suspect this is true for most every author. Certainly, there are those authors who are motivated by other, less personal elements—money, fame, Oprah’s Book Club, etc.—but, by and large, writers are inspired to write about whatever it is that fascinates them in real life. Michael Chabon, for instance, loved comic books as a kid, which helps explain why they serve as one of the central themes of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Tim O’Brien served in the Vietnam War, which more than explains why it serves as the central theme of many of his novels, including the National Book Award-winning Going After Cacciato and the Pulitzer Prize-finalist The Things They Carried.

As a reader, one of the things I enjoy about reading multiple books by a single author is coming across the various themes and references that repeat themselves from one story to the next, a variable trail of literary breadcrumbs leading to some secret insight about the author that might otherwise go unnoticed. Tom Robbins, for instance, author of such terrific novels as Skinny Legs and All and Jitterbug Perfume, often refers to pumpkins and genius waitresses in his work. I have no idea what place either of these hold in his everyday life, but clearly they mean something to him. Or take Stephen King, for example, who sets so many of his stories in Portland, Maine. Even if you’re not a King biographer (which I’m not), it becomes clear that this setting has some personal meaning to him.

But beyond the personal connections an author has to his subject matter, I think there is probably a simpler reason for what inspires us to write a particular story—or any story for that matter—and that is the simple act of human connection. By our very nature, we’re wired to communicate with each other. It’s one of the most natural things in the world, it’s why our ancestors painted pictures on cave walls and it’s why we developed words and languages. Storytelling is simply an extension of that evolution, an extension of our natural need to connect with other people. Of course, what we choose to communicate varies from author to author—be it comic books, war, pumpkins, or cannibals. And discovering those inspirations, like hidden gems, is all part of the fun.

Inside the Outside is One Year Old!

Has it really been a whole year?

My goodness, how time flies. I could swear it was just yesterday I was sitting in my parent's kitchen, talking with my mom, scared to the brink of vomiting at the thought of publishing my debut novel, Inside the Outside. Sitting across the table from her in the middle of the night, I asked, "What if nobody cares?"

When I was writing the book, riding the wave of confidence that comes when there are no expectations, no outside pressure, nobody looking over your shoulder, my only concern was making the book as good as I could make it. In my mind there was no doubt that, as long as I gave it my best effort, readers would find it and enjoy it; and, really, that's all I wanted was for readers to like it. As any author can tell you, a novel is like your child. It comes from you, out of you, and, for years at a time, you nurture it, watching it grow and develop.  You become proud when it takes on a life of its own, taking its first steps, becoming independent.

And then, one night, while your sitting in the kitchen with your mother, you realize it's time to let it go. It's time to send it out into the world, where you won't be there to protect it if it get's bullied by reviewers or teased by bloggers. You want to be there, standing by its side, fighting its battles, only you realize you can't. All you can do is make sure you've written the best book you know how and then you wait and watch and hope for the best.

So, it's funny how before that night in the kitchen, I'd never considered the question: "What if nobody cares?"

All along I assumed people would care, one way or another. I figured readers would love my book or hate it or have ambiguous feelings that they couldn't quite articulate—but I'd never factored in the possibility of people not caring. Worse yet, what if nobody noticed? What if I published my book and nobody bought it? What if it simply got lost in the vast library of books already out in the world competing for the attention of readers?

"Well, you know we'll buy it," my mom said. "That's at least two."

It was sweet and it made me smile, but I still couldn't get past that one looming question. However much it weighed on my mind and however many times I considered turning back from that cliff, I realized I would never get over the regret of not publishing Inside the Outside.

So, on July 9, 2011, that's exactly what I did. That was one year ago today and, boy oh boy, what a year it's been.

Within a few weeks of publication, Inside the Outside broke into Amazon's Top 100 Bestsellers in Horror, peaking at #58. And during that same span of time, it also raced up Amazon's Top 100 Hot New Seller's in Horror, reaching #3.

And then the reviews started coming in...

Will Entrekin, author and Creative Director of Exciting Press, wrote:

"It’s not just the best indie novel I read in 2011; it’s the finest novel I read overall, and that distinction might carry back a couple of years besides."

Cara, one half of the BiblioBabes, wrote:

"It was torturous trying to read faster, to turn the page quicker..."

Kat, the other half of the BiblioBabes, wrote:

"I picked this story up, and I literally could not put it down.  I was reading it at work.  I was reading it at a party last night.  I fell asleep in bed with it in my hands at 2AM two nights in a row.  I was totally hooked, and reading at every possible second."

Book Den wrote:

"I classify Inside the Outside with books such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Patrick Süskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer—books that may have violent content or a disturbing premise but appeal to a much wider audience."

Before I knew it, Inside the Outside was a critically acclaimed bestseller. It had (and continues to have) an enthusiastic and growing base of loyal and vocal fans. I got invited to make personal appearances at libraries and prisons and high schools and universities where I read from my novel, talked about writing, signed books, and posed for pictures. It was all just so much and I really couldn't have hoped or asked for anything more.

And then Inside the Outside started winning awards...

One year in and the experience of publishing Inside the Outside has already exceeded all of my expectations. Of course, it hasn't yet exceeded my wildest dreams. My dreams for this book are pretty big and this first year has only served to increase my expectations for what it can still accomplish. But if it were all over today, right now—poof!—no more, well, I'd have nothing to complain about. This past year has been such an exhilarating ride and, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everybody who's helped make this dream of mine come true.

The Evolution of "Footsteps"

In April of 2012, I signed a deal with Exciting Press to publish six short stories.

And on June 18, 2012, "Footsteps," the first of those stories was published. The story follows Rusty Hankover, a young man who hates his abusive father and loves rich women's feet in equal measures. When Rusty's dad comes up missing, his tabloid-loving mom is convinced he's become the latest victim of the Back Alley Cannibal. A chance encounter with a woman and her daughter will ultimately reveal the dark, grisly truth.

Many of my readers will recognize the theme of cannibalism in "Footsteps," as it plays a central role in my debut novel Inside the Outside. I first became fascinated with writing cannibal literature in 2001, while I was studying English at California State University, San Bernardino. I was taking a humanities course called Interoperation and Values, which, among other things, illuminated the world of corporate farming. I was struck by the abuse animals are made to endure in such farms and, having discovered this emotional chord, decided I wanted to articulate it in a story. I quickly realized, however, that (unless your George Orwell) writing about farm animals wasn’t a particularly dynamic idea.

During that same quarter CSUSB, I was also taking a creative writing class. The professor assigned us a sci-fi story to read about about aliens enslaving humans; upon reading it, she explained that the story was an allegory. This was the first time I could remember being introduced to the idea of an allegory, which Wikipedia defines as a literary device that "communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation." I loved this and decided I could use it to articulate the emotional chord I'd felt about farm animals by writing an allegorical story about people eating people.

I began brainstorming a short story idea about a cannibal farm. The more I developed it the bigger it got until, eventually, it became too big for my still-developing skill set. Before I gave up on the short story, I'd come up with a homeless mother and daughter, both of whom were cannibals. The mother killed people in order to feed herself and her daughter; the daughter didn't know there was anything strange about eating people, because it's all she knew. They weren't the main characters in my cannibal farm story, but they were the ones who stuck with me the longest. I didn't know what to do with them, but I knew that, eventually, I'd revisit that mother and daughter again.

A few years later, during a trip to Las Vegas, I was sitting in the dressing room of Rampage, while my girlfriend tried on clothes. As I sat there, it occurred to me that nobody knew who I was there with; for all they knew, I was just sitting in there by myself staring at feet beneath the dressing room doors.

Amused by this idea, I decided to write a short story about a guy who hangs out in women's dressing rooms under the pretense that he's waiting for his wife or girlfriend, but really he's just being a voyeur. I found that while I liked the premise, there wasn't enough there to turn it into a compelling story. So, like a mad scientist, I decided to combine the idea of the voyeuristic foot fetishist with the idea about the cannibal mother and daughter to see what that story would look like.

And that's how "Footsteps" was born.

Not long after I wrote it in 2005, "Footsteps" was published in The Pacific Review. It was the last short story I wrote, before concentrating my efforts on becoming a novelist. To my mind, it's always been the stepping stone that led to Inside the Outside, so I'm thrilled that fans of my novel can now see where my fascination with cannibal literature began.

MISPLACED: A Short Film I Did Not Write

So, back in the fall of 2009, my brother, Greg, shot is latest short film, Misplaced. When Misplaced was still in the pre-production phase, he recruited my help with regards to working out the story. I did not, however, co-write the screenplay, as I was working on another project. Among other duties, I wrote naughty headlines for a fake porn magazine called Grunt. I also wrote a fake radio show (in the spirit of Howard Stern) about clown porn.

Anyway, Greg felt he owed me a film credit for the writing I'd done (and, please, so we're all clear here, this was his idea) only he didn't quite know what credit to give me. He ultimately credited me with an "Additional Material by" credit. And, in quintessential Greg fashion, he couldn't resist the urge to explain himself in an article called "Martin Lastrapes: Not the Writer." Here's an excerpt:

Lurking somewhere in every film I’ve made is one of the best friends a guy could ever hope to have: my brother, Martin. I frequently place him in front of the camera and ask him to do ridiculous things while being side-splittingly funny, and he never disappoints. Never. I’ve yet to discover something he absolutely refuses to do. He is the actor every director dreams of working with. Yet despite his natural acting skills and flawless comic timing, he’ll always point out that he’s not an actor. He’s wrong about this, of course, but we’ll indulge his obviously false modesty because he is, first and foremost, an incredibly gifted writer.

You can read the rest of Greg's glowing love letter HERE.

It also includes the full audio presentation of my clown radio show, Bonkers and the Daff, featuring, among other talented folks, the voice of Jesse Meriwether, who, when she's not filming JC Penny commercials with Ellen DeGeneres, is usually getting recognized on the street as the lint licker actress from the Orbit commercial.

When you're done reading the article and listening to Bonkers and the Daff (which, by the way, is totally NSFW), be sure to look around the website, where you can watch trailers for the film, read the screenplay (as well as the screenplay for Bonkers and the Daff), and see lots of beautiful still shots from the film.


Inside the Outside: Paris Book Festival Grand Prize Winner!

I'm in a state of shock. Numb is probably more accurate.

No, no... overwhelmed is more apt.

Inside the Outside, my debut novel, won the Grand Prize in the 2012 Paris Book Festival. I found out a couple of hours ago and, quite frankly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this tremendous honor.  It's nearly two o'clock in the morning as I type this and there's no telling if I'll ever get to sleep again. Between you and me, I don't want to go to sleep, just in case this is all a dream.

This is the first major award for Inside the Outside and, even if it turns out to be the last, I'll still be satisfied. Along with the honor itself, the award comes with a cash prize and a flight to Paris. I've never been anywhere near Europe, let alone Paris.  And to think that my first trip there will be to accept my first major literary honor...

I just can't find the words.

I hope folks like Will Entrekin, Kat and Cara (The BiblioBabes), Joanna Penn, and everybody else who loved this book when it seemed like nobody else would pay attention to it will enjoy this honor with me. I hope writers all over the world who are struggling to make a mark and feel like their break may never come will find some glimmer of inspiration in the knowledge that, not too long ago, I'd nearly lost all hope of ever having a writing career.

As is the case with many writers, I sought to get published through the traditional route of acquiring a literary agent who would get me a book deal. After sending out dozens of query letters and receiving dozens of rejections, I found myself at a crossroads. I believed strongly in my book and I knew there was an audience for it, so I had to decide if I wanted to keep trekking down the traditional route or if I wanted to take the risk of publishing my book independently.

It was a terrifying decision, but, after much consideration, I decided to gamble on independent publishing. Part of my concern was the general stigma that is still attached to indie publishing. I worried that my novel, right or wrong, would be adversely affected by this stigma.

Even when I made my decision and began taking steps to move forward, I still questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing. And even after I published Inside the Outside, I still had occasional doubts. So, as much as anything else, this award offers me tremendous validation, not only of my novel, but of my decision to publish it on my own.

Of course, a trip to Paris won't be so bad, either.

Exciting Press Signs Author Martin Lastrapes

I've signed a deal with Exciting Press and, if you'll pardon the pun, I'm terribly excited about it. A press release was sent out this morning with some of the more interesting details.

"Novelist Martin Lastrapes, whose independent novel Inside the Outside climbed the Amazon horror bestseller lists with its tale of religious sects, cannibalism, and literary terror, has signed a deal with Exciting Press to bring six new stories spanning multiple topics and genres to the digital market. Lastrapes’ short stories and flash fiction will join titles by international bestseller Nick Earls, fantasy novelist Miya Kressin, and Press director Will Entrekin to broaden Exciting Press’ already diverse catalog."

The agreement I've made with Exciting Press is both thrilling and gratifying for reasons that you probably aren't aware of.  You see, I fancy myself a novelist (which, considering I've only written one novel, may sound a bit presumptuous) and, for the foreseeable future, my primary goal is to write and publish novels. But, before I was a novelist, I was just an aspiring writer trying very hard to learn my craft.

As it is with most developing writers, I cut my teeth by writing short fiction. Suffice it to say, most of my early efforts would fit comfortably on a scale of terrible-try-again to take-this-shit-to-your-grave.

Things began to change for me in 2002, when I was studying English at Cal State San Bernardino. James Brown, the critically acclaimed novelist and memoirist, was one of my creative writing professors and, under his watch, I eventually had what I think of as my Neo-at-the-end-of-The-Matrix-moment. From pacing and character to metaphor and symbolism, it all just started to make sense.

I plied this newfound knowledge by writing more short stories, only these new stories were actually pretty good. While some of them were published and others won awards, their primary purpose, so far as I was concerned, was to prepare me for my eventual leap into novel writing.  And, at the end of the day, they served their purpose, when I managed to complete my debut novel Inside the Outside.

While Inside the Outside marked the beginning of my career as a novelist, there was a part of me that felt a bit sad to be moving away from short fiction and those stories I was most proud of. I'd come to accept them as fond memories, like the pretty girl I once met at Bullwinkle's who taught me how to kiss.

But now, thanks to Exciting Press, many of those short stories will be getting their time in the sun. And, while I've tried to articulate it for the last 400 words or so, the truth is I don't think I can properly express how thrilled I am to have made this deal.

I almost wish I could go back in time to talk to that younger version of myself, the aspiring writer with the shaky confidence and constant fear that nobody would ever care about the stories he wanted to tell. I almost wish I could tell him that the short stories he was writing—stories which he thought would never progress anywhere beyond his computer screen—would one day become the centerpiece for a publishing deal that would put him on the same team as critically acclaimed and bestselling authors.

But, if I did that, it would ruin the surprise for this present version of myself and I wouldn't be sitting here with a smile on my face, marveling at all the wonderful experiences this writing journey of mine has afforded me.

Cannibals in the News

If you've found yourself on this website, then odds are you've either read or, at the very least, heard of my novel Inside the Outside.

The plot of Inside the Outside revolves around a teenage girl named Timber Marlow who grows up as a cannibal within a cult called the Divinity of Feminine Reproach. The cannibals in the Divinity perform a ritual called the Sustenance Sacrifice, before killing and eating their members.

Part of the fun for me in developing the Divinity was creating a group that sounded plausible to readers, even though it would probably never, ever happen in real life.

Well, this morning my brother sent me a news story with the following headline:

"Brazilian Police Swoop on 'Cannibal' Cult"

"Brazilian police have arrested a man and two women on suspicion of having murdered and eaten at least two women in what was described as a purification ritual."

So, of course, I needed to know more about this Brazilian cult. After a bit of research, I found this headline:

"Cannibal Gang 'Made Meat Pastries Out of Victims' Flesh"

"[Jorge and Elizabeth Pires da Silveira, both 51, and Bruna da Silva, 25] arrested on suspicion of having murdered and cannibalised [sic] at least two women in what was described as a purification ritual. The trio also apparently took some of the meat and cooked it into meat pastries which they sold on the street."

Obviously, this got me curious about how many other cannibal stories have been in the news lately, so I did a quick five-minute sweep on Google and, below, are a couple of the stranger stories I came across.

"'Cannibal Serial Killer' Arrested in Russia"

"Police said [Alexander Bychkov's victims] were killed with a knife. They found a diary at Bychkov's house which described how he cut up the victims and ate their livers. Detectives believe the alleged killer may be responsible for more murders because a series of people have gone missing without trace from around the small town of Belinsk in the last two years."

"Cannibal Mafia Bosses Ate Traitor in Spain"

"A mafia traitor was beaten to death with a hammer and then eaten by Serbian gangsters, police believe. Officers said Milan Jurisic, 37, was killed in Madrid by criminals from the Zemun Clan, a mafia group from Belgrade. His remains were then ground up with a meat grinder, cooked, and eaten, according to a confession by another Zemun Clan member, Sretko Kalinic, nicknamed 'The Butcher.'"

Truth is stranger than fiction, indeed.  Or, in my case, truth is pretty much right on par with fiction.


Inside the Outside: Globetrotter

Back in the summer of 2011, when I was a few deep breaths and a mouse click away from publishing my debut novel, Inside the Outside, I found myself consumed with insecurity.

What if nobody cared about my book?

I worried that I was setting my novel off into a big, loud, busy world, where it would get lost amongst all the hustle and bustle of life and cars and jobs and sports and movies and Facebook and Justin Bieber.

When, during it's first week of publication, Inside the Outside made it into Amazon.com's Bestseller List, I felt like I was in the middle of a dream. When it started collecting overwhelmingly positive reviews from readers and reviewers alike, I felt like I needed to pinch myself.  And when Exciting Writing named it the best indie book of 2011, I felt like things couldn't get much better.

So when, just a few days ago, Mauro Corso, an Italian journalist, writer and actor, gave Inside the Outside it's first foreign language review on his website Attore e Scrittore, I felt, perhaps, the most gratifying sense of accomplishment since it's initial publication.

And it's not so much what Corso said about my book (though he was very complimentary of it), but what his review represented. Where once I feared that nobody would care about or even notice my book, it is now traveling to parts of the world where I've never been myself, being discovered and enjoyed by readers who speak languages I might never understand.

Corso, in addition to writing a review of Inside the Outside, asked if I would do an interview, which I was only too happy to do. Below you will find the links to both the review and the interview (in English and in Italian).

REVIEW: Scrivere di Canibalismo

INTERVIEW [ITALIAN]: Intervista a Martin Lastrapes, Autore di Inside the Outside

INTERVIEW [ENGLISH]: Interview with Martin Lastrapes, Author of Inside the Outside

My KDP Free Experience | PART 2

(Read "My KDP Free Experience | PART 1" HERE)

So, it's been a little more than a week since my KDP free promotion for Inside the Outside ended and I figured it was about time I shared the aftermath. Here are my notes regarding the fifth and final day of the promotion:

DAY 5 | February 24

  • 1:00am – 2000 downloads (#18 in Horror)
  • 8:00am – 2046 downloads (#12 in Horror)
  • 6:00pm – 2225 downloads (#20 in Horror)
  • 11:00pm – 2275 downloads (#23 in Horror)

And that's where I left off. After a long and busy week promoting Inside the Outside, I was exhausted and couldn't stay awake until midnight to see what the final tally of free downloads was.

This is an important detail to have missed out on, because one of the stats I wanted to keep track of was how many books I sold (if any) after the promotion was over.  Since KDP (as of this writing) doesn't differentiate between books downloaded for free and books paid for, I don't know the precise cutoff. But, what I do know is that there were more downloads after I fell asleep at 11:00pm.

February 25 | Post Promo Day 1

  • 9:00am – 2083 downloads (#65,229 in Kindle Store)

Since I have no real way of knowing, I'll assume (for the sake of this post) that 2083 was the final tally of free kindle copies of Inside the Outside downloaded during the promotion; assuming this is true, there were 8 free downloads in the final hour.

One of my hopes with doing this promotion was that it would lead to book sales in the aftermath and, I'm happy to report, it did. Unfortunately, there weren't an avalanche of book sales. I kept notes for just a few days, as needed, and here is the final note I made through February:

February 29 | Post Promo Day 4

  • 11:00pm – 2099 downloads (#23,067 in Kindle Store)

So, subtracting the presumed number of free downloads (2083), that means I sold 16 books at the end of the promotion through the end of February. I have mixed feelings about those 16 books sold.

On the one hand, I'm almost embarrassed to admit some disappointment; I'd hoped that maybe the momentum of the promotion would lead to book sales in the 100s.  But, on the other hand, I'm quite grateful, because February had been a particularly slow month for Inside the Outside and, before the promotion, I'd sold only 3 copies in the Kindle Store. If my math is correct (and I'm sure it's not) that means I increased my book sales from the beginning of the month by 500%.

One promising thing about those book sales is, not long before I started the free promotion, I raised the price of Inside the Outside in the Kindle Store from $0.99 to $4.99. Along with the obvious advantage of earning more money per book, the price change also increases my royalties from 35% to 70%. This means that those folks who bought the book after the promotion ended weren't deterred by the $4.99 price tag, which, admittedly, I felt was something of a gamble (but that's a topic I'll save for another post).

But, more than the dollars and cents, I'm thrilled to know that there are now more than 3,000 copies of Inside the Outside living in Kindles throughout the U.S. and the U.K. (during the free promotion, Inside the Outside reached #38 in Amazon U.K.'s Top 100 free horror books).

How many of those folks will actually read Inside the Outside? I have no idea. I'm certain that a fair number of those readers, like so many of us, simply enjoy collecting free stuff, and likely will never read one page of my novel. But even if a quarter of those people who downloaded the book decide to read it, then that's roughly 750 new readers.

And that's a number that would make my KDP free experience an unqualified success.

My KDP Free Experience | PART 1

On Monday, February 20, 2012, I began a 5 day campaign of offering my novel, Inside the Outside, for free in Amazon's Kindle Store. When authors sign up for the KDP Select program on Amazon, they get a few perks and benefits, one of them being the opportunity to have a free book promotion.

In exchange, the author must make their book(s) exclusive to the Kindle Store. I didn't come to my decision easily, but, after thinking it through and weighing all the pros and cons, I decided to give it a go.

A big part of what sold me on it was the idea that Amazon would give me 5 days of free promotion every 90 days. Of course, up until a few days ago, I completely misunderstood what that meant. I thought it meant Amazon would promote my book for free for 5 days, which sounded like an invaluable offer.

But, as I eventually figured out, it really means they'll set your book up to be downloaded for free. I wasn't exactly sure how rewarding that would be, but after doing some research and reading about the KDP experiences of other authors, such as Will Entrekin and John L. Betcher, I decided to give it a go.

While authors in the KDP Select program can use their 5 days at their discretion (one day here, say, or two days there), I decided to use all 5 of my days in a row. As I write this, Day 4 has ended and Day 5 is under way.

I've spent much of my week promoting Inside the Outside's free listing on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads. I also incorporated the invaluable help of the World Literary Cafe, while also asking for help from folks who have previously shown support for my novel, such as The BiblioBabes and Monkeycstars. And, through no connections or efforts of my own, I found that a few websites that promote Kindle books featured my free promotion, such as Free eBooks Daily.

During these last 4 days I have monitored the progress of my free promotion very closely, taking handwritten notes that, to the casual observer, may resemble that of a crazy person. While I wouldn't dream of inundating you with the full results of my copious notes, I will offer a condensed version.

In order that you may fully appreciate my data, I don't mind telling you that I sold only 3 Kindle books in the month of February, before beginning my free promotion.

DAY 1 | February 20

  • 8:00am - 141 downloads (unranked)
  • 12:00pm - 424 downloads (#37 in Horror)
  • 8:00pm - 824 downloads (#9 in Horror)

DAY 2 | February 21

  • 8:00am - 1033 downloads (#5 in Horror)
  • 12:00pm - 1121 downloads (#5 in Horror)
  • 11:00pm - 1288 downloads (#13 in Horror)

DAY 3 | February 22

  • 7:00am - 1324 downloads (#12 in Horror)
  • 2:00pm - 1404 downloads (#19 in Horror)
  • 10:00pm - 1528 downloads (#23 in Horror)

DAY 4 | February 23

  • 8:00am - 1643 downloads (#18 in Horror)
  • 12:00pm - 1732 downloads (#15 in Horror)
  • 11:00pm - 1997 downloads (#14 in Horror)

Which brings us to today, Day 5. I'll be taking notes throughout the day, but I think the first 4 days alone offer a pretty good indication of my experience. The first 1 1/2 days of the promotion are where my downloads peaked. But even as the rate of downloads waned, Inside the Outside never dropped out of Amazon's top 25 free horror books.  And, more importantly than that, my book was continuously downloaded throughout the first 4 days - and I suspect that Day 5 will produce comparable results.

So, was KDP Select free promotion a success for me? Well, I had three primary goals:

  1. Expose Inside the Outside to a significant number of potential new readers.
  2. Get Inside the Outside ranked in Amazon's Top 10 Free Horror books.
  3. Generate sales of Inside the Outside following the end of the free promotion.

The first two goals on my list were successfully (thankfully!) achieved. As for the third goal, well, I'll let you know in a few days.

(Read “My KDP Free Experience | PART 2″ HERE)

Indie Authors: The Comedians of Publishing

Indie authors are a lot like stand-up comedians, minus the jokes (and the two-drink minimums).

As a fan of stand-up comedy, I've often marveled at the journey of those comedians who have found success in their trade, both in the execution of their craft, as well as their ability to be seen and heard on a large scale.

For a lot of years, comedians would get their start doing open-mic nights at comedy clubs, gradually putting together routines that could eventually get them through a full hour set, and, if all went well, they 'd get a spot on The Tonight Show, where five minutes with Johnny Carson was all they needed to become household names.

In the same way that publishing has seen a dramatic shift in how indie authors handle their careers, so has stand-up comedy. I've written before about the stigma of indie publishing, how writers had to fight off the perception that circumventing the traditional publishing world meant their work wasn't worthy of being published. The rapid advancements of technology have made publishing a book more accessible than ever, allowing authors to cut out the middleman (read: traditional publishers) while still getting their books into the hands of the folks who matter most (read: readers).

In the wake of a struggling economy, traditional publishers have largely turned to celebrities for books, hoping that their fame will help generate book sales. While this is well and good for the publishers, it doesn't leave much room for those authors who aren't nearly as famous as their celebrity counterparts. This is why more and more authors, in ever increasing numbers, have turned to indie publishing.

In the same way authors are having to figure out new ways to reach their audience, stand-up comedians are doing the same, as many comedy clubs around the country are booking celebrities (such as NBA star Ron Artest and Jackass alumnus Steve-Owho want to try their hand at stand-up comedy.

Recently, indie authors and stand-up comedians have found some common ground in their efforts to evolve in an ever-evolving time. Just as many authors are now publishing their own work, stand-up comedians are beginning to produce their own stand-up specials. The first comedian to really make a splash in this vain is the incredibly talented and funny Louis C.K.

In 2011, Louis C.K. performed a stand-up special called Live at the Beacon Theatre and used the money he generated from ticket sales to produce a video of the performance, which he later sold on his website for $5 dollars a download.  He posted the video on Saturday, December 10, and by Wednesday the 21st his standup special had earned over $1,000,000. On his website devoted to Live at the Beacon Theatre, C.K. writes:

If the trend continues with sales on this video, my goal is that [I] can reach the point where when I sell anything, be it videos, CDs or tickets to my tours, I'll do it here and I'll continue to follow the model of keeping my price as far down as possible, not overmarketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction.

Ross Luippold, associate editor for the Huffington Post, recently reported that Jim Gaffigan, another successful stand-up comedian, is making plans to self-release his next stand-up special exclusively on his website. I've no doubt that more comedians will follow suit and see the benefits of bypassing the middleman in order to deal directly with their audience.

Joe Rogan, for, example, the successful stand-up comedian, TV personality, and combat fighting enthusiast, has created an extremely popular podcast called The Joe Rogan Experience, where  he's found an ideal method for speaking directly to his audience, offering them free entertainment, which organically encourages that same audience to go to his live shows where they will pay to see him perform.

Incidentally, while comedians and indie authors alike are finding new and innovative ways to utilize the rapidly evolving world of technology to connect directly with their audience, audiences are doing the same. With cool innovations, such as the iPad and Kindle Fire, audiences can read a book or watch a stand-up comedy special all on a single piece of technology. With audiences having more and more control over how and when they want to be entertained, it simply makes good sense for authors and comedians to figure out new ways to deal directly with their audience.

In the end, the similarities between what Louis C.K. did and what indie authors are doing is pretty clear. As independent artists, we create our work, fund it with our own capital, then work extremely hard to find and sustain an audience. And whatever money we generate from the loyalty and goodwill of our audience, we can reinvest into our work in order to produce more books or comedy specials or whatever and whatever.

The moral of the story is this: If you are an artist with talent, ambition, and drive, the only thing standing between you and success is you.

My Time in Prison

On Wednesday, February 1, 2012, I went to prison.

It was a great day.

I visited the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC), Victorville, where I was invited to speak to the inmates and give a seminar on creative writing.

The FCC runs the program through their Educational Department in conjunction with the California Writers Club, High Desert (CWCHD).  When, nearly two months ago, Bob Isbill, the President of the CWCHD, asked if I'd be interested in talking to the inmates, I jumped at the opportunity.

On the morning of February 1, I drove up to the High Desert to meet Bob at his house, where I met his equally lovely wife, before he and I headed off to FCC Victorville. As we entered the doors of the visiting area, we had to pass through security, which isn't unlike going through the airport.

I removed my shoes and belt, placed them in a small plastic tub, then stepped through the metal detector. Bob and I waited for a few minutes, until we were greeted by our escort.

The escort led us through the yard, which, honestly, was a bit intimidating on account of all the movies, TV shows, and documentaries that I've seen (not to mention nightmares I've had) about prison.

"It's quiet right now," he told us, as we moved through the empty yard. "But they'll be coming out soon."

There are 20 inmates in the writing program and, as Bob told me, there's plenty more who'd like to get in. There is, however, a cap put on the number of inmates that can be a part of it; those who are in the program must pass through a series of hurdles, while also exhibiting good behavior, in order to be elegible. Because my presentation was regarded as a special event, they opened it up to more inmates and, in all, 85 men showed up.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a certain level of anxiety when, while I sat at the front of the chapel, I watched the inmates entering and taking their seats. It was their khaki jumpsuits that made it all sort of real for me. These were real men who'd committed real crimes and were serving real time. And I was an outsider on their turf.

Rusty LaGrange, who is also part of the CWCHD, gave me a very kind introduction, after which I began speaking to the roomful of 85 inmates. I spoke about novel writing for about 20 minutes or so, before doing a Q & A with the inmates. The men of FCC Victorville had lots of great questions and we talked for well over an hour. And while I never completely forgot where I was, I did, for the great majority of my time there, forget I was in the company of prison inmates and simply saw them as an audience of men enthusiastic to talk about creative writing. When our time was up and the Q & A came to an end, I was presented with a certificate of appreciation and a beautiful plaque.

Following the Q & A, there was time allowed for a meet and greet, giving me an opportunity to speak with many of the inmates one on one. Some had questions about writing and publishing, while others simply wanted to say thank you. A few even told me they were going to ask their families to buy Inside the Outside and send it to the prison for them to read. In all, I couldn't have asked for a kinder or more gracious audience.

As we were escorted out of the chapel and I waved goodbye to the inmates, I was immediately reminded of the two separate worlds we inhabited. While I was off to the Hesperia Library to prepare for another presentation later that evening, the inmates of FCC Victorville would go back to their daily reality of being prisoners in a federal penitentiary. I can only hope that my visit served to inspire them as much as they inspired me.

And now that I'm out, I can't wait to go back to prison.

Author Meet & Greet at Sun City Library

I was invited to attend Sun City Library's 1st Annual Authors Meet & Greet, which took place on January 21, 2012.  It was a great afternoon in which I had the opportunity to meet readers and authors, sign copies of Inside the Outside, and take photos with fans.

Amongst the highlights of the afternoon was being able to hang out with my friend and fellow author, S. Kay Murphy, author of Tainted Legacy: The Story of Alleged Serial Killer Bertha Gifford

I had the great pleasure of meeting the lovely Tina Walker, author of a book of poetry called Finding Christ Inside, as well as Travis Kleist, author of the thriller The Unveiling.

The Sun City Library Meet & Greet was a great way to kick off 2012. I had a terrific time and I look forward to participating in future events with the Sun City Library for years to come.

If you'd like to see more photos from the Meet & Greet, you can view them at my Facebook page.

An Indie Author's Manifesto

(This is an extended and revised version of the article "A Self-Publisher's Manifesto," which was previously published in Self-Publishing Review on 7/27/11)

I am an indie author and this is my manifesto.

If you’re a reader, a simple lover of books, someone with no aspirations of ever writing or publishing, then there is a very good chance you’re unaware of the culture war that has been going on within the world of publishing for what feels like forever.  The war is between the large publishing houses, primarily found in New York, and indie authors.  For almost as long as the publishing industry has been a relevant cog in the entertainment machine, publishing houses have served the purpose of finding, publishing and, essentially delivering to the literary world the best authors they could find.  But they didn’t do this alone.  Literary agents—who not only represent authors, but also serve as gatekeepers for the large publishing houses—helped them.

Most any writer who has ever aspired to get published has learned the hard way that finding a literary agent to represent you is, arguably,  harder than actually getting your manuscript accepted for publication by a large publishing house.  And this is not by accident.  As gatekeepers, the literary agents weed out the “bad” talent and wrangle in the “good” talent, making it easier for the large publishing houses to pick which handful of writers they’ll be publishing during any given year.  As someone who has been rejected by more agents than I care to count, I have a pretty good grasp on how the system is intended to work.

First, the author writes a manuscript (i.e. a novel, a memoir, a collection of short stories, etc.).  Once they finish, the author writes a query letter, which is, essentially, a one-page pitch to a literary agent.  In the query letter, the writer should not only tell the literary agent what their book is about, but also why anybody would bother reading it or, more importantly, buying it.  This last part is important, because agents earn money on commission, which means they only get paid if they can sell your book.  So, even if they personally love the book, but don’t think they can sell it, they aren’t going to represent it.

If the agent likes what you’re pitching in the query letter, then they’ll likely ask you to send them the first 10-15 pages.  If they like those pages, then they’ll likely ask for a partial, which are the first 50 pages.  If they’re still satisfied with what they’re reading, then they’ll ask to see the full manuscript.  After looking at it, they will either decide to represent your book or reject it.  There is also the possible middle ground where they might ask you to make revisions to the book that will, in their estimation, make it more attractive to publishers.  And even if you’ve gotten this far and the literary agent decides to represent you, it’s going to take nearly a year (sometimes longer) before you come to that agreement.

Of course, getting a literary agent is no guarantee of getting published.  They still have to try and sell your manuscript to a publishing house.  There are plenty of authors who have secured literary agents, only to find out that the agent couldn’t sell their books.  But if you are one of those rare authors who have cleared all the hurdles and have had your book published by a large publishing house, one of the first things you will learn is that you’re going to be on your own when it comes to promoting and marketing the book.  Publishing houses have limited budgets for marketing their authors and first-time authors aren’t likely to get much support.  Ironically, if your book doesn’t sell, then the publisher will be less likely to buy your next book.

So, if you are that first-time author, you’re going to have to do some significant legwork—from creating a presence on the Internet to setting up readings and book signings—which is fine, especially if you’re serious about your writing and want to make a career of it.  And while you’re putting in this work, it might occur to you that since you’re doing all the legwork yourself, what’s to stop you from publishing yourself.  Up to now, the main thing stopping you was the stigma of being an indie author.

By having agents, editors and publishers making it so hard to break into the publishing world, it creates the perception that only the very best authors get their work published.  This perception has put a stigma on indie authors, a stigma akin to taking your cousin to the prom.  The impression is if you weren’t good enough to get published through a traditional publisher then you must not be a very good writer.  And the publishing houses have benefited from this, because it means they haven’t had to compete with indie authors.

While it’s always been tough to make money selling books, considering Americans aren't generally keen on reading, the major publishing houses, in the face of a struggling economy, have been hurting more than usual. In their desperation to sell books (which, mind you, is a totally reasonable desperation) the major publishers have invested more and more money into selling personalities, rather than authors.  This means when you walk into a bookstore, you’re more likely to see a book “written” by a reality TV star or a trendy politician.  Even actors and recording artists are publishing novels.  All of this is fine, except that, if you’re a major publishing house, you now have little-to-no money left to invest in first-time authors. Not to mention the fact that they’re a risky investment, unlike a celebrity who has name recognition and a built-in fan base.

This all makes sense from a business standpoint, but what if you’re a writer who has dedicated years and years of your life to learning and honing your craft? Are you supposed to just accept that some contemporary pop star (and their ghostwriter) have a book published and you don’t? You can keep knocking on the door of the literary agents and the big publishing houses (heck, you can even try the small publishing houses), but they can’t afford to take a chance on you. The best option for you then is to become an indie author and publish your book yourself. Except, there is that stigma about indie authors that hasn’t quite gone away.

Only now there is progress being made in eradicating the stigma. A big part of the stigma being eliminated is technology. Now, more than ever, it's easier for an author to publish their work without having to go through a large publishing house. Especially with the growing market of e-books, indie authors are seeing their books being sold side-by-side with traditionally published books. And if you’re a reader, chances are you’re not making any great distinctions between independently published books and traditionally published books; you’re just happy to find a book that entertained you while you were tanning by the pool or waiting for your doctor's appointment.

So if the readers aren’t holding onto this stigma, then where exactly is it coming from? Primarily, it’s coming from the writers themselves. But it’s not their fault. If you’re a writer who has been working at getting published for at least the last ten years or so (and for most writers, it’s much longer than that), then you’ve more than likely bought into the stigma. You’re a writer who, despite all the hard work you’ve put into your writing, feels like your work can only be validated by going through the traditional system of acquiring a literary agent and selling your book to a major publisher.

You would just as soon let your brilliant work go unread on your hard drive (or your freezer, depending on how long you’ve been writing) before becoming an indie author. You’ve dreamed of signing books in Barnes & Noble and doing readings at universities, giving interviews on morning talk shows and whisking around the country on national book tours. The stigma tells you that indie authors don’t get to do these things. And, for the most part, it’s true. But neither do most traditionally published authors either.

More and more quality authors are figuring this out and the world of independent publishing is benefiting from it. Just because the large New York publishing houses are publishing fewer and fewer quality authors doesn’t mean there are no quality authors out there. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. And just because these authors aren’t being published doesn’t mean they simply go away. Many of them are discovering that independent publishing is a viable option. The more quality writers who enter into the world of independent publishing, the more credible it becomes.

Even J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter dynasty, has turned to independent publishing. Now why would she do that?  There is not a publisher anywhere in the world who wouldn’t kill to have Rowling on their roster of authors. And that’s exactly the point. From a business standpoint, Rowling stands to earn more money by publishing independently, rather than sharing her literary fortune with a traditional publisher. Business-wise, this is true even for the relatively unknown indie author.

Whatever advance you get from a traditional publisher, in all likelihood, is going to be the same amount of money you stand to earn on your own if you have a quality book and are willing to work hard to find and connect with readers, which is to say all the things you’d be doing anyway if you take your writing seriously.

So if you’re a writer out there who is tired of being rejected, don’t fret. Just publish your work yourself.

If you’re a large publishing house doing business as usual, good luck to you. You’re a business and you’re simply trying to stay viable. I can appreciate that.

And if you are a writer or a publisher or anybody who is still holding onto or perpetuating the stigma of independent publishing, let it go.  Release it from your grip and accept the dawning of a new era, a better one even.

I am an indie author and this is my manifesto.

Happy Martin Day (A Birthday Retrospective)!

Every year on December 9, since it's inception in 1977, people all over my inner circle have been celebrating Martin Day.  This year will be the 34th celebration of Martin Day and it occurs to me a birthday retrospective is in order. So, for your benefit, I've put together a timeline of milestones in my life that, in one way or another, led me to my life as a novelist. So, without further ado, I present to you the First Annual Martin Day Birthday Retrospective.

Age: 1 Second (1977)

After nine months in my mother's womb, considering the world and my place in it, I decided that a comfortable sac of amniotic fluid simply wasn't enough without cable television.

Age: 5 Years (1982)

While attending preschool, I find there is a bitchin' CHiPs tricycle in the playground. But, apparently, I was in the group of children that was, believe it or not, too old to ride. I was too young to appreciate at the time the delicious nectar of disappointment that all artists learn to love.

Age: 8 Years (1985)

On a random Saturday afternoon, as I flipped through the channels, I discovered professional wrestling. It was love at first sight.

Age: 12 Years (1989)

After one whole long year of agonizing anticipation, Batman, the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, finally came out. As a loyal fan, I bought, with my very own $5 dollars (which I received once a week as an allowance), the novelization of the film.

Age: 14 Years (1991)

For Easter, my parents bought me tickets to watch WrestleMania VII at The Los Angeles Sports Arena. With the Gulf War serving as a backdrop, Hulk Hogan defeated Sgt. Slaughter (who lent his loyalties to Saddam Hussein) for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.

Age: 17 Years (1995)

While working as an ice cream scooper at Thrifty's, I was interrogated for four hours by a couple of loss prevention agents. During the interrogation, I admitted to stealing a number of things, including money and ice cream. Turns out they were trying to pin a stolen pager on me, which, ironically enough, I did not steal.

Age: 18 Years (1996)

During my first year at Chaffey College, I took English 1A with S. Kay Murphy. For my first assignment, I wrote an essay about stealing money and ice cream from Thrifty's. Based on that essay, Murphy encouraged me to be a writer. Elated by her encouragement, I decided to give it a go.

Age: 19 Years and 2 Days (1997)

As a birthday gift, my parents took me to the Great Western Forum for my first Lakers game. The Lakers were hosting Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. Kobe Bryant was a rookie and Shaquille O'Neal was in his  first year with the team.  We got to the arena a few hours early and watched the players warm up. I watched rookie Derek Fisher practice free throws; for about ten minutes he never missed one.

Age: 21 and 1/2 Years (1999)

Having gotten a part-time job working at the Virgin Megastore, I met Chanel, who was not only my co-worker, but, it turned out, was also the coolest gal on the planet.

Age: 23 and 1/2 Years (2002)

While studying English at California State University, San Bernardino, I took the first of many creative writing classes taught by James Brown (author of The Los Angeles Diaries and This River). In so doing, Brown unwittingly became my personal Yoda.

Age: 26 Years and 3 Months (2004)

While a participant at the Cal Poly Creative Writing Conference, I won the award for First Place in Short Fiction for my story "The Night Owl." Later that same year, I won First Place in the Inland Empire CWC Writing Contest for my short story "The Plan." Finally, in that same year, I got my first story published courtesy of The Pacific Review; it was a short memoir called "The Black Curtain."

Age: 27 Years and 7 Months (2005)

I was invited to attend The Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a week-long conference that brings aspiring writers together with seasoned professionals. I met many great writers, including Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, Dorothy Allison, and Mark Childress. I also met a literary agent who asked to read the novel I was working on called The Wishing Game.

Age: 28 Years (2005)

On the 28th celebration of Martin Day, I received a rejection letter from the literary agent I met I Squaw Valley. My devastation was tempered when, later that night, my brother, Greg, took me to a screening of Match Point, which was followed by a Q & A session with the writer/director, Woody Allen, and the cast.

Age: 28 and 1/2 Years (2006) - Part 1

Once again, I graduated from California State University, San Bernardino, this time earning my Master's Degree in Composition.

Age: 28 and 1/2 Years (2006) - Part 2

I got my first grown-up job as an English Professor at Chaffey College. I had no idea what I was doing, but chose to keep this information to myself.

Age: 31 Years (2008)

I was waist-deep in the writing of my novel, The Sacrifice of Timber Marlow. Upon later revisions, I would change it's title to The Sustenance of the Flesh.

Age: 33 Years (2010)

Having completed my novel, The Sustenance of the Flesh, I decided I wasn't happy with the title. So, with the help of my brother, Greg, I came up with the title Inside the Outside.

Age: 33 and 1/2 Years

I published Inside the Outside. Along with being well-received by readers and reviewers alike, Inside the Outside found itself at #3 in Amazon.com's Top 100 Hot New Releases for Horror.

Age: 33 Years, 364 Days and 18 Hours (2011)

The Lakers agreed to trade Lamar Odom and Paul Gasol to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul. By all accounts, I regard this as an early birthday present.

Age: 33 Years, 364 Days and 20 Hours (2011)

The NBA, which owned the New Orleans Hornets, blocked the trade of Odom and Gasol for Paul. By all accounts, I regard this as the worst early birthday present ever.

Age: 34 Years (2011)

For my 34th birthday, I posted a silly, yet poignant, article called "Happy Martin Day (A Birthday Retrospective)!" for the benefit of my amusement.

Hey, Everybody I'm Back (Or Did You Even Know I Was Gone?)

Hey, ya'll, I feel like I've been gone forever (about 12 days to be exact) and it's so nice to be back. I can only imagine what you've had to do to entertain yourselves in my absence.

As far as the absence goes, I encourage you to let your imagination run free in order to figure out where exactly I might've been this whole time. In the mean time, we've got a lot of catching up to do. Um...

Okay, well, maybe there's not that much catching up to do.

Since we last spoke, I began a Twitter campaign to get B.J. Novakactor/writer on The Office—to follow me. I have, as of this moment, decided to call the movement OccupyBJ. Today is officially Day #13. As of yet, Mr. Novak has chosen not to acknowledge either myself or the OccupyBJ movement. Feel free to go on Twitter and apply some pressure. And if you're wondering what it's all about, well, I'll save that for a later post.

I enjoyed quite a bit of the Twilight Zone marathon on Thanksgiving, before tolerating The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1. As for the Twilight Zone, I watched, among other episodes, "To Serve Man," which, now that I think about it, could've been an alternate title for Inside the Outside. And as for Breaking Dawn, I found it to be, all in all, pretty harmless. I was, however, disappointed to find that none of the vampires in Breaking Dawn sparkled, despite the story being set on a Brazilian island. Apparently there isn't much direct sunlight in Brazil.

Speaking of vampires, I made some significant headway in my vampire novel during my hiatus. I am, as of this writing, twenty-nine chapters (roughly 60,000 words) into my new novel. I'm so excited about the new novel and wish I could tell you more about it, but, for now it's sort of top secret—except, of course, for the vampire part. The novel is on pace to be around fifty chapters, so, at this point, it's more than halfway done.

My goal is to have it published by the end of 2012 or the beginning of 2013.  Of course, if the Mayan calendar has anything to say about it, I'd best get this book done before December 21, 2012.

I've done quite a few cool interviews for "10 Questions for..." that I'll be posting over the next couple of weeks. You can also look forward to a number of new posts in "Books That Aren't Mine," as I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Unfortunately, my absence has interfered with my screenwriting project with Greg, but you can soon expect to see some new updates in the "ADAPTING INSIDE THE OUTSIDE" series.

And I guess that's about it. Until we meet again...

The Circle of (a Writer’s) Life: PART 2

When my friend and former writing professor, James Brown, invited me to speak to the students of his Advanced Creative Writing class, I was both excited and honored. In July of 2011 I officially became an indie author with the publication of my novel, Inside the Outside. Brown's students, being in the MFA program, will all presumably look to have their own work published one day and so he thought it'd be good for them to hear about my experience as an independent publisher. He'd set up Tuesday, November 15, 2011, as my day to speak. I spent quite a lot of time thinking about the presentation I wanted to give and the things I wanted to tell the students.

I wanted to tell them that I remember what it's like to sit where they're sitting, to work so hard on your craft without any real promise that you'll see your work in print. I wanted to tell them that I can relate to the anxiety and desperation that comes when you start sending your work out to agents and publishers, only to be met with rejection time and time again. I wanted to tell them about how I spent two years working on my "first" novel, only to have it rejected by every agent I sent it to, before spending another five years working on the novel that would become Inside the Outside, which, despite much interest from agents, was also soundly rejected. I wanted to tell them that when the time came for them to publish their own work that they had other options, that they weren't beholden to the system of traditional publishing, that there was more than one way to share their work with the world.

And while, when the time came, I spent over an hour speaking to Brown's students (who, incidentally, were both gracious and welcoming) about the pragmatics of independent publishing, what I really wanted to convey was hope. Because, the unfortunate truth about being a writer, or an artist of any discipline, is that, when you choose to pursue a career in your craft, you will be met by a seemingly endless line of people who want to tell you no, to turn around, to knock on someone else's door, or, perhaps, to stop trying altogether. Most of those people will never understand what it means to invest the whole of your heart into an artistic endeavor, to invest your love and imagination into something that, were it not for you, would not exist at all. And most of those people, the ones who say no, will never truly understand the crushing disappointment that exists on the other side of their rejection.

Because I know only too well that this is the world that many of Brown's students will one day enter, I wanted, more than anything, to provide them with the knowledge that there is another way. It's a road that strays from the traditional path, a road lined with the footsteps of rebels and mavericks. A road lit by the rays of hope, leading to a place where writers are free to take control of their own destiny.

The Circle of (a Writer's) Life: PART 1

In the fall of 2001 I transferred to California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB), to study English and earn my Bachelor's degree. I was terribly excited to learn, soon after my arrival, that, within the English program, there was a creative writing discipline. I, of course, joined that track and away I went. Up to that point, I'd been toiling away at learning the craft of fiction writing on my own and, while I felt I was pretty good at it, I knew I wasn't where I wanted to be. So having an opportunity to learn about creative writing in the classroom from successful writers was a dream come true.

Unfortunately, the very first creative writing course I took at CSUSB was a less than positive experience. The professor, who was a successful novelist within her genre, wasn't very good at encouraging her students, let alone teaching us about the craft. More than once, she told us about how competitive and difficult it would be for any of us to get published (which is true) without offering any sort of silver lining. Beyond that, the feedback I received on my short stories was generally discouraging. Being that she was so successful, I was wiling to assume that she knew better than me and I came to the conclusion that I just wasn't a very good writer.

So, after the class was over, I decided to quit writing altogether, choosing instead to study literature. I did, after all, still enjoy reading, so I figured I'd become a literature scholar and that would help make up for the fact that I was a terrible creative writer. However, about six or seven months later, I found that I still had a jonze for creative writing that I couldn't quite shake. Even if I was terrible at it, I loved doing it—this despite not having written anything of substance since that first disastrous class. So I decided to take one more creative writing class, before quitting for good and focussing on other things.

The class I signed up for was being taught by James Brown, author of the acclaimed memoirs The Los Angeles Diaries and This River. Brown had been successfully writing and publishing for about 30 years when I showed up in his class, so, unbeknownst to him, I quietly decided to give him the last word.  If Brown's opinion of my writing resembled that of my previous professor, then I would take it as an unmistakable sign that it was time for me to give it up.

As it turned out, Brown was both exceedingly encouraging  as well as a great teacher. Slowly, but surely, I rediscovered my confidence and my writing flourished. I took as many classes as I could with Brown until I finished my academic career in 2006 with a Master's degree in composition.

Five years later, I'm still using the tools I gathered while under Brown's watch—the very same tools, in fact, that would become indispensable  in the writing of my debut novel, Inside the Outside. Since graduating, I've entered into my own career of being an English professor, embracing the opportunity to positively impact students the way Brown did with me.

And now, this week, my writing life will be coming full circle, as James Brown has invited me to be a guest speaker in the Advanced Creative Class he teaches in the MFA program at CSUSB. I'm so tremendously excited and honored to go back to my alma mater and stand in the same room where I learned my craft, to meet and talk to students who sit where I once sat, and to offer whatever knowledge I can to help encourage them as they prepare to embark on their own writing journeys...

To be continued in "The Circle of (a Writer's) Life: PART 2."


For Greg's side of this story story, check out the sister post on his blog.

Greg and I have been meeting for our regularly scheduled writing sessions for nearly two months now as we work on the screenplay adaptation of Inside the Outside.

The first three or four weeks were spent outlining the screenplay, which was both fun and tedious, often at the same time. One of the challenges I’m finding myself confronted with is overcoming the occasional bout of boredom that comes with retelling a story that I spent five years writing in the first place.

The process of writing a novel involves long, isolated hours of intense focus and concentration. It’s not just a matter of putting words on the page (though, to be clear, that’s a terribly important part of the process), but it’s also about working out the kinks of the narrative and the characters, thinking about the various subplots and how they interplay, as well as how every choice made will effect the larger story being told. While it’s a process that I love dearly, I’m only human. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was (and still is) to have completed my novel and see it in print.

So, now that I’m collaborating with Greg on the adaptation, there are lots of times where he and I are locked into sessions of intense focus and concentration, working out the kinks of the narrative and the characters, thinking about the various subplots and how every choice made will effect the larger story. And, occasionally, I find it challenging to garner up the proper level of focus or concentration, because it feels as though I'm putting myself through the same difficult process all over again, in order to tell a story that I've already told. But, without fail, I am able to shake off those temporary funks, because, among other things, it’s just too exciting to think about the potential of this movie.

When there is a scene in the novel that plays out perfectly for the screenplay, the writing is a simple matter of translating from one format (novel) to the other (screenplay), nearly verbatim. So, when Greg and I are lost in our collective concentration, what we are often working on is how to re-imagine a scene to make it work on film—or, in some cases, we must invent new scenes that don't exist in the novel at all. These are the times where our writing is slowed to a grinding halt.

Part of the challenge of inventing a new scene is every choice we make—every action and every line of dialogue—must jibe with what we already know is going to happen later. See, if we were creating a brand new story from scratch, we could afford to play a little more jazz with the screenplay. But, because we are working within a well-defined structure, every choice must be exhaustively scrutinized.

For example, in the novel there is a key storyline involving Pepsi Marlow and Idea Marlow. When writing the novel, I didn’t have to devote many scenes to their story, as I had the luxury of developing and communicating it through the narrative. If you read the book, you’ll find that there’s really only one scene between Pepsi and Idea, despite the fact that I created a substantive back story for their relationship.

In the screenplay, however, we don’t have this same luxury. We’ve had to write scenes for Pepsi and Idea that will develop and establish who they are and, more importantly, what they mean to Timber. Scenes that, in the novel, were more or less implied. This also led us to one of our first major departures from the novel.

In the novel, Daddy Marlow uses his power and influence as Divinity leader to force a relationship with Pepsi in order to spite Idea. While I never actually show you their interactions, it is unmistakably implied. In the screenplay, however, Greg and I decided it is necessary to show how (and why) Daddy Marlow decided to target Pepsi. This led to us writing a scene between Daddy Marlow and Pepsi that doesn’t exist at all in the book. The result is a scene that is equal parts powerful and disturbing. And, while it doesn’t exist in the book, it very much represents the spirit of the book.

NEXT TIME: Exactly who does the writing when Greg and I are in one of our writing sessions? And which one of us writes faster? The answer may surprise you. Or maybe it won’t. Or maybe you’ll find your reaction falls somewhere in the middle. Also, I'll discuss Christine Vachon's book, Shooting to Kill, and what influence it has had on the adaptation process. Stay tuned!