Interview with Author Thane Keller

thane-keller-trialsIt’s a joy and a pleasure to be able to interview my big brother, Thane Keller. Thane is a science fiction author and U.S. Army veteran who explores the depth of human nature under dire circumstances. After over a decade of service, he has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan where he was personally engaged in ground combat. Although busy at home as a husband and father to four, he has consistently made time to express his passion for writing.

You can find Thane at www.thanekeller.com and can purchase his books on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, or at any local bookstore.

  1. Many aspiring authors are town between the traditional and self-publishing routes. At the time of this interview, you currently have three science fiction novels and a collection of short stories and flash fiction self-published. What inspired you to choose that path? Do you have plans to become a hybrid author; one who seeks traditional and self-publishing avenues?

First off, thanks for hosting me, Rhys. Your own writing, love of literature, and beautiful family are an inspiration to the rest of us. Authors can go a variety of different paths when it comes to publishing and in my opinion, each has its benefits and drawbacks. While I was offered a publishing contract early on for my first novel, Trials, I ultimately decided to self-publish for two reasons. First, Amazon sells fifty percent of books worldwide and gives indie-authors a 70% royalty. This evens the playing field quite a bit. Second, there is a cost and time factor that goes into traditional publishing that I cannot yet commit to at this point in my career – promoting a book while defending Forward Operating Base Lightning, for example, is pretty hard to do.

I would love to be a hybrid author and maybe one day that will happen, but in the meantime, I’m more interested in a telling a story that challenges my reader and is widely distributed.

  1. I’ve written before on my site about what an accomplishment it is to write a single book, let alone multiple full-length novels. You’re an active serviceman with a growing family. How many years, and across how many continents, has your writing has taken you?

My first novel, Trials, was a two-year writing endeavor. I actually started the book after climbing off a helicopter at midnight in Afghanistan. Many people probably don’t realize that when you’re pulling security in the snow at fourteen-thousand feet, the discussion often turns to aliens, religion, and science. By the time I had completed Trials, I had written the book in Afghanistan, New York, Virginia, and finally Germany.  In the Army, we like to say “If you don’t like your circumstances, change your perspective.” Fitting in writing throughout all of my adventures has been tough, but hopefully, readers will feel rewarded as they dive into the worlds I’ve created.

  1. Much of your writing gives the reader a sense that you know what you’re talking about, especially battle scenes and images of war. I’m reminded of a few scenes where characters struggle with their former experiences. How has your service influenced your writing style?

I think my service has made a significant impact on my writing style. In Trials, the main character’s dreams are lifted from my own experiences in war. He is a tormented soldier that struggles to come to grips with his current situation while keeping the past in perspective. This was the hardest part about Trials but it became a form of counseling and confession as well. In Fractal Space and Rogue Fleet, I take a different approach, instead choosing to highlight how an organized force will fight against a capable enemy. Most importantly, however, are how these action scenes should make you feel. If the sentence fragments and choppy thoughts of the characters get your heart racing, don’t worry. Mine races too.

  1. There is much debate between talent and hard work. It seems hard work typically wins the day, not to say you aren’t talented as well! Is there a level of grit necessary to finish a book that many aspiring authors simply aren’t resolving to deal with?

There is absolutely a level of grit. Every day we make choices to watch TV, hang out on the front porch, search Facebook endlessly, or get to work. The ones that get to work accomplish great things. The ones that don’t… don’t.

  1. The publishing industry has changed so much in recent years, yet still maintained a level of historic similarity in that publishing is a very subjective business depending on the book purchaser or editor of the day. Do you think the industry will continue to transform, and if so, in what ways?

I hope it transforms. In my opinion, publishing houses need to change or will face extinction. There is a false economy between publishers, agents, editors, and advertisers that take the money from an aspiring author and spend little time providing feedback or validation. Meanwhile, websites like Grammarly catch way more editing errors than an $800 dollar “professional” edit. Businesses like Apple and Amazon sell far more books than publishers do direct. Advertising is cheap and available. I think publishers will find themselves in trouble if they don’t change their model and adapt. In the information age, there isn’t much forgiveness.

  1. Every author has their style, areas where they will go and boundaries they won’t cross. Do you have any lines drawn in the sand that readers can say, “I know this author will have this or definitely won’t have this” in your books?

I want my children, my pastor, my parents, and my friends to read my work and not wonder “Where did this side of Thane come from?” Sex sells, but you won’t find it in my books. My hope is that my writing brings out the worst in my characters while forcing my reader to wonder who they are truly rooting for.

  1. I’m very excited to have been brought on to write the prequel to your science fiction novel, Trials. I understand you’re actively working on the sequel. Would you give our readers a high-level synopsis of the world of Trials that you’ve built? Keep the details, of course, but what can readers expect if they pick up any book in the Trials series?

Trials is a futuristic dystopian world where nationalism, war, and paranoia have all but ruined society. Old alliances don’t exist and corporations, not the government, are the ones trying to bring change, but they are unchecked. The main character, Jonah Shepherd, has been exiled from the love of his life to a Martian penal colony where he will serve a life sentence for treason. As Jonah’s world descends into chaos, he is forced to rely on his ingenuity and military training to escape the red planet and reunite with the love of his life, Evie. Standing in Jonah’s way is a megalomaniac named Malek, the shadowy mining company Unicore, and one hundred and forty million miles of empty space.

  1. You’ve expressed a lot of excitement about your other series, The Conquests of Brokk. Tell us what drives you to build this world and who exactly is Brokk?

I love this series for a few reasons. First, it is a space opera written by an actual soldier. War in space is violent and unforgiving; so is Brokk’s world. Second, Brokk is the bad guy. You’ll be rooting for him and against him throughout the whole series, but as you do, Brokk will change and hopefully, your concept of humanity will change with him. Third, this is a world that can go forever. For you lovers of Trials – I have bad news: Trials can only end one way and those books are accelerating towards that end. In The Conquests of Brokk and the larger galactic world, my imagination is without end. I’m truly loving it and I hope you pick up a copy to read. Oh, and Rhys, I hope you’ll consider throwing your weight behind a few of the characters too!

  1. I’ll keep that in mind. Writing together has been an incredible experience. Now, you’re a prolific writer and I know part of the answer to the question I’m about to ask but I’ll ask it anyways for our wonderful readers. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next 1-2 years besides more great books? What will your focus be on?

I really want to finish the world of Trials. I’ve taken a break for medical reasons and my move back to the United States, but you can expect a sequel in the next year. After that, plan on seeing some high-intensity conflict from the heroes of the galaxy.

If anyone is in Kansas City, look for me at your local Barnes and Noble. I’ll be doing a book signing soon and would love to chat!

On Making Time

If you ask anyone why they aren’t progressing further on their goals, time is often the answer. “I just don’t have the time.” I’ve said it. You’ve said it. Time is unfortunately one of the clearest, most finite resources available. Interestingly enough, we all have the same amount.

There are times when this excuse is reasonable and times when, even when offered a generous amount of merit, is completely off base. The famed Olympian, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes aim at the excuse when he told a group to just sleep faster.

Our bodies and minds are incredibly adaptive. We can form habits. Break habits. Live on more. Live on less. We can adjust wonderfully to a wide variety of circumstances. I used to be a late night person. I would go to the gym at 9:00pm. I did that for a couple years. Then, I switched to early morning. I would exercise at 5:00am. I did that for a couple years. Then, after getting married and having kids, I found the best time for me to spend time on myself (goals, hobbies, etc.) was while my family slept. I started getting up at 4:00am, then 3:30am, then next thing you know I’m getting up at 3:00am. Every now and then I’ll be up at 2:00am!

You may be thinking I must go to sleep while the sun is still up. But you’d be wrong. My body adapts as needed and yours can too. Sleep is great and I’m a big promoter of sleep and taking naps whenever and however you can get it. Unfortunately though, I’ve found we often use sleep as an excuse to not get stuff done. If you haven’t really been working that hard, you may have slipped into a pattern of excess sleep. What you feel is a necessity is really just a formed habit. Best thing in the world though, is our ability to form new habits!

Habit forming works best when you have a passionate goal. No one likes crawling out of bed for something they are so-so about. However, if you begin spending time on your passions, you’ll find crawling out of bed turns into jumping out of bed. I can’t wait to get up in the morning. I look forward to it. Why? Because it’s my time. I get to do everything I wanted to do for myself that I wasn’t able to do all day. I long for my alarm to go off – although once it’s a habit, you’ll wake up before your alarm!

Lately, I’ve found myself taking vehicles to the shop more frequently than every before. At least it feels that way. I used to sit around waiting for the car to get serviced, sipping on some coffee, watching the TV, etc. The last few times, I’ve brought my laptop, found a corner to hole up in, still got the coffee, and spent a few hours writing. It’s been an incredible use of time that up until recently I wasted horribly. Now, I look forward to car appointments because I know it’ll be my time to get some writing done with little to no distraction. I love it!

You see, we have so much time. Social media, although it has its place when building a platform, is often used to waste time. We need to continually ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now contributing towards my future success, my satisfaction in life, my mission, my goal, anything?” We need to be real about it. Time is all around us, and each person has the same amount.

What you’ll find in people who are considerably successful in any area of their life, they make time. They find time. They look for time. They plan time. They annihilate time wasting. They get rid of distractions. They get rid of the slow, dripping effect of losing time. It’s been said that if you want to know what a person will become 5 years down the road, 10 years or even 20 years, simply look at their current daily schedule. What do they spend time doing? What do you spend time doing?

If you logged every minute of the day, how much of it is spent achieving your dreams and goals? Is a third or more of it sleeping? Good luck achieving a great deal of success. If you’re making time work, if you’re living with a sense of true grit, you will achieve a great deal of success when compared to your life now. If you want to be a successful author, how much time are you devoting to writing? If you want to become a better business owner, spouse, parent, etc., how much time are you spending mastering the craft?

Our abilities are directly related to the time spent honing them. You have time. Lots of it. You simply need to trade your time doing one thing to doing another. Find it. It’ll be well worth it down the road.

Book Review – The Terrible PLOP

terrible-plopChildren’s picture book, The Terrible PLOP, is written by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner.

To be fair, my first reaction to seeing the title and cover made me hesitate. The Terrible PLOP. I first assumed it was a made up creature, invented and used specifically for rhyme potential. I also felt the cover was so-so and thus I began reading, unimpressed and ready to get it over with.

I could not have been more pleased when the inside of the book was quite a bit different than the feeling I experienced from the cover. You know what they say about judging books! Ursula Dubosarsky masterfully used short rhyme verse to propel a very unique story. What begins as a classic bunny picnic turns into a child friendly fright induced panic. The Terrible PLOP, which I won’t spoil for you, sends the animals into a frenzy as they try to escape. One by one, new animals are swept up in the stampede until they come across the big brown bear.

This story keeps building climax and when the big brown bear refuses to go along with the fray, a lot of excitement and suspense is created for the reader. A good book makes readers ask questions that the book then answers.

The emotional clarity that Andrew Joyner created also keep up the exciting pace along with the plot. The bear, in all his pride, finds himself also at the mercy of The Terrible PLOP. This story, besides it’s simple, enjoyable plot delivery, ends perfectly. The creature most afraid becomes the only one to know the secret; that The Terrible PLOP is not so terrible after all.

Many parallels can be found in relating this story to life lessons for children. One of the clearest is to be careful of going along with the crowd. I recommend you check out this book from your local library or purchase it as a forever book.

Book Review – Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

sam-dave-dig-holeMac Barnett’s children’s picture book, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen, found its way into our home this past week and laid upon my son’s floor along with many, many others. The routine unfolded as it typically does, with him picking out which book(s) to read before bed. When you read as many books as my wife and I do, it’s a true pleasure coming across one as delightful as this.

It’s really no wonder why it won a litany of awards and honors. Although the premise is perfectly simple; in that two young boys decide to dig a hole to find something spectacular, the delivery is outstanding. As each scene develops, the boys nearly arrive at spectacular things, only to give up on their current course at the last possible moment. The reader, instead, gets to enjoy the hidden gems throughout the book and is reminded to persevere in their own hole digging adventures.

As a children’s book author, I’ve pondered what made Sam and Dave Dig a Hole such a wonderful read and I came to the following conclusions.

  1. The message applies to everyone. Children love to dig and children love to find.
  2. The plan was simple. It didn’t take pages to develop the plot. Within a single page, readers understood what the book would be about.
  3. The delivery built suspense in the reader. Before the reader thinks the book will be boring, the suspense comes in finding something spectacular. The reader immediately wonders what they might find.
  4. The illustration propelled the story. Great artists can tell a story without words. Add a great artist to a great author, and you’ve got two messages waylaying the reader. The author tells us what the boys are doing. The illustrator tells us what the boys are missing.
  5. A little humor is mixed in. The two boys, Sam and Dave, are accompanied by their friendly dog who, much like the reader, knows what the boys are missing.
  6. The repeated plot develops rather than stagnates. On each subsequent page, the boys keep digging and keep missing. Whereas this could become monotonous, the hidden gems become more and more spectacular. This wets the reader’s appetite in wondering what spectacular thing might come next.
  7. The ending is open, deep, and leaves readers thinking about the book. I could offer a number of assumptions what the ending of the book means, but that would spoil all your fun. It’s simple yet incredibly complex.

Not only do I encourage you to check this book out from your local library or purchase it as a forever book, I encourage you to create a book this good. Whether your an author or illustrator, take time to make sure your children’s book will deliver a wonderful experience. And if you’re Mac Barnett…TELL US WHAT THE ENDING MEANS, PLEASE!

Just Share Your Story

It’s been said every sentence is a persuasive argument that succeeds or fails in convincing the reader to read the next. Agree or disagree?

Frankly, I don’t agree (completely) because the reader is complex, having a multi-dimensional purpose for reading. One aspect may be truly that each good sentence does cause the reader to continue on. But at the same time, the reader, once personally invested through time, money, promise, or any other act of will may continue reading not for that purposes alone. I listen to audio books during my commute. I have literally finished books only to be able to say I finished them, not because they provided some revolutionary insight or emotional experience. I simply wanted to finish what I started.

I’m reminded of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. She often ended a chapter right in the middle of incredible action and suspense, only to take us to view another part of her world and see what a different character was doing. I often thought about skipping ahead just to get back to the scene at hand. But what did I do? I read on, abiding by the author’s desire to take me somewhere else and trusting that in time, I would return to where I had been so captivated. Was it persuasion that propelled me through the subsequent chapter as I longed for a different scene? No, although none can content her sentences were not more than persuasive. I simply read on because the book, in its entirety, was masterfully crafted. Her story was full and the world she built multi-dimensional (not only in the time-space variety but in eliciting emotional response). I was committed to read every word, persuasive or not, through to the end.

An author, especially those aspiring to improve their craft, can find themselves working to exhaustion in order to craft one persuasive sentence after another. In the end, that tactic simply doesn’t win the race long term. It’s quite visible in the art of world building. In order to strengthen plot, background is often given to include people groups, cities, planets, past experiences and the like. If we put too much stock in convincing argument, we’ll find no room for the story welling up inside.

What’s the answer, then, as we pour out word after word, sentence after sentence? Simply this. Share the story. Share it all. Build the sentences and paragraphs, filling page upon page with your story. Will it be good? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story. Will each sentence make the reader say “Yes, I will read the next”? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story. Is the grammar just right or have all the spell checks been corrected? Don’t worry about that now, simply share the story.

And why, you may ask, is it most important to simply share the story and leave so many good, important things behind? Frankly this…writing a book is a long, arduous endeavor. At every turn, distraction, fear, worry, guilt, embarrassment, and author depression are waiting for you. If you allow yourself to be caught up in anything other than a resolved grit-filled focus to share your story, it may never be shared. Thousands upon thousands of books fill libraries, schools and stores. Millions more fill personal notepads, computer files, and thoughts.

Share your story. Once complete, once there is no more story to share, take out that bitter knife, that dear friend of a weapon and hack away at your words, sentences, paragraphs and pages. Leave no thought untouched, carve your work like a butcher, revealing the choicest words and most succulent sentences.

Then, not only do you have a story, you have a book. Let persuasion come in the right season, when you can focus on the desire and expectation of the reader. For now, focus on sharing your story, telling it your way by your words and your abilities.

Interview with Author R.J. Batla

R.J. Batla was one of the first authors I connected with when I embarked on building my own author platform. Always an encouragement, he has truly become a confidant and friend along my publishing journey. R.J. has been fascinated by fantasy novels and the worlds that authors create since he was little. R.J. admits the process of world building has been an arduous process, but proclaims it has been well worth it. He is a fantasy author, Christian, husband, and father who enjoys the outdoors and spends as much time as he can with his family. You can learn more about R.J. at his website and connect with him on Twitter, and Facebook.

1. You have two self-published books out and you’re working on your third. No doubt, you’ve grown as a writer since you began your first book draft. How would you describe your personal development as an author from then to now?

Absolutely, I’ve grown a tremendous amount since the first book draft – which I don’t even remember what it was actually. I would describe it as well worth the effort. Just like most things in life, you get out what you put in. Once I got serious about writing, I dove in headlong, reading books on the craft of writing, story structure, outlining, publishing, etc. It has been a long journey, but I’ve learned so much, and there is still so much more to learn.

2. Being able to finish one book, let alone two, is an accomplishment of itself. What hinders your progress as an author and how do you protect yourself against it?

The need for sleep! Time, actually, is the hardest thing. I have a full time job, and between that and family I don’t have as much time to write as I would like. I don’t set daily goals as far as word count, but I do try to sit down and write at least once a day. My philosophy is work hard, but stay flexible, which is essential for me. The first draft seems to come easier for me, so editing takes way more time.

3. Since you write in the science fiction and fantasy realms, how does what you see, hear, and read in the world influence your writing? Is there any main source for your inspiration?

Everything – movies, comic books, cartoons, books by other writers. For the Senturians of Terraunum series, it is a mashup of epic fantasy, superheros, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. But as far as authors, I love Jim Butcher, especially the Dresden Files, as well as Terry Brooks, with the Shannara books, and the Harry Potter books. One of the great things about being a fantasy writer is inspiration can literally come from anywhere, since you’re the creature of your world. Need orange plants to be the norm? Poof – it is!

4. It’s often heard that people don’t attempt to become an author because of negative self-doubt. What would you tell the aspiring author who thinks they’re not good enough to publish a book?

I would say “You can do it!” Becoming a writer, good or otherwise, is like anything in life – it takes practice. Every time you write something, you are growing. You have more experience today than you did yesterday. And in today’s world, help is literally at your fingertips. There are a TON of resources available, in book form, on websites, and on Facebook groups. There are lots of people more than willing to help. If you’re willing to put in a little work, you can improve your skill level (no matter what level that is). The best thing you can do is find some author mentors who will help you through the process with constructive criticism, which is delivered correctly and in a way where you learn and grow.

5. Speaking of aspiring writers, what were the circumstances of you beginning to write and how has your childhood played a role what you write now?

I’ve always loved reading, so in college I decided I wanted to write a book. It got picked up and put down several times until finally a couple years ago I decided it was something I really wanted to do, so I set out learning the craft of writing and publishing, so I could see my dream in reality! As a kid I loved cartoons, superheros, fantasy books, books in general, old westerns, sports, and the outdoors. So put all of that together, mash it up, and it comes out as… well me! So yes, my childhood definitely directed me to my genre and my style of writing.

6. Authors sometimes sneak things into their books, such as details or events that relate to something in their personal life. Is there anything you’ve sneaked into your books?

I have! There are random ‘semi’ quotes from movies, songs or books, that if you’ve seen them you might catch them. I believe the kids these days are calling them ‘Easter Eggs’? There are also a couple of scenes inspired from movies or books. From my personal life, I think it’s my style of writing/thinking, especially when writing Jayton Baird, the main character in Fire Eyes Awakened.

7. Writing is a continual education craft. What techniques do you use to improve your writing from one book to the next?

You’re right – if you’re not learning you’re going backwards! It’s not quite that bad, but there are always ways to improve. I’ve subscribed to several authors email lists, read blogs, books, and listen to podcasts. I get tips and tricks from all of these. For any beginners, or really anyone, I’d recommend Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn. She has great information and keeps up with what’s going on in the world of writing.

8. Writers have a desire and often a need to express themselves. If you could say anything at all to the entire world at once, what would it be?

Holy cow, what a question! I guess it would be to calm down, enjoy the finer things in life (like your family and friends), and let’s try to get along and understand each other.

9. Let’s close by looking towards the future. What can we expect from you in the next 1-2 years?

Hopefully, lots more books! The goal is to put out a new book at least every six months. Before 2017 closes down, I’ll be putting out “Tempus,” the next novel in the Origins of Terraunum series which outlines some of the characters from Fire Eyes Awakened. In 2018 I’ll have the second book of The Senturians of Terraunum series, another in Origins, and if I can, book three in The Senturians. In the meantime, my email list subscribers will be getting short stories well! So, really, lots of content!

Overcoming Author-Illustrator Depression

Depression is a very real, very damaging, very painful experience that can be short term or long term and have long lasting consequences. This perspective of author depression in no way is intended to come across flippantly as if to compare on the same level as chronic or acute depression. An author, however, can learn a great deal about how to process the feelings and thoughts encountered during the road to publication by examining depressive symptoms.

Life as an aspiring author or budding illustrator often begins with a spark of passion. Passion is coupled with excitement and soon enough the seed of starting something new blossoms into a beautiful flower of hope. As the flower grows in beauty and complexity it brings forth a very nasty thorn. This thorn is expectation.

The thorn of expectation multiplies into many, many thorns, some large and others small. One thorn may be the idea that your writing or illustrations will, by themselves, land you an agent on the first query. Another thorn may be your ability to write or illustrate a certain volume of work by a given deadline. Another, your social platform growth. Another, ample time to devote to your craft. And still more in the likes of success, fame, fortune, mass market appeal, style, ideas, understanding, etc. The thorns are many and, if not frequently maintained, can choke the beautiful flower that has blossomed.

Your work, your writing or your illustrations, are wonderful in their own right. Likely, they are unique and original. They are a creative expression of your own mind and heart. No doubt, without first being brought to life through you, they would never live through anyone else. Your works are your children, in a sense, that depend on you to be grown to maturity. You would never expect a toddler to be the financial backbone of a family. Yet, the thorn of financial expectation can bring you and me to a place of reliance that, if unmet, brings about a painful demise.

You see, with every thorn of expectation that covers your writing or illustrating, there is a nasty little consequence that can result. If you expect your toddler-age writing to captivate an agent, you can experience frustration when it’s rejected or worse, ignored. If you expect your first draft to appeal to a wide variety of people online, you may experience pain when it’s instead trampled and trolled. Our expectations, or lack of accurately viewing our craft, is an enabling force for author depression.

You may be wondering, how do I know if I have author depression? Well, read these questions very carefully and decide if the statements describe you.

  1. I don’t enjoy writing/illustrating as much as I used to.
  2. I really don’t feel like writing/illustrating any more.
  3. There is no point submitting my work for consideration/representation.
  4. No one important appreciates my work.
  5. I don’t have any more ideas to write about or illustrate.
  6. I don’t fit in with the writing/illustrating community.
  7. I feel like I’ll never be a successful writer/illustrator.
  8. The system is rigged. Someone like me can never make it as an author/illustrator.
  9. Those authors/illustrators being published are not as good as me.
  10. The book publishing business just isn’t fair. It’s only about who you know.
  11. My writing/illustrating is no good.
  12. I am no good.
  13. Maybe so-and-so is right. I should find a different hobby.
  14. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get it right.
  15. I don’t care how far I’ve come. It’s not good enough now and it never will be.
  16. Traditional publishing isn’t for me because no one likes me or my work.
  17. Self-publishing isn’t for me because it’s too complicated.

Did any of those negative thoughts sound familiar? Most likely, they did. Lots of writers and illustrators experience negative thoughts. These thorns that choke our dreams and goals are not relegated to the book industry. Every person on the planet who desires to become something more than who they are currently will experience negativity, self-doubt, de-motivation, and pain.

Although the thorns of life do sprout, they don’t need to become powerful. They can be resisted and overcome. It’s been said that as a man thinks, so he is. Our mental capacity is more powerful than we give it credit. This is most readily seen if we resolve to accomplish something. The act of resolving, or committing to make a resolution, means we are preparing in advance to triumph over adversity. It’s a mindset. As an aspiring author or illustrator, one of your mindsets must be to resolve that you will push through rejection. Rejection will come and it is outside your control. But, it doesn’t need to be a stepping stone towards author depression.

Any brief research will guide you to countless examples of great, wonderful authors and illustrators who worked so hard yet were faced with rejection after rejection after rejection. In October of 1912, Tarzan of the Apes was rejected by Rand McNally & Co. after being described as something that wouldn’t fit into the publishing company’s current plans. Two years later, Tarzan became a cultural sensation that went on to sell over 50 million copies and a multitude of adaptations.

Apart from mental preparedness, an author or illustrator must be emotionally, spiritually, and physically ready to deal with the inevitable onslaught of difficulties that lie ahead. Prepare yourself to wait in silence, longer than you deem reasonable. Prepare to be hurt by the words used to describe your work. Pray in advance to remain focused on your goal, that Christ would strengthen you and bring His plan to fruition through you. Resolve that you will continue in your craft, regardless of despair in a sense of lack of progress. Realize that you have grown and matured in your craft. Remind yourself that although there is nothing new under the sun, there is something unique. That something is you. Your stories, your ideas, your art is unique to you and never done before the way you do it. Expect others to not see things your way, to not understand your point of view, to not appreciate your hard work. Expect it, and plan to help them see the beauty that unfolds through you.

In humility, we must accept and admit that there are better people among us, better ones who have gone before us. They have worked hard, sometimes for a lifetime, and faced rejection and despair. The best have wanted to give up. The best, kept going. The best submitted their manuscript again. The best refined their art. The best honed their craft. Be among the best. Don’t give up. Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Don’t let your mind and heart take you that place. Instead, set fire to your passion. Set fire to your dreams. Set fire to your goals.

Resolve to take the road less traveled. Resolve to try again where others give up. Resolve to forge ahead when it’s hard, when it’s dark, when it’s cold and lonely. Resolve to stand out from the crowd by your…resolve. And then, as you release yourself from the thorns, enjoy, truly enjoy the flower of your passion that blossoms before your eyes.

It’s beautiful, even if no one else sees it. It’s beautiful. Nurture it. Water it. Feed it. And when it’s grown, you can snip off flowers here and there to give away. Some will appreciate them. Some won’t. But you’ll have a flower that continues to bloom and in time, like so many before you, your passion, honed through resolve, will find its place where satisfaction and joy reside.

The Book Business of Writing

Every step in the book publishing process is an aspect of business. Let’s take the author’s role for a moment. Authors provide both a product and a service. The product being obvious, a written book, and the service a bit more subtle, the reader’s reaction.

The product of a book can be easily measured by volume of sales or acquisition of rights. If an author is simply desiring to move product, then the requirement is simple. More units of books need to reach more willing purchasers or the book itself needs to appeal to a wide variety of rights acquisition strategists. The reaction a reader experiences, as a service from the author, is a bit more complex.

The best books, the classics, from picture books to easy readers, MG to YA, high fantasy to non-fiction memoir, provide a service to the reader. These wonderful books birth an emotional, mental, spiritual, and often times physical response. Need an example? Crying. Laughing. Staying awake all night to finish Harry Potter as fast as humanly possible. Camping in front of stores to be first in line to purchase a sequel. Books that sway opinion on politics, religion, child rearing, marital growth, health, fitness, and the like. These effects are much more than a transfer of product. These are services provided by an author. The best services often are supported by others, an illustrator for children’s books, an agent for pushing the story beyond the reach of a traditional author, a publisher who has the pockets to get the story to the consumer, marketers, editors, planners, lawyers, etc.

Writing books is far more than baking a pie and hoping someone will purchase it and consume it. Writing books is a complex business. It’s an infinite argument through the written word that continually aims to provide not just a product but a service to every reader. Readers want this service, nearly always more than they want the product. Readers want to feel something, anything. Readers want to be lifted emotionally, carried physically, challenged mentally, and enlightened spiritually. A book is so much more than a product.

Some authors stop at product, however. They aim to create, market, and distribute lots and lots of product. And often times, they find some level of success through enough hard work and advertisement. Unfortunately, the outcomes are typically the same. They aren’t really remembered. Sure, a handful of greenbacks found their way over to them, but not enough to make a life altering difference. On the flip side, the authors who’s passion for books manifested itself into a service to readers have found tremendous success not only financially but through deep satisfaction in their craft.

I encourage and challenge you to focus your best efforts on the service of a book. Let everything you have, everything you are, be poured into the effect it will have on a reader. Let it fill a family’s home with laughter. Let it bring forth a rush of tears from the single reader. Let it spur someone on to make life changing decisions. Let your book make someone sit back, close the cover, nod their head and say to themselves, “Wow. That was a good book.”

Writing as a Passion

Have you ever had a passion that began as a teeny, tiny seed deep inside your heart? The more you thought about it, the more it grew from your heart into your mind. Once it became lodged in your mind, you turned it over and over, thinking about the details, the what if scenarios, and began doing research. After a while, as if the secret well inside of you was so big it was about to burst, you told someone. Not just anyone, of course, but a close friend or a family member. You knew the passion, the dream, was so delicate, you couldn’t entrust it to just anyone.

Eventually, as you let that dream flourish, as you fostered your inner passion, it became strong enough to withstand the rejection and onslaught of other people. You could be told no, and remain steadfast. You could have your dream trampled, and press on anyways. A passion for writing or illustrating often begins like this. At least it did for me.

I wrote poetry and simple stories for years growing up. My mother, especially, encouraged me to draw and paint. I still remember those days we would sit down together to paint. As I entered High School, my artistic expression went in random directions, never really finding a home. Even though I was never sure what I was really passionate about, I naturally began blogging on a variety of subjects after college. My background in website design, search engine optimization, and programming helped me create successful blogs rather quickly. Even though these projects were always exciting to pour myself into, the types of writing I was doing didn’t give me the sense of fulfillment I was looking for.

In October of 2015, my older brother Thane Keller self-published science fiction novel, Trials. I hadn’t known he was even writing a book and it took me a while to get around to read it. Once I did read it, I was filled with ideas and concepts that could help propel the world he built and reinforce the plot he created. In January of 2016, we agreed I would write a prequel novel for his series. I immediately got to work and it became an incredibly satisfying passion in my life.

As I wrote, I began doing deliberate research on how to write. My first edit feedback was humbling, to say the least. I thought I was naturally a great writer…don’t we all? But writing professionally was so much more complex than I gave it credit for. So, I hunkered down, and researched like crazy. Every day I learned something new, whether it was a better understanding of point-of-views, sentence structure, or simple tips, I began incorporating everything I was learning.

I wrote and re-vised. Wrote and revised. It wasn’t until later I could take to heart a definition of what revision really is, which is to view the work in a different way, to re-vision it. I began writing and then trying to view it differently, from different angles. Writing was truly satisfying.

Then something unexpected happened. About 30,000 words into the Trials prequel, I had a thought. A very, very different thought. It was a concept for a new science fiction novel. My mind was flooded with ideas and plots, the introduction, the ending. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every day my brain would keep filling out details and so every morning between 3:00am and 6:00am (my usual writing time), I was torn between two wonderful books. Two wonderful but very different worlds that needed to be written.

At this point, I had been learning so much and spent my commute to and from work listening to classic books on audio, books on how to write, books on how to present ideas and techniques to captivate readers. It was like an artesian well that sprang forth from all around me that I just couldn’t get enough of. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about writing, editing, publishing, self-publishing, querying, everything.

But would you know what happened next? In the midst of trying to manage two science fiction novels, another idea flooded my mind. I couldn’t push it away. It was a children’s picture book story. I immediately wrote the outline down and polished it over a few more days. Then, another children’s book idea came. And another. And another. I was being bombarded by unique, original concepts that would enrich and enliven families everywhere.

Maybe it was the thousands of children’s books my wife and I have read to our two boys over the years. Maybe it was a love of reading that had been developed since I was young. Maybe it was the empty library shelves I would always see in children’s sections. I’m not sure. All I know is children’s books are on a whole different level of satisfaction for me. So much so, that although I am currently seeking literary agent representation, I couldn’t resist commissioning an illustrator for my first children’s book. The artwork is beautiful and I know you’ll love it. I’m hoping to have it out by 2018. But don’t worry, I have many children’s book manuscripts polished and ready to go.

Technically, that makes me a hybrid author – someone who’s friendly to traditional and self-publishing avenues. The reality is much simpler though. Writing is a passion. It can’t be stopped. The ideas come and they must be written. Some will appeal to one crowd while some will appeal to other crowds. The stories need to be told or else they’ll never live. There are people out there who’s life will be incredibly enriched by my stories. They’ll be enriched by yours, too.

I know this post is long but over a decade in SEO shows it doesn’t really matter. What matters, is you. If you’re an aspiring author or illustrator, please don’t give up. Live your passion. Fit it into your day, somehow, someway. If you have a different role in literature (editor, agent, publisher, lawyer, assistant, etc.), your role is vital. Bookshelves are empty. Children need more beautifully illustrated, wonderfully written books. Parents need fun books to share with their children, new stories to choose from. Educators need tools to help in the classroom explain complex concepts in simple ways. The world simply needs more books.

Is writing your passion? Is your passion something else? I’d love to hear about it. Maybe we can help each other along the way and leave this world a little lot better than when we found it.

Interview with Author James Conan

James A. Conan is a Toronto-based writer and sous-chef. He has published several short stories over the past two years, focusing mainly on science fiction, but recently on literary and upmarket fiction. James is also a first reader at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, an online magazine of speculative fiction of all types. He draws on this experience to write his blog, Notes From the Slush Pile, which offers advice to other writers looking to hone their craft and achieve publication. Other than his website, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

1. You manage a personal blog called Notes From the Slush Pile and refer to yourself as a “First Reader”. How has this position helped you grow as an author?

Being a First Reader has helped me become a better writer for the simple reason that it’s exposed me to a larger, unrefined body of work than I would have come across otherwise. Reading the finished, published short stories and novels of other writers is important, but this way I get to see the earlier steps in the process. I encounter the mistakes people make, many of which I’ve made myself. I have the opportunity to learn by observation all the ways that other writers can try and craft a good idea into a plausible, engaging narrative. Sometimes they succeed and I give them the thumbs up. When they don’t, gently explaining to them why what they’ve done didn’t work gives me valuable experience. I’ve been teaching myself what works and what doesn’t.

2. You’ve published quite a few short stories. Stephen King has made it clear he started with short stories as well. How would an aspiring writer know short stories could be their starting place?

The fact is I didn’t start that way. I made the mistake of writing a novel first. I was only 23 and fresh out of school, I didn’t know better. I’m still trying to get it published by the way. You can check out a sample chapter on the blog. My point is, I found out the hard way that most publishers won’t take you seriously unless you can come across as professional (I wasn’t). This means the blog, properly written queries, being at least somewhat active on social media, and most importantly having a published body of work to prove you mean business. Any aspiring writer who thinks otherwise is likely in for the same rude awakening I got. That said, once I began writing short stories to help myself get noticed, I began to appreciate the technical challenges. When I was writing the novel I could take as long as I felt I needed to get to the point, but with short stories I learned that sometimes less is more.

3. Since many of our readers are aspiring authors, what is some of the best advice you’ve received in your writing career that you can share?

I’m really better at giving it than receiving. The blog attests . If I took half the advice I gave to others I’d have way more stories and a few more books done by now. Don’t be afraid of rejection, I guess. You have to develop a thick skin. People are going to tell you why they don’t like your work. You need to be okay with that. If anything, you should share your work around with your peers, and encourage more people to give you constructive criticism. Just remember that it’s your work, not theirs, and you don’t have to make any changes you don’t want to. Other than that, just don’t give up, keep writing. It takes time to get good at anything, and the time and effort will show. To quote Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame; “with a little practice it can become an intimidating and impenetrable foe.”

4. The medium of publishing has seen some change with the digital era we find ourselves in. Latest of which would include chat stories, where readers receive text, audio, and video messages that push a story forward regularly like a TV show. Do you think already published authors, self or traditional, can break into these new markets with existing work?

I think so. Serializing a novel is nothing new, the technology has just given us a new format. It might take a while to really catch on, but if there’s one thing the digital age has given us more of than anything else it’s ways to consume popular culture. If authors don’t engage and chat stories don’t end up lasting, there’ll be some other new platform before too long. I’m holding out for realistic holograms.

5. With short stories, magazine articles, and novels, the use of an illustrator is typically minimal to create a great cover or add a few graphics to help with the story. Have you found trouble hiring an illustrator or graphic designer when so many work exclusively for agencies?

I haven’t really worked with enough illustrators one-on-one to answer this well. The magazines I’ve been published in have all contracted their own artists. I had nothing to do with it. For the blog, I use entirely public domain science fiction and fantasy images, mostly from Pixabay. I did hire a friend to do some concept artwork for my novel back when I was first writing it. I never ended up using it for much. It’s still hanging on my wall though. Sort of a memorial to the time and effort I put in. Ian, if you’re reading this, I promise when I get it published your stuff will be in there.

6. With so many digital readers, the end of print is always a hot-button issue. Do you think traditional print books or magazines will ever fade away, or will there simply be more options to choose from?

This is a question that people have been asking for years now. I think there’s room for both. I have a kindle app on my phone that I use to download public domain classics. Being able to read “Heart of Darkness” for free helped me pass the time on a transatlantic flight recently. Digital publishing certainly has it’s place, but it’s not going to replace print for me anytime soon. A lot of us stare at screens for a good portion of the day, be it at work or at home. Reading print books is a relaxing, sedentary pastime that lets me take my eyes away from the blue-light glow. My tiny apartment is full of bookshelves groaning under the weight of my library, and that’s just the way I like it. I can admit it’s an affectation in this digital age, but it’s one I’ll never stop enjoying and I think a lot of people out there feel the same.

7. As authors, we continually grow and develop our writing craft, whether in word, form, or style. How has your writing transformed from where you started to today?

This is an interesting one for me. I’d just finished university when I started writing seriously, so one of my biggest challenges was my own verbosity, writing stuff like I would if I were doing an academic paper. It was a big problem that I’ve (mostly) overcome. In general, I’ve had to work on being patient. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and getting anything published is almost always a long, slow process. I’d like to think that my work has become more refined as a result. I think about what I’m writing more, and go through a few more phases of editing and rewrites with every
rejection. 

8. If you could pick only one thing from one of your published short stories that might come true…what would it be and how would the world be different from it?

It’s a pretty generic answer, but space travel. Other planets in our solar system, faster than light, whatever. As a science fiction author, any significant progress in this field that might see human beings living on other planets within my lifetime would be a dream come true. As for what that might mean for the world at large, I’m not chasing some vision of utopia. I think humans generally make a lot of catastrophic mistakes. It just might mean that a mistake that kills this planet might not kill all of us. Optimistic pessimism.

9. What can we expect to see from you in the next 1-2 years?

In the next year or two I expect my next novel to be done. I’m moving away from science fiction towards more mainstream fiction. “I Think I Can” is the story of a down and out motivational speaker who finds himself in therapy after his wife leaves him, and the personal and professional obstacles he encounters on his road to recovery. The first two chapters were published in short story form in The Danforth Review. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of other short stories I’m trying to find homes for. I’m also going back to school this fall. Working as a First Reader woke a deeper interest in publishing for me, so ‘ll be taking a post-graduate course in book and magazine publishing at Centennial College here in Toronto in order to pursue that.