You really should know …

A.M. Schultz.

Why?

Because the dude rocks big time.

Seriously, he lifts me up when I’m down, makes me laugh when I frown (forgive the rhyme), and is packing some serious talent underneath that “aw-shucks, I’m just doing what I do and hope it turns out good” demeanor.

He doesn’t know it yet, but he is.

Just check out his bio:

A.M. Schultz is a student, pseudo-scholar, writer, closet-nerd, and philosophy junkie. Predicted to become either a college professor, a full-time author, a part-time Buddhist, a selective pescatarian or a total recluse, he enjoys sporadic fits of writing in between meditation sessions, kickboxing workouts, Greek yogurt/sushi indulgences, drooling over the works of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, scribbling in his Moleskine notebooks, preparing to battle the dreaded GRE, underachieving and spontaneously traveling across the eastern United States in search of high adventure and low-country cuisine.

I’ll say it again, this guy is a talent powerhouse.

Take a look at the cover for his upcoming debut novel RING GIRL:

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I mean, really? OMG! I want that cover. And he has more covers over on his site, including the ones he’s done for me.

But let’s fast forward to the nitty gritty — ’cause I’m a nosey type — and hear what the man behind the myth has to say for himself.

I know you’re still writing your book RING GIRL, but, if you had to, what’s one word you’d use to describe it as it stands right now.

Kinetic. This thing is a ball of energy and it is pressing forward. There is a fire under my ass to get it done, but there is also a fire under the story’s ass. It’s not taking “no” for an answer. I can’t promise that it’s going to be great, or that people will remember this story thirty years from now, but barring some major catastrophe, it’s coming. It will be available for readers around the world in January… so yeah, kinetic.

Your biggest challenge as a writer?

My lifelong habit of being my own worst enemy. Any time I have tried to write, be it fiction or non-fiction, I have succeeded. After a while, the challenge was gone. Now, I hop on the internet and see thousands upon thousands of other writers and wonder how the hell I’m going to line-jump thousands of people who might be just as good or better than me, and it’s horrifying. When I trust myself, though, and stop trying to enslave myself to the trends of the market, I do well. It’s just a matter of making that happen.

Your greatest joy as a writer?

When someone reads my stuff and makes a point of telling me it was good. A lot of my fiction was role-playing on-line with a small community of other writers, and quite frequently, I would hear that “if he’s on, nobody touches that guy.” A writer once called me his “Zen Master.” It’s not the ego stroke, per se, but the fact that people would go out of their way to say something like that in regards to my writing. It’s fueled me to become better, and it’s what has brought me to the table. I want to write things that play to people’s emotions, to their intellects, to their souls. If I make a few bucks, pay a couple bills, buy a new Polo shirt, whatever; if 100 people go out of their way to tell me my writing inspired them or entertained them, it’s all the same.

What’s that ONE thing you need in order to write?

PASSION. Confidence, inspiration, time, all of that are nice, but if you are writing flaccid prose, it’s going to show. If you are pouring passion on the page, people will be able to tell. You don’t even have to be a “great” writer – make people feel what you are feeling, and you’re golden!

You pop open your laptop, bring up the Blank Page, sit back, fingers ready to type … and then what? How does your process begin?

It’s usually not that formulaic. I rarely sit down with the intention to write. I always check my e-mail, my social networks, my Alexa ranking, a few other pages, etc. Then, I’ll do some pre-writing, maybe slam a cool 300-400 words out on something innocuous before I attempt to build upon one of my “serious” works. This has been working well because it gets me in the mood to write. Writing foreplay, I guess…

What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever received? And it doesn’t have to be writing related.

There is a quote attributed to Socrates (the philosopher, not my pug): the unexamined life is not worth living. I’m a hardass towards myself, and throughout my adult life, I have never been comfortable or content if I wasn’t pushing myself. For a few years, this was working a billion hours a week. Then, it was living in the gym, going to shows all across the East Coast every weekend while toggling school and work. Now, it’s writing. Not only am I writing the book, but I am promoting this book, and supporting a network of other authors I want to see succeed. It’s pressure, but as long as I remember to look inside myself and remember why I’m doing all of this, then it’s entirely worth it.

And what’s the best advice you can give someone who’s struggling to put their words on the page?

DON’T THINK. Ray Bradbury posted this above his desk, and it seemed to work for him. For me, “thinking” involves worrying about trends, or trying to make your story fit somewhere it doesn’t; trying to fit elements into your story that don’t belong. Write from the heart, from the soul, but don’t worry about what other people will think while you are writing.

In addition to your talent as a writer, you also design kick ass book covers. What inspired you to throw your hat into that ring?

Honestly? I followed Mr. Jonathan Winn on the Twitter, he RT’d me a couple of times, and I visited his Amazon page. Read the blurb for MARTUK… THE HOLY, thought it sounded awesome, but then thought “wow, that cover is gonna hurt his sales big time.” So, I messaged him, said I was willing to give book cover designs a whirl, and here we are now.

I had messed around with graphic design for about a decade before that and figured I might as well strengthen my presence as much as possible. Now, the hard thing is getting people to hire me for work. ;-)

When beginning work on designing a cover, how do you begin? What’s that first step?

I usually have a very rough idea of what I want to do, and the cover never turns out the way I intend. Tons of trial-and-error. “CUSS” actually came to me while I was lying down one day, thought big, blocky letters across a black-and-white background would look cool, and forty-five minutes later, I had perhaps my coolest looking cover thus far. It’s basically improv.

Five years from now, where are you and what are you doing?

Ideally, I’m sitting in my condo in Hilton Head, South Carolina sixteen weeks a year.
Realistically, I’m finished with graduate school, working as a college professor, and selling enough copies of my books/doing enough book covers to handle a few bills per month. I’m curious to see what the landscape of the publishing industry looks like in five years, and I expect that quality self-published authors will continue to see a major spike in sales.

Mark my words, kids. Five years from now, we’ll still be talking about A.M. Schultz. This guy rocks seven ways to Sunday and back again.

And his pug Socrates ain’t too bad either. :^)

Blessed Brevity

“But it’s not a whole book.”

You know how many times I’ve heard that? Too many. You know how many times I’ve stood my ground and proved the naysayers wrong? Every damn time.

Listen, I’ll happily admit that there’s something quite wonderful about holding a full-length novel in your hands. The heft, the impressive span of the spine, the ragged edge of the pages as you flip through. Your heart leaping as you see Chapter Fifty, Chapter Sixty-Two, Chapter Seventy, the promise of a great read implicit in the size alone.

But not every story needs that heft. Not every character wants to invest themselves that fully. Some are happy to give you just a glimpse of their experience. A look at an event. An event. Just one. The one that changed everything for them forever.

That’s where short fiction comes in.

After I finished my first book Martuk … The Holy I started planning Martuk … The Holy: Proseuche. With Martuk’s bags packed and Amazon arriving any moment to take him out into the big, bad world, focusing on the sequel seemed to me the next logical step.

So I started writing. And then I stopped. Started again. Stopped again. There was something nagging me. Something not quite right. Something unfinished, perhaps.

And it couldn’t be Martuk’s story because it was still being told. And with a book scheduled after that — the third –, the tale would continue.

That’s when it hit me: it wasn’t his story at all. That wasn’t what was nagging me, my fingers hovering over the keyboard while I watched the cursor blinking on an empty page.

It was their story. Those who had befriended Martuk, took him from his home, walked with him, challenged him and imprisoned him and, yes, even killed him. That’s the story that needed telling.

The Wounded King. The Elder. The Magician. The Old Crone. Those Priests in Red and Gold. Even his Mother. They refused to let me go. Insisted I give them a voice. They had stories to tell. They still wanted to speak.

The blinded, stumbling King wanted us to see how he became that bleeding husk of shredded flesh. How his life had trapped him, his days spent as a living corpse weeping red surrounded by an opulence he never wanted, his ears forever haunted by those bones in the stones, the knowledge that Those Beyond the Veil waited, just out of reach.

And The Elder, a man noted for his venality in Martuk, was desperate to show us the why of who he was. Wanted to take us by the hand and lead us into the how of what he experienced, the ramifications of what he endured feeding his actions. Not hatred or malice, but anger, surrender, and disappointment. Needed us to understand that he was as trapped in his fate as Martuk, a prisoner laying on a blood drenched altar under an ocean of stars, was trapped in his.

Could I do that in a full-length novel? Yes. Is that what their stories needed? No.

Alas, short fiction. Ergo, The Martuk Series.

But it couldn’t be like a full-length novel. I needed to limit my words, focusing more on the action and less on the lush prose. Train the reader’s eye to the blade that cuts and not on how the metal shines in the light of the nearby flame. Guide them into the actions of The Queen and The Seer and the ash-covered immortal Shamisé, trusting that what they do will help inform the reader. Tell the reader who they are, their back stories implicit in their actions.

Regardless, this writing needed to be quick. Abrupt. Shocking and swift. It needed to move. Constantly. Forward motion always. These stories wouldn’t linger in the shadows, waiting, biding their time, hoping. They’d rush forward like a great wave and shatter the door to fill the room with their rage, their pain, their wounds.

They would assault us with their stories.

And that’s what the Series is and will continue to be as long as I write it, the possibilities endless as we meet yet more people in Proseuche and then the third book, Shayateen, and then, perhaps, in books after that.

So, the next time someone says “But it’s not a whole book,” I’m going to respond

“You’re right. It’s much, much more.”

Doin’ it

Just stumbled across an interesting conversation that set my own mind a’thinkin’ (always a dangerous thing). And since I wasn’t asked to share what MY process is on said blog — truth be told, they don’t even know I exist, so who can blame ‘em? –, I thought I’d bee-bop on over to my little corner of the Universe and share it anyway.

So, how do I write?

It all begins in my head.

Okay, that’s kinda not true. It starts in my head, yes, but it’s more a story I’m hearing rather than a story I’m “making up”, if that makes sense.

Martuk from Martuk … The Holy introduced himself to me one day in March of 2008. Out of the blue. You know, kind of one of those Hey, how are ya, and do I have a story for you-type of deals. And once I understood and accepted that I could be THAT kind of writer as well as a screenwriter and playwright, I found the first draft of the book flying onto the page with relative ease.

But as to HOW that happened, this is what I’ve found works for me:

I type myself emails. Short and not-so-short thoughts working through the plot. Hashing it out. Working it through. Seeing if it squares up, makes sense, could maybe be an interesting read. You know, making sure it all fits before I type Chapter One.

Unlike some, I don’t really plot out people to be met or character flaws to surmount or any of that stuff. Maybe I should. But I find if I have a general map — my Chapter Map –, the people Martuk needs to meet end up introducing themselves when need be.

And many of the characters in Martuk couldn’t have been plotted out because I wasn’t in that world yet, the palace in ancient Uruk, the altar, the priests in red and gold. I needed to get there to discover who was waiting. And I was smart enough to sit back and let them introduce who they were and what they were dealing with. Instead of assigning them wounds, I allowed them to lift up their sleeves and show me the cuts and scrapes and slices themselves.

But, still, I’m following that map.

If I find a character wants to go deeper into his or her story — and stray further from Martuk’s narrative –, I now make a note for The Martuk Series and promise them they’ll get their own book. Short Fiction, of course, but still … it seems to placate them for the time being.

Once the book is finished, I save it in PDF and send it to my iPad where I open it anew and, stylus in hand, start covering the page in red. Call me weird, but I love this phase. And for some reason, I notice things a lot more when I move away from the laptop screen to a PDF on an iPad. Glaring mistakes. I mean, huge doozies. I don’t see them until I open that PDF on my iPad.

Strange, isn’t it?

But it’s during this process where the book really comes to life. Marked up PDF in one hand, my laptop open in the other, headphones firmly in place as the story shifts and changes shape. Becomes tighter, leaner, meaner. All that red scribbling and circling and question marking and WTF-ing necessary in creating a great read.

Depending on how sloppy I’ve been, I’ll sometimes go through three or four edited PDFs before the book is ready.

And then, AMSchultz cover in hand, book published, and new chapter map on deck, I find myself typing Chapter One. Again.

God, I love what I do.

Dead yet?

Want to know how to kill a writer?

Save for the tedious bullet in the brain, the boring drowning in a bucket, or the ho-hum of the heave-ho over the side of a bridge, the most devious, unforgettable way to kill a writer is a lot more subtle. Subtle, but despicable. Something that will without a doubt mind-fuck them seven ways from Sunday.

The best way to kill a writer is to suffocate them with The Rules.

Absolutely! Tease those fuckers out, word for word. Wrap them around your wrist until all the Don’t Do Thises and Don’t Do Thats and Don’t Do Those Other Things become a strong, sturdy rope. And then strangle ‘em ’till their eyes pop out.

Go ahead.

But first encourage them to write. Insist they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and create. Beg them to bring to life their amazing story and those incredible characters.

And then the moment they type “Chapter One” uppercut them by denying them adverbs. Karate chop them by demanding they never start a chapter with dialogue. Order them to never do any of the other things Those Who Think They Can Write tell Those Who Really Can Write not to do. Ever.

Seriously, if you want to completely neuter someone to the point where the Fear of Doing It Wrong far surpasses their God-Given Need to Write, the joy they feel in putting words to paper getting creamed at the intersection of Doubt and Regret, hit them over the head with The Rules.

It works.

When I started writing my first book Martuk … The Holy, I was cruising. Man, I was slamming out three, four, five thousand words a day (I’m a speed writer). Just humming along, on top of the world, feeling good. Really good. And writing great stuff! Not perfect, mind you — that’s what rewrites are for –, but good enough. So good I actually found myself entertaining the ridiculous thought that ‘maybe, just maybe, I can do this writing thing’.

And then I was told that as good — or, actually, as great — as my work was, I was doing it all wrong.

Yep. Wrong. And if I wanted to be taken seriously and not make a complete fool of myself — the implication being other Writers would snigger behind my back like bitchy little schoolgirls if I didn’t change my ways — I’d have to start over from Word One and do it “right”.

Stopped. Me. In. My. Tracks. Knocked me over. The humiliation at having done it “wrong” so embarrassed me that I shoved Martuk in the virtual bottom drawer and denied his existence. For a year. The story still lived and the characters still spoke. But not knowing the “right way” to bring them to life, I did my best to ignore them.

Guess I wasn’t a writer after all.

And then one day I did what I always do. Ignoring reason and logic, wrong or right, I dusted off the ol’ MS and got back to work.

I mean, really. Fuck ‘em. I never claimed to be perfect, so why should my work be?

Sure, I’d taken a look at the books and blogs and websites that ostensibly celebrate Writers and the Art of Writing. The black pixels on white which encourage the collective Us to find our brilliance and discover our Voice all while kneecapping Us with a growing, often contradictory List of Things To Never Do. Their Personal Ten Commandments playing on the assumption that we need to be accepted and embraced by our peers and then insisting, if we want that to happen, we had to Do This and That and Never, Ever do That.

I don’t need to be embraced. Or accepted. By anyone, really. That’s not why I write.

So that’s what I did. I wrote. I finished Martuk … The Holy. Published it. Got consistently great reviews. Sold some copies. And I’m damn proud of that book. And then I wrote another, The Wounded King. Short Fiction. Inspired by Martuk. And then The Elder. More Short Fiction. Again, inspired by Martuk. More books in the pike. Red and Gold next, followed by Martuk … The Holy: Proseuche. And then more after that, all mapped out, titled, ready to go. None of them “following the rules.” Don’t know if they ever will.

Like a literary Mister Magoo, I am blissfully ignorant of the laws I’m breaking.

You see, what I’ve discovered is Readers don’t give two shits about The Rules. Of course, they expect Writers to know basic sentence structure and how to spell and how NOT to butcher the language. We gotta make it an easy read for them or they throw in the towel. A knowledge of grammar and spelling helps. And if we’re self-published, it’s always best if our work is formatted properly. These basic things help to keep those pages turning.

But the Rules? If it’s a great story told well, Readers don’t care. They just want to lose themselves in the pages. To have these strangers on the page catch them, pick them up, body slam them, and make them cry “Uncle!”

Frankly, that’s hard to do if you tie your hands with Rules.

So, are you a writer throwing the Rules out the window and just writing what you write, all those Don’t Do Thats be damned!, simply because it’s how the story must be told?

Or are you sitting there, fingers frozen above the keyboard, the humiliation at breaking The Rules stronger than your Story? Simmering with resentment and frustration as the fear of doing it wrong smothers you and kills your talent?

Think about it. Really. Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Which is it?

In other words, are you dead yet?

Obsession and Oblivion

From a recent guest post I wrote:

Why do I do what every indie writer does every single day?

Because I’m curious. No, scratch that. Because I’m obsessed.

This obsession can’t be stopped by the absence of a Big Publisher brandishing a goody bag of guidance and media connections. This obsession won’t be quieted by the lack of a sizeable advance propping up my bank account or the implicit promise of three martini lunches in suit-and-tie restaurants. With tablecloths. And flowers. Or not.

In fact, my obsession — perhaps I should be calling it a sickness by now? — isn’t even disheartened by this apparently endless wandering among the parched, wind-blasted dunes of NoSales Desert.

My characters, my stories, my books steamroll everything else into oblivion.