Surviving the War of the Page

An excerpt from an interview over on Horror Novel Reviews where I talk about staggering creativity, an enviable imagination, and Venti Caramel Half-Caf N0-Whip Mocha Frappucinos.

Oh, and Proseuche. Of course.

So, really, that’s why I’m here. Because you do what I do and you know how difficult and frustrating it can be. Especially if you’re that falling tree in the forest that no one hears. So I’m standing before you for a nod, a small smile. Maybe even a handshake. One survivor of the War of the Page welcoming another comrade to its ranks, if you will.

 

 

Sexy beast … à la française

A Conversation with Syndra K Shaw
(note: due to the fact that we talked a long time, I’m breaking our chat into two parts. This is Part One with Part Two following tomorrow)

February 2013.

Phone in hand, I press 2, listening to the brief sing-song of beeps as the number in Paris is dialed. Three small rings later — it’s always three rings –, Syndra answers with a very polite “oui?”. The accent is pleasingly French, the voice both warm and inviting, a slight sense of flirtation teasing the ends of her sentences as if she’s going to burst into a fit of giggles at any moment.

Sitting here much too far away in the States, I can easily imagine this chic writer of e-roms (erotic romances) in her new apartment near La Parc Monceau at her very clean, very shiny desk, leaning back in her red leather swivel chair, a scarf wrapped around her shoulders, her eyes out the window to the park across the street, phone in one hand, orphaned earring in the other, a slight smile on her lips as she patiently listens to me blather on in what is surely an awkward combination of French and English.

I’ve known Syndra for years — we’ve agreed that it’s ten years though I insist it’s closer to twelve — and consider her one of my dearest friends. Family, even, although her French sensibility would scoff at such an overt display of American affection. Still, I’m sticking by my guns. I consider her family. I cannot imagine life without Syndra.

When I published my first book, Martuk … the Holy, in 2012, she was the first to call and congratulate me, the first to send flowers and chocolate, and the first to read it, sending me a lovely, very detailed private review that was both immensely supportive and brutally honest. “I would not be your love,” she explained, “if I just told you how wonderful it was. And it was. But there must be something, even if it is a small thing, to criticize and make better.”

And she was right. As always.

So I was understandably overjoyed when she turned to me several months later and asked my opinion. She had an idea for a story. Perhaps even a book. Maybe a few. A New York lawyer named Ronan Grace (love it!) falling in love with a Greek billionaire named Mikalo Delis (love it even more!). She shared with me the vision she had, one she thought could span several books and a whole group of secondary characters.

As she talked, I heard something I’d never heard before. Her voice quavered, she spoke quickly, she’d run out of breath as she talked about her Ronan and her Mikalo and the two of them together and the struggles they faced and the love they felt and the journey they’d take. I could feel this story, these characters, in her voice, living in her, and I knew without a doubt this was something she had to write.

And I said so.

She worried it’d be horrible. Then let it be, I said. But at least write it, let it live, let it breathe, let it have a life of its own.

She was afraid no one would care or would read it or would make fun of it. Then fuck ‘em, I shot back. Write it for you. Let that be enough.

And, after a few more weeks of needling her, she finally sat down and said “Okay, today is the day. I’m letting Mikalo live”.

With that, came her first book, Mikalo’s Grace.

Now, several months later with the release of the sequel, Mikalo’s Flame, she’s finally relented to my pestering and agreed to a phone interview I’d record and then transcribe. She’d take a quick look and approve, and I’d then put it up on my blog that very few people see anyway.

The consistent, persistent lack of eyes was what finally got her to agree, I think.

That said, here’s what we ended up with (minus the chit chat at the beginning) …

Jonathan: Tell me about Mikalo’s Flame.

Syndra: I think it’s a stronger book than the first –

Mikalo’s Grace –

Yes. I think I found my rhythm a little more and integrated a bit more of a drama-driven narrative this time. I was also a bit more confident and a little less scared.

You know, I liked Mikalo’s Grace –

You did?

Of course I did. I told you that, like, seven billion times –

Right –

But I also thought it needed more, I don’t know, drama or something.

Oh, yes. You did say that.

Yep. And I think you really got it with Mikalo’s Flame.

Thank you. Maybe you’re right. I think you are.

Let’s just say I’m right, okay? Was that a goal of yours? To add more drama or something to the second book?

No, not necessarily. I want each book to be better than the last — the thought of my writing staying the same book after book frightens me –

It should. Nothing worse than writers who write the same way all the time.

Yes, it makes sense to force yourself to grow. Even if you stumble, at least you’re trying to be better, you know? But with Mikalo’s Flame I really was just following the map I have laid out and what happens in the first book was what I had planned to happen in the first book and what happens in the second book was what my map says was going to happen in the second book. Does that make sense?

Barely.

Oh you –

No, no, I get what you’re saying.

Well, you should because you’re the one who taught me how to chapter map, or whatever you call it.

That’s just because I’m always forgetting my good ideas and need a reminder.

This is because you’re old.

Shut up. I am not. You’re older.

Hush.

Back to Mikalo’s Flame, we have to talk about Mara Byzan.

Oh, The Byzan. I actually love her.

You actually know her.

(laughs) No comment.

But she is based on someone you know and see, like, all the time, right?

No comment!

It’s not like anyone’s going to see this blog.

You have a point. Okay, Mara is inspired by someone I know, but the character in the book is a bit more over-the-top than –

Than the real person.

Who you know too, by the way. And you know what she’s like and you know how loud she is and you know how long her fingernails are.

Yeah, she’s a scratcher. Okay, no comment. Moving on, how do you write? Tell me about your process.

Okay, I listen to music like you taught me and I sit either on the couch with my computer on my lap or at my desk. And there is always a glass of wine and a glass of water.

What kind of wine.

White in the afternoon, red in the evening. Of course.

And you just sit and type and write your book?

No, I sit and look at the keys and the book magically writes itself.

Is that your way of telling me I just asked a stupid question.

How many No Comments do I have left?

Two. You have two No Comments left.

Then No comment.

I’ve lost control of this interview.

Well, you’re no Barbra Walters, that’s for sure.

Damn! Kitty’s got claws.

(Syndra snorts with laughter)

I’m writing that you snorted, just so you know.

You’re mean.

Now, French is your langue de naissance — (tr: birth language)

Oh, very nicely said.

Merci. Do you write in French and then translate into English?

Oh my goodness no. I write in English because that is where the market is. And in France, self-publishing a book is looked down on. So I won’t even bother going that route. I’m quite happy writing, as best I can, in English and puis parler de français dans ma vie tous les jours. (tr: … then speak French in my life every day)

Do you find a difference between your French sensibilities and your American friends?

Absolutely! Americans are talkers. They share their lives, their love, their feelings. They embrace you immediately with open arms and, like that, you are their friend. We are much more reserved in France.

That’s true. It was a huge deal when you first invited me to your apartment.

I know. One’s home is for one’s family. And in the States, one’s home is for one’s family and friends and co-workers! I just can’t imagine having my husband’s co-workers over here.

You were the first person I’ve visited who had guards stationed at the entrance.

(laughs) That was because of what my father does. It was nothing.

Not that I was complaining –

Oh yes, that one guard was very handsome –

In a Mikalo-sort of way –

Yes, I think so. But I am no longer there, so …

You mentioned your husband. So, your American readers know you’re married.

Yes, but my family is very private –

I know, I know. But you do have a fascinating heritage and a fantastic family. It’s all very interesting. Your father’s work, your mother –

Yes, yes, yes, I know. But I’m so afraid of accidentally interrupting their privacy with something I say. So it is better to not say anything. You know this.

No problem. Can we talk about your years in boarding school?

That’s like asking an inmate to talk about his years in Sing-Sing, but sure, why not.

You didn’t like it?

No, I hated it. I wanted to be home in Paris with my parents and there I was, cold and alone in England with a bunch of very mean girls who thought they were better than everyone because they had money and really strict teachers who didn’t care if you were homesick. And it was so regimented. Your shoes had to be shined and your socks had to hit just under your knees and your skirts had to be a certain length, your hair neat and, preferably, tied back with a bow and, oh my god, I just hated it.

And you escaped.

No, I was politely asked to leave –

So you were kicked out.

Yes. But it backfired because I then spent my last years of school in Switzerland which was even worse. I swear I could hear dogs on heavy chains growling from beyond the hedges.

Then you came New York.

No, I went to University in England and then came to NYU in New York.

Where we met.

Yes.

Tell me something I don’t know about you.

You know almost everything about me!

Then tell the three people reading this something they don’t know about you.

They have no idea who I even am.

Work with me here –

Okay, okay. I am very polite, but I don’t mind correcting sales girls when they’re rude.

Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. You’re vicious!

No, I’m not. I just very calmly tell them what they did wrong and how to do it better.

You actually brought one girl in Hermès to tears.

No, it wasn’t Hermès –

Pretty sure it was. The one on the Right. On the, what is it, the Rue de faubourg Saint-Honoré, I think.

Yes that’s right. But no, that wasn’t it. French sales girls are very tough. It takes a lot to make them cry. What you’re thinking of was at Barney’s in Beverly Hills. But if she couldn’t handle a bit of gentle criticism, what was she doing being such a mean little bitch?

Lesson for the day: don’t get on Syndra’s bad side.

(laughs) Now everyone is going to think I’m mean.

No they won’t. They’ll probably applaud your honesty and want to go shopping with you. So, more books?

Oh yes! I love writing –

And you can’t turn your mind off.

So true! My characters are very vocal. There is definitely a third Mikalo book –

Mikalo’s Fate.

Yes. And then I’m considering doing a spin-off Series for Deni, Ronan’s friend.

She’s perfect for that.

I know. I’m obsessed with her these days. I’m also thinking about doing a series or a series of novellas or something on Mara Byzan. Have her hit bottom and pull herself up.

A redemption.

Something like that. I’m not sure yet. We’ll see.

How could you leave Mikalo? The man is perfect. I mean, he’s one sexy beast!

I know!

I know who he’s based on.

No, you THINK you know, but you don’t.

Um, I’m pretty sure I do.

You might be right. But Mikalo is several people all rolled into one.

He’d have to be. The guy is almost too perfect.

Well, until you discover his secrets in the third book.

See, now you’re just being a tease.

Of course. But I love him. He’s just so … (sighs)

We really should talk about your creative process.

Oh no. They’ll think I’m insane.

I don’t think so. They’ll probably think it’s just like how they work.

You think so?

Sure. So …

Okay, my characters live and breathe in me. They have distinct voices, distinct ways of speaking, of acting. I close my eyes and type, basically trying to keep up with what they’re saying, with what I’m hearing, and how they’re saying it.

That sounds fascinating.

Or like I should be medicated.

(Jonathan laughs)

You laugh, but I’m serious. I actually woke up one morning with the names Ronan Grace and Mikalo Delis in my head. Knew their story, the arc of it, the pace of it. Knew their voices and their bodies. Knew all of it.

But that’s a good thing.

It is what it is.

Oh my god, that’s so French of you.

Mais oui. (But yes) Do you think others work like this?

I’m sure of it. You know I do.

But you ARE crazy. You don’t count.

True. I really want to talk about the third book. Is that okay?

But I haven’t written it yet.

I know, I know, but it is in your head. You know their story and you know what’s going to happen. And I think it’d be fun to talk about.

Perhaps.

So, let’s start with Mikalo’s Flame and then talk a bit about the third book –

You mean the one I haven’t written yet –

Right, right. Now tell me a bit about Mikalo’s Fate.

( … to be continued tomorrow)

Before then, if you haven’t already, go and get her new book Mikalo’s Fate now. It’s a great read. :)

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:

Photobucket

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. :^)

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.

“get over it and write”

A quick glimpse at an interview I recently gave:

… write your words unapologetically. Don’t worry about people liking it or wanting to read it. I guarantee you someone out there will hate it and think it’s worthless drivel. But someone else will love it and it might even change someone’s life. You have no control over how it will be received, so get over it and write. A lot.

… and a very brief snippet from a new review for The Wounded King

The Wounded King: The Martuk Series is a story that will grasp readers from the start. Jonathan’s masterful combination of words to create potent images into the minds of his readers is exceedingly entrancing.

Enjoy!