While I love talking about writing, I recently learned I don’t like listening to myself talk about writing.
Or anything else, for that matter.
When tapping away at my keyboard, I can pause and select the perfect word. If I don’t like what appears on the screen, I can delete and try again. I’ll tinker with a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase until it conveys exactly what I want.
The same can’t be said for a live interview.
After being a guest author on the Speculative Fiction Cantina webcast, I downloaded an MP3 of the broadcast. I found some software to transform the audio file into text. I knew I’d have to do some proofing before publishing any portion of the interview because auto-transcribing is not a perfect science.
What I said: “I’m a fantasy and sci-fi writer.”
What the app heard: “I’m a fantasy inside firefighter.”
Poetic? Yes, especially for a robot. Accurate? No, though I sometimes feel like I’m putting out small fires when editing.
What I didn’t realize, however, was how much editing I’d need to perform on the things I actually said. All humans use speech crutches, phrases we return to again and again while our mind processes a response to a question or the next discussion point.
Like, valley girls aren’t the only ones who, like, overuse the word “like.”
Other offenders include “I think,” “actually,” and “sort of.” If I had a dollar for every time I deleted the phrase “you know” from the transcript, I could happily retire—or, at least, buy a new laptop. And don’t even get me started on restarted sentences and self-interrupting.
The dialogue I write is so much smoother!
Nevertheless, I made it through the entire hour of the program, cherry-picking choice excerpts from the interview—the parts where I sound like I know what I’m talking about—and cobbled together a Q&A.
S. Evan Townsend (host): “David, tell us a little bit about yourself.”
David Michael Williams: “I am a fantasy and sci-fi writer. I live in Wisconsin. I’m a member of one of the oldest writing collectives in Wisconsin, the Allied Authors. I’ve been a member for more than a decade now. My day job is a writer—a content specialist, actually—at a website and advertising company. So I get paid to write at my day job. And in addition to that, I write novels, so I do quite a bit of writing. I have a wife and two kids, and yeah, that’s me in a nutshell.”
SET: “Tell us about your book.”
DMW: “Rebels and Fools is the first book in a sword-and sorcery-fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I published them through my my indie publishing company, One Million Words. I published Rebels and Fools as well as the second and third books in the series on the same day.
“It was kind of an experiment. You know how people like to binge watch shows on Netflix? I thought, ‘I’m gonna let them binge watch my fiction if they want.’ I decided to do all three of the books of the series in ebook and paperback and even a three-in-one collection. That was early last year.”
SET: “When you say ‘sword-and-sorcery,’ I’m imagining elves and wizards and orcs and things like that. Is it that kind of a fantasy?”
DMW: “Yep, that’s accurate. Most (of my) characters are humans, but there are other races like elves and dwarves, although some of those I try to put my own unique spin on. I even invented my own race, a kind of demi-humans who are very prolific with magic, and they have the power of very potent wizards but the maturity and mentality of a child. I tried to take what I liked best about the genre I grew up reading and grew up writing and made my own world.”
SET: “How did the experiment work, publishing them all on the same day?”
DMW: “It was a lot of planning. In some ways it was, I think, very efficient because when you’re going through a novel and setting up your own style guide to make sure your writing is consistent—your prose is clean and certain words and situations are consistent—I think it was very good for that because I read them back to back. By knowing I was doing three books at once, I could work with the cover artist and say, ‘OK, here are the titles, here are what the books are about. Let’s make them look like they’re all part of the same series.’
“So in some ways I think it made a lot of sense. It’s more from the marketing standpoint that I may have shot myself in the foot, so to speak, because when you have three books at once, and you’re saying, ‘Hey, read my books! These books are out. Here’s what they’re about,’ you use up your marketing messages pretty quickly. Even looking for book reviews…it’s going to take a little while for (readers) to get all the way through the first two, let alone the third one.
“I don’t regret doing it though. I learned a lot. But when I look ahead at potentially publishing more of my books, I don’t think I would do that again. I would put some time at least in between releases so I could have them build up anticipation and have some additional touch points with the marketing.”
SET: “You have or you are planning on having a Kickstarter campaign for 2018?”
DMW: “I had one this year, and it already ended. I was trying to explore other revenue streams even as I’m trying to continue to market The Renegade Chronicles and working on my next series, The Soul Sleep Cycle. I am a huge fan of puns. In fact, I may have a sickness because even when I’m dreaming, I come up with some of the strangest and, as far as I can tell, some very original puns.
“I thought, ‘Hey, maybe other people would be interested in getting a fresh one every day,’ so I set up a Kickstarter—again, sort of an experiment—to just see what interest was out there. I had some backers but didn’t make my goal. So that’s not something I’ll be pursuing, which is fine. It’ll give me more time to work on the fiction side of things.”
SET: “So tell us a pun.”
DMW: “If you want a really nice hairpiece, you have to be willing toupee.”
SET: “What was your goal in establishing your business?”
DMW: “I had written The Renegade Chronicles years ago, and it was a while before I felt as though I was a good enough writer and objective enough to give them the harsh editing they needed to be published. Years ago, I tried to find an agent or publishers for the series, and there wasn’t interest at that time, and I moved on.
“Meanwhile, for the series I am working on now, The Soul Sleep Cycle, I do have an agent who is shopping those books around. So knowing I had an agent with a project out there but also having the books of my own…I just wanted to see if I could do it myself. I was going to take fate into my own hands and give this a shot. I still felt very strongly that there was value in the stories and there was an audience out there for them.”
SET: “You mentioned your day job, and you told me what expertise you have in your marketing job does not apply to book marketing. Why is that?”
DMW: “I shouldn’t say nothing applies. I mean, if you understand search engine optimization for giant business-to-business corporations, you’re going to understand how to use keywords in your author’s website. Some stuff does translate.
“But book publishing is such a unique business. I think a big part of that is supply and demand. Anyone can self-publish a novel. You have this market that gets flooded with products, and that product is all over the board as far as quality goes. What if you could have a DIY soda? I would have this new cola. You can buy it on Amazon.com. I don’t know why you’d buy it over Coke or Pepsi or any of those other ones that you’ve heard about all your life—which would be the Stephen Kings and the Dean Koontzes of the world, those authors who have brand recognition. And imagine hundreds and thousands of other people have a recipe for cola too. How do you find the buyer who’s going to have that particular set of taste buds—not to carry the metaphor too far—that’s going to enjoy what you’ve created? That, for me, has been the challenge with book marketing.
“It’s just a very strange landscape when you think about it. How do you reach readers when people are giving away their product for free and saying, ‘Hey, just take it. Maybe you’ll like me and you’ll buy more of my stuff’? This has just been an education and a lot of experimentation.”
SET: “You also said you’d like to write for a videogame or comic book. Why is that?”
DMW: “I’ve just always been interested in storytelling, whether it’s playacting or sketching or writing a manuscript. I’ve always been fascinated with telling stories in different and unique ways. I am fascinated with challenging myself. Could I write a comic book? What percentage of dialogue to action would there be?
“And then in video games, with roleplaying games, the player makes a choice. As a writer, you have to write a story that has multiple beginnings, multiple middles, and even more endings. I think that would be a lot of fun.”
SET: “I have a writer friend who’s convinced that in the future, books are going to go away, and everybody is going to write for video games or something like that. You have another generation, and there won’t be more books. All storytelling will be visual.”
DMW: “I hope that’s not true, and I suspect people who grew up reading books and loved books are not going to leave books. Like for me, I still read, and I play video. They’re not mutually exclusive.
“Look at how many TV series and movies and video games are being made based off of existing fiction. I think some of the best ideas are still coming to the surface first through the written word. But there will always be a need for storytelling, so maybe it’s not the worst thing that I have that interest in the tech side of things because no matter what the format is, as long as I can tell my stories, I’m going to do it.”
SET: “What do you find most challenging about writing?”
DMW: “I think back to when I was first starting to geek out on writing and realizing that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life…high school. I’d stay up on a Friday night, and I’d be up on my computer till 2:30 in the morning. Whenever the muse struck, I just went with it. I had these long glory sessions of pure unadulterated creativity.
“Even after graduating college, with my first job, Monday to Friday, before I went into the office, I’d crank out 2,000 words. I’d get up super early. I was committed, and I wanted to tell these stories. As life goes on…I got married, had kids, and worked jobs that sometimes were more demanding. You come home, and you’re just exhausted. You don’t have the wherewithal to put two words together, let alone 2,000.
“So the challenge has been trying to find that balance of getting large enough chunks of time where I can be effective.”
SET: “What specifically do you love about writing?”
DMW: “I mentioned earlier that even before I started writing, I liked storytelling. I liked inventing characters and narratives. For a while it was sketching and drawing. I think part of me would have really enjoyed going on to be an illustrator of some kind. But at a certain point in time, I realized writing was the quickest way for me to get the ideas down, to record what was happening in my mind.
“It was my default for a while, and I thought, ‘You know, I’m not the greatest writer, but I am a good storyteller. I have good ideas, and I can get better with the writing over time.’ I was just writing scene after scene after scene. Then I thought, ‘It probably makes sense to actually try to find a beginning, middle, and end and put together a book.’
“I decided I didn’t want to just write for myself anymore. The stories are there, and rather than have them evaporates, I wanted to get them down. Maybe it’s my ego. I don’t know, but I thought, ‘If people enjoy them even a fraction as much as I do then, then why not?’
“One of the greatest joys I’ve had since The Renegade Chronicles has come out…I’ve had these characters, I’ve known them, for 20 years. When people talk to me about them, and they’re seeing the story from such a different perspective, it just brings me such a joy because now they have a life independent of me. There’s something thrilling about that.”
SET: “I totally agree. I tell people I want to be read by strangers. But the flipside of that last question: What frustrates you about writing?”
DMW: “I think in some ways I’m my own harshest critic. Sometimes I get hung up on very minute details like word repetition or ‘Is this a theme, or am I unintentionally retelling the same story or rewriting the same scene in a different way?’ I get frustrated when I don’t feel like I’m growing, and sometimes that happens when you spend a lot of time in the editing stage, and you don’t have a chance to just create.”
SET: “Why should people buy your books?”
DMW: “I have a background in marketing, so I’m never going to say this book is right for everyone. I wouldn’t say that about my book. I wouldn’t say about anybody’s book. I think there’s a certain demographic who will enjoy The Renegade Chronicles—people who grew up reading shared-world books like Forgotten Realms and DragonLance. I think they would get a kick out of reading what I did because it was strongly inspired by that.
“I also think of kids who grew up reading Harry Potter. If they’re looking for something that has maybe a little bit more action, many characters and multiple storylines…The Renegade Chronicles is maybe wedged somewhere between Harry Potter and something more hardcore, like A Song of Ice and Fire, the Game of Thrones-type stories. There’s death, and there’s battles, but I’m not quite as R-rated as George R.R. Martin.
“Whether you’re a diehard fan of fantasy and or you have never given it a try, it’s a nice entry point into the genre.”
SET: “What motivates and inspires you?”
DMW: “For me, it boils down to two words: ‘what if?’ Just about any character I’ve ever developed—any mystery, any plot—has always come from something that is entrenched in this world, and you put a twist on it. What if this had happened instead? Or what if a person in this situation would do this? How would they react to that? It starts to be a puzzle.”
SET: “Is there anything you want to add before the show ends?”
DMW: “I want to thank you for having me. I love talking about writing. I’ll leave you with one final pun since you kind of caught me off guard earlier: A bookworm that leaves its food lying around is a literal litterbug.”
SET: “That’s a good one. Thanks a lot, David. I really appreciate you being on the show.”
DMW: “It was my pleasure. Take care.”