I'm kind of a shy person, but I don't mind schmoozing...because in my book schmoozing's not schmoozing unless a gin and tonic's involved. So bummer for me that I have to miss this week's Bouchercon mystery convention. It's usually the one and only time of the year I can fuel my schmoozing with complimentary booze. I tell you, friends -- you haven't lived till you've crashed a Berkley Prime Crime reception. Those cozy folks know how to PARTY!
Of course, it's not just the free cocktails I'll be missing. I'm also disappointed that I won't have the chance to browbeat strangers into buying my books. And how am I supposed to stock up on promotional postcards and bookmarks? I go through eight or nine of the things a week, and I'm almost out.
Oh, and friends. It'll be sad not to see them, too. At least that one I can do something about. If I won't get the chance to chill at the con bar with a beer and buddies like Brett Battles, I'll just have to do it here. Without the beer. Or the bar. But a buddy like Brett Battles -- that I've got! In fact, I've got the real deal.
As part of my ongoing (and extremely random) series of Q&As, today I'm interviewing thriller writer extraordinaire Brett Battles. Author of the Jonathan Quinn series (which kicked off four years ago with The Cleaner), Brett is a master of "colorful locales and dizzying plot twists" with "an enviable gift for pacing and action" (Publishers Weekly). This year he's branched out with more series and a whole new approach to publishing.
Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Mr. Brett Battles!
Me: Hard-hitting question #1: How ya doin', man?
B.B.: Doing fine. Well, except for my right knee. I tweaked it showing my daughter that I could still do a cartwheel. Evidently I still can, just not without consequences.
Me: I never could do cartwheels, though I've felt like trying a few times. Like when I found out I'd sold my first book. Speaking of which [WARNING: DANGEROUSLY CLUMSY TRANSITION AHEAD], how goes the publishing thing these days? It seems like you've been really busy lately.
B.B.: It has been an...well, let's just say eventful 2011. Bantam released The Silenced, my latest Quinn book, last May, and they will be bringing out the last book of our time together, called No Return, this coming January. In the meantime, I firmly jumped into the independent writer world. Since the end of spring, I've released three short stories, one novella and four novels. I'm hoping to have two more novels out by the end of the year. Can I revisit the "how am I doing" question? I think the technical term would be "tired."
Me: Yowza! That pace is astounding. So what do you think of the "indie writer" experience so far? Obviously, you've got to be loving the freedom to get material to readers more quickly.
B.B.: The freedom to get my stories out there as soon as they are ready is huge! Probably number one on my list of benefits for going indie. But that doesn't mean it's an easy road. Honestly, you have to look at it like you are running a small business, because, well, you are running a small business. You can't just throw stuff out there and expect people to buy it. I need to get the best covers I can made. I need to have my work proofread. I need to promote. I need to cultivate my fan base. But most of all, I need to write good books. It can be exhausting. If you run your own business, you're the first one in and the last one out. So I'm often putting in 14- or 15-hour days. Even when I'm not "working," I'm thinking about things. But I'll tell you what -- I'd much rather do this than anything else. I love to write and tell stories, so if this is what it takes to do that, I'm all in.
Me: Are you experimenting or pushing yourself in new directions in terms of your writing? Or is that hard to do when you have to pour so much energy into finding and building an audience?
B.B.: Jonathan Quinn, the hero from my previous books, works as a body removal specialist in the world of espionage. And while I'm still working on Quinn-related material -- I've released two shorts and a long novella Quinn origin story, plus a new novel will be out next spring -- I have been doing a bit of experimenting in other areas. I've released the first of a series of middle school/tween books called Here Comes Mr. Trouble. It's a little bit fantasy, a little bit reality and a whole lot of fun. I've released Sick, the first of my Project Eden thrillers, which may the most suspenseful book I've written. It is definitely a thriller but has a slight sci-fi edge (though nothing that should scare off non-sci-fi lovers). My standalone, The Pull of Gravity, isn't a thriller at all per se, though my buddy Tim Hallinan calls it a thriller of the heart. It's more a story of love, tragedy and the search for closure. (My parents think it's the best book I've written.) Finally there's the Logan Harper series. The first book is Little Girl Gone. The second -- title TBD -- will be out sometime in October. It's perhaps the closest book to my Quinn series. Though Logan is not a spy. He's a former soldier who now works in his 80-year-old father's auto garage. Harp, his dad, is one of the main characters, and they have an interesting relationship. There's investigating and action as Logan gets pulled into helping others, something which he can't stop himself from doing. I hope to continue pushing the envelope in the future while still keeping my core fan base happy.
Me: It's easy to see you're truly excited about all these books. But there's got to be some trepidation, too. How hard was it to leave behind traditional publishing and embrace the new self-e-pubbing model?
B.B.: It's an internal struggle that's still going on...though less than when I first started. Instinctively, I know this is the future (to whatever extent people want to argue), but it's also a lot like that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy's heading for the grail and comes to the end of the tunnel only to find a deep crevasse between where he is and where he wants to be. You take that first step into nothing and hope something is there to keep you from falling. Sometimes it seems like every day is like that. But, so far, my feet have been landing on the invisible path.
Me: So you're Living the Indiana Jones Way. Someone ought to turn that into a self-help book. I'm with you on the e-book thing, by the way. No one can pretend it's not the future anymore...but that doesn't make it any easier to know what to do in the meantime. At least you're taking bold action, which is admirable. As you say -- that's what Indy would do. How about other writers, though? Do you run into any who still look askance at going the independent route?
B.B.: Not as much as I used to. More it's bewilderment. They're having the same should-I-or-shouldn't-I thoughts raging through their heads, and I can see it on their faces. There are some out there, I've heard, who think it's just a fad, but the writers I talk to usually say something like, "I've been meaning to look into that" or "It's all so confusing -- I don't know what to do." But more and more are saying, "So how exactly do I go about getting my book online?" I've been having a lot of impromptu telephone seminars lately.
Me: If memory serves, you were a graphic designer at E! before turning to writing full-time. Is that right? If so, I assume that's made it easier for you to get a handle on the technical who-ha. You do all your own covers and formatting, right?
B.B.: While I did work in the on air design department (motion graphics) at E! for almost seven years, I was actually executive producer, not a designer/animator. Sadly, I don't have that skill. But after working in graphics for 20 years, I do have an understanding of what works and what doesn't. Covers are so important, and I think a lot of ebooks fail because their authors settle for bad or even mediocre design (which is as good as bad). I use a couple people for my book cover designs: Jeroen ten Berge, who's been doing a lot of great covers for several authors, and my friend Robert Browne, who does covers on the side (not as a business) and has a great eye for what works. On formatting, yep, I do my own. In fact, I also do formatting for others who don't have the time or desire to do it themselves.
Me: Alright, I think we've covered e-books pretty thoroughly. Only one more question comes to mind on the subject. What do you prefer: e-books, ebooks, eBooks, EbOoKs, eebooox or something else?
B.B.: eebooox! Nice. I'd choose that but I'm guessing it would face an impossible uphill battle to win wide acceptance. So until that unlikely event happens, I'll go with either ebooks or eBooks, but I'm flexible.
[Note: I prefer "e-books," which is why this Q&A isn't consistent. Just sayin'. Cuz I'm anal.]
Me: Alright, for our last question let's go Old School non-techno interview cliche: Who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced you?
B.B.: My list of favorite authors is a changing thing. It's not so much that authors fall off, but others move on. There are a few perennials: Graham Greene, Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. Greene for his haunting stories told concisely and beautifully; MacLean for exposing me to thrillers and suspense when I was a teenager; Ludlum (during his golden age, the 1970s through mid-1980s or so) for creating these great international thrillers that completely took me wherever he wanted me to go; and King for the way he tells a story and can always suck me in with just a few sentences. More recently I would add Haruki Murakami. His writing is so effortless and mesmerizing even if I seldom understand the story at the end, I will read anything he writes. And Tim Hallinan's on the list, too. His stories are so well put together, and his prose so beautiful...I tell everyone I know to read him. His stories are amazing.
To learn more about the amazing (and amazingly prolific) Brett Battles, go here.