Author Interview with Quincy J Allen
September 15, 2014 2 Comments
With the brisk scent of autumn is in the air, this month I bring you my interview with author Quincy J Allen, a fellow contributor in the Slayers anthology I’m in.
So let’s begin…
I can honestly say that I’m one of the last of the Colorado natives. It’s a running joke in this state that true Coloradans are a dying breed, slowly going the way of the dodo or Neanderthal as invasive species encroach upon our breeding grounds. Most of the folks who know me know that part of what I’m working towards is building a home in either Costa Rica or Roatan, basically leaving the U.S. behind me as it continues its slow descent into… well… whatever it is the U.S. is descending into. From this vantage point it looks like madness, but who am I to judge? Regardless, I still plan on maintaining my home here in Colorado, a sanctuary where I’ll spend the spring and summer months enjoying.
As to what I write, that’s an even more complicated answer. TheReader’s Digest version is that I write just about everything. I used to write a lot of poetry and political rants in years gone by, but when I decided to focus on my fiction, I started writing steampunk and sci-fi. That was just over 5 years ago. Since then I’ve written in pretty much every genre except romance, although I mixed and matched to suit my tastes. My new website calls out science fiction, steampunk, paranormal, fantasy, horror, and noir, but you’d have to throw in western and literary. My writing is like my cooking; I take a little bit of this, that, and the other thing to make something I feel is newer and tastier than the originals. Like my bio says, I consider myself to be a cross-genre author, desiring to stay outside the classic boxes and do what suits me.
2. With all the risks and uncertainty around publishing, what was it that drew you to a career in writing?
I’d wanted to be a writer when I was a kid. One of the first things I ever wrote was science fiction about alien spiders on a volcanic landscape. That was in the 4th grade, and the other kids loved it. Somewhere along the line I got convinced that being a starving artist was “bad” and marching in line with everyone else was “good.” It’s a long story, and probably not all that uncommon in this business. So, I spent seventeen years in IT and miserable about it the entire time. When the company I worked for was bought out, they downsized, including yours truly. I had six months of vacation pay, severance, and stock options to live off of, so I wrote Chemical Burn and went to my first con where I met the local steampunk crew. The rest, as they say, is history. And I haven’t looked back.
I won’t say it’s been easy. I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, scraping by on a part-time tech-writing gig and selling books at conventions. I’m also the Production Editor for WordFire Press under Kevin J. Anderson, and that’s been a viable addendum to my income… but I’m still just barely scraping by. Without a doubt, however, I’ve never been happier in my entire life. I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and so far I’ve enjoyed a number of successes. I had my first pro sale this year with “Jimmy Krinklepot and the White Rebs of Hayberry,” which is debuting in Fantastic Holidays from WordFire Press this fall. My short story collection Out Through the Attic from 7DS Books continues to garner 5-star reviews. I even made the cut for a Superstars anthology that just came out entitled One Horn to Rule Them All. The competition was tough, but my story “The Godfairy” seems to tickle the funny-bones and pull the heartstrings of readers.
I’ve hit every goal I’ve set for myself since I placed my feet squarely upon the path of writer, and I get better at my craft with every story. Folks are really starting to take notice of my work. It’s a most gratifying sensation, knowing that I’m not a complete hack and have at least a moderate future in this crazed industry called publishing.
In the final analysis, I accepted the risk and broke it down into one simple decision: it’s better to die poor and happy than it is to be affluent and miserable. It took me a while to come to that conclusion, perhaps too long, but better late than never, you know?
3. Now that you have a few books under your belt, what’s your take on the whole process? What was the hardest part for you? What was the easiest?
Hands down, the hardest part is editing, revising, and most of all, trimming. Chemical Burn, my first novel, is a good example. Most people don’t know this, but that particular manuscript has been a work in progress even after I self-published it. From the get-go I had the intention of using it to learn as much as I could about the business and even the writing/editing process.
There are those who would say (and they’d have a point) that I rushed that to market. And from a traditional publishing perspective they’d be absolutely correct. I put it in a bound edition and started selling it before it was soup. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad book or that it isn’t fun to read. The responses I’ve gotten from readers since it first came out a few years back have all been positive. Was it perfect? No. Has it been revised? Yes. In fact, that book was recently picked up by WordFire Press, and it has subsequently gone through a final “developmental” edit. It’s slated to come out next spring in its new incarnation. The story is the same, and most of the verbiage is the same. I’ve added a few things and removed a few things. I even restructured it so that it is in chronological order rather than the hopping about I did initially.
This latest revision process is one of the most difficult things I’ve done as a writer… and for two reasons. The first is that the dramatic changes to sequence meant reviewing the whole thing in close detail to make sure I didn’t introduce any logical flaws in the content. I also needed to rewrite a few sections to make sure critical information wasn’t excluded. The second challenge has to do with how my brain works. Once I write something, it’s hard for me to go back and rework it. The more times I go over a story, the sooner I get tired of reading it. Basically, the “fun” part of being a writer is creating new people and worlds, of discovering new stories as they unfold in my head. Editing turns fun into work. It’s part of the gig, so I’m compelled to do it, but it’s not at the top of my list of things I like to do.
4. What things influence your writing? Have you ever written them into a story?
Well, I do have a fascination with guns and knives, and this is fairly apparent in Chemical Burn, as is my background in martial arts. I think it’s safe to say that every writer out there puts reflections of his or her personality in their stories. My fascination with religion/spirituality and the fact that I’m a “recovering Catholic” as well as a bit of a tree hugger is reflected in my story “Brainstorm.” The stories “Family Heirloom” and “Salting Dogwood” both reflect my interest in the history of racism in this country and in part stem from an uncle I had who showed me what racism really looks like back when I was around ten years old. The main character in “Sol Crystalis Miricalis” is based upon a real person, and the character in the short story “Out Through the Attic” is a reflection of me in many respects.
When it comes to characterization, I don’t think there’s an author alive who doesn’t put into their writing facets of the people they meet or otherwise experience. We are the sum-total of our experiences, and it is the wellspring of these experiences which we draw upon to invent our characters and stories. The trick is to make those characters look natural and not seem two-dimensional unless it serves a purpose. Mostly, I think characters become amalgams of different experience, and that blend of traits is drawn upon from one’s entire lifetime and the conclusions and perceptions each of us develop over the years.
5. Have you ever thought about looking for an agent and getting a publishing deal with one of the big publishing houses?
The short answer is yes. As usual, I have a few caveats.
I consider myself a hybrid author. From a business perspective, what that really means is that I do my best to get the biggest bang for my buck—that is, the best ROI (Return On Investment) for my time invested in writing a manuscript. I actually find it amusing to still hear some writers talk as if “traditional path” is the only way of getting published and indie writers who claim that the “indie path” is the only way. A simple Google search will expose plenty of blogs that preach one path or the other. It’s like listening to a religious debate between people who only ever opened one book.
As usual, the truth appears to lie someplace in between.
So here’s how I pursue generating revenue from a manuscript once it’s finished. Step one is to send it out to a fully researched list of agents and publishers. I give the traditional path gate-keepers a window of four months to get back to me. Four months, you say? Yes. In any business, time is money, and I simply don’t need them enough to wait longer. As an example, the Nelson Agency here in Colorado takes around two or three weeks to get back on a query letter. Many of the big agencies and publishers take six months to a year. There are dinosaurs in the publishing industry, and they are slowly and inexorably going the way of the dodo. There are still agents who only take submissions via snail-mail. The same goes for publishers, or publishers who only deal with agents. That’s certainly their prerogative, but I can guarantee you that if they don’t modernize their business practices, they will dry up the moment the residuals do. The publishing industry is like any other, and those that don’t adapt as the industry changes simply don’t make it.
So, once the four months expires and if I don’t get a bite from the traditional path, then I present the work to WordFire Press to see if they are interested. Thus far they haven’t turned me down, although that’s a really short list. WordFire Press is one of those up-and-coming publishers that has not only adapted to the changing publishing landscape, they appear to be creating the new model. WordFire has great percentages, a short turn-around time (imagine seeing your book available in two months rather than eighteen), and plenty of opportunities to get the word out about a new title. That can translate into money in the bank. Arguably, it probably won’t be as much as a book placed on brick-and-mortar shelves across the country, but it’s a fantastic second option. If WordFire isn’t interested, then I’ll try and place it with a number of small publishers I’ve met over the years. And if they don’t want it, then I do it myself. One of the things I’ve learned is that there is a market for virtually every kind of writing out there. I’ve invested the time in a manuscript, and by definition I like what’s in it. The odds are that there will be at least a few other people out there who would also enjoy it.
I’m in this business for the long haul, and the more titles I have out there, the easier it will be to have one of them gain real momentum. That’s what I think this job is all about. There are those who feel that a work should only be “put out there” if it’s “perfect” and meets whatever “formula” they believe is the accepted standard. I’ve never looked at the world that way. I pretty much do things my way while doing my best to overlap that with what I hope wider audiences will enjoy. Symbiosis rather than conformity is my motto. I may never become an international best seller, but I can guarantee you I’ll be happing writing what I write, and it appears as if I’ll be able to earn a comfortable living doing so. I can’t imagine any life better than that.
6. Out of all the genre’s that you write, do you have a favourite?
The answer to this one is a bit more tricky. It’s no secret that I bill myself as a cross-genre author. It’s the mixing and matching that appeals to me the most. If you go by the number of short stories I’ve had published, the answer would be steampunk, or at least my version of steampunk. However, I have to say that’s been more happenstance than anything else. I saw fresh territory from a market perspective and chased it down. Thus far it’s worked out pretty well for my short fiction. My first novel, however, was light sci-fi detective noir. The next novel to come out is likely to be Jake Lasater: Blood Curse, which is old west steampunk with a fantasy flair to it. The other possibility is Rise of the Thermopylae coming out under the Twisted Core label. It’s a military sci-fi novel in the future with powered armor and psychic elements. In a general sense, I think science fiction would have to be the answer, but that genre is so wide as to be almost meaningless.
I do tend to lean a bit towards pulpy fiction, with tongue-in-cheek humor, but there are times when I get a bit more serious. I guess what I find most interesting about this business is where I’ll be in five, ten, and fifteen years. As I gain more momentum and exposure, the titles that publishers pick up and audiences read is going to have a strong impact on “what I write next.” Essentially, a writer’s primary genre path ends of being guided pretty strongly by that first novel that pops. When it does, more audiences want to see more writing of that type or in that universe from that specific writer. If I’m going to continue with letting business guide my decisions in any way, than I’ll have to factor that in once (and if) I actually have a novel take off.
I guess we’ll see what happens. Right now I’m keeping a pretty open mind on the subject.
7. With the way science fiction is quickly becoming science fact, what gadget would you like to see become real?
I’m going to answer this one twice. The first is a pure fantasy and not something I expect to see in my lifetime or even within the next hundred years. When I was a kid, my brother gave me a Keith Laumer novel. It’s part of why I consider Keith Laumer one of my influences. The novel was Galactic Odyssey, and it’s about a guy down on his luck who discovers a starship and captain that take him 400 light-years from Earth. Mayhem and adventure ensue. I sometimes quip that I wish there was a way to get myself teleported off this rock, but there’s more truth to that than fiction. If I could have any gadget, it would be my own starship. I would name it Rocinante in honor of tilting windmills and the exploration of Cygnus X-1. There are a couple of references buried in there, by the way, but you’ll have to be good to catch them.
The second gadget I’d love to see, and I don’t think it’s entirely beyond our abilities, is something I first saw in one of the Little Fuzzy novels. The concept is simple: a device that accurately shows whether a human is lying or not. The sum of all human troubles can pretty much be boiled down into the presence of lies amongst us. There’s a quote from Excalibur that has always stayed with me: “When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.” I’ve believed that since I first heard those words. The Truth should be humankind’s greatest ambition, and instead, we seem to have institutionalized the art of bullshit and outright lies. It seems there aren’t many people left who are interested in, let alone capable of, telling the truth. I think that may be why I have the dream of owning my own starship. I can’t stand lies, and our species is awash in it like children caught in a flashflood.
Those answers may not have been what you were looking for, but they’re the Truth.
8. Seeing as you follow your heart when writing your novels, would you ‘write for the market’?
I suppose I do “write for the market” to a certain extent. I actually got into writing steampunk for just that reason. Steampunk was the “next hot thing” back in 2010, so I figured I’d start digging into the sub-genre and write some of it. As a result, the Penny Dread Tales series was born, although each PDT volume is a short story collection rather than novel-length fiction.
There’s no doubt that I did go in directions my heart led, but it was a symbiotic relationship rather than an antagonistic one. The question seems to be more whether or not a person’s writing will find a home on brick-and-mortar bookshelves and align with the categories found on the book distribution websites like Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. Most of what I’ve written over the past five years would find an easy home in any standard genre taxonomy. There are exceptions, of course, but I’m not too far off the beaten track. The challenge for me has been some of the genre-mixing I’ve done. However, I’m very pleased to say that the industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. There is more mixing and matching of genres—as a direct result of indie-author book sales via the Internet—than perhaps ever in history. It’s a fantastic time to be a fiction author. Many of the shackles that constrained “what is acceptable” have been broken, and the steely bastion of traditional publishing has been shattered by the litany of options now available to independent authors.
As far as my upcoming works are concerned, one is a meat-and-potatoes military sci-fi with powered armor and mental abilities. I’m about to start an animé screenplay for a local Producer that hopefully will be a nice addition to any animé library. The Jake Lasater series is steampunk, which is now a mainstream sub-genre, and the new addition to the list of my works, Curse of the Devoted, will also be steampunk.
In all of that writing, I fully intend to let my heart lead me astray, but it will all (hopefully) find solid homes on the bookshelves and categories of mainstream sales channels.
9. Most writers have manuscripts that will never see the light of day. Do you have a few of those?
I think I have a few short stories that haven’t seen the light of day. Those are mostly stuff I wrote shortly after starting down this path of becoming an author. I suspect I’ll revisit them, tighten them up, and include them in a future short story collection. As far as novel manuscripts, I have a couple that are partially complete.
In one case the manuscript is about a third complete and has been waiting for me to get better at the craft before I finish it. It’s about a newly anointed Jesuit priest who discovers a demon has possessed a bishop. Mayhem ensues, taking the now ex-Jesuit from Germany across the United States and Territories (it’s 19th century paranormal steampunk) as he tries to prevent the demon from rewriting existence itself. That one I’m hoping to have that finished by the middle of next year. I made a promise to a friend who read it a couple of years ago and continues to ride me about getting it done. She says she can’t wait to read the finished product, so I’m on the hook to get that done.
I also have a borderline YA steampunkesque novel set off-world that isn’t complete and has been sitting for about a year now. Projects keep getting in the way. I’m looking forward to finishing that one as well. And finally, there’s the Jake Lasater series. The first draft of the novel was finished about six months ago. However, I’ve been stuck in wrapping up a rewrite on a different novel as well as a number of other contract gigs and WordFire work. Lasater is pretty much the next thing I work on in addition to a novel I owe Twisted Core Press and a screenplay I’ll be working on in October. I need to jam all three of those out FAST or there are going to be some people looking for my head on a platter.
The short answer to your question is that, as a rule, if I go to the trouble of finishing a work, short or novel length, the intention is to have it out there somewhere and working for me. Whether that’s as a giveaway marketing piece or a paying gig, either way, the time I spent creating it wasn’t a waste from a business perspective.
10. Is there a genre that you would like to write? Something you would find a challenge?
At some point I may just take a crack at a romance / erotica novel. Right now I’d say I’m uniquely unqualified to even undertake such a work. In order for me to do that, I’ll have to actually read some romance novels. I actually have a few sitting on a shelf somewhere. I’m sure I picked them up at cons or seminars along the way. I want do try and do a novel like that for two reasons. The first is that they can be fairly lucrative. There’s a huge market for them, and I wouldn’t mind tapping into that. But there’s also just the idea of writing in a genre that I’ve never even come close to writing in. I must admit, it was a little weird writing the sex scenes that are in Chemical Burn. Writing an entire novel where the point is romance and at least marginally involved intercourse… that’s quite a hill for a guy like me to climb. I’ll get it done, though. Probably under a pseudonym, but I’ll get it done.
That’s the beauty of this business: there’s always another hill to climb or places to explore. I guess you could say that’s why I wrote the short story “Out Through the Attic” in the short story collection of the same name. That story is all about uncharted territory. I think, if anything, that’s why I decided to become a writer. I wanted a way to discover new things and get away from the hum drum existence of nine-to-five coggery. (Yes, I made up that word. What can I say. They gave me a degree in English, which means I have a license to ill.)
Where you can find Quincy online: