"Regular or Cherry Vanilla Swirl?" she asked.
"Hmm...let's try the cherry stuff," I said with little hope that it would make a difference.
I was right. Nasty is as nasty does. But it does induce the same sort of coma, so "Yay!"
Since I can't really focus, now is a good time to step aside for a guest. Another Booked alum takes center stage. But before I do, just a reminder that Wednesday's post for the free audio books from my Zomblog series is still waiting for your response (if you have not already!). So...with no further delay, Gordon Highland.
What are some of the best and worst things about being an author?
Occasionally a complete stranger will drop me a note about something of mine they enjoyed, and that means the world to me. If someone's work moved you, reach out, give 'em a little ego-stroke. Most of us aren't making enough coin off our literary endeavors to come anywhere near justifying the effort, so, other than the satisfaction of creation, such interactions are all we really get out of the deal. It's also a legit defense for all the depravities in my browser cache: "research." My other favorite aspect of authordom is being invited to participate in things like live reading events, anthologies, etc. Each gives me an opportunity to broaden my reach to other authors' audiences, while exposing me to new voices as well.
What are some of the lessons you have learned as a writer that caught you off guard?
I was prepared for the disinterest of the general public, but not for that of my friends. After publishing my first novel, it baffled me why so many of them couldn't be bothered to spend a couple of measly evenings reading it, knowing I'd invested four years of my life and so many social sacrifices. Maybe they resented what it represented. But the lesson was that most people simply don't read, never got past its association with homework, and you'd have better luck selling them on the pleasures of a colonoscopy. You can't take it personally, nor should you cocoon yourself in your artistic pursuits, especially if you're still young and somewhat-layable.
What can you share about your writing process with new or up and coming writers?
It's important to feel a sense of accomplishment on a daily basis, I think, in order to maintain your excitement about the project, which is why I edit as I go. I know that when I lie down each night, I've done the best work I possibly could, and am not delaying that gratification for some editorial date a year or two down the road. While that means I only average about a page per day, it also means I wouldn't be ashamed of sharing it without disclaimers at any given moment in a critique group or whatever. Obviously, that makes me a plotter, not a pantser. I wouldn't recommend such a method for those who get their momentum from spitting out a draft as fast as possible. Nor can I read such a document without going into immediate critic mode.
If you were to change genres, what would be your next choice?
I've always wanted to try my hand at horror, reach into my bag of tricks and see if I can make some skin crawl. It just seems like everything's already been done in the genre, conceptually, which, admittedly, I've read very little of in recent years. I liked Joe Hill's collection, though.
What could traditional publishing learn from the Indies? And how about the other way around?
Aside from legitimacy and validation, authors want to be traditionally published mainly for the promotional/marketing muscle they offer. When you ask the author to shoulder too much of this burden themselves, they'll wonder why they didn't just put out the book themselves and retain a much higher royalty. Same goes for writers who bring with them a large existing platform, which publishers crave. What are you really offering them? Also, no author ever wants to hear "I love this, but don't know how to sell it." That's your fucking job, so figure it out! What indies could learn from them is their emphasis on professional editorial: not just acquiring the property and maybe copyediting it, but actual story guidance and general shepherding.
The writing community can be its own worst enemy at times. What are some of the issues you see cropping up? Solutions?
Selfishness, and not reading enough of their peers' work. Young writers are so eager to publish (as was/am I), especially given how readily-available the tools are these days. And sometimes their support is nominal/hollow, in that someone might Like or retweet a link share or whatever, but getting them to actually engage with it can be frustrating. I love things like offering guest blog posts and book-club discussions. Also, there are too many upstart lit zines, with a degree of inherent community-based nepotism. I enjoy them, but simply can't keep up the way I'd like. So whenever I see a young writer launch their own zine, I'm always tempted to suggest they instead join an existing editorial staff, who could use the help to stay afloat and avoid burnout. Either way, there's nothing quite like reading the submissions slush to help a writer realize the importance of a good hook and get a barometer on how their own writing compares with the competition.
The social media is…
making the world smaller and faster, for better and worse. Overstimulating and undercooked. A click-bait popularity contest. Democratizing but polarized. People are living less in the moment, more concerned with documenting it than experiencing it, like compulsive TV-remote flippers always wondering what else is on. But it's wonderful for bringing people together by interest rather than just geography.
Share some information about your work with us:
My writing leans dark, though only some of it's noir. It tends to be character-focused: populated by musicians and filmmakers and actors, because those are the worlds I know and can render their surroundings in more interesting and authoritative detail. The language is lyrical, and plots usually slow to develop. You'll laugh lots—sometimes questioning whether you should be—and will ultimately have your heart broken or lifted.
What is one question you are sick of being asked—not in interviews, but by individuals who know you write?
Whether I've read (watercooler book-du-jour that's their only literary point of reference).
How do you deal with negative reviews?
I'm just happy whenever someone reads it, makes an attempt to immerse themselves, and shares their opinions rather than just a rehashed synopsis. I've yet to see anything mean-spirited, only stuff like it wasn't for them, or certain aspects they didn't like. Sometimes they're valid criticisms, and I do file them away in my subconscious.
How much reading do you get in, and can a writer excel at his or her craft if they do not read?
Around 30 books per year. Usually I'm reading a novel and a collection/anthology simultaneously for a diversion depending on mood and available time. Writers must read, and widely (the latter is something I need to improve, myself). I believe we have a finite amount of creative capital which must be replenished on the reg. Give and take.
When does self-promotion cross the line and become a nuisance?
Online, it's the persistent repetition that annoys me. The same audience receiving the same ads over and over across multiple channels. That, and pre-publication hype. When you've got something new and tangible, that's cool to share: cover artwork, blurbs, contests. Otherwise just let me know once its available, something actionable on my part. I think it's more interesting, if you want to keep the title on people's minds, to share tangential things like articles on similar subject matter, topics you researched, etc. Engage me, don't just talk at me.
What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished compiling my collection, Submission Windows, out in November. Twenty-six short stories and a few dozen poems. I'm as proud of it as either of my novels. Feels more personal. After that, I'm planning to take a writing hiatus. Though in the process of being a promotional nuisance, some words are bound to come.
What is one thing about you that would surprise the readers who do not know you personally?
I don't drink coffee, and can't write when drunk.
Is there anyone you’d like to give a mention?
Michael Paul Gonzalez, a fellow Booked. Anthology
What is in your “to be read” pile right now?
The next three on tap are Joe Clifford's Junkie Love, then May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks, and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? by Andrez Bergen.
Gordon Highland is the author of the novels Flashover and Major Inversions. He's published short stories in Word Riot, Noir at the Bar 2, Warmed and Bound, Black Heart Magazine, and many others, to be collected in the forthcoming Submission Windows. Gordon lives in the Kansas City area, where he makes videos by day and music by night