Interview with Kelly Jameson

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: After last week’s blog about self-publishing, this week we have Kelly Jameson, a self-published author, to discuss her experiences. Kelly has two thrillers published, SHARDS OF SUMMER and DEAD ON.

Kelly, tell me about your books!

KELLY JAMESON: DEAD ON is the story of a medical examiner being stalked through different lifetimes by the same killer. History seems to be repeating itself. I set the story in Doylestown, PA because I grew up in the area. While the story is fictional, there are a lot of real-life places used in the book. I even put a body in the CB West football stadium. DEAD ON was film-optioned for two years by Gold Circle Films (they produced “White Noise” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”). It was also named Runner-Up in the 2006 DIY Los Angeles Book Festival. So I feel very fortunate and I think it shows that good things can happen with independently published books that you write and edit yourself. It is possible. In fact, when I was contacted by Gold Circle about movie rights via email, I almost fell out of my chair. The rights are back with me now and I’m working on a screenplay with another screenwriter on the script. We hope to have it completed by end of December and ready to pitch.

VENTRELLA: What’s your writing background?

JAMESON: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. I used to write poetry all the time. Some of it was really bad. But that’s how you learn to be a writer—by writing. And reading.

I have a Journalism background. Got a degree from Bloomsburg University. I wanted to be a local sports reporter. Somehow I ended up a medical editor by day. Being an editor, editing my own books, has helped me to polish my indie novels and make them stand out.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide to write these books?

JAMESON: One of the characters in DEAD ON seemed to be tapping me on the shoulder and wanted to have her story told. That’s how it began. With a character and a “what if” situation. SHARDS OF SUMMER was really fun to write. I love the beach and Ocean City and wanted to write a story about lust, love, and obsession, about the wars going on inside each and every one of us every day. I like to write about flawed characters. The story starts with an elderly woman being arrested for the murder of a decorated WWII soldier on the beach 60 years ago. But of course, things aren’t as they seem … As a young woman, the main character was a dancer in a girlie show who got tangled up in an affair with a married homicide detective investigating murders in Ocean City.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide to self-publish?

JAMESON: I’m not very patient. The industry is a tough nut to crack and it seems to be changing on a daily basis. After a few positive rejections for DEAD ON, I followed my intuition and published it myself. I think that’s important in this biz—there’s more than one way to get your work out there and sometimes you just gotta take chances and do something.

VENTRELLA: Had you previously submitted your books to editors and publishers?

JAMESON: Yes. I even had an agent for eight months. However, when the recession hit, he pared his client list down and as a new writer, I was on my own again even though he thought my writing was excellent. I quickly became frustrated with the process. For my second novel, same thing. Got some positive rejections and some incoherent, nonsensical dismissals. It’s a very subjective biz. I decided to see if I could get it cookin’ myself … and fortunately I’ve had the support of established authors such as Ken Bruen (ONCE WERE COPS and GUARDS) who not only read SHARDS OF SUMMER but called it “THE GREAT GATSBY for the beach generation.” It’s so encouraging when a ‘new’ writer finds an established, best-selling author who is willing to read your material and blurb it. Jonathan Maberry says, “DEAD ON by Ann Kelly is a stunning first novel that blends ghostly happenings, romance, eroticism, time travel and intrigue into a genuine page-turner. The Ann Yang character (Bucks County, PA medical examiner) is particularly well-drawn, and the story builds nicely to a satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it.” Kat Martin, NYT best-selling author says, “She’s a brilliant writer. No questions asked. She has a gift for the eerie. The words she chooses are absolutely brilliant. She has an incredible talent for stringing words together.”

If you like CSI meets the X-Files, you’ll probably like DEAD ON.

VENTRELLA: What do you see as the advantages of self-publishing?

JAMESON: You get to put the book out there pretty quickly and the way you want to. It’s fun to market it yourself, even on a limited budget. There are many local independent stores willing to help out. The Doylestown Bookshop sold 600 copies of DEAD ON so far! They’ve been really great. I think I’ve managed to sell about 2,000 copies of DEAD ON. I’ve read that a traditionally published first book has typical sales of 1,000. So I feel pretty good about my sales and I’d like to thank all my readers.

VENTRELLA: In my last blog, I made some comments about how there is a stigma against self-published books, even if they may be excellent. Do you agree?

JAMESON: I agree that a bias still exists against independently published novels but I think we are seeing some definite, and positive changes, in the publishing arena. I’ve had many positive experiences with my books. I don’t agree with the statement on your blog that “if you really want anyone else to consider you a real writer, avoid these things [self publishing companies] completely.” Of course most of us want to crack the traditional publishing nut and see our books at the front of bookstores everywhere.

Getting published traditionally is becoming more and more like winning the lottery. American publishing is basically averse to taking risks with new writers and tends to want to put everything in a box or a category. The ones who take a chance on multi-genre or slightly literary works still put out literary best sellers. It can happen. And I’m going to keep trying to crack the nut. I believe in my work 200% and I’m following my intuition in putting my books out there and marketing them. In fact, because of my first two novels, a small publisher who likes my style and storytelling approached me about writing a zombie novel and I just got the green light to write it based on my pitch! I’m also working on a new werewolf novel.

If you do publish yourself, investigate the companies. Some are vastly better than others and more fair. Ask other authors about their experiences. Look into the backgrounds of the companies…are there any complaints on the Internet about them? Are there glowing praises?

VENTRELLA:Did you hire an editor?

JAMESON: No … I’m an editor so I did it myself. But sometimes you don’t see things in your own work, so I also have fellow writers and family members who graciously read my work and comment.

VENTRELLA: Did your publisher provide the cover or was that your responsibility as well? Did you have any say in the decision?

JAMESON: For DEAD ON, I gave iUniverse my idea and loved what they came back with. The front looks like sort of an old photograph that’s fading. The book goes back and forth in time between the present and the early 1900s and Ann Yang, the medical examiner, uses all her forensic skills as well as past life regression to solve the present-day crimes. I interviewed a past life regression specialist in Doylestown while writing the book and it was fascinating.

For SHARDS OF SUMMER, I did not go with the cover BookSurge provided because I felt it was too colorful and not right for the tone of the book. A designer from a small publisher helped me out and gave me a great cover, a dark mysterious cover that’s perfect for the book. I’m really pleased with it because I think it’s stunning. And covers are critical if you want readers to check out your book.

VENTRELLA: For those readers who would like to self-publish, what do you advise? How do you decide which company to go with and so on?

JAMESON: Do an Internet search. Keeping in mind your goals for the book, compare prices and services, percentage royalties paid, additional free services and distribution channels, and make a decision. Then go for it…and have fun with it. Don’t plan on making a whole lot of money. Plan on meeting lots of great people who are truly supportive of your work. Plan on making community connections. Plan on doing something that feeds your soul. Plan on your material maybe leading to other unexpected experiences, like trying your hand at screenwriting. Plan on meeting other authors and supporting each other. Set up your own local signings and write press releases and send to the local media.

I’ve also started writing short stories to practice things like dialogue and so far I’ve been published in The Summerset Review, The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 8 and 9, Dispatch Litareview, Amazon Shorts, Withersin Magazine, Barfing Frog Press, The Twisted Tongue, The Big Stupid Review, Ruthie’s Club, The American Drivel Review, sliptongue, ThugWorks and Ramble Underground. I have three shorts slated for publication in 2010 in Revenant magazine, TangledBank Press (Australian anthology) and Sex in the City (Paris edition).

VENTRELLA: What have you done to publicize the book?

JAMESON: For my first book, I did a lot of local signings, was interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local newspapers, did some advertising myself (on a limited budget) and I’ve kept in touch with several hundred readers who ask for updates on my books and short stories, etc. I did co-op advertising with iUniverse and twelve authors were featured on a one page ad in the NY Times Book Review. That’s where Gold Circle saw my book and contacted iUniverse about the movie rights.

SHARDS OF SUMMER just went live on Amazon.com and so I will be setting up signings very soon. I hope to do some fun things and contests with beach glass because that’s a theme throughout the novel. I have a very limited budget so I’ll be peppering the media with news releases and hoping to do a few signings where the book is set, in Ocean City, New Jersey, too. I just set up a blog at http://kellyjameson.blogspot.com/. Hope you’ll keep in touch!

Interview with Award Winning Author Jonathan Maberry

JONATHAN MABERRY is the multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of novels (PATIENT ZERO, GHOST ROAD BLUES, etc.), nonfiction books (ZOMBIE CSU, THE CRYPTOPEDIA, etc.), comics (BLACK PANTHER, PUNISHER: NAKED KILL and WOLVERINE: GHOSTS), and over 1100 magazine articles.  Jonathan is the co-creator (with Laura Schrock) of ON THE SLAB, an entertainment news show for ABC Disney / Stage 9, to be released on the Internet in 2009. Jonathan is a Contributing Editor for The Big Thrill (the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers), and is a member of SFWA, MWA and HWA.

Visit his website at www.jonathanmaberry.com or on Facebook and MySpace

Jonathan Maberry author photo 2009

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Jonathan, thank you for being the first to submit to the interrogation, which I promise will be free from “enhanced techniques.”   To begin, can you discuss how and why you made the transition from non-fiction to fiction?

JONATHAN MABERRY:  I was doing research for a vampire folklore book –VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006) and realized that popular fiction rarely mines the richness of folklore for source material.  Most takes on vampires are variations of Dracula, and Bram Stoker was by no means a folklorist.  His vampires different considerably from most European vampires, and even from Transylvanian vampires.  There are hundreds of different kinds of vampires in world myth and few of them every appear in fiction.

I thought how interesting it would be to read a novel in which the characters realize they’re up against vampires but everything they try fails because all they know about vampires comes from novels and movies.  The more I thought about how much fun a book like that would be, the more I wanted to see if I could write it myself.  My only previous attempts at fiction had been a couple of shorts stories way back when that sold to magazines that pay only in contributor copies.  But…I decided to give it a shot anyway.

When I set about it, I was consciously writing the kind of book I wanted to read.  I had no expectations of it actually selling.  After I had the book roughed out I realized that it was a much larger story than I thought and it would have to be a trilogy.  That really stacked things against me because until then there had been no horror trilogies.

I went through the process of scouting for an agent, got the book into her hands, and she was able to place it –and the two other as-yet-unwritten books—with a major house.  That book, GHOST ROAD BLUES, was published as a paperback original by Pinnacle Books in 2006 and went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was in the running against Stephen King and Tom Piccirilli for Novel of the Year.  As you can imagine that was a pretty strong dose of validation.

And, just writing the book gave me the bug.  Now I’m totally hooked on writing fiction and am work (simultaneously) on my 8th and 9th novels, one for St. Martins Griffin and one for Simon & Schuster.

Ghost Road Blues

VENTRELLA: You have also not limited yourself in your writing, having produced novels, short stories, plays, and comic book scripts.  Do you advise a starting writer to concentrate in one area first?

MABERRY:  Always start with your strength.  I started with magazine feature writing about martial arts.  I’ve been practicing jujutsu since I was a kid, so when I pitched my first article at age twenty I was able to speak with some authority.  From there I went to how-to pieces, and later I wrote martial arts textbooks while teaching Martial Arts History, Jujutsu and Women’s Self-Defense at Temple University.  Once I had myself established as a writer I went outside my comfort zone and started pitching on what I liked.

This doesn’t always apply to fiction, though.  If I was just starting out now, with no writing credentials, I’d probably tackle a novel in the genre that I read most.  Knowledge of your favorite genre –its history, its greatest works, its best writers—creates a comfort zone that lends authority, confidence and passion to your own work.

VENTRELLA: What’s the biggest mistake you made when starting out?  What’s the best piece of advice you got?

MABERRY:  I made two whoppers.  The first was believing that I was skilled enough to represent my own books.  That came back to bite me on the ass when I published with a small press owned by a lawyer.  Looking back, that had red flags all over it, and I got bent over a barrel.  Then I wised up and got an agent.  She looks after the legal end of things, and she does a hell of a lot better job of it than I ever did.

The other mistake was believing that old propaganda that creative people are bad at business.  Once I got burned by the small press shark, I made sure that I learned everything I could about the writing business.  I found that learning the business side of things was just a matter of research, and writers are good at research.  It also helped me identify the kinds of people I needed to work with —agents, accountants, etc— and learning how the business works.  One of the first things you learn is that publishing IS a business, and everything that occurs within it is part of business.  Art is the product, not the method.

VENTRELLA: Your latest series involves Joe Ledger, who works for a top-secret government agency and who has all sorts of advanced training.  While it is true that you have a martial arts background yourself, what sort of research did you do to get into the mind of your character?

MABERRY:  I talk to pros in the field.  Like most writers I love research.  I’m a knowledge junkie.  I want to know how things work, how people do their jobs, and so on.  To get into the head of Joe Ledger I spoke with SWAT operatives and people currently or formerly in Special Ops.  Always ask the pros.  Find out what makes them tick, what drives them…and find out what they know about their job that Joe Average doesn’t know.

Because of that research I have a strong fanbase among present and former soldiers, cops and agents.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is better for starting writers to, as they say, “write what you know” and create a main character with the writer’s experience and background?

MABERRY:  At first, sure.  If you build on your strengths you imbue the character with passion, confidence, and reality.  But don’t discount the value of paying attention to people around you.  I draw on a lot of people I know, or have known, when creating characters.  Rarely is a character made completely from whole-cloth…most have elements of real people.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best way to grab the attention of an agent?  What’s the biggest mistake you can make?

MABERRY:  Start with things in motion.  Don’t lead up to it (that’s a page waster and an interest-killer).  I like to jump in and make the characters scramble to catch up to something big and nasty already rolling.

VENTRELLA: Do you have a favorite of your own work?  Which, and why?

MABERRY:  So far it’s a tie between PATIENT ZERO and the second in the series, THE DRAGON FACTORY.  I delivered that a couple of months ago and my editors tell me that it’s better than the first…and they loved the first.Patient Zero SMP

In truth, though, I’m always in love with whatever I’m currently writing.

VENTRELLA: PATIENT ZERO also has the unusual (to me) technique of being written both in the first person and third person, depending on the chapter and the main character’s point of view.  How did you decide to adopt this technique and is it being used in the sequels?

MABERRY:  It’s a thriller, which means it’s a race against the clock.  In most thrillers that have a political or military angle the hero seldom gets to meet the bad guy behind everything.  I wanted Joe Ledger to tell his own story, but I wanted the reader to get to know the villains in the piece and learn who they are and why they do what they do.  So I switch from first to third.  A few other writers do this effectively.  John Connolly, Robert Crais, and others.  It works well if you stay on top of it and make sure the voice of the first person sections is different than the voice of the third person sections.

VENTRELLA: Just because I want to know:  The “zombies” in “Patient Zero” were not supernatural in the traditional sense of the word; will the Ledger novels continue in this vein?

MABERRY:  First off…zombies in most fiction aren’t supernatural.  In Night of the Living Dead it’s suggested that radiation from a returning space probe caused them to rise.  In many other stories they rise as a result of toxic spills, a mishandled bioweapon, or a mutation of some naturally occurring pathogen.  My take is that the pathogen is deliberately re-engineered to make a doomsday weapon for reasons that will benefit the villain, a pharmaceutical mogul named Sebastian Gault, who intends to profit from the panic and the resulting rush to create and distribute treatments or cures.

The other books in the series focus on different bio-threats.  In THE DRAGON FACTORY, a cabal of scientists are using cutting-edge genetic science to create pathogens for ethnic cleansing and to further the Nazi master race program.  In the third book, THE KING OF PLAGUES, a scientist discovers that the Tenth Plague of Egypt –the death of the firstborn from the story of Moses—was actually a pathogen; he recovers it and attempts to weaponize it so he can sell it to terrorists.

I have little faith in the sensible use of extreme science.  I like science, but research, profit and morality seldom occur all at once in the same people.  To me, that’s far more frightening than zombies!

maberry

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