To break in this concept of The Pub Interviews, I thought it would be a good idea to start off with the following rather lengthy, hilarious and insightful interview with Jeremy D. Brooks, author of Amity.
ON TAP: Jeremy D. Brooks
Drink of choice?
JDB: Well, what time is it. 10AM? I’d better ease into the day with a Jameson’s on the rocks, a splash of water on the surface. If you’re going to set the pace by drinking in the morning, you may as well do it right. It’s always fun to see where you end up twelve hours later.
Make it a double.
Juke box selection?
I listen to pretty mellow stuff at home, but angry music is always good in a bar, by default. See if there’s any Pantera on there. Here’s $5.
You recently released your novel, Amity. As a first novel, how does it feel to know that something you wrote is now readily available to any eyes that wish to read it?
Scary. Scary on many levels.
Any time you write something, you’re exposing yourself; and one of the first things you learn as a new writer who doesn’t hang out with other writers is that people in general don’t like their fellow man deviating too far from the normal path of an 8-5, stable, football-watching guy who maybe fixes up cars or does woodwork on weekends. Sitting at a computer making up stories isn’t a very normal thing to do.
[Drains glass, signals for another]
So, the natural urge, especially if you get into the writing game later in life and don’t enter as a freshly minted MFA, is to hide what you’re doing until you have something brilliant to display. I find that with a lot of writers. I did it too, for many years. Eventually, you figure out that brilliance ain’t gonna happen, and you need to take the best work you can produce, grow some thicker skin, and put it out there to be analyzed, ridiculed and, hopefully, liked.
Of course, there’s always the fear that the world will see that my best work is garbage, that I’ve made myself a kind of outcast for no good reason, and that it will somehow leak into my day job and I’ll be devalued for having this kind of unusual, maybe controversial pastime. But, I think you have to go all-or-nothing to be happy as a writer. If you never get to do it as a career, you’ll always wonder if you did enough. I read somewhere: Nothing is more expensive than regret. I think I saw that on a Van Halen video, actually. Van Hagar, the touch-feely version of the band.
As far as Amity goes, it makes it even scarier given that I self-published.
What was the thought process in making the decision to go the self-published route rather than the traditional route?
Drink up, man, you’re making me look like a sot over here. [Wildly waves hand at bartender, who takes away three empty tumblers and leaves a fourth, full to the top with yellow-orange nectar and three ice cubes]
I’d been doing short stories for several years, but didn’t finish my first novel–Amity–until 2009. I went into it thinking more about the story than the commercial viability. I know; dumb, right? How are you supposed to get that big advance with something with no broad commercial appeal? Still, I was focused on the tale first, the money second. As I moved into re-writes in early 2010, I started digging into the markets that may want it, figuring out how to sell it, what genre to pitch it in, writing synopses, etc. By the time I finished my “final” draft in April or May, it didn’t take more than a few weeks to rattle out about 75 queries to a mix of agents who had expressed interest in that kind of material, and a few small publishers who took direct queries.
But I knew damn well from the beginning that my odds at a traditional deal were low and diminishing. Amity has some funny parts and there are a few disturbing scenes, and I think the story arc is interesting and pretty fast-paced; but at its core, Amity is more of a character-driven story than a traditional suspense/thriller book. Not many publishers want that, and I sent query letters with my eyes open.
As I waited for query responses, I compiled all of the info I had been gathering over the years on self-publishing options. Self-publishing was, and still is, controversial, and gets a lot of flak for being amateurish and a kind of literary cop-out. But companies like CreateSpace and Lulu had proven themselves as solid POD vendors, and there were plenty of tools out there for distribution (marketing, not so much). If the author does their job writing and editing, there’s little reason not to do it.
And, ultimately, I’ve never been a big fan of doing what I’m supposed to do. For instance: we’re now switching to tequila. Straight. No lime, no salt. Bartender? Keep ’em coming. Or else. [Shakes fist at the bartender, who cocks an eyebrow and walks away]
The rejections came in pretty regularly; the most common feedback was that it was an interesting premise, but too dark to sell enough to support an author, an agent, and a team of people at a publishing house. No surprise. The way I saw it, it really came down to a simple choice: do it myself, or delete all of the files and call it a loss. I liked the story, and had gotten some good feedback from beta readers. I thought it was worth putting out for people to read, regardless of if I never made a dime on it.
So I did, starting with two more months of intense copyediting and more beta feedback.
With the success of e-readers and the tales from those of the Church of Konrath, do you believe that self publishing will eventually lose that negative stigma that is attached to it or do you feel it is something that all indie authors will have to deal with forever?
It’s hard saying. The quality of self-published books has always been inconsistent, but it is getting better, and that helps tremendously. More smart folks are stepping up and offering their editing and art services at reasonable rates, and as a result, more authors see that as something within their reach. The market is in a big adjustment. Two or three years ago, you could expect to be in quadruple digits for both cover art and book doctoring, now you get both in the hundreds and be able to expect some reasonable level of quality. Also, as the NYT and Nielsen lists become less relevant as more successful ebooks and POD titles come through the pipeline, the line between self-published and Big 5 books will become more blurred.
One thing I expect to see is more successful experimentation with storytelling. Big publishers, and small ones to some extent, rely on tried and true storytelling methods to sell books. Readers will pay for familiarity and comfort. That’s why Stephanie Meyer lives in a mansion but Marilynn Robinson probably does not. But it can be argued that they want familiarity as a result of constantly being fed the same types of stories for decades, and bypassing the publisher-as-gatekeeper can allow more of that to come through. There will be a lot of crap. But there will be some gems, too. Maybe we’ll start seeing new monsters getting popular. How cool would that be?
Don’t look now, but that woman at the end of the bar is checking you out. Wait. That’s the jukebox. Sorry. I should have some pretzels. And ouzo.
What can you tell me about Amity without giving too much away?
There once was a young man named Timothy. Timothy has a group of online friends who do bad things. They draw him into their little world, and he has to decide which is more important: fitting in for the first time in his life, or doing what he knows is probably right and possibly saving a life in the process. It has kidnapping, murder, political intrigue, apathy, loss, discovery, and the most unique robbery scene you’ve ever read.
Having read it, I got a sense of involuntary isolation from the central character. Do you think this is a symptom of the internet in our lives? Do you think the apathy expressed by the Amity Board members in the story is more present in society than most people realize?
Writing Amity, and the decision to make it a character story and not an action story, was a result of spending way too much time on the internet, interacting with people on anonymous chat boards who spend their time trolling each other, pranking outsiders, and creating their own culture based on almost random mores.
For some of them, it’s just kids being bored; but a lot of them really do live in social silos, are so desperate for belonging and personal connections, and they form these bizarre, angsty, pseudo-friendships; if you consider that for a minute–that deep need for belonging that isn’t being met in the real world, coupled with relatively consequence-free anonymity and the teenage desire to cause trouble, it can take you to scary places. The world of Amity isn’t far off of real life. The story damn near wrote itself.
And if that sonofabitch in the corner doesn’t stop staring at me, I’m gonna…wait. Jukebox again. Shit.
You’ve shared with me once before that some of the stuff you came across during your research was pretty intense and gruesome—pretty alarming stuff. What’s the most shocking behavior you uncovered in doing research for Amity?
Give me a minute. The bar is spinning. Agghh…I’d better switch to white wine.
Some of those things actually ended up the book in one form or another: prank callers getting hotel employees to disrobe, break the windows out, and drink each others’ urine to save them from a gas leak; people being harassed until they kill themselves; scary stuff like that. As weird as it sounds and as horrible as some of these things are, though, there is something about watching a massive, faceless hive of people go to work on a common task and actually accomplish something that just puts you in awe. It’s almost primal.
Other than Amity, you’ve also recently been included in Norton’ Hint Anthology, edited by Robert Swartwood. On your blog, you’ve shown some pictures from where you attended readings with Robert and a few other writers included in the book. What were those readings like? Did you find that the audiences were accepting of the 25-word device or not?
That was a lot of fun. I’m a terrible recluse, and the opportunity to get out and talk to other writers is a rare, very fun thing. Also, after the signing, we drank Mexican beer. Speaking of which: Bartender: Dos Equis, por favor!
It would have been great if more contributors, like yourself, could have made it out to the signings…alas, we all have lives outside of writing. I made it to Pasadena by the skin of my teeth.
The crowd really seemed to get the concept. There are some detractors, still (one anonymous big-name writer declined to participate, as they did not want to participate in the “downfall of literature” or some such hyperbole.) But, Hint is its own method of communication, just like the other short story forms. No less valid, in my opinion, than a story of any size. It’s poetry.
What else do you have in the works these days?
I haven’t gotten the bug to do any short stories in a while, probably over a year. I decided to jump right back into another novel, but the problem has been which project to work on…the one that seems to be sticking the most right now is a kind of crime novel with a terribly mismatched pair of guys. Definitely lighter fare to write than Amity was. Hopefully it’s something with some commercial potential. It will be a nice break before I jump back into some heavy content, maybe even a follow-up to Amity.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a nap on that pool table in the corner. Thanks for talking to me, and for picking up the tab.
Thanks for the chat, Jeremy. Drive safe!