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S. A. Hunt: A Whirlwind Q&A with an Indie Author

S. A. Hunt: A Whirlwind Q&A with an Indie Author Posted on August 11, 2013Leave a comment

So I’ve seen Mr. Hunt lurking around G+ for a while. He’s contributed to the WDG and posts some pretty awesome stuff that I run across every now and again.  Like last night, he made a comment about wanting a woman who reads books in a windowsill and can use words like sycophant correctly.  I couldn’t help but respond that I had called someone pedantic. That kick started a conversation that ended with me asking him if he would be willing to do an interview with me.

I’m constantly reminded every day on Google+ that there are some tremendous talents in my midst. I’m thankful for the opportunities to get to know these folks. And Mr. Hunt does not disappoint.

 

Jameson: I’ve seen your posts around on Google+ here and there. I’m a moderator for the Writer’s Discussion Group and that’s where I’ve met a lot of folks in the Indie world. But often times we’re all so busy, we don’t get to just sit down and talk. When did you decide to become a writer?

Hunt: There were two points in my life that could qualify as an answer to that question.

When I was a kid still in elementary school, I wrote fanfiction on an Apple II computer. I eventually went on to high school, where my Language Arts teacher realized there wasn’t really anything she could teach me, so she put me on the word processor program on her desk computer and let me bang away at little stuff. I tried to get into starting a fantasy novel, but it was crap. I was also allowed to work on it in math class, which is probably part of why I’m no good at algebra. Too bad, too, because I have to use it all the time.

So last Thanksgiving I decided I was going to try writing again, and ended up finishing Whirlwind around the beginning of February.

Jameson: What made you want to make a career out of it?

Hunt: After I graduated high school, I sort of slid out of the writing thing. I had a few touch and go manuscripts lying on my computer like little poops in a litter box, but I never did anything with them. I was busy trying to work and get married and do all the things I thought everybody expected of me. That was the decade I quit writing and quit caring about writing, and where most of my spiritual constipation came from. It’s also when I joined the Army in 2005. That whole part was me trying to be something I’m not.

When I was in Afghanistan 2010-2011, with Taliban mortars and rockets coming over the walls into our camp, that’s when I realized I was going about it all wrong. I don’t think it really registered exactly what I was doing wrong, though, until last Thanksgiving.

I don’t ever want to look death in the face and realize I haven’t done something I should have done. Regret of something done is infinitely better than regret of something NOT done.

Jameson: Fear of death and never trying drove you to this, do you work outside of writing?

Hunt: I don’t have a 9-to-5 job that I get into the car and drive to, no… but I make indie cover arts between working on Whirlwind’s sequel. Not for lack of trying, though. I did a boatload of job interviews when I got home from overseas. I almost got into the Italy liaison position with Pirelli Tyres at their HQ here in Rome, GA. Which would have been great, since I worked on an Italian base in Afghanistan. I had a few jobs, though, namely as a machine operator at a carpet factory here in town. But someone put the wrong color in my machine and I ran six feet of jacked-up carpet, and when someone made an issue of it, someone else started a rumor that I had PTSD and that I was going to come in and shoot the place up. Which couldn’t be farther from the truth. So there went that.

Jameson: That’s horrible! It still amazes me how poorly our citizens treat our veterans, but that is a subject for another day.

Hunt: I had to get my brother to go pick up my last paycheck because they wouldn’t let me back into the building.

Jameson: Deplorable.

Hunt: I did something at Reddit once–I don’t remember what it was, it may have been my author-of-the-day AMA— I discussed hiring veterans with a group of human resources personnel in a post and they all pretty much told me to my face that they think Army people are brainless automatons with a loose wire and itchy trigger finger.

Jameson: Well we’ll just call those folks asshats for the purposes of this interview. So you’ve been forced by some odd circumstances in your life to make creativity your life’s focus. Not many people get that opportunity.

Hunt: I’m having to make it for myself. My wife had a boyfriend when I got home. Chapter Two of Whirlwind is pretty much verbatim my own first night home from deployment. She left me with $1,000 and an empty rental under a contract. I had to move back in with my family and I’m pulling my weight with the proceeds from cover commissions and selling Whirlwind. I ran out of money last summer around the time I worked at the carpet factory, but made my $1,000 back, plus a little bit from an Army training exercise over a couple of months in San Jose. I’m still living on it. I’m beginning to understand why religious figures fasted so often. Not eating for two days is a surprisingly transcendental experience.

Jameson: I think as creatives we are forced to draw upon our own experiences and twist them into dangerous little pieces of paper. So that brings me to my next question, do you think you could support a family continuing in the Indie market?

Hunt: Oh hell no, not unless I lucked out and “struck it big” like Amanda Hocking or one of those others. I’ve pretty much abandoned the idea of getting married at this point. I would very much like to be proven wrong, though.

Jameson: So why be an Indie author at all?

Hunt: Because I want to tell people stories.

Jameson: Some would say that’s because you couldn’t hack it in the traditional publishing arena – what would you say to those people?

Hunt: I could say I’ve read too many blog posts telling me that self-publishing and indie publishing is the future of fiction, and I’ve been swept up in the revolutionaries’ zeitgeist. I’ve made an effort to be picked up by agents, but not a very good one, and I imagine it’s because I presented it in a wrong way and obscured too much of what makes Whirlwind unique but good in the name of the element of surprise. I’ve gotten about 40-50 rejections, and they’re still rolling in.

I’m not afraid to admit I could have tried harder, but dazzled by the New Wave rhetoric, I didn’t see the point in trying to sell a catsup popsicle to women in white gloves. My very loyal fans could tell you it might be because my fiction doesn’t contain vampires, werewolves, or angsty teenagers. All the rejections I’ve received unanimously state differences of taste. Including the one that came back and requested 50 more pages of Whirlwind. It’s not that I couldn’t hack it, it’s that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I’m still considering taking Law of the Wolf to Harlequin’s fantasy imprint when it’s done, so I’m not out of the trad-pub game just yet.

Jameson: I recently read a blog post of yours combating some of the perceptions of Indie authors.  Do you think once you’re trad. published you’ll continue as a hybrid?

Hunt: Probably. I’ll most likely do all my shorter stuff like the “Madman Collection” on self-pub Kindle. When I finish Malus Domestica I’m going to query that one. I used to believe in the loaves-and-fishes talk about self-publishing and ebooks being the powerhouse of the future, but since then I’ve realized that traditional publishing still has a death-grip on the one choke-point that’s keeping indies from running them over: brick-and-mortar bookstores. Physical bookstores are the stomping grounds of the most coveted audience, the mainstream reader. There are millions of Kindles out there, but there are millions more people that don’t have them.

Jameson: True, I do not. Though I do have the app. It is not my main source for obtaining reading material.

Hunt: I have the app too, that’s how I check my formatting. I turn the text as big as it will go and the words-per-screen all the way down. Then read through for brick-to-the-face paragraphs.

Jameson: Awesome way to combat formatting problems that a lot of Indies struggle with. In that same blog post, you said something that struck me about how people can tell when you’re not “feeling” it in your writing. That you can tell when you’ve just sat down and forced yourself to write without a muse. Do you force yourself to write everyday? With or without a muse?

Hunt: I force myself to sit down with Scrivener open, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’ve realized that alone-time without a computer is essential for writers, especially if you’ve got writer’s block. Sometimes you’ve just got to come up for air. Take a walk. Go chop some wood. Go fishing. If you have time, spend an extra-half-hour in bed and think about the book. Imagine the story and characters as a Rubik’s cube or a brainteaser and turn it this way and that, looking for some angle you’d forgotten about or some piece that you didn’t realize moved as freely as it does.

I see a lot of hype about churning out books hand-over-fist. There are myriad self-help books on Amazon about making lots of money saturating the market with material. As for me, I inversely correlate quality with quantity. Slow and steady wins the race, I think. James Patterson may write 15 books a year but that’s because he has understudies writing them in his name. He’s a bookmill. Stephen King writes… what, one, two a year? He takes pride in his craft and straightens its lapels before letting it walk out the door. That’s not to say that there aren’t some authors out there with 50 well-written books. Ksenia Anske is a font of material, but it’s good material.

Jameson: So in the flood of new material that saturates the Indie market, you feel that Indie’s should take more time to explore their creativity?

Hunt: Well, here’s where it gets tricky. There are pros and cons. With short, prolific stuff, you get a lot of work out there and a lot of people see your name. With longer stuff, and stuff you put a lot of time into, customers seem to tend to balk at higher prices for bigger books. I can’t harp on short stuff too much if I’m thinking of releasing short stories myself, like “Madman Collection” stuff. But it’s taking me ages to do it, as well. I don’t write four of them a month. I don’t think there’s a shortage of creativity, honestly. I mean, a trip down the catalog can tell you that. I think they ought to take more time to polish it before it goes out into the world, but I don’t think creativity is suffering because of it. Value, maybe.

Jameson: When we talked about this interview, that’s one thing we discussed – my lack of available work anywhere available to read. How do you think we as creatives who label ourselves writers find the right balance in our work? For example, I know my stuff isn’t ready and yet here I am calling myself a writer.

Hunt: Well, if you’re writing, you’re a writer. If you’re digging a ditch, I don’t tell you that you aren’t a ditch-digger just because the ditch isn’t fully dug.

There might be a distinction in the term “author”, maybe. I don’t know. I try to distinguish them by “writer” and “published writer” myself. “Author” and “published author”. I don’t necessarily make a distinction between “self-published” and “traditionally-published” unless I’m discussing the industry. I consider self-published to be “published”. It’s out there, isn’t it? People are paying for it and reading it, aren’t they?

Jameson: At a writing conference, author Candis Terry told me I was pre-published – because if I was really serious about writing then I’d get there. It took her 20 years to get a traditional publishing deal. I think you’re published no matter which you do.

Hunt: Oh, that’s another reason I went self-published. Even if I were to get a traditional-publishing deal, it would take AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGES before it ever saw the light of day. I wanted someone to read Whirlwind before I was too old to make it to book signings. Actually, it’s probably the main reason, other than getting caught up in the New Wave talk.

One thing about publishing–If the traditional industry is going to apply regulations to promising writers, then I’m going to stick to them too. They say they won’t publish your book because you already “published” it by making it available on your site? Well then it’s published, isn’t it? By their own standards, that makes you a published author.

Jameson: HAHA, logic at work! This is exactly why I would rather be hybrid too. Indie is now, Hybrid is now and later. I like Now and Laters – I prefer cookies and chocolate.  So let’s talk about your work! Tell me about Whirlwind, you’ve mentioned it a couple times. I’ve read your blurb and watched the book trailer. Give me an elevator pitch and tell me what you’re currently doing with it as far as marketing.

Hunt: A guy gets home from war and finds out his mysteriously-deceased father’s fantasy novels are actually about real place, and when he investigates Dad’s demise he finds an ancient war started by immortals bent on feeding the universe to a Lovecraftian god. These immortals, it turns out, are the muses that feed us our creative passions, but now they’ve decided to stop doing that and start feeding us inspiration to commit atrocities like school shootings and genocide.

I’ve been up one side and down the other of the internet trying to make myself visible for Whirlwind. I’ve posted interview transcripts, I’ve tried to do Q&A sessions with readers, I’ve tried engaging with people on forums, I’ve tried running ads on Facebook, I’ve tried to bolster my personal brand as an author on all three of the major social media networks.

I’m beginning to realize that door-to-door hustling is a lost cause. I’ve got to start taking the advice I keep seeing now and just write. That’s the biggest thing I’m seeing, the most prevalent sentiment across all the promotions blog posts on the internet, to just write and quit flogging yourself.

Jameson: What is the future of Whirlwind?

Hunt: Right now, I’m making Whirlwind free on my website and I’m contacting the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution and my local paper to see if they might like to serialize Whirlwind in their entertainment sections.

Jameson: Why? Why go from asking people to pay to making it free?

Hunt: Making the book free seemed to work for David Wong’s (Jason Pargin), of Cracked.com and John Dies at the End, fame. His website is where I read JDATE before he got it traditionally-published and I bought the sequel a few days ago and loved it. He’s a sort of self-pub hero of mine. Besides, making the first book of a series free is a logical move that a lot of authors are making to get people interested in a series.

Jameson: That’s a big risk! Are you excited about the step?

Hunt: Anxious, maybe. If I get a positive answer back from the AJC, I’ll be ecstatic.

Jameson: What else is available for folks to read from you?

Hunt: I don’t know what to expect from making the book free on my website. If there’s anything I’ve learned about the writing world, it’s that surprises are endemic to the experience. I’ve also got a small collection of horror short stories up on Amazon for free (it goes back up to 99c from time to time, I don’t know why) called “If You Could Read My Mind”. The /r/nosleep community seemed to enjoy them very much when I posted them at Reddit, but as one can see from the reviews on IYCRMM at Amazon, different strokes for different folks.

Jameson: Can we talk real quick about your cover art?

Hunt: Absolutely.

Jameson: I REALLY like the covers you’ve displayed on your site. As a writer as well as an artist, how important do you think it is for Indie’s to invest in their covers rather than doing it themselves (unless they’re like you. HA!)?

Hunt: Well, after I did my ranty-snooty blog post today, someone pointed out that they themselves do their own editing and cover and it turns out just fine. And that’s great, if you have the means and talent to do it well. But it pays in the long run to make sure the book looks good objectively before you put it out. Mainstream customers are used to seeing expensive, professionally-made covers at the bookstore. You might say they’ve evolved to expect a certain thing from a certain look. So they expect interior quality that matches the outside and if the outside looks crap, Joe Blow is likely going to assume the inside is probably crap too.

Jameson: What can someone expect when they hire you to do their cover art?

Hunt: That I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure they get the best I can give, even if that means I have to take a little longer than I expected, or if it means I can’t exactly match the picture in the client’s head. I would rather see a really good cover that doesn’t 100% match their request than a mediocre cover that, structurally speaking, contains everything they wanted. Most of the best covers in my gallery were done for clients that basically gave me a synopsis, title, and author name, and said, “I don’t care, just do whatever you think is best.” Which is probably how professional cover designers at publishing houses function, now that I think about it.

Jameson: Do you ever compromise your idea of quality for the customers request?

Hunt: I’ve always tried not to compromise quality, but sometimes you’ve just got to tell yourself, “The customer is always right.” and do the best with what you’ve got. Or you’re going to be doing twenty drafts of the same picture. I’m beginning to learn that it’s best to follow their directions to a T when that’s happening.

Jameson: Thanks for bloodletting for me today. Is there anything else you want to say in regards to writing/Indie publishing/marketing before I give everyone your contact info?

Hunt: Please don’t kill me, I’m actually a very sweet person on the inside. Not my mushy inside, my emotional inside. Joking aside–Writing is the second-oldest and second-most prolific form of self-expression on the planet, right behind drawing pictures of mammoths on cave walls with your own poo. Take pride in your craft. You are one of the last of a long bloodline of scribes going all the way back to the stone ages. We are a core of humanity–radio, theater, cinema, books, magazines, newspapers–and writers are the engine that moves these things. We are the secret kings and queens of humanity and don’t let anything I say, or anything anybody else says, discourage you from cutting the words from your heart and giving them to the world.

 

Thanks for taking time out of your day to do this interview Mr. Hunt!

If you have any questions for S. A. Hunt, would like to read samples of his work or you’re interested in his cover art, you may contact him at his website The Usual Madman.

 

The End….

Jameson: I’m glad you specified emotional insides, because how else would I know how sweet you were on the mushy inside unless I took a bite. LOL! Okay….how’d I do?

Hunt: You did exceedingly well. Very professional.

Jameson: ::wipes brow:: Good….cuz really I’m just some hack trying to simultaneously be a writer, mom, wife, and princess. And sometimes I’m a librarian. It’s hard work.

Hunt: lol It sounds like you are succeeding on all fronts. I can only imagine.

Jameson: lol Thank you

 

© 2013 C. S. Jameson (Thank you Sarah for helping me not look like an idiot! You’re amazeballs)

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