North Dakota? South Dakota? He’s just Dakota. Dakota Kemp first flew under my radar when he asked a question of my resident alien brainiac, the one and only Alien Jones. After participating in that tomfoolery, I knew he’d fit in as a friend to my fine blog. He grew up in Oklahoma, which, as you may have heard from the musical of the same name, is the place where “the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” Odd, I never really thought of Oklahoma as a windy place. Seems like there’d be a lot of dirt, and hot weather, and rattlesnakes and tumbleweeds, perhaps a vulture circling around in the air, waiting for you to drop from heat exhaustion so your carcass can be his next meal.
But I digress. Note to self: don’t insult your subject’s home state. Anyway, Dakota’s an officer in the U.S. Army, which makes me feel bad because while he was doing all that training and hard work, I was busy whining about my neighborhood convenience store being out of Twinkies. I mean, seriously, is it too much to ask that they keep a few extra cream filled snack cakes in stock?
Yikes. I digress again. Dakota is a big fantasy guy. You should check out his latest work, “Ironheart: The Primal Deception,” now available on Amazon. I’ve never been much into steampunk myself, but you 3.5 readers probably are. It’s not that the whole genre doesn’t look interesting, it’s just that I already have enough strikes against me getting laid without having to add a top hat and goggles to the mix.
Enough from me. Let’s hear from the man of the hour.
QUESTION 1 – Dakota. Dakote-ster. Dakote-a-rama. Welcome to the Bookshelf Battle Blog. Let’s assume for a moment that my 3.5 readers have no idea about the steampunk genre. Maybe they heard a little about it. Maybe they saw some goofball walking down the street dressed like a high-tech Victorian and thought that seemed interesting.
For the ill-informed, what is this genre all about? Give us a primer for newbs, the very basics of what a beginner needs to know.
ANSWER – Well, the steampunk genre is pretty varied, BQB, but the main element of a steampunk story is that it is set in an environment where Victorian Era technology has been science-fictionalized. Also, Victorian England’s fashion, culture, and diction are often used in steampunk stories, lending a historic impression to a decidedly eccentric future.
QUESTION 2 – Do you personally ever dress up like a steampunk? Have you ever put on the top hat, the goggles, the cloak and such? If so, do you think your Army buddies would make fun of you?
ANSWER: They would absolutely make fun of me. I’d never hear the end of it! But, no, I’ve never done a steampunk cosplay; I’m afraid I’m not that interesting. Besides, goggles, top hats, cloaks, and such would clash horribly with my uniform.
QUESTION 3 – So, self-publishing. What made you want to dip your toe into those funky waters?
ANSWER – Originally, I tried the traditional route. I soon found, as every author , that breaking into the traditional publishing scene is much more about who you know than what you can do with paper and pen. I’m a small-town boy from nowhere Oklahoma; I didn’t know anyone in the publishing industry. I didn’t even know if I actually wrote good manuscripts because I couldn’t get anyone to read them!
So I decided to find out if my stories were any good the dangerous way: by putting them directly into the hands of the audience.
It’s been a great experience. I’ve learned loads, and while it would be nice to get more exposure through traditional publishing, that simply may never happen. If it does, great! If not, I’m quite happy seeing that people are experiencing my stories and being touched by them. Receiving emails from readers is a fantastic feeling, and I might never have seen how my stories affected people if I left them locked in a drawer until a publisher plucked one from the proverbial haystack.
QUESTION 4- I remember you once advised me to not take on too much, i.e. I had been musing about just putting out tons of books in one year, whereas you felt, in true tortoise fashion, that “slow and steady” wins the race. Do you find that is true? Are you winning the race and what advice do you have for impatient writers like me who type three words into their laptops and wonder why they aren’t the toast of the town already?
ANSWER – Personally, yes, I think the tortoise is the hero of that fable for a reason. With a few notable exceptions, big-name authors usually become popular in their late thirties to early sixties. That’s because they slowly improve over the years, honing their craft, building up a catalogue of worthy stories that people come to recognize as trustworthy. I say put maximum effort into every book. The readership’s trust is more important than how much space you take up on the shelves. Eventually readers will recognize that you produce wonderful stories, but only if you put out solid content consistently. You can release a library of formulaic, speed-written books, but if they suck? No one will take your work seriously. Quality over quantity. Journey before destination. A successful storyteller runs a marathon, not a sprint. Put full effort into every manuscript, and you will find an audience that appreciates them.
QUESTION 5 – You’re an Army officer but you still find time to write. Sometimes I think about writing but then I’ll get distracted by a box of cookies and eat the cookies while watching funny cat videos on my computer. Before I know it, I’ve eaten all the cookies and I’ve watched ten hours of hilarious feline footage, but there’s no new written content on my computer.
Any advice for the schmucks out there like me who can’t seem to find the time to write?
ANSWER: I’m going to sound like a soldier for a second, but just bear with me until I get past it.
Discipline. Plain and simple. At the end of the day, cracking open my laptop and tapping on the keyboard is the last thing I want to do. All I really want after I get home is to go into a Dragon Age mini-coma. Or perhaps read the next Brandon Sanderson novel. Or sleep forever. The point is, there’s nothing for it but to put your butt in the chair and write. Sometimes the inspiration is there and sometimes it’s not. There are people waiting on your stories though, and you’ve got tales to tell. You can do it! If you don’t finish, there are readers – maybe just one, but thousands – who will miss out on something unique.
You’ll probably have more fun if you don’t master discipline, but you’ll be disappointed in yourself later, knowing you could have changed something. Whether it be the world or just one person.
QUESTION 6 – Ironheart. Give us the skinny. The lowdown. The pitch. What’s it all about?
Ironheart is about a world dominated by a race of deities called Primals. The protagonist, Jack Booker, is a gangster who grew up on the streets, struggling his entire life just to survive in the ruthless underworld that leeches off the gods’ decadent society. But when a mob boss makes a dangerous gamble to move up the criminal ladder, Jack’s life of cautious survival is ripped away, and he is thrust into the center of it all.
While Ironheart is a mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy with elements of hard-hitting action, Jack’s story is, at its core, an allegory of the concepts and emotions that we, as humans, impose on the world around us. It’s about exploring the dichotomies we must reconcile in a complex world and what it means to live for something greater than ourselves.
QUESTION 7 – What’s the next project you’re cooking up in your word kitchen? What, if anything, can you tell my 3.5 readers about it?
ANSWER – I’ve got a small project (somewhere between a short story and a novella) finished and ready to be released soon titled “The Omens of a Crow.” It’s pretty cool, in my clearly unbiased opinion, if you’re into gritty, dark medieval fantasy. I hope you are, that’s my jam.
Also, long-term, I’m writing slowly but surely through Ironheart’s sequel, which should be ready for release around August (hopefully).
QUESTION 8 – You rub a magic lamp. A genie pops out. He sounds nothing like Robin Williams, but he tells you sorry, he can’t make the writer thing happen. He tells you that you can have your next closest dream. In other words, if you could be anything OTHER than a writer, what would you choose and why?
ANSWER – Here’s the deal, BQB. I love being an author, but that’s not, oddly enough, why I started writing. I started writing because I love stories. Of all kinds, shapes, and sizes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book, but there are tons of storytelling platforms out there, and I dig ‘em all. The reason I decided to write my stories instead of tell them in some other format is because literature was the form of storytelling I could begin working on immediately with little to no special equipment, and which I could do alone. (Yes, like most authors I am a huge introvert, but I refer more to not needing a plethora of specialists.)
So, I guess I’d just have the genie make me a movie, stage, or video game director. I’d still create stories for people, just in a different way.
But a space cowboy would also be cool. Or a jedi. Or a knight. Or a friggin’ wizard. I’m already a soldier, and being a space soldier probably wouldn’t be that different. I’d just be exhausted in the mud on some alien planet instead of exhausted in the mud in Georgia. So that one is probably out.
QUESTION 9 – What’s the biggest mistake you made when you began your self-publishing career? How can my 3.5 readers avoid it
ANSWER: I suppose my biggest mistake was not knowing/researching enough before beginning the self-publishing journey. Initially, I assumed that all I had to do, as the author, was write the book, publish it online, and wait to see what the hundreds – if not thousands – of readers would say about it. Would it receive rave reviews and become a bestseller? Would readers around the world trash it because it was as super sucky as I’d feared it might be?
Neither, as it were. Because nobody read it.
It turns out that you have to be competent in a lot of skill sets to succeed in self-publishing. Just being a good writer is not going to cut it. You could put out the next Harry Potter and nobody would ever know the damn thing was out there. Marketing, formatting, cover design, professional-level editing, social media promotion – the list goes on and on. And you have to do them all. As I’ve continued publishing more and more stories, I’ve gotten better and better at the all the steps in the process, but initially I was flabbergasted that nobody read the book that I toiled over for so long. I mean, it was in the marketplace. Why was nobody reading it? They can’t read something that they don’t know is out there.
QUESTION 10 – You’re trapped in a dungeon with my arch-nemesis, the Yeti, an incredibly boring fuzzy snow monster/international war criminal. Three items are in the room – a jar of mayonnaise, a tactical spork, and a CD of Barry Manilow’s greatest hits. You seem like a resourceful guy. How would you use these items to extract yourself from the Yeti’s clutches and escape to freedom?
ANSWER – Honestly, I’d probably just stab him to death with the tac-spork, but maybe that’s a bit extreme for such a wholesome blog as this, with sweet, naïve guests like Uncle Hardass appearing to give advice to the innocent 1.5 children who frequent the Bookshelf Battle pages.
So how ‘bout this? I’ve got the perfect tools for seduction. Barry Manilow’s greatest hits? “Copacabana” will put the Yeti in the mood for some sweet, sweet lovin’. A jar of mayonnaise? There’s likely nothing sexier than my decidedly mediocre body slathered in white condiment. And if the Yeti doesn’t find all things tactical as sexy as I do, then at least he’ll be thinking about all the ways he can use that tac-spork to scrape mayo off my sultry skin, bit-by-bland-sticky-bit.
Just when he thinks he’s about to score, I’ll switch off the Manilow, freeing the Yeti’s mind from the romantic fog of baby-making music. He’ll see me there, naked and covered in mayonnaise, realize what he was about to do, then suffer a heart attack as the mere thought burns through his horrified brain – much as is no doubt happening to the everyone reading this. You’re welcome for that lasting mental image.
BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: Don’t worry about mentally damaging too many people. Only 3.5 people read this blog anyway, and they were all mentally damaged to begin with.