Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Apocalyptic author James Cook shares his thoughts on writing with Mark Tufo

1. You say you are a self-avowed reading addict. Ebook or paper? Do you still have time to read with the new self-employed status?

While I still buy some books in paper form—manuals about writing, special editions, children’s books for my little guy, etc.—I generally prefer ebook format if I’m reading for entertainment. The reason for this is simple: I read a lot. Like, two or three books a week. It’s much easier to carry those books around on my Kindle than it is to lug the paper copies around, and I can take my ereader anywhere.

As far as how writing full-time affects my reading habits…well, I must admit that I read a good bit less than I used to. At my old job, I had a lot of downtime. Most of my work consisted of handling the investment accounts for high net worth clients (read: rich assholes who complained too much), and between calls and meetings, I spent a lot of time with nothing to do. It was during these periods that I would rummage through my briefcase, pull out my Kindle, and consume some literature on the company dime. Now that I’m no longer working at that job (thank the sweet six-pound, seven-ounce baby Jesus), I have less time during the day to spend on such pursuits. I used to read four or five books a week. Now, as I said a moment ago, I’m down to about two or three.

2. Which other countries have you traveled to and how has that experience come through in your books?

Oh jeez…let me see if I can recall them all in one sitting: Mexico, Guatemala, Australia, Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Saipan, Singapore, India, Bahrain, Germany, Austria, St. Lucia, Aruba…and probably a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head. I’ve also been to Alaska, spent a few weeks in the Bering Sea (God that was cold), and traveled to Hawaii five times (not cold, warm and awesome). I realize those last two are U.S. states, but they’re pretty far flung and most people never go there.

I have traveled a significant portion of the 48 states as well, and visited a large number of major cities. (You might have noticed I have a bit of a travel bug.) The experience of seeing all these places, meeting the people who live there, exploring their culture, eating their food, and seeing how they live their lives has had an immense impact on my writing. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is difficult to quantify and condense into words how much of an effect my travels have had on me, and consequently, my writing. Hell, I could probably write a book about just that one subject.

To put it as simply as I can: travel changes you. Indelibly. It alters, fundamentally, who you are as a human being. It changes your perceptions, your attitudes, your understanding of human life, and your sense of place in the world. It erodes your prejudices, opens your eyes to things you never would have guessed existed, and makes you appreciate just how diverse, strange, beautiful, ugly, horrifying, magnificent, and overwhelmingly vast the world we live in truly is. There is a popular quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Truer words have rarely been spoken.

Having a broader understanding of the world, and the people in it, gives me a better perspective on people’s drives, motivations, passions, fears, and faults. I have seen the roots of bigotry, hatred, and contempt, and I have also seen the fruits of compassion, courage, and kindness, quite often through personal experience. The ripple effect of the choices we make, the people we befriend or make enemies of, the impact of our moments of careless stupidity, anger, and especially our brightest moments of genius, all spread out into a thousand-thousand criss-crossing circles of consequence that reach far beyond who we are as simple people, and have echoes in the future of everyone, whether we ever live to see it or not. Having this image in my mind, this giant pool of three-dimensional waves intersecting and rebounding from one another, is the locus of my perception of humanity, and thus, my method of writing. That’s why I probably won’t write too many stand-alone novels in my career; they lack the necessary breadth of canvas to paint the appropriately complex pictures that are the stories I want to tell.

(And that whole thing, ladies and gentlemen, was the brief version. Imagine the long one. So yeah, my travels are important to my writing.)

3. What are you plans for 2013? Continuing on with the Surviving The Dead series or on to something new?

A little bit of both, actually.

4. How’s your wife feel about the genre you chose to write in?

I could write about lesbian fairy orgies and the various applications of anal beads for all my wife cares, as long as the royalty checks clear. You know it’s funny, back in 2011 when I was working on my first novel, Liz was always chiding me for spending so much time pecking away at my laptop. She thought that I should spend that time with my family, and be more communicative. That lasted right up until we got the paycheck from my first strong month of sales. Now it’s all, “Why are you playing video games? Stop wrestling with the baby! Turn off the television! Shouldn’t you be writing? MOMMA NEEDS A NEW PAIR OF STRAPPY SHOES!!!!” (It’s not really that bad, but you get the idea.)

5. You independently published your first and second book, would you do anything different?

I would have started a Facebook page earlier, and I would have gone through a couple more rounds of editing. Other than that, I think I did okay for myself.

6. What do you do with your time when you are not writing?

I spend a lot of time worrying, doubting myself, questioning the validity and quality of my work, and generally letting the inadequacy gremlins gnaw away at my psyche. Then I go on Facebook, read all the nice things my readers have said about me, and uncoil myself from a blubbering pile of sludge stuck to my office floor. That done, I like being out in nature—hiking, camping, that kind of thing—and when I’m at home, I’m usually reading, wasting my brain cells exploring Skyrim, or cooking. (I love to cook, and it shows. I am not a small man.) Spending time with my wife and my little boy is important to me as well, and a perfect day for me is sitting on a bench at Squirrel Lake Park with Liz, whispering dirty things in her ear (she’s really pretty, and I have a lot of trouble keeping my hands off of her), and watching our son run around like a crazy person on the playground. Not much more a guy could ask for.

7. How important do you think marketing outside of social media is for an Indy?

It’s tough to say. For me, not very. I have hardly done any marketing for my work outside of Facebook, or the occasional interview or guest post on a blog, and I still manage to sell enough books to earn a living at it. No small feat, considering that I only have two books published. I know of other authors that spend a lot of time traveling, doing book signings and whatnot, but I haven’t done any of that. Maybe I’m just lucky, I don’t know. It seems to me that Amazon is the best marketing engine out there, and if your work is good enough to stand on its own merit, then Amazon with help you find your audience. That’s where the vast majority of my book sales come from.

8. Which was your favorite Country to travel through?

Australia, without a doubt. I visited the Freemantle/Perth area, and it was just gorgeous. Kind of reminded me of San Diego, only with more grass. The people were friendly, the food was amazing, and I had a good time everywhere I went, from shooting pool downtown, to drinking coffee on the waterfront in Freemantle, to knocking back cold Swan beer in Perth’s Northbridge district. It was a great time. I’ll definitely be going back someday.

9. What do you have in the works right now? What can the readers look forward to?

Right now I’m working on finishing up Surviving the Dead volume three, and then it’s straight to work on volume four. After that, I’ll get started on the first installment of the Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter series, which I hope to release by Christmas 2013, and then back to the adventures of Gabe and Eric. So basically three books over the next year.

10. What is the one thing you wish someone would ask you and the answer?

From my wife: “Would you like a back rub from me (happy ending optional), while drinking beer and being hand fed filet mignon by this handy team of Victoria’s Secret models, before taking a handful of Viagra and retiring to the boudoir?” My answer: Hell to the yes. Give me a minute to stretch.

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