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A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Three
August 26, 2016Posted by on
MP. In your last comment, you mention that you like to think of your books as deceptively simple. You also clearly like “journey” stories. Somewhere I have read that there are only a handful of story plots that drive just about every story ever written. One of those story types is “journey.” It can be a physical journey, a mental journey, a journey to find the truth. There are all sorts of journeys that can form the structure of a story.
Thinking about Fascination, I realized that all of your novels stem from the journey concept. And in Fascination, it seems you have doubled down, or tripled down, on the format. All of the main characters are on journeys of different types, and even many of the minor characters are on journeys of their own. The question is whether this was intentional or whether it just happened. The second question is whether you ever found yourself tempted to go away from the “deceptively simple” structure of the story. There are so many places in Fascination where you could have started to wallow in a scene or a concept. Do you ever want to stay there for a bit and wallow?
KB. I guess when you think about it, most stories are at least partly built on a journey of one kind or another. Sometimes metaphorical, but often literal. That’s because life is that way. When we meet someone, we’re on our journey and they’re on theirs, and we travel along together for a while until our paths head off in different directions.
There’s also the practical fact that, in fiction, the journey is a terrific plot engine. Things have to happen as a matter of course.
I’m not sure all my books are journey tales. Occasional Soulmates not so much. Town Father only partly. Yesterday Road is for sure, but it’s both a physical journey and one through time. My next book is definitely not a journey, though one of the characters fantasizes about one — to get the hell away from her family. (More on that in the coming months …)
On the question of “staying and wallowing,” I’m usually concerned with keeping up a lively pace, so when I do linger a little bit I want to make sure it serves the story well.
Do you have an example of “staying and wallowing” in other books? I don’t think you just mean a digression from the plot. More like longer internal monologues or poignant flashbacks?
MP. A lot of what you say here makes sense. Every story is, in the end, a journey. But what intrigues me about Fascination is just how many journeys there are in this one novel. One could argue that Mason Speck’s piece in this really isn’t a journey, but to me it is. It’s a journey to the life he believes he wants for himself.
Fascination is essentially a physical journey that wraps itself around a whole lot of internal journeys.
When I referred to “staying and wallowing,” what I meant was that there are so many places in which you could have stopped and spend so much energy and detail to explore more in depth one of Sally’s stops along the way. In New Mexico, for instance. There’s detail there for sure, but so many writers would have, could have written an entire novel based on just one of Sally’s stops along the way. That’s what I refer to as “staying and wallowing.” What you seem to have mastered is the ability to bring the reader to a place, raise the questions that place or plot turn brings out, and then moving on to the next, without wasting time or words. It’s one of the things I really appreciate about Fascination. You let the reader decide where they want to wallow rather than forcing it on them.
I don’t necessarily have examples of “staying and wallowing” from other published works. But I will say that it is one of the reasons I’m struggling with my own writing. As I write more, my stories become more complex and I find myself getting far too much into the details. I’d like to avoid the wallowing. 😉
Let’s move to guerrilla publishing. As far as I know, your first novel was published the traditional way. By William Morrow, which is no small thing. But then it seems you left the world of traditional publishing behind and have self-published since then. Is this remotely accurate? Before I get to your guerrilla publishing stage, is there any story there about why you went from the traditional approach to self-publishing?
KB. I see Fascination that way too — a baker’s dozen journeys. Even Matt Damon is on a journey of sorts.
And you’re right about how any of Sally and Clive’s stops along the way could have become its own novel, but I saw this as kind of like “The Game of Life,” that old board game, where you don’t stay in one place very long. Pretty soon you have to spin again.
As for your question about traditional publishing, I’m the first to admit that any writer — or better yet, every writer — would prefer to land a contract with one of the Big Five. The truth is, I was unable to persuade them to take a chance on a second novel. I think I had three different agents after Parts Unknown, and none of them was able to make the sale. So, because I wanted to get my work out into the world, I decided to go indie, and the rest — say it with me — is history. Or my story, anyway.
Bottom line? Them’s the breaks, I guess. At least I can publish my books on my own terms now, on my schedule. And I’ve enjoyed it too.
MP. Well, if it’s like the game of Life, where are all of the kids? Oh wait, scratch that.
I wonder if we writers are making a mistake in our belief in the holy grail of a publishing contract. It’s kind of what motivated me to self-publish initially and why I still aim towards that with my future efforts. There is something about traditional publishing that seems to be just a one-in-a-zillion crap shoot. Unfortunately, self-publshing has become the same thing. There are so many of us writers now publishing their own works, it seems impossible to make the noise that will create the attention to really attract an audience. It’s particularly difficult when you try to occupy some space on the literary fiction shelf as you and I do. It seems to be a forgotten genre in the world of indie publishing.
So, you indie published in the traditional way for a few books and now you’ve launched this book via what you have termed guerrilla publishing. I know you’ve blogged about this on your own site, but for anybody visiting my site who doesn’t know about you, can you explain what guerrilla publishing is and why you decided to try it?
KB. I do think the nature of traditional publishing has changed over the last ten to fifteen years. As a bastion of literary fiction, it was geared toward building writers’ careers, so there was no expectation that a debut novelist had to sell a lot of copies. As my own agent told me, publishers didn’t expect writers to have much of a following till their fourth or fifth novel. It’s different now. If you don’t hit that home run on your first at bat, it’s back to the minors for you.
So that’s why indie was attractive, but you’re totally right on two counts: that the field is unbelievably crowded now and that there’s not very much literary fiction in the indie world. What there is seems really hard to find, except by word of mouth.
And that’s why I landed on #guerrillapublishing (I use the hashtag in case it catches on over at Twitter …) as an alternative. To my mind, #guerrillapublishing is simply a way of getting books out into the world without relying on anyone but ourselves as writers. No corporate platforms, no cover designers (unless you want to use one), no ebook formatters. And, like the old Soviet samizdat, where people passed around typed copies of banned books, this work is completely dependent on the efforts of readers to spread the word. If they like it, they tell someone else about it.
But another interesting slant here is that readers buy the book directly from me, via PayPal. I sign and inscribe each copy to the buyer (electronically, anyway), and deliver the book myself. It’s hands on. Plus, if you have any trouble getting the book onto your e-reader, I’ll walk you through it because I want you to read this book.
Who knows, this might be my only #guerrillapublishing attempt, but Fascination felt like the right kind of project to experiment with.
MP. Your description of the why of #guerrillapublishing is exactly why I came up with the idea for myself a couple of years ago. After my second indie-published novel, which was much more literary than the first, completely and totally failed to attract any readers beyond people who knew me or followed my blog, I despaired. And then there is the fact that the reading public basically expects that indie authors will charge a minimal amount for their book — or nothing at all. And I despaired again. A potential solution to all of that despair is what you have done with #guerrillapublishing. Sell directly. Cut out the middlemen, Amazon, the publishers, the agents. Charge what you can, or invite the reader to pay what they believe your work is worth, and keep it for yourself, instead of the fraction you get through all of the other avenues.
There has got to be a better way for this to work for both the reader and the writer. I hope your experiment opens some doors.
So, let me end our conversation here. Not that the conversation you and I have about writing and publishing will end, but this small chapter of it needs to close. One final question for you … is there anything else you want readers to know about Fascination and #guerrillapublishing? Here’s your chance.
KB. I would add to everything we’ve already talked about that I hope readers out there — and maybe writers too — can become more open-minded about what books can be and where they can be found. With all of the tools available to us now, writers don’t have to limit themselves to traditional publishing or to the Amazon model — not if those don’t suit their needs or their material. We can publish on our blogs, via Tweets, on thumb drives — the possibilities are many, and many of them might just be better for the author than the current models.
As I say about Fascination, you don’t know till you try.