Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Interview with an Amazingly Scary Writer

            I’ve been following Dan Dillard for some time now on face book
                                                       and on his Demon Author Site.
                                                       Dan has a great sense of humor
His short stories are quite a fright and you find yourself wanting more to read. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two of Dan’s collections of short stories called “Lunacy"
                                                   and “How to Eat a Human Being”
and let me tell you, they’re scary enough to keep you looking over your shoulder.
So without further distractions, let us begin.

Dan, I loved the two books that you shared with me and wanted to ask you a few questions if you don’t mind.
Thanks! Glad you liked them :)

1. How long have you been writing?
I’ve written stories since I was a little kid. I wrote my own version of “Halloween II” with Michael Meyers and all when I was about 12. I probably still have that somewhere. We’ve all made up our own versions of the truth, haven’t we? Altered reality to make ourselves feel better, or perhaps to stay out of trouble? What about day dreaming? I think writing is similar to that, just letting yourself get lost in your own imagination, but recording it as you go.
I started on Demons and Other Inconveniences (my first book) in October of 2009. The next thing I knew, I had five books finished and two screenplays and fifteen more stories started. Seems like a lot longer than three years.

2. Where do you get your inspirations for your stories. They are dark and scary, so what sparks that mind of yours?
Sometimes it’s a local legend I hear someone describe. ‘Snakehead’ came from the tradition of hunting for morel mushrooms. It happens all over the country, but I’d never heard of it until we moved to Bloomington, Indiana. It was strange to me, but part of life that folks around here look forward to every spring. So I had to make it evil. J
I am on the third draft of a screenplay about a tooth-eating boogeyman that came from a story my brother-in-law told me at dinner one night. It was something that scared him when he was a kid.
‘Pig Man’ was a nightmare my wife woke from and told me about.
There are elements of ‘The Unauthorized Autobiography of Ethan Jacobs’ that came from my own nightmares.
A few times, I’ve thought of the title first and then written a story to match. I don’t recommend that.
I also ask a lot of what-if questions, and that helps me more than anything. You can take a classic tale and turn it on its ear by peeling away the layers of legend and replacing them with more contemporary human problems. ‘Unlucky in Death’ is about a vampire with a blood phobia. He goes to therapy and finds no help. Eventually, his salvation lies in smoking marijuana. It’s how he copes.
In ‘How to Eat a Human Being’, there’s a story called ‘Refractions’ which came from looking in a mirror. I wondered if the reflection on the other side came to life, would it be exactly the same? No, it’s a mirror image. Then I noticed some scratches in the mirror, and thought about other differences. The more imperfections in the mirror, the more different that world would be. I guess I have a lot of time to day dream. Inspiration is everywhere. What if a coffee shortage caused a zombie apocalypse? What if we ran out of cattle—what would the fast-food restaurants use? Could you kill someone with a felt-tip pen? How would you go about describing it and why would you use that instrument, was it a gift from an abusive lover?
They aren’t all interesting, but sometimes a story shines through. See? I’m rambling already.

3. Did you find it harder to go the route of self publishing and what advice could you give to other writers that want to try this route?
This is a tough question. I’m very impatient. I did send some stories out to several publishers and agents and the responses were mostly this: we don’t do short stories. They weren’t necessarily negative to my writing, but they were all rejections—dozens of them. That’s something any artist—musician, writer, actor, painter—has to learn to live with. Art is so subjective, you have to find your audience and trust that they are out there.
Major publishing houses are evolving much more slowly than self publishing. My opinion is that the old model is just that—old. E-books have changed everything. Unfortunately, they have also moved the slush pile to the general public and that makes it harder for indie writers to get found. It’s a hard road either way. I think writers should write. Do it because they want to. It’s not a get rich business. There are standouts and lucky ones where lightning strikes, but for the most part, it’s a skill, just like cooking a cheeseburger, painting a house or building a computer. If you do it well, you’ll find an audience.
Personally, I think the writing part is easy, even the formatting, cover art, etc. comes easy to me… it’s the marketing that makes my hair gray and my beer disappear.

4. I enjoy the way you keep your followers on facebook updated on what your latest writing project is. What other marketing tips could you give writers who want to promote their work?
Ahhh, Facebook. Twitter, Google +, Goodreads, Shelfari, Authonomy, Linked In… all HUGE wastes of time that could be spent writing. I still feel like there is something to be gleaned from all of the social media, but here’s the thing I notice most: it’s a bunch of writers spamming each other and asking everyone to buy their books. Follow me, friend me, plus me… In the end, everyone will follow everyone else and then we’ll be right back to where we started- anonymous. What I’m learning to do is pare down the folks to a minimum, and keep them organized a bit so I can keep up with the ones who really seem to have something to say. I deleted 4000 facebook friends this past spring and it felt fantastic. Nothing personal, just too many people to keep up with, most of which never even realized I was gone. Still, I get a kick out of Facebook. People are funny critters.
Marketing is the hard part. How to find people who want to pay you for your writing… If I put a book out there for free, people download the crap out of it. If I make that same book 99 cents, the downloads stop completely, maybe a trickle. 4 and 5 star reviews don’t sell books either. Advertising online doesn’t really work either. It’s tough because you could take out a full page ad in the New York Times and probably sell a lot of books, but that full page ad cost upwards of $80,000. Will you sell 80,000 copies? Probably not. You have to invest wisely.
What works? Word of mouth. The hard part is getting people talking about your work.
I had well over 100,000 downloads last year. Only a small percentage was from paid purchases. There is a strong correlation between giving something away free and the sales it generates. I give away a free story from ‘Demons and Other Inconveniences’ and people will buy that book. There’s no risk in downloading a free story, and if they don’t like it, they move on, but if they do, maybe they’ll buy one of my books. If they like the book they bought, they might buy another, but better yet, they might tell a friend or two about it!
Going to conventions and book signings helps too. I’m a wimp when it comes to public speaking, shaking hands, and self promotion—so I don’t do near as much networking as I should, but it does work. Conventions especially—it might cost $200.00 for a table, and you might only make four or five sales, but you might meet 150 people and that’s the key. I need to get on that circuit and off the internet.
It’s really that simple. ONE READER AT A TIME. If you catch a break, that’s great, but don’t go in expecting that break to happen without a lot of work.

5. Do you get a lot of support from your family?
Yes. They buy all my books ;o) . Even my father and my aunt, who I know are offended by some of the outlandish things I write— sex, over-the-top violence, extreme profanity… They still encourage me.
They also proofread, edit, and most importantly: they tell me to keep writing. They also inspire my imagination more than they will ever know. Especially my kids. They’ve brought back the wonder I had when I was a kid… might be why so many of my stories involve children.

6. If you could teach one lesson on the trials and errors of writing and publishing, what would it be?

If you believe the positive reviews, you also have to believe the negative ones. Lose your ego. There are better stories out there, better writers out there and people with more experience than you.
You aren’t perfect and neither is your writing. Once you get past that point, it makes things much easier.
Learning to take criticism is a skill as well. It isn’t personal when people critique your writing or find mistakes. If a review reads like a personal attack (and I’ve had a few of those), it’s just an idiot who is mad about something else—maybe because you stuck your neck out there and published a story and they haven’t had the guts to do it themselves.
What the author needs to do is learn to pick out the parts that help them write better.
If a review says: I didn’t like the story because the main character had blond hair and drove a stupid car… that’s a worthless review. Don’t get mad at the fact that they gave you a one-star on Amazon. Discard it for now and go back and laugh at it later.
I had a reviewer trash one of my stories because he didn’t like the ‘meter’ in which I’d written a poem, said it didn’t flow well for him. That’s an opinion.
I’ve had a reviewer give one of my stories one star because she said it was disturbing and scary. She thought it was going to be a feel-good story, even though it was listed as horror.
That is her mistake, not mine, and I consider it positive advertising for the story.
But! Occasionally, you’ll get a review that says things like “POV shift” or “Leap of Logic” or “There were some spelling errors on page XXX” or “You left in one of your editor’s comments, dumb-ass.” Those are helpful, and teach you things to look out for.
These are all actual notes from my proofreaders and reviewers.
So, in short—write, write, write. Then proofread, proofread, proofread. Then edit, edit, edit. When you think you’re done editing, edit again. A well written, well edited story is what it’s all about. If you can’t do that first, you don’t need to look any further.
Dan Dillard
So let me end this interview with a great big thank you to Dan Dillard and a recommendation to my readers to check out his books.....booingly scary

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