Journal Of Always: Hello, Mr. McAfee, and welcome to the Journal! I'd like to start off by asking you to expound a bit on your journey into the realm of independent publishing. Was this a decision that came about easily, or were you hesitant? Was there a specific event that directly led to you going this route?
David McAfee: Depends on the timeframe you are asking. It was a difficult decision to start self publishing, but once I did it became an easy decision to keep doing it. I toiled for years trying to land an agent or a publisher with zero success, but with the new ease of ePublishing, I discovered I don’t need either anymore. Not that I wouldn’t accept a contract from a big publisher, mind you, but I’m much happier letting my work roam the internet and bring in readers than I was when the only people who read it were friends and family.
There were a lot of events that added up to make me self publish, but the straw that broke the camel’s back came when Ghostwriter Publications decided they didn’t have to pay me for any of my work, regardless of contract. I don’t want to go into specifics here, because it would take up thirty pages or so, but anyone interested in knowing the whole story can read all about Ghostwriter and my experience with them on my blog, mcafeeland.wordpress.com. After that fiasco, I decided I was better off doing things myself, and so far I’ve been right.
JOA: What advice would you give writers who are considering going this route?
DM: First, make sure you have a quality product. By that I mean, don't slap together a story and say, "This is good enough," and then shove it online. Believe me, if it's a first draft, it ISN'T good enough. Part of the problem is people don't want to wait. They want their work out there earning money and fame and accolades NOW. But if you care at all about the quality of your work, then give your story the patience it deserves. Write it. Then edit it. Then edit it again. Then again. And again. Then send it to beta readers for their opinions. Then revise the book again.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. But work is how you get better. It's how you improve your craft. And it's how you win over readers. If you don't care enough about your book to put in the work, why should readers care enough about it to read it when you release it? So before you go and publish that masterpiece, make sure it's as good as it can possibly be, then edit it again and make it better. :)
JOA: I agree completely. I've heard many a writer complain about the editing process, but it is entirely necessary for the construction of a solid piece of literature.
On that note, there is a stigma in the publishing world that self-published novels are "below standard". What do you think we, as independents, can do to help change that image? Do you see the problem as being one of holding on to old prejudices in this new age of marketing, or are we as authors to blame?
DM: Absolutely. There is definitely a stigma against indie (or self-published) authors in the reading community. I'm not going to win a lot of points for saying this, but it's not entirely undeserved, either. Like I said above, one of the things that people should do before self-publishing is to make sure they are bringing a quality work to the marketplace. LOTS of indies do not do that, or they don't do enough to ensure their work is on par with the work of some of the traditionally published authors. Oh, you hear a lot of arguments like "Well, Dan Brown sucks as a writer and he's huge," or "I find typos in traditionally published books all the time." And both of those may be true (depending on your opinion of Dan Brown - personally I think he's awesome!), but it's NO EXCUSE. And when people delude themselves into thinking that publishing work that has been improperly edited and revised is all right, well, that's where the stigma comes from.
To be fair, there is a LOT of quality indie fiction out there, written by authors who actually want to succeed and who care about what their readers think of their work. But there is also a lot of crap, and the readers are the ones who have to wade through that crap to find the good books. That is there the stigma comes from, and the only way to eliminate it is for more people to take their craft seriously. I'm getting preachy here and I don't mean to, but I could literally spend hours talking about this one topic.
JOA: The way others approach writing intrigues me. What is your process, from inception to final product? Do you outline, or let the story roam free?
DM: I usually start with an idea and go from there. I’ve never outlined anything, preferring to let the story evolve on its own. In that way I’m often surprised by directions the characters take when I write. For example, there is a character in 33 A.D. that turns traitor. That wasn’t planned. I had no idea it was going to happen. I was just writing the scene and when it came to the end the character surprised me by doing something he shouldn’t have done. If I’d been working from an outline, I don’t think that would have occurred. That's the type of thing that makes writing fun to me.
JOA: I've read and reviewed 33AD, and found it to be a fantastic read. (read the review here) The storyline is original, and also, dare I say, a bit brave. To take the story of the crucifixion (or any religious event) and use it as a backdrop for a work of fiction is walking a bit of a metaphysical tightrope. You open yourself up to criticism from both sides of the fence. What was your inspiration for the story? Did you in any way want to say something profound, or just tell an entertaining story?
DM: Thank you. I was thrilled that you enjoyed it.
I read a book back in 2007 called Violent Sands, by Sean Young. Violent Sands takes place in Biblical Jerusalem and follows the activities of Barabbas, about whom little is mentioned. Young's work was so thoroghly researched and so brilliantly well written that it took me back in time to those dusty streets. I could see everything, smell everything, and hear the constant din of Passover in first century Jerusalem.
Of course, I found myself wondering what the vampires of the day might have thought of all the hooplah surrounding the young rabbi from Galilee, and that's how the idea came about. The rough draft took me 5 weeks to write, and two years to fine tune into the book it is today. :)
I really wasn't trying to do anything more than tell a story, but quite a few people have told me they found something of import within the texts of 33 A.D. I'd love to say that is intentional, but it isn't. In my case, I think if there is anything profound to be gleaned from the story it is less a case of masterful authorship and more a case of art imitating life. To put it simply, I'm just not that clever. :)
JOA: The response to 33 AD has been overwhelmingly positive. Many are screaming for a sequel. Is there one in the works?
DM: Yes, there is. I am about 1/3 of the way through the rough draft. I had hoped to have the rough draft completed by now, but my wife and I are expecting our first child. Add those new duties to my 50 hour a week day job and the fact that the Holidays have once again crept up on us with all the stealth of a panther, and you can see how much time gets eaten up with non writing things. However, I AM working on it, and I hope to have it out to my readers no later than this spring.
JOA: You have four other books - Saying Goodbye to the Sun, Grubs, The Lake and 17 Other Stories, and A Pound of Flash. Please tell us a little about each and why we should care about them.
DM: Saying Goodbye to the Sun will always be my baby. 33 A.D. gets all the attention and all the reviews, and it is a fine book, but SGTTS was my first novel. That will always have a special place in my heart. I started writing it in 1997, when I was in a very dark place in my personal life, and it became a type of therapy. I did everything I could in that book to break the main character, Vincent, and twist him into my vision of what a vampire should be. I think I did a pretty good job.
GRUBS was written as a short pulpy horror piece for my former publisher, who requested just that sort of work. I'd never done anything like it before, and I wasn't sure that I could. But once I got the ball rolling, it was a lot of fun. I mean, come on...mind-bending grubs that turn the dead into walking servants and the living into slaves? Guts and gore splattered on almost every page with a bizarre love triangle and a sick, twisted pervert thrown into the mix? Who could resist? GRUBS is a fun, quick read that doesn't try to be anything more than entertainment. If you're looking for deeper meaning, you might wanna look somewhere else. But if you're looking to get lost in the woods of northern Maine and be chased by nightmares that only a very unstable mind could create, then GRUBS is for you. I can't give any better endorsement than this: Amanda Hocking liked it. A lot. 'Nuff said. :)
The Lake and 17 Other Stories, as well as its follow up A Pound Of Flash, are short collections of horror fiction that I put out for 99 cents as kind of an intro to my work. Some of the stories are sick and twisted, some are gory, some are funny, and some are just plain odd, but all of them are fun. As a bonus, each features guest stories by some of my indie friends like David Dalglish , Daniel Arenson and Mike Crane. Good stuff in there, and definitely worth the price of admission. One last note on these is they contain quite a few pieces of microfiction. These are horror stories that are told in exactly 100 words – not 99, not 101, but 100, including the title. I can't begin to tell you what a challenge it is to compose a complete story in only 100 words, but it's brutal. Word choice is everything! They were so much fun to write that I'm thinking of doing a third collection, just because I enjoy them. I also enjoy showing off just how warped my mind can get.
JOA: You say your mind's warped, eh? What's the craziest idea you've ever had for a story - and was it ever written?
DM: Heh. I've had some pretty off the wall stories, and there are plenty that you will never know about. :) The weirdest one that I'll publicly admit to involved a former SS Officer who traveled back in time to assassinate Hitler but didn't make it because he was bitten by a poisonous snake. Turned out the snake was planted by a group of profiteering gun runners who didn't want Hitler killed because they were making too much money off the war. there migh have been a few paranormal elements, like a ghost Captain who tried to warn the officer and possibly even a time traveling vampire Nazi that let the gun runners know what was going on, but I won't say for sure. Told ya it was odd. And nope. I never even bothered to write it down.
JOA: You've made no secret you're a huge Cowboys fan, David. How do you explain the fact they haven't won a playoff game in almost 17 years?
DM: I am a HUGE Dallas Cowboys fan. Even when they are doing poorly I still wear my Cowboys gear every chance I get. I have autographs, figures, pictures, shirts, bags, ticket stubs, helmets, and a million other items of Dallas Cowboy love cluttering my house. My wife says I'm obsessed, but I'm not so sure...
But what team are YOU talking about? It can't be the Dallas Cowboys, who won the Wild Card round of the playoffs just last year by stomping the crap out of the Philadelphia Eagles. 17 years? Try last season, Rob. ;)
JOA: Oh, jeez. My bad. That’s a little embarrassing. I think I'm looking at the world through my Pats-colored glasses and ignoring everything else. That being said, sports opinion time! I loved watching Barry Sanders run the ball. Every handoff was an event. What football player - any team - have you enjoyed watching most over the years?
DM: *sigh* you had to ask. You are going to make me admit a deep, dark secret, Rob. I LOVED watching Emmit Smith play. mostly because he was on the Cowboys, I'll admit. And I really enjoy Tony Romo's game when he's hot, not so much when he's cold. But if I'm being honest, in terms of sheer excitement and how much (grudging) fun it is to watch an individual player, I have to admit that Tom Brady is easily the most exciting player I've ever seen play the game, and that's coming from a Brady hater. I don't like him at all, but Dear God that man can play. Pisses me off.
JOA: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview, David. It's much appreciated.
DM: No problem, Rob. Thanks for having me back. It's always a good time.