Novel Dog: Tell me about your experiences in publishing. Any traditional contracts, or are you pure indie? Why did you choose to self-publish?
James Derry: All of my efforts in traditional publishing never netted me more than a friendly shrug and notes that amounted to: “the genres you’re writing in (horror and Westerns) aren’t easy sells right now.” Which honestly, I thought was a perfectly valid rationale. I never took for granted that traditional publishing is a business, and that most big businesses are institutionally risk-adverse—and that, to them, niche genres amount to barely more than pocket change.
But the big ‘duh’ moment came when I realized that most traditionally published authors don’t make enough money to quit their day jobs. I said to myself, “So I’m going to spend years going through this soul-crushing query process, and even if I succeed at it, just about the best I can hope for is a four-figure advance and a book that’ll be considered burned out after three months? And my agent and publisher won’t even help me market it?” After that, the advantages of traditional publishing seemed very marginal.
ND: What are some of your influences? What inspires your work?
JD: A lot of the usual suspects: Stephen King and John Steinbeck. I’m inspired by a bunch of modern sci-fi authors—Kim Stanley Robinson, James S.A. Cory, Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds—but I think they’re all way beyond my league to emulate. I also draw inspiration from random sources: nature shows, video games, even reality television, because it provides constant reminders that every person—no matter how petty or selfish or self-destructive—is the hero of their own story.
ND: Talk a little about your writing process.
JD: Usually I’m daydreaming when I find an image or a moment that strikes a chord with me. Those moments become my story beats, and I build a very rough outline around those beats. Then I write a very rough draft where I try to focus on simply connecting one sentence to the next. I try my best to keep it raw and not get bogged down on pretty phrasing, or referencing my thesaurus. Then, there’s quite a bit of revisions as I rework the first draft or move on to the second draft. Once I have the manuscript somewhat polished, I have a couple of trusted sources proof it and offer feedback. Another big help is the text-to-speech feature on my Kindle Fire. I email a manuscript to my Kindle, and then I listen to it in the car or doing chores. I catch a lot of typos that way.
ND: What is some writing advice that you wish you’d heard earlier?
JD: Don’t be afraid to write a crappy first draft. I think that’s a really difficult idea for a beginning writer to take to heart, because when you’re first starting out, you want to have that personal validation that what you’re writing at least ’sounds’ good, even if you’re feeling wobbly on your story. But writing a crappy first draft is a good thing to do based on two facts: A) Nobody but you is ever going to read it. B) You’re probably going to end up rewriting big chunks of it anyway, because you’ll find scenes where the characterization is inconsistent, or you’ll realize you have too much exposition, or a big stretch of pages where nothing actually happens. If you don’t spend a lot of time on your first draft, then you won’t feel so frustrated when you have to rework it.
ND: Could you set up Idyll for us?
JD: Sure thing. Here is the blurb:
Idyll is a rugged planet—a new, simpler start for some 10,000 settlers who have fled Mother Earth. But a strange ‘plague’ of contagious sleep has devastated their Settlement, sparked by a mysterious mantra called the Lullaby.
After a three-year quarantine, Walt and Samuel Starboard set out from their ranch on a mission to cure their comatose mother and find their missing father. For days they ride through a blighted landscape: deserted cabins and gravestones and the ruins of towns destroyed by fire. Just when the brothers are about to give up, they stumble upon a second pair of survivors, two beautiful and determined sisters.
Miriam and Virginia Bridge offer new hope, but they also present new problems. Stirrings of emotion and shifting priorities threaten to set the brothers against each other. Can Walt and Samuel overcome years of festering resentment, or will their rivalry tear them apart before they can reunite their broken family? And will any of them survive the revelation of who—or what—unleashed the Lullaby on their home world?
It was a lot of fun to write Idyll, and the story took some surprising turns (even for me!) as I finished up its sequel. I’m currently working on Book 3 of the Idyll Trilogy, and I hope to release it in early Spring of 2017.
You can catch up with James Derry at his blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook. The Weird Western StoryBundle, featuring our fiction along with seven more authors, is available only here for a few more days!