Wednesday 4 October 2017

(vol 4) CHAPTER 06: "Author Interview - Craig Anderson"

In 2012 I was given a Kobo e-reader as a gift. That first day, while browsing the online bookstore, I came across GETTING LUCKY by Craig Anderson. I’d never heard of him and didn’t know what ‘indie authors’ were back in the day, but it was free, and I honestly just wanted to test downloading something.

Five years later and I’m happy to introduce Craig as the first author I’ve ever interviewed.

Since publishing GETTING LUCKY back in 2013, Craig has produced a hoard of Flash Fiction, finished the Lucky Beggar trilogy with LUCKY SHOT and LUCKY BREAK, dipped his toe into future sci-fi with COLONY, and this month turned his hand to writing a Cyber thriller with the release of TROJAN.

I’ve invited Craig along today to talk to us about where his ideas come from, creating his covers, and where he’s headed next.

Hello Craig. Hope you’re well. Congratulations on your latest release, TROJAN. Tell us a little about it.

I'm a huge nerd and love gadgets and tech. I've always wanted to write a book that dealt with technology, particularly hackers, as I feel like it's a skill that is going to be increasingly in demand as the world becomes more connected. As with most of my books it started as a short story and just kind of grew from there. It was really fun to write a thriller, something fast paced with lots of car chases and explosions.

It wasn't all plain sailing, there were a lot of challenges I had to overcome. It was my first attempt at a full length book in third person, which was a lot harder than I anticipated. I never appreciated how much exposition I could get away with by being inside a character's head, and then all of a sudden I had walls of text as my characters blurted out key plot points. Obviously that all had to go. It required a lot of fine-tuning!

I also struggled because it's not a comedy. My default mode is humour and there were plenty of times where the characters were laughing and joking when the scene called for something more sombre. One of my beta readers gave feedback along the lines of 'wow, they are taking this tragedy extremely lightly...' and I knew it was time to go back and trim 90% of the puns. 

Overall I am really happy with how it has turned out and early feedback has been v positive, which is always a relief when you're trying something new!

How has it’s first month in the wild been; kind or cruel?

This is a hard question to answer! I sold a lot more copies of Trojan in its first month than I did for any previous book I have released, so in this regard I would consider it a success.

However, I had high expectations going in as I spent far more time planning this launch than I have in the past. Despite all these efforts the sales haven't really taken off in the way that I had hoped, at least not yet.

The hardest part of selling books is the waiting. It takes a long time for people to read your book and then hopefully review it or maybe even tell their friends about it. After the flurry of sales in the initial launch there is always this lull while you're waiting for the next wave to hit. I'm trying to fill the time productively by writing another book.

TROJAN is a change in direction for you (less laughs but more action). Did you choose this shift in genre, or did the story do it for you?

A little bit of both. I had the idea for TROJAN a long time ago, but I left it on the back burner to focus on other stories. I love to write humour. I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan and he is a huge inspiration for my writing, so naturally a lot of the stories I tell are satirical.

Unfortunately the humour market is a bit of a tough nut to crack. It is so subjective that what one person finds hilarious is dull as dishwater to someone else. Reviews and recommendations are therefore all over the map. It's not that there aren't readers for humour, they just seem to be harder to find. 

At the start of this year I made the conscious decision to take my writing more seriously (I don't mean less funny, I mean more money!) We have two little ones and the daycare bills are eye watering, it's like having another mortgage. I started listening to indie author podcasts and reading books and taking courses to try to learn more about the business side of things. One of the first lessons was to learn a genre and write a book that readers in that genre will enjoy. With humour being so eclectic that was hard to do, so I started thinking about some of the other stories I'd jotted down over the years. It was a conscious choice to try something new, but TROJAN still took on a life of its own. It was only supposed to be a novella!

Have you found the process of writing and publication getting easier with each new book you put out?

Yes and no.

I've gotten much better at the writing part. It took me a looooong time to actually finish a story, but once I did then I knew that I could. I'm slowly internalizing all the story structure rules and how best to make stories flow, so every time I get a little bit better at that stuff. TROJAN was slower because I was outside my comfort zone for a while, but I'm hoping when it comes to writing the sequel I'll be much quicker.

The publishing side of things is a whole different animal. When I released my previous 4 books I barely even told anyone, i hit publish, threw up a facebook post and moved on to something else. I didn't even know what I didn't know, I just hoped that somehow readers would magically find my books, fall in love with them and tell all their friends. I've learned a lot since my last launch, so TROJAN is my first attempt at doing it 'properly'. There's still going to be lots of things I miss the mark on, but I already sold more copies in pre-order than some of my other books have sold outright, so it certainly feels like I'm heading in the right direction.

You’ve lived on three continents, have two children, three pets, and still managed to write five novellas to date. Magic?

Haha - I wish, how cool would that be! Unfortunately I'm pure muggle. 

Counter intuitively having kids allowed me to write more. Sounds crazy I know. My wife and I used to go out for dinner, go to the movies, have dates, you know, spend time together. That didn't leave a whole lot of time for writing. Then when we moved to Canada I found myself jobless for a few months and to pass the time I wrote. I'd always enjoyed it but since being a 'grown up' I hadn't spent time doing it. Something about it really clicked with me. I slogged away on a novel for a while but just couldn't finish it, and in frustration I wrote Getting Lucky just so I could finish something. I put it out there with no expectations. 

Shortly afterwards we had our daughter, and for a year my free time went out the window again because I was so engrossed in learning to be a dad. I also learned to survive on basically zero sleep. I have always been a night owl and detested getting up in the morning, but an infant gives zero poops how you're feeling at 5am, so I just learned to suck it up and figured out how to function on 5-6 hours sleep. 

Then something odd happened. At the end of a busy day my wife and daughter would both be asleep by 9pm, but I was still wide awake. I remembered how much I had enjoyed writing in my down time and I just kind of picked it up again. Our son switched things up again, but by then my writing habit was already established. I have the occasional dip between projects to recharge my batteries, but otherwise I try to put out 500 words a day, which adds up to a novella pretty quickly. Now if I could only learn to edit a little quicker!

Despite the warnings not too (which I myself ignored) you have taken a stab at your own covers in the past with pretty good results. Was this just a monetary decision or is it something you enjoy?

A little bit of both. I usually have a pretty good sense of the overall theme I am going for with the cover. I often create the cover before I write the book, and then I set it as my desktop background. It's a great way to remind me of what I am working towards. Sometimes I use these covers and other times I scrap them. It depends how well I'm able to capture the picture of the story I have formed in my head. 

My original cover for Getting Lucky was pretty bad, it wasn't until I made it into a series that I re-did it. Here's my first stab at it (get ready to cringe)

Yeah, that's me pretending to be homeless. I still have the cardboard sign in my basement. It doesn't exactly scream this book is hilarious does it!

That's not my only misstep. I remember being in a group giveaway with The Colony and there my book was amongst dozens of other sci-fi stories, and all I could see was how my cover stood out for all the wrong reasons. There were these stunning spaceships, aliens, robots and monsters, and then my poorly sketched beehive. It looked like a home made cover. I ended up finding some artwork online that captured the spirit of the book so much better than I ever could and I bought the image rights from this amazing indie artist. It was great to support someone else that was doing what they love and the results were immediate. Now The Colony looks like a sci-fi book and sales have improved. 

I should also point out that I am borderline OCD. I spent 15 hours making the paperback cover for the Lucky Beggar Trilogy. I flipped the cover image so that the dogcatchers pole didn't disappear into the spine, which meant reworking every single layer. I redid the background colouring to make it work in print. I tried twenty different fonts for the back cover text. I measured and remeasured every element to make sure it was all lined up. 

That's time I could have spent writing. I could have paid someone to do a much better job than I did in a third of the time. Still, it was my first paperback release and there was definitely a sense of satisfaction knowing that every single thing from front to back was something I had created.

When you published Getting lucky, did your mind turn to sequels then, or was that something that came later?

Getting Lucky was always meant to be a standalone book. I wrote it out of frustration as I was stuck on my current project for several months and wasn't making any progress. It started as a short story and just kind of kept going. I released it more to test the process of uploading to Amazon. 

The problem with Getting Lucky was that I was so determined to finish it that I ended it too soon. It doesn't wrap things up in a neat little bow, it kind of just...ends. I always found myself thinking back to Luke and Lucky and wondering what they might be up to. Then one day a fan of Getting Lucky that shall remain nameless (but rhymes with Fryin Greek) wrote to me and asked if I would ever write a sequel. The timing could not have been better, it was just as I was getting my free time back, and next thing I knew I was up to my eyeballs in concentrated karma! I actually planned out books 2 and 3 at the same time, so I knew how the trilogy was going to end when I wrote book 2, at least at a high level. That made the whole process a lot smoother. 

Do you think you’ll ever return to the Lucky Beggar universe?

I've certainly toyed with the idea and have a couple of threads I could tug on (hint, Luke retrieved more than one vial of concentrated karma from the fridge in Getting Lucky...) but for now I'm going to let them have their happy ending. 

I did try writing a prequel story from Lucky's point of view, but let me tell you, writing in first-canine perspective is tough to wrap your head around. After a paragraph long description of another dog's butt smell I gave up on that idea!

You’ve mentioned before about a ‘Project Christmas’ which you feel you’ve edited to death. Can you tell us what it's about and do you think it will ever see the light of day?

Project Christmas is about a guy called Barry Black who accidentally applies to a job at a magical consulting company. His first project is working for Santa Claus, who has run his company (Christmas Inc) into the ground and needs help to stay afloat. Hilarity ensues. 

I love the book and hope to one day release it, but I can't for the life of me figure out how to make the middle interesting. The first 3rd of the book is some of my favorite writing, and the ending is solid, but the middle is eye gouge-ingly awful. Despite a dozen attempts to bridge the gap, I have yet to find one that works. I'm going to keep trying though, because I have learned a lot since I wrote Project Christmas 10 years ago and I keep hoping that I have inadvertently unlocked the key to finishing it and getting it off my darn to do list. 

What do you have in the pipeline?

Next up on my docket is the sequel to The Colony, which is called The Collapse. It's going to take a closer look at what happened to the world when 3.5 billion men died all at once. I've been spending a lot of my time contemplating what a world without men would look like, and I've come to the conclusion that women would be just fine! Some might even argue it would be an improvement :)

I've only just started The Collapse, but I'm hoping to have that one out by the end of the year!

I know that you like video games. If you could write a fanfic story set in any game universe, what game would it be and why?

I am disturbingly obsessed with Titanfall 2 at the moment - like 250 hours of playtime obsessed. I don't normally play games for any great length of time, normally I fizzle out and move on to something else. I keep meaning to write a fan fic in this universe, maybe focusing on the lighter side of the war, like from the point of view of a titan mechanic or someone else who doesn't get to do the awesome robot on robot fighting. I think it would be kind of funny to be the guy that fixes the titans and 10 seconds after you're done it gets jettisoned off for some ungrateful pilot to charge into a 4 on 1 battle with!

Well, that's all from Craig (for now). I'd like to thank him big time for being my first victim interview.

You can find out a whole heap more about The Man, The Legend on his website, or follow him on twitter.

And don't forget to head over to your local Amazon website and check out his recent release; TROJAN!

and of course . . . Canada

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