Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights

In order to give more insight to this blog and to the writer's world, I took it upon myself to interview some of the writers I know.

Today we have Matthew Wayne Selznick. He's the author of the novel Brave Men Run, which you can find on podiobooks as a free audiobook and you can also purchase the print novel which is out now. This was one of the first podcast novels I've listened to and introduced me to a whole new door in promoting your work. So, please welcome Matt Selznick as we put him in the hotseat of what it is like being a writer.

Q: What inspired you to write “Brave Men Run?”

A: "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" has its roots in an on-line serial webzine I created and edited in the late 1990's,"Sovereign Serials."

"Sovereign Serials" was my attempt to create a prose-based "comic book" universe. I developed the setting and invited amateur writers to create characters and tell their stories in episodic fiction. The webzine ran for three years before I finally suspended it due to some attention and energy-grabbing personal matters and general lack of growth.

After "Sovereign Serials" was shuttered, I received fairly regular emails from fans. Nearly every one expressed their desire to see one particular serial completed... one featuring a boy misfit named Nate Charters. I decided to make Nate's story my first book, and "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" was born. The Sovereign Era setting of "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" and subsequent books, short stories and projects like "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is much more developed and less derivative from what had appeared in "Sovereign Serials."

Q: The characters seem very real in “Brave Men Run.” Are there any characters who are a reflection of yourself or your friends? Were there some parts taken from true life events?

A: Thanks for saying the characters seem real! I think the key to realistic characters is to approach writing as a form of acting. You really have to know the characters, get in their heads, understand their motivations and their backgrounds. I think my writing flows best when, mentally, I'm able to bounce from one character to another, "being" each one in turn.

Nearly everyone in "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is based in part on one or more people I've known in my life. No one character is entirely based on one individual, however. Rather, each one holds bits and pieces. See the acknowledgments page at the back of the book for some of those bits and pieces.

As for some parts of the book being taken from real life... I reckon the statute of limitations has run its course, so I can reveal that the doorbell ditch scene played out almost exactly the same in real life... except none of us delinquent kids had preternaturally sensitive reflexes or senses.

Q: How long did it take you to write “Brave Men Run?”

A: A couple of years, give or take, in fits and starts and in small bites, a few hundred words (or less) at a time. I did a lot of writing during lunch breaks at work...

Q: How do you break through Writer's Block? Or do you ever have it?

A: I'm not sure I know what writer's block is. When I'm not writing it's because I've distracted myself with things that eat time without giving back: video games, television, endless and pointless world-building... in other words, if I'm not writing it's a form of procrastination, which is a form of insecurity.

So... while time will pass when I'm not writing, I know why it's happening. The solution is to put my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

If writer's block is being in the middle of a project and you stop because you don't know what's supposed to happen next, or why... fall back on conflict. If you don't know what's supposed to happen next in your story, take something valuable away from your characters, or think of something horrible and do that thing to them. Wham! No more writer's block.

Finally, I guess writer's block can stem from simply being bored with what you're writing. You know what they say: if you're bored, then you're boring, or in this case, your story is boring. Figure out why, or write something else. You don't have to be faithful to one idea at a time.

Q: Who were the other writers who gave you advice and helped promote “Brave Men Run?”

A: That's really two different questions. In terms of advice, I shared the manuscript with a handful of "first readers." They offered some editorial and grammatical advice, which was great. By the time I'd handed it over to them, I'd put the manuscript through three editing passes of my own. I also edited as I wrote, making small changes and corrections to the previous day's work before I started a new writing session.

When "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" was first released in November of 2005, it was the first novel ever to have an initial simultaneous release in print, five e-book formats, and a free podcast edition. I believe it was among the first twenty or so podcast novels. The number one source for podcast novels,, was either just beginning or didn't exist yet. Podcasting itself was a little over a year old.

I pushed the paperback and e-book versions of "Brave Men Run --- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" by pushing the podcast edition, hard. I did scores of interviews on any podcast that would have me as a guest... and at the time, I still had to explain the logic behind giving away my content for free. It was that early!

I did press releases. I went to podcast conventions. Gradually, the "podiobook" scene began to spring up and all the authors who were also podcasters started to find one another. We all championed each others' works we enjoyed, and continue to do so.

Early heroes for "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" included Tee Morris, Paul Story, Scott Sigler, Mark Jeffrey, Chris Miller, Mur Lafferty and Evo Terra, who called it "the finest podcast novel I have listened to."

Since then, newer podcast novelists like James Durham, P.G. Holyfield, James Melzer and especially J.C. Hutchins have been very generous with their support and evangelism.

I know I'm forgetting people. I can safely say that without the dozens of podcasters who were willing to interview me, play my promos and promote my work, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" would not have gained the world-wide audience it enjoys today.

Q:Where do you write? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?

A:I write either at a utility table that looks out over our back yard,
where I can watch the avian dinosaurs and see some trees and the sky,
or at the dining room table. Now and then, for a change of scenery
and the stimulus of being around people, I'll write in one of the
study rooms of the local library or go to the obligatory coffee house.

I usually write on my laptop -- I've developed a habit of using my
laptop for writing and my desktop machine for everything else. The
laptop runs Ubuntu Linux; I usually write drafts in TextRoom, which is
a full-screen, zero-distraction text editor. Edits and whatnot are
done in

I sometimes write longhand -- it's good for notes (I have a small
Moleskine notebook perpetually in my back pocket) and for certain
types of writing, like poetry or song lyrics. Since you mentioned a
typewriter, that's what I learned to type on -- a manual typewriter
from the 1940's that belonged to my grandfather. I still have that
machine, too!

Q: After the success of the podcast and Swarm Press picking you up, you recently released an e-zine web serial that takes place during the Sovereign Era. How many episodes are you planning?

A: Let me tell you readers a little bit about what we're talking about, since many might not be aware of this new project.

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is an ongoing episodic serial fiction webzine set in the Sovereign Era and featuring a group of ordinary friends, lovers, rivals and band-mates living in coastal Southern California. The serials begin in the summer of 1984, about nine months before the beginning of the Sovereign Era. I plan on documenting these characters' lives to at least the edge of the 21st century.

The serial is divided into story arcs that each cover a particular time period in the characters' lives. Individual installments within each story arc are at least 2,000 words long, often longer. A new installment appears twenty five times per year, or roughly every two weeks.

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is a subscription-driven membership site. You must be a member to have access to installments of the serial and participate in the community of readers. Other membership benefits include access to bonus content, personalized RSS access, discounts on future "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" books and other perks.

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is an experiment in fiction distribution and neo-patronage. I believe that people will pay to read online fiction, especially when they know their dollars directly support the author with no intermediaries taking a cut. When folks subscribe to "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights," they're endorsing my work and quite literally supporting me both creatively and financially.

It's a heck of a deal, too. If you subscribe at the annual rate of $14.99, that's less than $0.60 per installment. If you prefer, you can subscribe at the six month rate for $9.99 or by the month for $1.99. There's also a one day / one time free trial available, so everyone should at least check it out and read a few installments. Anyone who enjoys character-driven fiction and engaging, moving storytelling will like "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights."

To answer your question, "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is ongoing. There is no limit to the number of installments planned. Since I've got at least twenty years of character history to write about, that's a lot of story to tell.

Q: Do you plan to podcast "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights"?

A: Due to the time-intensive nature of podcasting, I originally had no plans to podcast the individual installments of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights." Some of the members have asked about it, though, so I've put it to them to express their opinion in a survey. I'll be announcing the results, my decision and my thoughts toward the end of June, 2009. Watch the "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" news blog for more!

Q: Who is your favorite writer?

A: I don't really think in terms of favorites. My favorite anything changes over time, as I change and as context changes.

That said, I can list some of the authors who have inspired and influenced me over the years: Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Philip Roth, James Ellroy, Tim Powers... that's off the top of my head.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A: Don't just write; write what you love. Don't worry about genre or markets or what's hot right now, yesterday or next week. Don't try to predict the market -- make a market.

Everything else I could say, like writing all the time, doing many drafts, blah blah blah... you can get that stuff from any writer or any how-to book. Some of it will work for you, some of it work, none of it is set in stone. Experiment with your work and how you do your work. Find what works for you. You're the only boss. Just keep working.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk, Roberto! I hope you and your readers check out "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights!"

"It's like the explosion of a kernel of popcorn. You've got this little thing with so much potential ... and it expands in front of you." ~ Stephenie Meyer


Rebecca said...

Wow, Wow, and wow again.

Totally awesome blog. I;ll be mentioning this one thanks rob!

BTW the contest for mentoring at my blog is now up...

Matthew Wayne Selznick said...

Thanks for the opportunity to be interviewed, Roberto... and if anyone has any questions I can answer, I'll keep an eye out -- just put them in the comment thread!

See you all at "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights!"