Each week, I’ll pester one of my creative colleagues with five questions about his or her work and, if I’m feeling wicked, deeply personal issues. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.
Blake Hausladen is interesting to me, as so many other writers are, because of the similarities and differences in our careers. We both began with an English degree, but while I went on to an unmarketable Master’s, he earned a practical MBA from from Chicago’s Stuart School of Business. While I jumped from academia to magazine editing, Blake spent seventeen years in the financial industry. And while I now devote all my time to writing, he somehow manages to continue working in Chicago while writing in his free time.
Blake and I first met at a group signing at World Fantasy in Toronto, where I was flogging Pathfinder Tales and he was hand-selling his debut novel, Ghosts in the Yew.
1. At World Fantasy, yours was probably the most professional yet friendly greeting I’ve ever experienced at a convention. Is this your natural charm at work, or did you have to get good at it through convention experience? What advice can you offer writers looking to make contacts at conventions?
I have a fear of strangers and speaking in front of groups. What you saw was entirely learned, and learned the hard way. I spent the first seven years of my career working for a trust bank in Chicago, struggling to sell investment research. Successful sales in that business were always face to face. One of the senior salesman had written a book on maintaining personal wealth, and a conversation with him always included a powerful handshake and him putting that book in your hands—and more often than not, him taking cash in return. The key to it, I learned, is knowing that the book is not the product. The product is the author and so much matters: your personal appearance, how to engage, how to withdraw, and how you listen. To boil it down, though, into meaningful advice: 1) Get out there. Put yourself into a mix of people you do not know, and introduce yourself to them; and 2) watch and learn from others who do it well.
2. More and more people are self-publishing these days, often to great success. What lessons have you learned in creating Rook Creek that might help others considering the same path?
Two things: 1) know your costs and 2) know your costs. Does your printer offer a discount by weight? How many books do you need to order to get that discount? Which distribution channels offer you the highest profit margins? What percentage do the online and brick-and-mortars retailers take? What percentage does Square charge? If you print a thousand bookmarks, how many books would you have to sell to cover the cost? If you are going to a convention, how many books do you have to sell to cover the cost? How much will it cost for you to get your own ISBN? What are your annual catalog fees? What are your annual LLC or S-corp fees? If you need to ship a copy to a customer abroad, say in Edmonton, how much shipping and handling should you add to the cost? If you were able to switch from a print-on-demand model to a short-run model, how much would your profit margin change?
There are costs everywhere, and self-publishing is a business decision as much as anything else. You are signing yourself up for as complicated a small business as running a restaurant. Ignore the details of where your money is going at your own peril.
3. As I began Ghosts in the Yew, I noticed right away that we have something in common: alternating first-person narrators. What techniques do you use to make the different narrative voices distinct? Which of them are more challenging than the others? Which is the easiest or closest to your own voice?
I’ve used a number of methods when I am struggling—some helpful, other harmful. The helpful tactics include: writing each character in a different place, interacting with objects that are meaningful to the character (sword, wine, maps, horses), or listening to music the character would like. The less helpful/destructive tactics have included using different font sizes and colors, eliminating certain words from the characters vocabulary (no “I” or “then”), or prohibiting sentences that include certain punctuation (no commas or semi-colons). The tactic that has proven the best for me, however, is simply to reread the last two chapters in that character’s voice and just keep right on writing.
The hardest character for me to write was my first female voice. I rewrote her several times until I finally learned what she cared about. Her voice was far from my own—but that is true for all of the characters in Ghosts in the Yew. One of the new characters in Book Two is my voice and was a relaxing joy to write.
4. The setting of Zoviya, especially with its back-stabbing royal brothers, reminds me of certain of my favorite authors. Who are some of the writers whose work has most influenced you?
Our lists might well be quite similar. In more or less the order of how often I find myself wanting to reread them: Roger Zelazny, Louis McMaster Bujold, Lloyd Alexander, Glenn Cook, C.S. Forester, Guido Mina Di Sospiro, Harry Harrison, Harry Turtledove, J.V. Jones, and J. Gregory Keyes. And sitting next to my keyboard right now are Alexander’s The Kestrel, Bujold’s Warrior’s Apprentice, Di Sopiro’s The Story of Yew, and Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles. All of which will be reread before I start book three.
5. Apart from literature, what media influence your writing? Do you draw inspiration from roleplaying games, movies, or other art? How have they changed your perspective as a writer?
Hands down, photography and cartography. The Pinterest inspirations board I put up for the sequel is only a fraction of the images I collected as I was doing my primary research. They are static entry points for me to a different place and time—free of sound and motion. Staring at a single picture of a waterfall inspired half of Native Silver. The images that most inspired me are the ones that become subjects of the illustrations added to the finished product.
Check out the Kickstarter for Native Silver, the sequel to Blake’s Ghosts of the Yew. You can also check out his author website.