Quincy Allen is one of those writers whose persona follows him around conventions. You’re just as likely to see him in full steampunk regalia, complete with mohawk and monocle, as in leather sport jacket and looking almost normal. The bottom line, however, is still all about the hard work, and here’s a guy who works hard. With one novel under his belt, and several short stories, he’s still near the beginning of his career, but I suspect he’s going to be around for a while. I also happen to know he’s not a bad poker player.
TH: What is the Story of Quincy? A steampunk shoot-out? A multi-genre trek through wastelands of shattered, renewed dreams?
QA: It’s funny you should ask it in that fashion. I’m currently wrapping up a story (the opener) for a short story collection that 7DS Books will be putting out this year. I bill myself as a “cross-genre” author, and this, my first collection, reflects how uncommitted to any specific genre I am. I don’t like boxes or being put inside them. Perhaps it’s the mohawk.
The collection is currently titled Out Through the Attic, and the opening story is about a young homeless man who saves an older fellow from street thugs. The young man is then given the key to a gateway that opens upon any dream he can imagine. The collection is an attempt to relate how my dreams take me just about anywhere and anywhen. As a result, my writing takes me and my readers to myriad places across both space and time. They can be fantastic, horrific, scientific or whatever. My brain knows few boundaries, with the biggest probably coming in the form of romance writing. A romance writer, I’m not.
TH: What were your first serious creative impulses that led you to a creative career?
QA: Like most of “us” (meaning writers) I’ve always written in one form or another. Fiction and poetry made its way to the page or screen before me throughout the entirety of my life. I achieved success in college through term papers, presentations and dissertations of one kind or another, mostly because it was the easiest path for me to navigate. And in pretty much every job I had after college, I was the guy who got “volunteered” to do the documentation for the department or organization.
As a career, though? That didn’t happen until I was forty-three years old. I came from the IT industry, and it’s like any other business. When a company gets bought, the new owners pretty much look to minimize their costs right out of the gate in order to increase the value of their investment. That means that middle managers are the first to go, particularly when the middle managers in question have trained one or more members of their team to be self-sufficient. So, one bright, sunny July morning, I found myself staring down at a pink slip, a severance check, some vacation pay and a fair chunk of stock options. It gave me six months of life where I didn’t have to work.
In a nutshell, I’d had a belly full of corporate America, politics, and yuppie bullshit. So, faced with the question, “What the hell do I do now,” I decided to laugh in the face of becoming a starving artist and decided right then and there to become an author. I wrote a 144k-word novel in two months and started working the con circuit. I wrote short stories and submitted them around. I got a few hits, but I found the pace of success to be a bit problematic. I’m a bit long in the tooth to be starting a new career, and I’m rather impatient, so I had to accelerate the process. I produced some anthologies and did as much writing as I could whilst working contract jobs as a tech writer.
The most important thing I did was define a five-year plan. At the end of those five years, I needed to have at least one novel out in the world and, preferably, with a publisher that wasn’t myself. I’m coming up on four years this July, and as of this year, my first novel will be carried by WordFire Press (owned by Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta). I’ll have a short story collection published by 7DS, a military sci-fi novel published by Twisted Core Press, and a steampunk novel published also by WordFire. While it’s unlikely that any of those will be a “breakout” work, the fact is that I’m ahead of schedule on my five-year plan, and things seem to be shaping up. 2014 promises to be a great year.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skills?
QA: I guess I’d have to say that I have writing that both always and never will see the light of day. I have stacks of notepad sheets and a hard drive full of ideas and starts. I have a few novel starts as well as short stories that go back to my twenties. Most will never see the light of day in the form they are in. However, I’m of the opinion that no idea should be thrown away. Sometimes such ideas are seeds. Sometimes they fuel other ideas and stories. Sometimes they need just a rehash to become worthwhile stories today. And sometimes I’m just not ready to write them.
There’s one story in particular, a novel start that will be finished… once I’m good enough. I have about 40k words of it done, words that have been sitting for over two years. I have a few readers from an old critique group who still ask me when I’m going to finish it. The truth is that the story and how it was evolving is better than I am today. Once I get a couple more novels under my belt, with all the developmental edits that are going to be handed back to me from editors, I should be able to tackle Curse of the Devoted. I’ll finish it, and shop it, and maybe then… after five years of grinding away at this business, I’ll have a break out novel. Only time will tell.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
QA: This gets me back to that five-year plan. I’ve written short stories and had them published both independently and in other people’s collections. I’ve got novels coming out. Frankly, I’m ahead of the schedule I set myself. But there’s one thing I don’t have yet, and 2014 is the year I need to make it happen: a PRO sale.
I literally just submitted a short story to Daily Science Fiction, and I should hear back in the next couple of weeks as to whether or not I made the cut. I’ll keep submitting to them, and I’m going to submit more short stories to places like Analog and Asimov’s and Clarkesworld. I need to get a story into Writers of the Future as well as a few other places. My primary objective is to get that pro sale and turn it into a string of them. I need to get into SWFA (yes, I intend to become a member regardless of the internal turmoil that organization has been experiencing), and I want to be able to sit on panels or at bars with my peers and be able to say, “Yes, I hit the next milestone.”
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
QA: I guess the best part of writing is finishing a short story or novel. There’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction and achievement once a work is “complete.” Granted, no story is ever perfect, but there has to come a time when you say, “Enough. That’s as good as I’m going to make it.” There are plenty of people who say they want to be writers. But the list grows much shorter when you talk about those who actually finish a story, those who submit a story, and those who get published. The list gets infinitesimal by comparison for those who actually complete a novel… and the same reduction in numbers applies as one gets to those who have published a novel, even self-published.
I think my favorite part is discovering “what happens next.” I’m mostly a “pantser” writer. I’m working an outline for the military sci-fi novel, but even then, what specifically happens to and by the characters is not something that’s really in my head until I sit down and write it. In fact, there are plenty of times when what happens next requires me to go back and change what happened before. I bounce around in a manuscript, and that first writing can be as much or more of a discovery for me than the final novel becomes for an eventual reader.
You see, when I write a novel, there are bits and pieces—back- and fore-story—that may never see the light of day. I got to discover, for example, what happened to Justin Case before he came to Earth. I got to discover what happened to Jake Lasater before and during the Civil War. I know what happened to Kara’s father before she was born. I discovered countless things that will never see the light of day in a book.
All of this gets back to Out Through the Attic. When I’m writing a story, I’m discovering a dream that has yet to be dreamed, and because the real world is rather mundane and frequently less-than-satisfactory from an adventure perspective, my stories allow me to do things and see places that no one will ever know.
It’s a remarkable feeling.
TH: Have you reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as an writer? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
QA: Well, I guess I’d have to differentiate between writer, author, and professional author. I’ve made it as a writer, and I think I hit that milestone when I had editors asking me for my work. There were people out in the world who knew I wrote more than casually and, by definition, didn’t think I sucked at it. I will consider myself an author when I have at least one novel published by someone who isn’t me. Granted, technically, an author is anyone who has written a novel, but in this day and age, I think that the cutoff should be “having written one and had someone else willing to invest in it enough to give it some legs in the marketplace.” I guess I’ll cross that threshold this year. I promise to let you know what the experience is once I have it.
The last and final milestone for me is something altogether different. I currently work a day job and supplement my income by doing the print and eBook designs for WordFire Press. I’ll be a professional author when I can put all of that behind me and generate enough income from my fiction writing to do nothing else. My workdays will involve getting up in the morning, writing for anywhere from two to eight hours a day, and producing three or more novels a year that continue to feed my retirement.
I suspect that milestone is a few years away at best. The day I cross that threshold, there is going to be one HELL of a party, with single-malt scotch and Cuban cigars and jazz and probably a trip to someplace where there are palm trees and beaches and coral reefs and those fruity rum drinks with the little umbrellas in them.
TH: Some say that artists have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
QA: Absolutely. Unequivocally. Certainment! (as my French ancestors would say). Even in the good old days of only Publishers, Agents, and a short list of novelists who made it past the gauntlet of gatekeepers, a writer was a business owner where his or her product was writing. I come from a corporate background where I was working with marketing people and business development people and sales people. My one and only mentor taught me the importance of business, because business is how we pay the bills. Anyone who says otherwise is living off someone else’s dime or is a wannabe Communist (which is a great idea right up intil you inject good, old, bloody-minded Homo sapiens into the mix).
What that all means is that I’ve worked hard for four years to create an image and brand (see mohawk), and I do what I can to get out in front of potential customers online and at conventions. I treat my profession like an actual profession, in short because I want to get paid enough to live off of it for doing so. I can’t say that I’m always successful. I’ve stumbled a few times, and I have a million things to still learn about the business of writing, but I can honestly say I’m ahead of the curve as compared to many. Not most and certainly not all, but some. And for being only four years into this new career, I’d say I’m doing pretty well.
TH: A lot of the authors interviewed grumble a bit about the necessity of becoming a business (perhaps they feel it takes a bit away from the art of being an author?) but you seem more than happy about it! Do you ever feel that the self-promotion and business generation interferes with your writing?
QA: Well, I’m not sure I’d use the word “happy.” I think that promotion and marketing is a necessary facet of any business. And for those who have chosen the indie or hybrid path of authorship, they’re business owners in the purest sense of the word. Not only that, but unless they already have money falling out of their butts, they’ve taken on manufacturing, quality control, HR, accounting, sales, marketing and distribution. That’s what it is to be an indie or hybrid author.
I also believe that for me, anyway, there is no other title I’d rather have than Professional Author. It comes down to a very simple reality. There was a time when Publishers treated authors like celebrities. Schedules were provided, itineraries sent, plane tickets and cab rides arranged. Production, quality control, marketing and distribution were all handled by folks living on dreary old Manhattan. But today, even for the traditional path author, the gravy train is mostly gone… not completely, but it’s just around the corner. And the fact is that I’m rather old to be starting a career. I don’t have time to wait on agents and publishers and editors and cover artists in New Your to take four years to “discover me” and another two years to get my first book out to wait another three years for the next and hopefully viable sales enough for them to keep me on a leash. Geologically speaking, I’m going to be dead soon, and I don’t handle orders well. So, it’s not that I’m happy about doing the self promotion. It’s that I’d much rather be doing that job I don’t necessarily like than I would doing a job in someone else’s cube-farm… grinding their wheat… and building their future. A cog I am not. That last bit is relevant if you’ve read the opening short story in my upcoming collection Out Through the Attic.
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
QA: Thus far, conventions and networking have been the most successful mechanisms for getting the word out. My fan base, small though it is, came almost exclusively from convention appearances. Getting picked up by WordFire was as a result of networking with an Internationally Best Selling Author at a convention. Facebook networking put me in contact with the folks over at 7DS and Twisted Core.
I must admit that there are still folks who sit at home, write their novels in solitude, and get picked up by publishers. It’s what many refer to as the “traditional” path to publication. It works, to be sure. But that method is, no matter how you slice it, little more than dropping a steel rod in a field during a thunderstorm and hoping someone else raises it above your head so you get struck by lightning.
The path I’ve taken is different. It still requires getting struck by lightning, but the difference is that I’m planting multiple steel rods under multiple thunderstorms. I’m wiring them all together and pulling those cables taught with an electrode screwed directly into the base of my skull. If you play roulette, it’s the difference between playing one number and playing a lot of them.
It’s a not-so-subtle difference, and from what I’m seeing in eBook sales growth these days, I’d say my chances are significantly better to achieve my goals than the guy whose going the traditional path. I do have to also say that that guy, if he does get struck, has a better chance of making more dinero in one lump sum at some point, but the odds are in my favor of making revenue sooner and transitioning to full time author.
TH: Do you have an author that you model your career after?
QA: A model. I think you’re giving me more credit than I deserve. I have a business plan. I have milestones for when I want and need to achieve certain objectives. I’ve even hit those milestones, with this year hopefully hitting the big milestone of making a pro sale and getting at least one novel out produced by a publisher that isn’t me. It looks like I’ll have two or three things that will fit those requirements. But a model I’ve based this off of?
A lot of this is virgin territory… not just for me, but for most indie and hybrid authors. And frankly, I’ve been making a lot of this up as I went along. I’ve talked to lots of authors, read blogs, tried to teach myself as much as I could about the publishing process and who the players are. But when it comes right down to it, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants from day one. It’s sort of in my nature, and some would call it a severe character flaw. Only time will tell on that one. All I know is that if I can die having earned enough of a living to keep a house over my head and food in my belly, I’ll have died happy. It makes doing the marketing an insignificant price to pay.
TH: Can you recall a moment when two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
QA: I guess there is one good example. The military sci-fi novel I’m working on now has its roots in an Alan Parson’s song titled “Sirius” and, more significantly, one called “I Robot.” Those songs set an image in my head a number of years back where a lonely warrior knows he’s about to die. He stands in a downpour, protected in the rainshadow of a fifty-foot tall mech. He steps to the edge of a cliff and looks down upon a valley full of enemies. He sighs, steps into his battledress, and heads out to kill as many as he can before succumbing to numbers—valiant nobility in the face of insurmountable odds.
That vision needed a setting, however. It needed a story arc that had some meaning. When I combined that vision with today’s political troubles of Corporate Oligarchy ruling the roost, I realized that a young man who comes from corporate wealth might want to change the landscape. He then turns his back on his father’s corporate wealth and joins a band of battledress-clad mercenaries who are hired to protect innocents from Corporate greed.
The story has some “Seven Samurai” and “The Maginificent Seven” feel to it, but I hope it will be different enough and meaningful enough to tantalize and engross readers.
TH: What gets the creative juices flowing? Music? Long walks? Stroking the mohawk?
QA: I let others stroke the mohawk. I’ve been really amazed at how many people ask to do that. It’s weird, but I never say no. As to creative juices, I rely heavily upon music. I have a library of around 20,000 songs, and I let random serve up what it will most days. That’s just to get through whatever grind I’m in the middle of, and generally applies to my day gig and to the book design stuff I do. However, when I really need to sit down and crank out word count, I generally go to DubStep. You’ll even find a link on my website under “Author Tools” that points at Airwave DubStep on YouTube. I’ll fire that bad boy up, turn it up loud, and then disappear into my “attic” where the stories are. I guess Sherlock would refer to it as his Brain Palace. The analogy is probably closer to the mark than I ever really considered before now.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as a writer?
QA: There are two that stand out. The first was when an editor told me that the story I’d submitted to her actually brought tears to her eyes. The story is titled “Family Heirlooms,” and it’s a steampunk take on the Underground Railroad. I’m rather proud of that one, and I was delighted to hear it had the effect it did. The other was when a publisher told me straight up that she wanted a novel from me. I’d asked her if their anthology imprint would be interested in my short story collection Out Through the Attic, and she said definitely, but the deal would have to include me writing a novel for them. It was a success on many levels, and I doubt I’ll ever forget that moment.
TH: What is in your “have to read next” pile?
QA: Halo books, Hammer’s Slammers, and anything with powered armor. I have a novel due by June 30th, and I’m doing research on battle dress and combat involving really big, dangerous machines. I just finished Armor by John Steakley, and I’ve read Starship Troopers, but I needed something a bit more contemporary to know what fans of powered armor are buying.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
QA: I actually have the next eighteen months mapped out. In this order, I have to finish the short story for the short story collection, I have to finish editing Blood Curse to get that to WordFire, and then I have to apply whatever revisions come back from them for Chemical Burn. Once those are behind me, I need to write Last Stand at the Gates of Eden for Twisted Core, and that deadline is June 30th. Once I wrap that up, I need to write Dios De Los Muertos, the sequel to Chemical Burn. When I finish that up, I want to finish Paragon, which is a YA steampunk-esque novel set in the distant future on a distant world. And finally, when that’s all done, I plan on revisiting Curse of the Devoted. By that time, I believe I’ll have the juice I need to finish that novel and give it the quality it deserves. And amidst all of that, I need to get enough pro short fiction sales to get into SFWA.
Piece of cake.
TH: In twenty years, what will you have to say of your writing career?
QA: I wish I could say with any certainty. What I’d like to be able to say is that “my body of work entertained readers across the globe, and my writing enabled me to retire to a quiet, tropical home abroad where I spend my days reading, writing, scuba diving, and going deep sea fishing for the sushi I eat every day. However, there is also the likelihood that I’ll never make it. That my book sales won’t pick up. That I’ll die with what I laughingly refer to as “Salieri Syndrome.” Salieri Syndrome is the curse of being able to recognize genius (and success) in others but never being able to produce it oneself. The reality will probably be somewhere between the two.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
QA: I just wanted to thank you for giving me this opportunity. For an indie and hybrid author, the most valuable thing in the world is when others, writers or not, are willing to take time and put the word out. You’re doing that for me here and now, and I consider it a privilege… an honor. And yes, I know that may sound a bit hokey, but it doesn’t change how meaningful it is when other people are willing to talk about your work or career. I’m truly grateful… so thank you. I really do appreciate it.