Yes, we’re baaaaack. It’s a been a hiatus, I know, but this summer has been devoted to craft, connections, and career building. After a tremendous experience at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, I came home fresh and motivated to attend OSFest 2, the Omaha Science Fiction Education Society’s second annual science fiction convention, whereat I was pleased to meet Marcus Pelegrimas, a fellow Omaha-based author, whose novel series Skinners has just debuted from EOS Books. We participated in a panel for writers on avoiding the biggest mistakes that novice writers make, and the panel went extremely well, even generating compliments after the panel had concluded. Marcus is a full-time writer with a significant number of books under his belt, and he loves Ye Olde Monster Tale. Read on.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
MP: I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I wrote little monster stories when I was a little kid, but the real foreshadowing was that I used to fold up the books, staple them and try to sell them the way other kids used to sell lemonade. I wrote several short stories for anthologies all across the board ranging from mystery and western to horror. In my early and mid twenties, I was fortunate enough to get a few ghostwriting jobs and then made the leap into full time-writing a little over 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had two series in the western genre and have gotten my own monster series (Skinners) off the ground. Now it’s just a matter of staying afloat.
TH: What was your first non-ghostwriting sale?
MP: My very first sale was a short story in a small press mystery magazine called Red Herring. It was a story about a bounty hunter who later resurfaced as one of the characters in Skinners. The Man From Boot Hill was the first novel. Even though it’s a Galloway book, it’s still my own pseudonym and not someone else’s so that doesn’t count as ghostwriting.
TH: What is The Story of Marcus? Is it a novel? A short story? An urban fantasy of some sort?
MP: I guess I’d say it’s more of an inspirational comedy. Something along the lines of A Christmas Story meets Rocky. I’ve always been the geeky guy who gets more excited about new comic book movies or video games than the World Series. There’s always been a plan in my life and I’ve been very focused on it for a long time. The comedy is a necessary part of any writer’s life because there are an insane amount of hurdles put in front of anyone trying to make it in this business. You’ve either got to laugh at the ridiculous things that happen or you’ll be crushed by them. In many ways, trying to be creative on a professional level will drive you out of your mind. The inspirational part comes from the geeky guy actually finding a woman who doesn’t think he’s a colossal nerd and harnessing the craziness long enough to make a living at doing something he loves. I’m a long way from being the champ, but just seeing my monster stories on a shelf in an actual bookstore makes me want to look at my wife and say, “Yo, Megan. I did it!”
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
MP: Like I said earlier, I’ve always written. Unfortunately, it took me a while to think I could do it for a living. I was always looking for some other “real job” to do while I wrote on the side. I went all the way through college to get a degree in Criminal Justice so I could get a job in federal law enforcement and then write in my spare time. It wasn’t until I went on that first job interview, put on the suit and realized I truly couldn’t do it. I was a writer all the way down to the bone and just didn’t know it. Trying to wrap a tie around that guy and stick him into a government job just doesn’t fly. I wanted to run away and do whatever it took to be a writer so that’s what I did. I took whatever jobs I could to pay the bills and wrote at every opportunity. It was rough (and still is) but worth it in so many ways.
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?
MP: Right now I’m just striving for the next contract. That’s pretty much where I always am. When I get one, I get happy about it for a week or so and then look ahead to what I can do to carry me along after that’s done. The Skinners series is more “me” than anything I’ve done so far. Seeing those get into bestseller range would be a special triumph. I’ve never had a bestseller, so I guess that’s where my sights are set.
TH: What is your typical workday like?
MP: I get up and collect my thoughts for a while. Putz around the internet, answer emails, fix any computer issues that inevitably crop up, walk the dog and start working. I’ll write about 2-3 pages and then take a little break, repeating that cycle until it’s time for dinner. Later that night, I start in again, repeating the 2-3 page cycle until I’ve written 12-20 pages for the day. After that, it’s time to wind down and go to bed. If I’m editing something, it’s pretty close to that except I try to edit anywhere from 20-50 pages of a manuscript per day. Depending on how much needs to be fixed, that can be twice as hard as writing from scratch.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skill to publishable?
MP: Definitely! I’ve had ideas for entire series that never went anywhere and when I look back on them, I see why. Most of the ideas are good, but the writing just isn’t up to par. Some of the earlier stuff really helped me cut my teeth, even though it’s nowhere near good enough to be sold. I’d like to rework a few of them someday, but others just need to stay in the drawer. Those build a writer’s foundation and may come out in other ways. For example, in Skinners, I used a character that I’d tried several times to get going in a series all his own. Finally, I put the project away. When Skinners came along, I thought this character would be great in that universe. Even though he’s kind of minor in that series, he belongs there more than he did on his own. Since I didn’t have a lot of formal writing education, I had to sharpen my skills by just writing and writing and writing until my stuff became good enough to read.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
MP: Music really inspires me. For every project I do, there’s a soundtrack in my head. Sometimes I listen to movie scores or I pick out a bunch of songs that go along with certain scenes. I can picture the action like a movie and the more I listen to it, the further along the scene progresses. When the scene’s over, I write it.
Another big inspiration is thinking about what would happen if I gave up. Going back to the Rocky thing, there are times when you’ve just got to grit your teeth and dig in to survive. That’s a constant fight and it truly does keep me going. I can NOT let myself be beaten down to the point where I quit. It may just be stubbornness, but it’s pulled me through a lot of hard times.
TH: What are some of your musical selections?
MP: Most of what I listen to for Skinners is rock or metal. Skinners #1 was a lot of Led Zeppelin and Disturbed. Skinners #2 shifted more into Black Label Society and CCR (Bad Moon Rising). Skinners #3 drifted toward Metallica. There’s other stuff I listen to for just about everything like The Beatles and White Zombie. Quite a mix, but it all depends on the mood I’m in or what sort of thing I’m writing at the time.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
MP: The most fun is definitely coming up with new series and characters. That brings me all the way back to my youth, thinking about what a really cool werewolf would look like or what it would be able to do. Then I can think of an awesome hero and how he/she would fight all these great bad guys. For westerns, it’s imagining an exciting gunfight or a unique gambler. All of that stuff is the essence of writing for me. Everyone sits around thinking about stuff like that at times, but writers actually get to breathe life into it. How cool is that?
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
MP: All of the promotional stuff seems so hit and miss to me. I’m just not as into the business aspects of writing as I should be. One important thing is to keep getting out there. Some signings are great and others completely tank. Some readings turn out well and others are nothing but empty seats. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great folks at my local newspaper (The Omaha World Herald) and have gotten some great publicity that way. Some radio interviews turned out great, too.
I’ve seen some ads for novels in comic books. For a series like Skinners, I think that may be a great thing to explore. Plenty of comic book readers (like me) read a lot of other things as well and that would hit a lot of the same people who would enjoy my work.
TH: What’s the best way for authors to make contacts with local media outlets?
MP: I just call them up and tell them who I am and what I’d like to do. Newspapers are always looking for local stories, so they’ll try to get you in there somewhere. The same goes with bookstores. Just go in, act like a professional and present yourself to the manager about a signing or whatever. More recently, my publisher has been setting me up with some radio spots, so that’s nice. Even so, I still haven’t given up on pounding the pavement for myself to get what I can.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? 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?
MP: On one level, I do think I’ve “made it”. I felt that after I was able to quit my day job, write full time and keep it up. There’s a very small percentage (like somewhere around 5% I think) of writers who write professionally and do nothing else. After a few years where my books were starting to hit the shelves and I wasn’t going to have to flip through the want ads, I felt like I was finally doing a job that I loved. That’s definitely making it.
On another level, I know I’ve still got a ways to go. While I am a full time writer, doing what I love, I still have to stress about getting that next contract. It would be VERY nice to get a series well established enough that I could actually relax for a while and write it. I love writing Skinners, but I’m constantly wringing my hands about the next contract. Cracking the bestseller list or getting a bit more security would put me in a comfortable spot that I’ve never been in before. Compared to someone with an office job, I’m ALWAYS in danger of getting a pink slip. Then again, even if I did get a few big contracts, I’d probably still worry about the next one. That’s just a part of the dance.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
MP: That’s definitely true. There are a lot of business aspects to writing. Unfortunately, that’s my weakest spot. I take more of an approach that relies on quality and originality of work to see me through. When it comes to business savvy and marketing, I think I do ok. I’m more of a wheeler and dealer in that arena. Always looking to see what editors need and trying to give it to them. That way, when I have something fresh and new, those same editors will be more likely to give me a chance. From the marketing angle, I just get out there as much as possible and do whatever I can. Some of it works, some doesn’t. I figure if I keep at it, at least I’m visible.
TH: Do you write under any pseudonyms? If so, how do you handle them?
MP: Yes. I write my westerns under the pseudonym Marcus Galloway. Naturally, I wanted everything to be under my real name, but editors and agents prefer it if you use a different name for different genres. At least, they do as long as your name isn’t Stephen King. Dealing with pseudonyms isn’t really an issue. Westerns are Galloway, horror/dark fantasies are Pelegrimas. Everything else is usually on a project by project basis so I’m just careful to put the correct name on the header of each page.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
MP: I just got finished with Skinners #3 and sent it in. That’s been consuming me for the last few months and I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’ve got a lot of other lines in the water. There’s a few western projects to do next. Also, I’ve been shopping around several other series. One’s a science fiction series that’s been kicking around in the back of my head for years. Another one is an urban fantasy that’s got a lot more dark humor than Skinners and has a mad scientist vibe going on that would be a lot of fun to do. There’s a crime series that needs a home and a few straight horror projects. As far as Skinners goes, I’ve got plans for more story arcs in the future that show their roots in history and expand out to other parts of the world. I’ve only gotten started on that one!
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
MP: If I had to pick one, it would actually be a signing. It wasn’t the first, since most of those were in the “fair to depressing” range. My local paper ran a great article on me right around the release of one of my westerns from the Man from Boot Hill series. I arranged a signing to go along with it and hoped at least 5 or 6 people would show. When I arrived, there was a line of folks waiting to get books signed. I was blown away! I don’t know how many were there, but it was a lot more than 6. Unless you’re a star, signings are usually pretty slow. Having that many people show up truly touched me. It was a genuine high point after a whole string of long nights and tedious editing sessions.