Do you remember what I said last week about meeting other authors at conventions. I served on a couple of panels at Denver Comic Con a few weeks ago with Bryan Young, an up and upcoming writer from the Salt Lake City area. He has creative irons in a number of fires, as you’ll see below, from fiction to film-making to screenplays to editing to journalism.
TH: What is The Story of Bryan? Is it a novel? A WWII time-travel thriller?
BY: I think that’s a complicated one and it would take a long time to tell. It would require viewing a few documentaries, a few feature films, and reading a massive body of work, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as a number of novels. Perhaps time travel would make it easier. And certainly having Nazis chasing you as you skipped through time reading about my story would make things more interesting.
At its core, though, the story of Bryan is one of a hardworking guy who needs to tell stories.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
BY: My first taste of wanting to be a writer came with an award I won for a short story I’d written in the fifth grade academic olympics. It grew exponentially when I had a creative teacher in 8th grade (whom I still talk to and am ever grateful for) showed me what you could do with the written word. It exploded when I sold a short story to a magazine (that has been gratefully lost to time) when I was in high school. Whether it was in prose or screenplays and movies, I couldn’t NOT write.
I imagine I knew the same way people describe their sexual orientation. It’s just biology. You don’t choose, you are. I’m a writer, good or bad.
TH: How would you describe your body of work thus far?
BY: Eclectic and prolific. My first novel, Lost at the Con, was a humorous take on convention culture (think Hunter S. Thompson going to Dragon*Con), my second novel was a WWII time travel thriller called Operation: Montauk. I’ve written four other books, all unpublished, that are in a different genre. One’s a literary coming of age story, the next was a Steampunk take on World War I by way of Hemingway and Graham Greene. I’m putting hard work into a revision on a sci-fi western I’m working on now, and still trying to put the finishing touches on the first draft of a sci-fi-horror piece.
But that’s just novel length prose. My short stories range from romance to fantasy, science fiction to horror, literary to superheroes.
And in the field of journalism I cover many topics for Huffington Post, the official Star Wars blog, and am the editor-in-chief of Big Shiny Robot!
Then there are the films… Two features and three documentaries and more on the way. And there are comics in there, too. And a bunch of other things.
So yes, eclectic and prolific.
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?
BY: Right now, I’m doing a dance with some agents and I really want to try my hand at some licensed work in someone else’s Universe. I’ve got a couple of leads I’m in contention for, but I would really love to play in those sandboxes. I’m also working on some serialized fiction. I think some of the best storytelling going on right now is in television and I’d love to take that serialized structure to digital publishing and print collections.
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? What does that look like?
BY: I think my first book, that literary coming of age tale, has very little chance of seeing the light of day. Who knows, maybe some more re-writes could make that publishable, but it was the first novel where I sat down and felt “I can do this” and I did.
I have a hard drive full of stories I wrote back in the day that just look awful and I wouldn’t want to show anyone. And I have a dozen screenplays that, unless I become very wealthy, probably won’t see anything. Screenwriting was where all of my initial, post-school training went. And I still love screenwriting, but I’ve taken to novels because getting them in front of people is an easier, more direct process.
I must have written millions of words in screenplays and shorts before I started publishing prose, which is a totally different beast.
TH: What is it about the screenplay form that appeals to you? How is it different from narrative prose?
BY: That is a very long question. I love the form because I think in movies. Anyone who read my novels would notice instantly that all of my strengths and weaknesses stem from the fact that I’m thinking about things from the angle of a screenwriter and a director. Novels take more work for me for that reason. But screenplays are a different beast altogether, with different rules, different shortcuts, different lingo, and in that medium, I find I have a lot of fun.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
BY: First drafts. Getting my ideas out there in that rushed and hurried frenzy of the first draft. I love tinkering with people and stories and stringing them together and there is nothing to me more inspiring than taking that first pass at creation. I love it. I couldn’t live without it.
TH: What about the writing business is most painful?
BY: Having to deal with business altogether. I wish I could just write my story perfect the first time, skipping revisions, and then just upload it to the world and not have to deal with marketing and sales and everything else that we have to do as writers. But that’s part of the job, so I find ways to enjoy it and grit my teeth. If I wasn’t doing this, I have no other marketable skills, so if I don’t play along with the painful aspects of the business, I don’t eat.
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?
BY: I’ve constantly felt that at any moment I can feel a tap on my shoulder and a man will be there, asking to see my ID, inspect it closely, comparing my face to the photo for a long minute, then say, “No, sir. You’re in the wrong place, you’ll have to leave.”
Success and “making it” is an ever changing goal line. I revise what that goal is every day. Right now, my definition of it would be a big publishing deal, or a contract to write a licensed book. After I accomplish that, it will be something else.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
BY: Not when I’m writing. I do, obviously, when I’m in marketing mode, or whatever. I think all authors, whether they like it or not, are building a brand with their name, a trust with readers to say, “If you like this book, other books with my name will be as good.”
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be adding a little TM to my name at all. I just need to be genuine and honest, and the brand really is JUST me. That makes it easier, I think. And since I think (I hope!) I’m likable enough, that the brand works as just that.
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
BY: What I call indirect marketing has been what I find the most effective. I’ll do an interview on Huffington Post with, say, Scott Bakula, and we’ll talk about Star Trek. At the bottom of that post is a link that says I’m also an author. If people who like what I’m doing in that arena, they like the questions I’m asking of people they want to hear from, then maybe they’ll want to read my prose.
Conventions are another great way to do it. I just got done at Origins Game Fair, which is building a sizable stable of writers who teach seminars and sell books and I met so many amazing people and taught them what I could and they repaid me by checking out my work.
TH: How did you come to participate in Origins? Are there other conventions you have found particularly useful and enjoyable?
BY: I had met Mike Stackpole at Dragon*Con more than a few years ago, and he’d invited me to participate in his Chain Story project (http://chainstory.stormwolf.com/). I wrote a novella length steampunk story for that called “The Colossus” and we had more conversations about that. When Origins was starting its Library program, Mike asked me if I’d have the novel he’d coaxed me into publishing, “Lost at the Con,” ready in time for the convention, because he’d love to have me participate. I flew out and found a table with my name on it to sell books from, and a schedule full of writing seminars for me to teach. I just got back from my third year in the Library at Origins and it might be one of my favorite conventions.
As to the other question, every convention is useful (though some, like San Diego Comic Con, may no longer be enjoyable). It’s all about meeting people with similar interests, talking to potential readers, and passing on what knowledge you have, limited as it might be. It’s just a great experience and a thrilling exchange of ideas.
TH: Are you part of any writer communities in your local area?
BY: I am, actually. There’s a small group of us locally that get together and critique each other’s work. The larger writing group I’m a part of is much more national in scale. A number of us meet every year (usually on the East Coast, the last two years have been in Washington, D.C.) and spend a weekend sight-seeing and critiquing our work. The group (which consists of people like myself, Aaron Allston and Janine Spendlove) travels the con-circuit quite a bit and we sometimes get the band together at those events to workshop our stories as well.
TH: What are some of your craziest ideas for building an audience?
BY: A giant hot air balloon with my face travelling cross-country?
I dunno. Any idea I have to build an audience all boils down to just trying to tell good stories and let people know they exist.
TH: Can you recall a moment when a two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
BY: Definitely. I read a lot of Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway and fell in love with their ways of telling very human stories. Their time spent discussing times of war were incredibly influential and a story spun out of that. But then I realized that no one I had in my audience would care about that story, and so my love of science fiction led me to Steampunk and I built a version of World War I with that to set my tale in.
I think it’s a very cool idea, but I’ll have to leave others to decide if it really is.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
BY: Well, I’m prepping for publication a science-fiction/western hybrid called “The Serpent’s Head.” It’s about a gunslinger on the outer rim of colonized space who comes across a town massacred by a band of mutants. There, he finds the only survivors are three children who need his help in order to live. It really is a spaghetti western in space.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
I think one of the most memorable moments was last year when my second book, Operation: Montauk, had come out. I was at a convention and my table was next to Timothy Zahn’s. After me pitching my book all weekend, Tim came over to my table and tried to buy a copy of my book and asked me to sign it. I tried giving him the book, as a token of my appreciation for all the inspiration he’d offered me with his books, but he held fast. “No. I’m paying you. You’re a professional writer, and professional writer’s get paid.”
That moment never fails to wow me when I think back to it.