Sam Knight is an author from the Colorado Front Range, and he experiments with all sorts of genres, from SF to horror to weird tales to children’s books. I met Sam soon after I moved to the Denver area myself, and found an incredibly rich community of working professional fiction writers at various stages of their careers, from a few early sales to established pros. The number of areas that rival the Colorado Front Range in sheer number of writers could probably be counted on one hand. Sam is an active, friendly part of that community.
TH: What is The Story of Sam? Is it a novel? A collection of bizarre short stories? A family drama?
SK: I feel like it is more a mystery. Not your typical one though. Instead of solving the crime, I’m trying to figure out what it was that happened. You know that feeling that you were destined for something great, for something more than all of this? It’s kind of like that, except I have the strangest feeling that it already happened, and I can’t remember what it was. It’s silly, I know. But sometimes when I wake up and have a bruise, cut, or scrape I don’t remember getting, I start to wonder what memory the aliens stole from me this time…
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
SK: I never wanted to be a writer, per se, but I have wanted to have already written stuff my whole life. There was little mystique in the profession for me, but a lot in the end product, the finished story. When I was young, I became ill and found that reading allowed me to escape the misery of the illness. During that time, the thought occurred to me that the authors of the books I was reading had given me a great gift, and I really hoped that someday I could give it back. Unfortunately, many of those authors have passed on since, so instead I have my sights set on paying it forward.
TH: How would you describe your body of work thus far?
SK: Ha! A disheveled mess badly in need of a shower! I have been all over the place. I have played with horror, thriller, adventure, science fiction, western, children’s, and everything else that caught my fancy. It’s been kind of like having ADD. While this may not be so great for establishing a reader base that likes everything I do, I think it keeps me a lot more engaged which ultimately improves everything I do. Did you just hear an echo? I thought I heard an echo. Hmm. No matter.
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?
SK: Recently I have been teaching myself some different art programs on the computer. Some of it I find amazing, some just hurts my head. But I have found I really like it, and I hope to soon finish illustrating my own children’s book The Ant Who Held Down a Mountain. When I hold a print copy of that in my hand so I know it’s real, and I hear someone comment (not to me) on the art not being horrible, I will feel a real sense of accomplishment.
TH: What is it like learning to illustrate at this stage of your life? What tools are you using?
SK: It is both frustrating and therapeutic. I can easily lose myself in it for hours, but I never know if that is going to be in the creative process or in the “It doesn’t &*#!&$ work!” process of trying to figure out the programs. I have been trying to learn Manga Studio, Daz Studios, Poser, Hexagon, Anime Studio, Adobe Photoshop 11, Sculptris, Sketchbook, and a couple of others. It seems extreme, I know, but I seem to find things that I ‘need’ to do that only one will do, but none of the others will. It can be frustrating trying to switch things back and forth to get a desired effect. It really is hard to learn it yourself! For example, the Manga Studio PDF is in English, but all of the illustrations are in Japanese. That makes finding the right pull down menu a real pain!
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?
SK: When I was in elementary school, we had a personal journal we had to write in every week. We were told to write about whatever we wanted to, and it was expected that we would talk about what we had done during the week. I chose instead to write an ongoing story that would read kind of like a Dragonlance novel. Not that I would compare it to what Tracy and Laura Hickman and Margaret Weis accomplished. I started doing it based on what I wanted my D&D adventures to be like years before I ever saw the first Dragonlace! If I had seen one of theirs first, perhaps it could have seen the light of day, someday. Alas, now that I have remembered it, I think I need to go home and burn it.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
SK: I like to ‘get into the zone’. Sometimes when you watch a movie, or read a book, or go running, bike riding, whatever… you move into a zone where you lose self-awareness and become completely enthralled in what you are doing. You know what I mean. You never know you are there until something snaps you out of it. I like those moments while I’m writing. I like to feel like I was completely immersed in what I was creating.
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?
SK: Um. No. I guess. And yes. When you realize that you are sitting on a panel, next to an author you have admired for years, and you are answering questions, as an equal, it is most definitely a milestone moment. But as I mentioned earlier, the idea of being an author never truly held mystique for me. What I really want, all I really want, is to entertain. I suppose the milestone I am seeking is to hear from someone who I know is not out to stroke my ego (because as all family and friends of any type of artist know, we all need all the ego stroking we can get!), who just wanted to tell me how much they really enjoyed my story.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
SK: Not until recently. Because I was just interested in putting stories out there, I wasn’t too worried about it. But as time went on and I realized just how hard it is to make your stories available, I decided I needed to stop relying upon traditional methods and start doing some (most) of it myself. I have dipped my toe up to the waist into the self-publishing pond. This has forced me to re-think what I was doing. And yes, that makes me into a business, and a commodity. I have to make sure that I am representing myself appropriately at all times, otherwise I devalue myself.
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
SK: A smile and a handshake. Really. We see so many advertisements every day that we are darn near immune to them. I may never be able to promote myself in a ‘mass market’ manner, but every time I actually meet someone, and they are impressed with me enough to give my work a chance, I have done better than thousands of ignored advertisements.
TH: What are some of your craziest ideas for building an audience?
SK: I thought about becoming a famous Erotica writer and then revealing myself to the world so that everyone would then read my other stuff. And I think it would have worked too, except I’ve found that I can’t write Erotica.
TH: Can you recall a moment when a two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
SK: This actually happens quite often to me when playing with my kids. I’ve found that just being silly with them, making up stories, cracking off jokes, calling each other names—you know, all the things that kids do, tends to lead to ideas crashing together in new and original ways. Like my son dipping his cheese hotdog into his root beer the other day. Only a kid would do that. Or a parent trying to entertain a kid. Then start teasing each other about it, do some one-upmanship, and get silly. Next thing you know, you’ll be writing a kid’s Halloween Cookbook.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
SK: I just self-published two small collections of short stories in e-book format and am following them up with print versions (so I can have something to sign). My biggest reason for doing this was to learn how. I intend to follow them with the children’s book I mentioned before, The Ant Who Held Down a Mountain. And then, I’m off to the races. Once I have this self-publishing thing down, there’s not going to be a lot to hold me back!
TH: What are the names of your recently released collections?
SK: Time Travel Trio and Four Adventure! The first is three time travel short stories, the second is four adventure short stories. Don’t try to find the meaning of life or a moral lesson in any of the stories, they are purely for entertainment purposes only!
TH: What authors have given you the greatest gifts?
SK: I had a flippant answer to that, but I realize it is a serious question. Although I have met some pretty big names in the business, and they have been really nice people (mostly), I have become friends with some other local Colorado authors since I set out to do this, and honestly, their friendship and support has been the greatest gift. When I feel like something can’t be done, they show me it can. Their encouragement is the only reason I didn’t give up on this long ago. Their friendship and company is what keeps me coming back for more, and is more than enough reward for having set out on this endeavor in the first place.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
SK: This is kind of someone else’s personal moment, but I will share it anyway. I was at the Superstars Writing Seminar in May of 2013. I knew that Peter J. Wacks had a meeting with an editor scheduled and that he was pitching himself and some ideas, and I had high hopes for Peter. Fingers were crossed.
When I encountered Peter after the meeting, Peter was a mess. Tears, red-eyes, couldn’t talk. It never occurred to me that this had to do with the meeting. Peter is pretty cool under pressure, and he could take a rejection, or an acceptance for that matter, like a slap on the wrist. Over, done, move on.
So when I saw Peter … losing it, I thought the worst. I thought “Someone’s been in a car accident, or had a heart attack!” All thoughts of Peter’s meeting fled my head. This was something bad.
When I asked if he was all right, it took Peter a couple of moments to compose himself before he could answer me. It was with stuttered breath Peter told me, “He said writers like me were the reason editors bothered going to cons …”
I was shocked and taken aback. I didn’t know what that meant at first. And then it dawned on me.
No one was hurt. Peter hadn’t been rejected. And it wasn’t even that he was going to be given a chance.
It was that he had been given the ultimate compliment he, personally, could have received. Someone who Peter felt was in a position to be a worthy judge, had affirmed Peter’s life-long goal as something Peter was worthy of pursuing.
I had seen Peter’s “Made it” moment. It was beautiful, and I will never forget it.