He doesn’t sit back and wait for success, he’s out there every day promoting his work and helping other authors to refine their craft.
I read a great deal, for my research as well as for pleasure.
To my mind, the books that hit… The authors that impress, hold at least one undeniable trait in common: They have stories that are well thought out and developed, with characters that have both substance and dimension.
My guest today on The Novel Road comes from the wild and wooly world of self-publishing. His newest book comes out February 1, and is his first foray in traditional publishing. Thomas K. Matthews offers his unique insights on not only that alternative dimension of publishing, but his quest to be recognized and accepted in the conventional publishing world. Tom is an author that refused to give up and now his day may very well be at hand with his new book “Rejection”. He will certainly turn a few industry heads with this story, but more on that in a minute.
My hands had been waving like an incensed Italian, but now I dropped them and rubbed my chin. I told this eager hopeful it had to be something original and edgy that would grab the business by the curly short ones.
“Like what?” another voice rang out of the crowd.
“I don’t know,” I said in an exasperated tone. “Write a book about a pissed off writer who starts killing ineffective literary agents!”
That got me a huge laugh. But then I rubbed my chin again. “Wait,” I said and that stopped the levity. “That’s not a bad idea. If it was handled the right way it could be just enough to get you noticed.”
And it did. “Rejection” was born. I wrote the rough draft in six weeks and my family knew I was in the zone. When I shared what the new book was about, with my writing group everybody smiled. I am pleased with the results.
Me: Your life as an author has taken you to self-publishing. As your fan base grows, is conventional publishing going to get a chance at your work?
I must admit it is odd to have “Rejection” be the book that made the conventional publishing world finally take notice. And given what the book is about, it also seems ironic that despite some conventional publishing success, I currently don’t have an agent. A few agents have shown serious interest, and a couple are waiting in the wings to see what will happen with “Rejection.” The mere fact they are unwilling to take a chance makes me wonder what the characters in my book would think of them. Maybe finding the right agent is a bit like falling in love. Perhaps I should stop trying so hard and just let it happen.
Me: “Rejection” has a host of characters that arc outside common tracks. Drake is thoroughly flawed, yet scratches back to credibility with his fellow characters in the end. Did you ever worry you dug Drake too deep a character hole to dig himself out?
Tom: As I wrote “Rejection” I knew Drake would take a journey that would bring him full circle. It was always my intention to make him an anti-hero and then eventually give him redemption, although initially I wasn’t sure how that would happen. Before I start a book I have a rough outline in mind and I spend hours thinking about the plot. Then while I am writing I let the course of the characters take care of itself, or maybe I’m lucky the way the story wraps itself up. It seems to be a pattern in all the novels I have written. In “Ancient Anger” I wove a story that some readers told me they were afraid I could never bring together without selling out the story. But it always works out in the end.
As for Drake’s redemption, I did not want him to walk off with an American flag waving behind him. “Rejection” is a commentary about deep desires to succeed, as well as the state of the industry as agents and publishers search for the “sure thing.” The book ends with blatant moral and ethical ambiguity that becomes an almost disgraceful display of happiness. Yes, we are happy for Drake but at what cost? When the curtain drops there is no reflection or moment of silence for the victims, even though the other characters would not have benefited without their deaths. Don’t misunderstand, I love Lou Drake. I am him in many ways. My own desire to succeed is reflected in this book as it became the one that got “them” to say yes.
Me: A graphic artist of considerable reputation, when did the writing bug bit you?
Tom: I was always a writer. When I was a kid I was known for writing and telling fantastic yarns. But I was also an artist at the same time. They say there is only one thing more worthless than a writer, and that’s an artist. But when the day came for me to throw my high school grad hat in the air I had a talk with both my mentors. Mrs. Larson said I should write while Mr. Savage said I should draw. I looked at both and knew how hard it was to make it as a writer, so I went to The Art Center College of Design. I was an art director for years and then opened my own shop. I had great success, created some iconic images and earned the respect of the business. But the writer in me was always waiting for that moment in my life when I would look at the track I was on and want to run screaming.
Me: You get to have lunch with any author, throughout literary history to present. Who would it be, and why?
Me: The publishing industry in going through an evolution. How are these changes affecting you? Share your thoughts on what you think the future holds for authors.
Tom: The publishing industry is having an evolutionary upheaval the likes of the special effects in John Carpenter’s “The Thing!” These changes have been a blessing and a curse. It started for me with my first books coming out through Print On Demand. That same technology made it possible for my current publisher to start their company and offer more writers a conventional platform. The Internet gives me a platform for marketing that never existed before and the same community allows me to sell without being in the bookstores.
Ironically that change has also made it easier for many authors to get their work in front of the masses. E-books have removed the blocks that used to keep many authors from ever publishing, and that is not always a good thing. Sites that offer a “we print anything” option have flooded the market with poorly written, badly edited and absolutely atrocious novels that would normally have been rejected forever. On the other hand, technology has alleviated the pressure on conventional publishing to make all the decisions about what should and should not be seen in print. It is mind-boggling. Lisa Genova’s novel “Still Alice” first came out through POD after she could not find a publisher willing to take a chance, even though she was the story and an expert in the field of Alzheimer’s. Eventually she sold enough copies that a conventional publisher stepped up. The book went on to win the 2008 Bronte Prize and to debut at number five on the New York Times bestseller list.
The industry’s future is hazy, as it always is when new frontiers are bridged by uncontrolled expansion. We may kill all the literary bison and decimate the global reading market, but in the meantime it is exciting and new.
REJECTION is a gem. Smart, snappy, hard-edged and fast-paced, it had me guessing to the end. A truly enjoyable ride! - Christopher Reich, New York Time best selling author of Rules Of Vengeance.
Me: Talk about life experience. How important is it to an author?
Tom: Life experience is all about good writing. The way I grew up, I had enough fodder for three novels by the time I was ten. Family dynamics, near death experiences and ordinary trauma feed the psyche and the imagination of those of us with a propensity for the written word. Just as “Rejection” was fueled by my own frustration from constant “NO,” my newest book is inspired by my own experiences with the ordinary act of arranging more life insurance. But that is another story. I have taken some strange and dangerous treks down life’s dark corridors. When people read my books they sometimes give me a sideways glance and ask why I understand madness so well, or why I have this understanding of violence and other interesting topics. The answer is easy - I have had a taste of violence and craziness in my life. That doesn’t mean I am dark and scary today, but I have personal knowledge of what drives people to do desperate things.
Some genres don’t require true life experience to ring true on the printed page. However, I feel to write convincing mystery and fear, the author has to have experienced some of that for their work to ring true - even if just enough to help the writer truly understand it. My characters have life because they are all a reflection of myself, even if just a little bit.
Me: Social Media. Talk about its importance to the modern author’s success.
Tom: Social media, for me, can be summed up in a nutshell. Because of those corridors I made contact with authors like Christopher Reich and Norb Vonnegut, which led to you. Those are contacts that would have been next to impossible if Facebook did not exist. Facebook and twitter have done more for reaching readers than anything else. Social media is just that, very social and very gabby. And that is gold for authors. In the old days you relied on word of mouth and conventional advertising to get the word out.
You hoped somebody famous mentioned you like President Reagan mentioned Tom Clancy in a fireside chat. A million copies of The Hunt For Red October flew out the door overnight. Then it was the Oprah hope and writers wrote at her, hoping to get that thumbs up. Again, a million copies. Today I can reach all thousand of my Facebook friends with a single comment. Then they talk and the whole thing can spread like a virus. That’s exactly what we want, to go “viral!” A social media comment from a best selling author can spread your title like the bird flu and a tweet can reach millions. Social media is the marketing of the present and the future. But that is not the end of it. Real world contact is still necessary. A well-placed copy in the real world can reach many, many people. I have sold many advance copies of “Rejection” because I handed out advertorial bookmarks and business cards, talked with people in grocery store lines, and was willing to talk to schools about writing. Yes, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo connect, MySpace, and countless other online connections are essential for getting the word out. Having your own, well-linked and interconnected website is critical. Even YouTube! My son is a film major in college and he just finished a professional-grade book trailer for Rejection that will be online within a week. And whenever any of us tosses something like that into the online windstorm, there is always a chance it will go viral and blow itself around the world. That would have been impossible even ten years ago.
Me: How much of a gamble is it to create a new character? Do you get “first novel” release nerves when you unveil a new character?
Tom: It is always a gamble when you release a new protagonist. We writers believe our manifestations are great characters and the public will love them, but some people might find a hulking, brooding ex-sociopath with a propensity for brutality a little intimidating. The trick is to not go so far away from what the readers have come to expect, but also to not re-write the same character with a different name and a better haircut. That’s why we have mentors and editors. I like to write in series so once I have a loveable brute I stick with him for a while. To throw a new brute at your readers asks them to step outside of their comfort zone. I try to earn my readers’ trust by injecting a bit of me into each new hero, so hopefully something about him will turn out to be likeable. Now if I were to go far off path and present readers with a short, fat intellectual with asthma wearing glasses? Yeah, that might flop like a landed fish, but that kind of protagonist is not in my nature so my readers can trust they won’t have him forced upon them. But, yes, there are always jitters. It would be awfully conceited of us to believe the world will love our work simply based on who we think we are. I believe only Stephen King has that level of popularity.
Me: Give me a two sentence “Hook” for your novel “Rejection,” which will be released in February?
Tom: Would you be willing to do anything to get published? What if murder made the writer?
I'd like to thank Thomas K. Matthews for doing this interview and reminding all that perseverance pays off, though Tom's talent may have a bit to do with it...