IndieView with Samuel W. Reed, author of The Fabulist

I don’t know that I had any idea what I was actually writing until I was 20 pages in. Or maybe two and a half years after I started. I was just writing. And parts of it were a mess. But there was this feeling of inspiration that my fingers literally could not keep up with.  

Samuel W. Reed – 8 August 2017

The Back Flap

Failed novelist and part-time sports blogger Frank Shaw is hired to cover the Maui Classic Invitational, a pre-season collegiate basketball tournament in Hawaii over Thanksgiving. But after meeting a cute bartender he wants to impress at the resort, he dismisses his assignment and sets out on a path toward self-discovery, mind-bending adventure, and quite possibly love.

About the book

What is the book about?

The Fabulist is about life.  It’s about falling in love and the excitement we get from experiencing new things.  But it’s also about the toll that our past failures take on us, and the balancing act people must pull off in order to overcome our hardships and keep moving forward for the sake of our loved ones, our dependents, and our selves.  The Fabulist is about a guy on the brink who slowly starts to overcome that which burdens him when he falls for a younger woman he doesn’t even know, and takes off for an adventure, consequences be damned.  It’s a coming-of-age tale for a man having a mid-life crisis, as his failure-to-launch finally catches up to him.  You know, for kids*.

(*not really for kids)

When did you start writing the book?

I began writing The Fabulist in the summer of 2014.  However, after a quick burst of ideas, plot, and character, which bled from my fingertips over the course of 10 days in July, I didn’t touch it again until the next year when I picked it back up and immediately realized it was going to take a lot of work to finish.  I didn’t touch it again for another year and a half.

How long did it take you to write it?

Including the original 10 day burst, I spent a large part of January 2017 re-writing, reworking and revising.  Then, I like to put things aside for a moment before I come back to them, which I did several times over the next few months.  Every pass takes a little less time as I polish and refine, clarifying certain points and eliminating others.  And then, of course, I pass it to others I trust and wait for feedback before revising again.  The process is continual, but not constant.  Overall, I would say it took about three months, if I really condense actual work time.  Three years, if I’m looking from inception to completion.

Where did you get the idea from?

The influences for this novel I pretty much wear on my sleeve.  I had just read a short story by Kerouac, back in ’14.  And Hunter S. Thompson is omnipresent.  I think a little Bret Easton Ellis seeped in there. Maybe some Palahniuk.  These are all authors I read and enjoy, as well as many others, of course.  And though none of these authors or their novels were specifically in mind when I originally began writing, I believe they all permeated the final product.

Interestingly enough, I don’t know that I had any idea what I was actually writing until I was 20 pages in.  Or maybe two and a half years after I started.  I was just writing.  And parts of it were a mess.  But there was this feeling of inspiration that my fingers literally could not keep up with.  This voice that was ringing out that I was just trying to keep up with.  Which is why after 10 days I think it exhausted me so much.  So, unlike 90% of my writing, this book wasn’t mapped out from beginning to end in any shape, form, or fashion.  Inspiration struck in those first few lines.  And after than, I was just developing a story around it.  Being accustomed to a much more rigid structure I found that sort of writing to be gratifying in ways I could have never imagined.  I equate it to when musicians, or dancers, or other artists talk about just letting loose, trusting your instincts, and letting it all out on the table.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Absolutely.  All over.  That same beautiful inspiration that struck initially also left me with about a 35,000 word word-salad that I had to unscramble and make sense of.  And I eventually did so by trying to ground the language in his state of mind, in order to justify or explain why he would be as long winded and verbose as he is.

What came easily?

Those first ten days were a breeze, as I just let inspiration strike and let the words flow out of me.  The only real decision I made early on is that I wasn’t going to second guess my choices along the way, and I wasn’t going to revise as I go.  That’s a (not always bad) habit that I find myself digging ruts with occasionally.  Though this is my first novel, I have been writing what I will call “professionally” for close to ten years, but as a screenwriter.  This project allowed me a chance to throw the rules of screenwriting to the wind and just let go.  And so, I did.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

There’s no doubt the characters are fictitious, the situations, everything.  But just as I draw inspiration from other books and authors, I draw inspiration from life. The people around me now, people from my past, and myself. Sometimes these parallels are fairly broad, and sometimes uber specific.  The memories I have of a specific moment in time that I get to relive and share with others, that help build a more specific, engaging, and entertaining world for my readers, those are always my favorite.  Those real-life details are always the ones I love the most.

We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?

Looks like I jumped the gun on this one.  But yes, I love to read.  I wish I had more time to read. I have a stack of books at home I’m dying to read.  Authors like Cormac McCarthy and Normam Mailer.  George Orwell, Phillip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury.  Vonnegut, of course.  Fitzgerald.  How much space do you have here?

 Do you have a target reader?

If you like any of the writers I’ve listed, I think you could find something in The Fabulist that resonates for you.   My only qualifier is that there is a lot of explicit language, there is recreational drug use, and there are a lot of mature themes, so if any of those things offend you, this book might not be for you.

About Writing

Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?

I think it’s important for writers to write.  As much as they can, as often as they can, and in the process, words and ideas will come out of them they never thought possible. I try to do it as often as I can, even if I’m not in the mood, so that I’m constantly working on something. Whatever process a writer creates will develop from doing the work.  In my experience, nobody can tell a writer what to do because every project dictates its own process.  Some projects demand to be extensively thought out and meticulously planned before a single page is written to be successful.  Fantasy and Mystery novels come to mind.  But The Fabulist was formulated out of a whirlwind of inspiration before being carefully rewritten and structured.  That is where all the uniqueness and interesting parts for this particular story came from, though that specific process is way outside my norm.

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

When I outline, and as a screenwriter I often do, I’m in the habit of writing treatments, or long synopses about the project.  Sometimes these synopses are plot specific, other times character specific, or other elements. I am big on getting ideas down on the page, and when ideas start coming, sometimes you’re just hanging on for the ride.  So, all of my projects begin with some kind of initial information dump.  And eventually that will start to take the shape of a fairly detailed outline.

My tendency in an outline is to want to fill in the details.  Sometimes it’s so I don’t forget them, but other times because as I write it and see it, it begets new ideas and information.  I find that certain tones and themes start to emerge this way.  Sometimes I’ll even cut and paste parts of these outlines directly into the story in order to guide me, or if it’s a really complete passage, to keep.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

Both, and it really depends on my mindset, the deadline, and what I’m trying to accomplish.  If I’m not inspired, I find that I’ll keep revising the same things over and over again, and never move forward.  When I catch myself doing this I try to do the exact opposite-  plow through it, or at least that part, to get it in a more complete form, so then I can go back and dissect what’s clearly not working.   In a perfect world, there’s a bit of a balance, where I edit a little as I go, specifically when I first sit down and start writing in order to refresh myself on where I left off and get myself in the mindset for whatever is coming next.  That way when I reach the end of the story, all the heavy lifting is finished, and what’s left is more refined polishing than big plot adjustments.  In the case of The Fabulist, I did all the heavy lifting in January, years after that initial draft, and it was tough.

Did you hire a professional editor?

I did not, largely for financial reasons, but not solely.  I am fortunate that my wife is a grammar hound, as are a few other people I trust, so I knew I could create something that wasn’t littered with typos and the like.  But this book also takes some artistic license with the language along the way, so there are a few places that I purposefully left broken rules intact, just for effect.

Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?

I love music. I live for music. And because of that, I have music playing nearly every chance I get. When I cook. When I drive. In the shower. But while I’m writing, no. I can’t.

I used to.  Like a lot of writers, I think.  But I have come to find that rather than following the verbal music within my head, more often than not I’m following the actual music I’m listening to and it becomes a distraction.  I have heard of writers listening to classical music or jazz, or soundtracks, or other stuff they call background music, but I can’t help but get emotionally connected to music in ways that might not always fit whatever I’m writing as immediately as I need it to in the moment.   So, I guess the short answer is no, I don’t.

About Publishing

Did you submit your work to Agents?

I did not submit my work to agents.  This, too, was a very meticulous and thought out decision.  I discussed the options with several other writer friends that have experienced both traditional and indie publishing, and after making my decision I am completely satisfied. The Fabulist is a unique story that I think a lot of people will like, but I also don’t expect for it to find an immediate audience, as it is not a genre specific novel.  It challenges people.  And quite frankly, after taking three years to write it, I didn’t want to wait another year and a half to go through the traditional publishing route.

What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?

I had an idea from the beginning that I would self publish, but I did a lot of research to make sure.  Just the way the story came to me, and the weirdness that it started out as, I knew this would never find a traditional home.  Only after I revised it and it started making sense did I consider it could go traditional. But ultimately, I’m satisfied with my decision, and happy that in the end I have more control over the product I’ve created.

Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?

I created the cover myself for monetary reasons, and I will not do it again.  I will say, I don’t hate my cover.  As a matter of fact, much like the rest of the novel, I got inspired and had a vision for what I wanted and I totally followed through with that vision.  So I accomplished my goal.  But when I compare it to all the other books that I see on Amazon, I feel like it stands out as not-very-professional.  And since you eat with your eyes first, this is something I may try and remedy at some point.

Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?

My marketing plan is to wing it.  I say this in jest, but there is truth in all comedy. I’ve read up on book promotions.  I’ve looked into advertising.  I’ve created a mailing list and spammed 400 of my nearest and dearest.  But I’m also riding the wave.

I made a decision very early on that I was not going to put any advertising money into the book until I got a certain number of reviews and sales to cover it.  And then I realized I can’t market directly on Amazon unless I am enrolled in KDP Select, which you can’t do if your book is in wide release.  So, since I am currently trying to make the most of my 90-day exclusive window on Amazon, I’m already enrolled in KDP Select and everything, I figured I better start advertising, because once I plan on releasing on Nook and iBook and everywhere else, I no longer have that option.  So now that exclusive 90 day window I started out with may jump to 120 days, or 150, depending on what happens, and how much traction the book actually gets now that I know that over half of all digital books are purchased from Amazon alone.

So basically, having only released The Fabulist, my very first novel, a few weeks ago, I am still learning and growing.  Ask me anything you want to know about long keyword tails and ACoS.

Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?

Do it.  There is literally nothing stopping you from publishing your work but yourself, and maybe about $500 – $1500 depending on what your needs are along the way.  There is a lot to consider, from copyright (copyright.org), ISBNs & Barcodes (bowker.com), to book covers, copy editors, proofreaders, formatting software (I suggest Vellum!), email marketing platforms (I use mailerlite), websites (squarespace), etc.   You don’t have to take on all these costs at once, but if you’re serious about becoming an indie author, like any business, you will have to invest in yourself at some point if you really want to grow.  And, there is a clearly defined positive relationship between how much you are willing to continue to put into your career (advertising, promotions, new books), and how much you get out in the end.

So, if you’re serious about it and you have that story you’re dying to tell, by all means, go after it.  At very least you will have that creative outlet for expression, and if it’s good enough, who knows?  But if you’re just looking for some get rich quick scheme…  Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

About You

Where did you grow up?

I am originally from the riverfront town of Paducah, Kentucky.   Smack dab in the middle of Nashville and St. Louis.  I don’t think there were any more than 35,000 people in town, but we had a mall, and a movie theater, and all the decent restaurants, so every body in the surrounding counties came to our town to hang out.  It always felt bigger than it really was until I moved away.  Now when I go back, which unfortunately is rare, anywhere you want to go is a ten to fifteen minute drive. It’s amazing.

Where do you live now?

Los Angeles California, with my wife and two children.  We moved out here ten years ago from Wilmington North Carolina, where I studied film.  I started writing seriously about 15 years ago, spent some time honing my ideas back East before coming out here to give it a shot.  Ten years later, we’re still here.

What would you like readers to know about you?

I love to write.  That’s why I wrote this book.  It was for me, initially.  I never really considered it would become anything.  But of course, I hoped it would.  It was more like a writing exercise when I first started.  Something to get the juices flowing.  And a few years ago when I dug it out and read some of it, I think it scared me how deep I was going to have to dig in order to finish it.  And it obviously took quite a while before I did.  Maybe if I didn’t have a wife, two young children, a day job in film production and writing time on my nights and weekends, I would have been able to focus more at any one specific time to get it done, but I’m very proud of what became of it, and I don’t regret not forcing it sooner.

There are often those projects that are just dying to come out, and this was one of them initially, but being able to step back from that, especially after that initial burst of energy, gave me a really great, fresh perspective in which to finally finish it.  Not only have I become a better writer over the years, but the things that I saw that haunted me before I began to see as an opportunity for expansion, a bridge to a new part of the story, and as themes that could connect the whole piece.

Bottom Line:  If your goal is to become a better writer, you have to keep writing.  That’s the only way you’re ever going to get there.  That’s what I’m doing, and hopefully my second novel is proof.

What are you working on now?

I’m always developing new ideas, working with producers, directors and other screenwriters on content, but specifically for myself, I’m working on two things:  a new screenplay based on this incredible story I found a few years ago that my manager, in particular, is very excited about, and a reverse-adaptation of one of my favorite scripts that never got produced, a pet project of mine I developed ages ago that people have told me I should turn into a novel for years.  Now that I’ve finally finished The Fabulist, I can’t justify waiting any longer.

End of Interview:

For more from Samuel, visit his website.

Get your copy of The Fabulist from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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