Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve shared an author interview with you. I’m delighted to introduce Brian S. Vinson, author of the Ankara Fevers series.
Brian was born and raised in Texas. His youth was spent in the Dallas / Fort Worth area, right at the tail end of Tornado Alley. Add tornadoes from the DFW to the hurricanes in Beaumont, TX and you get the recipe for someone interested in preparedness. Sprinkle in a dash of role-playing games and Creative Writing classes and you now have someone who wants to relate stories that make a difference to people.
After a brief stint in the Marines, Brian’s career turned toward business and technology preparedness and planning with a healthy dose of teaching mixed in. That latter characteristic has become a guiding light. Using the art of storytelling to relate practical information or to convey concepts which may be dry or boring otherwise has become a driving goal.
His first book, “Ankara Fever: Journeys” came out at the end of 2013 with book two, “Ankara Fever: Homecomings” being published in late spring 2014. Book three is scheduled for late fall 2014.
How did you get into writing? I got into writing – into storytelling – in my youth, when I began playing role-playing games. I was in middle school and had practically no use for reading or math. Role-playing games were fun but required me to read. Once I began enjoying the fantasy (sword and sorcery) genre I found that I could extend that enjoyment through fantasy fiction. By the time I was in high school, I took Creative Writing classes and was trying my hand at writing short stories. But it all tracks back to those games. Without that impetus, I’d likely have spent that reading or writing time in front of the television.
What genre do you write? Wow, what an interesting question. I have never really thought of myself as constrained to one genre. My first novel – that rightfully went nowhere – was in the fantasy genre. I’ve generated numerous horror short stories and dabbled in the Cyberpunk genre a bit. The current trilogy is set in a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic thriller setting.
I realize that as authors, we should expect to be categorized but I don’t feel I fit cleanly within a specific genre. I’m tempted to say that my genre is ‘character-driven’ and that everything else is just set dressing. That might not help genre readers much, but if you pick up one of my books it will be more about people in an interesting situation rather than an interesting situation where some people are interacting.
What is your target audience? My target audience is adult fiction readers. It isn’t that children shouldn’t read my books (I’ll leave that judgment up to their parents) but my work isn’t deliberately aimed at children or young readers. They contain mature subject matter and ‘adult’ language.
What have you published to date? Do you write under a pseudonym? To date I have published the first two books of my ‘Ankara Fever’ trilogy. I hope to have the trilogy completed by the end of the year (2014). I don’t write under a pseudonym, this is me, for better or worse.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? I am self-published. Someone asked me why and I wrote a five-page ‘summary’ of the rationale. I’ll try to be more succinct for you. I chose to go the self-published route because it has become the logical choice for authors. In essence, there are two major factors that make it the logical choice: control and money. With self-publishing, you retain more of both.
Now this is a double-edged sword. The first post of my first book was a mistake. I sent the wrong file up for publishing and it was distributed to the world. I had to take it down quickly and put up the correct file. This wouldn’t have happened if I had gone through a traditional publisher. Then again, since the percentage of books published is less than one percent of the books submitted to traditional publishers, the chances that my book would have ever been published are greatly reduced as well.
There was a time where publishers handled the bulk of the marketing for books and this was truly the last boon the traditional industry could offer. Since they have become more reliant on the author to develop a marketing strategy (look at the submission guidelines for major publishers – many require a marketing strategy before considering your work) the last domino has fallen and self-publishing is king in my book.
Now take all of that and consider that I have made more money with my self-published book in one month than I would have made from an average author’s advance through a traditional publisher for an entire print run, and the dollars start falling in place as well.
Are your books available as e-books? Any other formats? My books are available as e-books through Amazon and in print through CreateSpace.
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? So far my favorite published character is from the second book in the trilogy, Ankara Fever: Homecomings. Willie Wilder is a former soldier turned bodyguard who loves his family and will do whatever is necessary to protect and provide for them. He’s a guy with a moral compass that points true north but with an understanding that in a world of immorality, the right choice isn’t necessarily always the ‘good’ choice.
If any of your books were to be made into films, who would you have as the lead actor(s)? Oh, we’ve entered dreamland now. In Ankara Fever: Journeys I would love to see the character Ashley portrayed by Ashley Greene of Twilight fame. About halfway through the book I started making that association in my mind – though I don’t believe I’ve seen any of the movies she was in. I just saw her name and face on a magazine while I was writing the character and it kind of stuck.
I could see Roger Westover played by Mark Ruffalo. He’d bring the right mix of quirky personality with underlying intelligence. Willie Wilder from Ankara Fever: Homecomings would be more of a Matt Damon kind of guy because Matt can do ‘tough guy’ and ‘sensitive guy’ believably. I could see Jan, his wife, being played by Elizabeth Banks as long as the make-up crew didn’t try to glam her up too much. Pretty, but not overwhelmingly so, and visually trustworthy (if you can get “The 40 Year Old Virgin” out of your mind).
Which author(s) would you say influence your writing? There are so many, but here are a couple of the top contenders: Michael Crichton is influential for his bite-sized scenes and pacing. His writing reads like you’re watching a television show and every chapter is going to have a commercial break. Stephen King is the master of horror, but you wouldn’t care about his horror if you didn’t care about his characters. From Mr. King I learned that good characters make good stories. S.M. Stirling looks at the world from a different angle than the rest of us. Once he explains it, you get it, but you’d probably never accidentally stumble across his perspective outside his work. Robert Jordan, strangely, influenced me more with what I shouldn’t do than with that I should. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jordan, but he taught me not to go into long periods of exposition, name characters with very similar names, or draw the story out to the point that readers want any ending that will simply make it stop.
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? My title and cover were based on years of market research and test cases based on focus groups within my chosen genre…or I go with the first thing that pops into my head after a fitful night’s sleep.
I am firmly convinced that the name and cover are important, despite my initial success. I chose the title out of the air. I took a picture that had absolutely nothing to do with my book, and used my rudimentary-at-best graphics skills to cobble that into a cover. That cover has outsold my more professionally designed cover by orders of magnitude. But who’s to say that I wouldn’t have done better had I gone the more professional route from the beginning?
What are you working on at the moment? Are you planning on another book? Ankara Fever is a trilogy and I am currently working on the third book. I’m also beginning to piece together another dystopian fiction book outside the Ankara Fever setting as well as a non-fiction book which incorporates emergency planning strategies (which constitutes a good portion of my full-time job) used by business and government to build a family or group emergency preparedness plan.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If you include business correspondence, I write every day. As far as my ‘for publication’ work, I write almost every day. I get hit by writing spurts where I feel compelled to write and have to get everything out all at once and then I might have lighter periods when I go back and edit, producing little new material.
Writer’s block means different things to different people. I don’t get to the point where I can’t string together a sentence or a logical paragraph, but I sometimes get to a point where the material produced just isn’t quite what I want it to be. This is especially true at the beginning of a new piece of work. I might rewrite the first page, or even the first few chapters, until it has the rhythm that feels right. Once I’m into the piece though, I can usually produce something usable (though in need of edits) pretty much every time I sit down.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? I generally know where the book is going to begin and have a pretty good idea of where it will end as well as major twists along the way. But it is far more important for me to understand my characters since my writing is very character-driven. Once I ‘know my people’ and introduce them to a situation, I almost drop into the position of an observer and reporter.
I’ve tried writing to an outline. As a matter of fact, when I was taking creative writing classes in school, part of the grading criteria was in how well we followed our outline. I always got points off for that. Writing to an outline feels far too restrictive for me, it feels contrived and when I’m reading I can often feel when the author is forcing an issue to try to stay on some pre-determined plan, so I tend to avoid that.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names, and what do you think makes them believable? Census and baby-name databases. That’s where I get my names. I’ll research back to an appropriate time, get a list of names from the period and drop them into an Excel spreadsheet I’ve developed to automatically generate character names. At least, I’ll do this for most characters. For Willie Wilder, I wanted the alliteration – and I knew I wanted his call name in the military to be “Wildman”, so I back tracked from there. Sadly, in Ankara Fever: Journeys, I named the Corey character after someone specific, though I did change the physical characteristics.
Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed? Well, the simple answer is ‘yes’. My writing is mostly fully-formed at the end of the process but it needs A LOT of grammar and mechanics editing. I have a lot of tense-shifts and typos so I generally go back and do a line edit and then hand it over to someone else, then go through it again. I will go back and add teasers or tweak things just a bit, but usually the story is all there at the end of the first draft.
How much research do you do? Lots. I think people would be amazed at how much research must go into something that is ‘made up’. In Ankara Fever: Homecomings, I had a character using herbal and holistic remedies. Thankfully I had a resource to turn to, but I still did spot checks to make sure we weren’t going down the wrong path. One of the characters is former military, as am I, but I was in the military 20+ years ago and a lot has changed. I had to research new lingo for things that just didn’t exist when I was in. My training centered on fighting in jungles and open fields. The new training focuses on urban and sandy mountainous environs. If the character is going to be true to today and have some authenticity, there is a lot of research that must be done.
What point of view do you usually write in: first person or third person? Third person, limited. I like to be in the head of one character at a time. I do shift from character to character in chapters or subchapters, but only one at a time. Why? Because I think it allows the reader to more fully understand the character. You get to see only through that character’s eyes for that snapshot of time. In so doing, the reader is able to exclude everything else happening in the environment and then, when the brain catches up, and all the different perspectives come together as a process of the reader’s imagination, it creates a unique experience for that reader.
Lately I’ve been reading the Hunger Games trilogy. ‘Young adult’ is not my usual reading category, but I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. It’s written in first person and I’ve got to say, if I were a fourteen-to-seventeen year old girl, this might be how I’d best relate. Being a 40-something male I find it difficult to read “I” and then something that would never follow the word “I” in my personal internal dialog. So this reinforces my thoughts about staying away from first person. I think it artificially hinders the reader’s connection to the character.
Do you write any poetry, non-fiction, or short stories? I tried my hand at poetry back in creative writing class and it wasn’t for me. I love writing short stories, but there is a very limited market for them, so I have tended to drift more into long-form fiction as a creative avenue. I currently have a non-fiction book under consideration and I’ve had a few business / technical articles published, mostly in industry-specific periodicals. Long-form fiction though, that is where my heart lies.
Do you have pieces you’ve written that you think should never see the light of day? Yes, my first book. It is fantasy fiction – sword and sorcery stuff – and it was pretty bad. Like, go back and rewrite the whole thing bad. I’d say you could extract the plot and try again, but it is so 1980’s fantasy fiction that I’m not sure even the plot would work any longer. So it was the first work of full length that I completed and that is an accomplishment on its own, but it was saved on old Smith Corona two inch floppy disks which were proprietary to their word processor, and it’s probably a good thing that word processor no longer works.
Have you had any rejections from publishing houses? If so, how do you deal with them? In my young twenties I had several rejections from major magazines. In short, you can say I dealt with them ‘not well’. I lapsed into a few days of depression where I swore off writing, promised to cancel my subscriptions to the magazines, and generally made an ass of myself.
Then I would slowly get over it, change genre, and try again. In the end, rejection is a simply fact of life with writing and you have to develop a thick skin. Now I realize that those letters were somewhat tame considered to what some people will post in the comments section of an Amazon review. Fortunately I’ve been spared really negative reviews to this point, but I know they’re coming. Anytime you put yourself on display you’re opening the door to criticism. So as writers we either open the door to criticism or we never make the transition from writer to published author.
Do you have an agent? Do you believe they are vital to an author’s success? I don’t. In my mind it’s a Catch-22. Publishers don’t want unrepresented authors and agents don’t want authors without a publishing contract. It seems to me that once you have a contract, and thus an agent’s interest, you’ve already accomplished the part of the process for which you want an agent. Now part of that may be because I’m accustomed to negotiating (thought negotiating for yourself is the #1 rule of what not to do). An agent could be very helpful for getting the right terms in a contract, but as an independent publisher, those considerations are fairly moot.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or for yourself as a ‘brand’? What types of marketing have you found to be the most successful? This is where I am definitely lacking. On a scale from 1 to 10, I’m probably a 3…but with a full time job, a wife I really like, and a few hobbies, writing pretty much takes up the time I have. I have started a blog and I’ve become somewhat active on Twitter. Neither of these has generated any activity for my writing.
The most beneficial thing was that I had a review posted to an incredibly popular blog directly related to the material of my first book. I also was fortunate to have other blogs, such as this one, post favorable reviews.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Keep at it. That really is the key. You don’t learn how to fix a car the first time you try. The first time you paint a room, it’s going to be sloppy and most people wouldn’t want to pay you for it. Writing is a learned skill that can only improve through practice.
Once you have that tenacity, realize that if you want to have sales, you’re not writing for yourself. You’re writing for an audience. If you do not appeal to that audience, they are not stupid or crazy, or anything else that you may immediately want to label them. They are individuals with their own preferences and to have a successful work, you have to appeal to as many of those preferences as possible while staying true to yourself and your story.
The self-publishing market has made it easier to get your work out there, but has made it equally difficult to get your work noticed. It’s a double-edged sword and from my understanding, most books never sell more than 100 copies. Ever. One in ten books will sell more than 4,000 copies – and most of those will be through traditional publishers. So be sure this is what you want to do, and then give it everything you’ve got.
Do you have any hobbies? How do you think they enhance your creativity? I enjoy leather work, martial arts, shooting and gardening. They provide an outlet for energies that can’t be released sitting behind a keyboard. They also offer a means to distract my mind and let it process through particularly difficult scenes or to allow the subconscious creative process to happen and generate new book ideas. I think you have to bring a variety of experiences to the page so that you can appeal the greatest cross section of readers and having a full life away from writing allows you to bring more to your writing.
Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful? You know, I used to read everything I could on writing. I found that most of it didn’t help my writing because I still didn’t have a story to tell. I guess I could have told a story about a frustrated writer, but no one really wants to read that. Instead, I started reading about and experiencing the real world. More than anything, developing real experiences helped me become a better writer.
Are you on any forums or networking sites? I’m on LinkedIn, but haven’t mentioned my writing there. I’ve kind of reserved that for my full time job, but I had someone congratulate me on my book on LinkedIn and it didn’t bother me. As a ‘business’ and ‘IT’ guy, fiction writing doesn’t help my business resume and my business work doesn’t really help my writing resume, so I tend to keep them separate. I am on Google+ now, and that is where I’ll focus most of my public networking.
What do you think the future holds for writers? I think there is a lot of opportunity for writers. What I see is that the traditional publishing structure is going to be upended. When everything settles, however, things will look a lot like they did in the past. Whereas we come from a time where there were limited opportunities and the barriers for entry were exceedingly high, we’re coming to a time of almost unlimited opportunity and exceedingly low entry barriers.
This is going to create some drama in the industry – it already is. We’ll find the traditional publishers trying to hold on to power and pointing out how many independent books fail as proof that they have it right. Independents will point to the cream of the crop and how there are greater returns for self-publishers. In the end economics will win out and the traditional publishers will downsize, merge, and atrophy. They won’t be able to compete as they had in the past.
So how does the end result look like the past? Because the cream will rise to the top. There will be a group of people who are the acknowledged best sellers. There will be the tier 2 authors who can make a living but don’t get the press and there will be a group of others who generate some income but will remain ‘hopeful’ rather than ‘successful’ in their financial pursuits.
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing? Reader can find out more about me on my author’s page on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Brian-S.-Vinson/e/B00GXJ9SFA) or my blog at http://briansvinson.wordpress.com/. Also, if you’re interested in upcoming information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add you to my email list – the is also the address if you want to find me on Google+.
The end of the world would have been easy.
Surviving Ankara Fever is practically impossible.
As the global pandemic burns across the country, combat veteran Willie Wilder and his family set out to join their cohorts at DARE Ranch, the refuge they secured for just such an emergency. Rather than a happy homecoming, they quickly learn not everything goes to plan. Some friends won’t make it. For those who do, getting there may be just the beginning of their trials. Mistaking seclusion for safety, the group comes to realize that rifles and fences won’t keep a virus at bay.
As an outbreak erupts on the ranch, life or death decisions may spell the end of the ranch, its members, and their dreams for the future. The sequel to Ankara Fever: Journeys takes you to the refuge and people who hope to survive there as Roger Westover battles his way across the country to join his fellow survivors.
Marion’s Note: I highly recommend both of Brian’s books and eagerly await the third in the Ankara Fevers trilogy. You can find my reviews of both books here: Ankara Fevers: Journeys and Ankara Fevers: Homecoming.