Tuesday, April 10, 2012

BRoP Interview with Alma Alexander Part V

Alma Alexander
Today Alma Alexander wraps up her five part interview with the Blog Ring of Power.  You can read the first four parts by following these links:

Part 1: About Alma -  @ Terri
Part 2: The Writing Life -  @ Teresa
Part 3: The creative process -  @ Emily
Part 4: About Alma's current work -  @ Sandra. 

Alma has been such a wonderful guest, and I'm very pleased to wrap up her interview here, on The Write Time.  She was born in Yugoslavia, grew up in Africa, and went to school in Wales. She has lived in several countries on four continents, and is quite comfortable in the new continent of cyberspace. She was living in New Zealand when she met a man on an Internet bulletin board for writers, married him and moved to America.

She now lives with her husband and two cats in the Pacific Northwest, in the city of Bellingham (directions to her home include the phrase "Aim for Canada and just before you get there, turn right").  Her office looks out onto cedar woods, and she has frequently been known to babysit young deer left just outside her door while their mothers vanish off on some urgent deer errand.

So Alma, I'm ready to ask you for some words of wisdom, are you ready to share with us?  She has been such a delight and I love the answers she gives to all our questions!

  1. Tell us about your route to success –you’ve been traditionally published, you’ve self-published, and you’ve been published by an indie/small press. In each instance, how did you make the decision that was the route you wanted to go? And in each instance, how did you find the entity you ended up working with (i.e. how did you land your agent, how did you end up working with Dark Quest books, etc.)?
2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens
 (This isn’t one question, this is an entire blog’s worth of questions right here! [grin])
I have followed the paths set before me, for the most part. With traditional publishing, I had an agent who was instrumental in putting my work before the editors of the bigger houses, and who also garnered a plethora of foreign sales for me – this is something that is difficult, if not impossible today, for an author to achieve on his or her own. Where a book was less easy to categorize and the traditional publishers scratched their heads about what they could possibly do with a book like “2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, I went with a smaller press which had more courage and more leeway in their publishing endeavors – the tradeoff was, of course, distribution, because the big boys have a much better handle on that by virtue of having an established system in place. But it was a good choice for this particular book, vivid and unusual and the kind of strange neither-fish-nor-fowl beast which the NY publishers, so firmly wedded to their marketing categories, failed to be able to pigeon hole to their satisfaction. Sometimes a smaller press is just a better way to go, particularly with a book that the author strongly believes in but which may not be easily dealt with in the traditional sphere.

Things are changing rapidly in the publishing world today, to the point that everyone’s heads – the publishers, the authors, everybody involved in the game – are spinning vertiginously. In that world, it is essential to be able to take new opportunities as they present themselves, and in a world where the trend seemed to be towards conglomeration and bigger and bigger corporate publishing behemoths, it is now refreshing to see so many new young enterprises springing up in the barrens which these juggernauts have left in their wake. As for self-publishing, this is a topic that probably deserves an entire blog post all of its own and indeed has got a lot of them from many different writers. To do, or not to do, to misquote the good Hamlet. Many writers are taking advantage of the current somewhat chaotic situation to exploit the loopholes in their older contracts and self-publish their own backlist when it falls out of print – or even produce new things JUST for the new market, trying to gather in new fans and new audiences. 

My own venture in those waters have been the Alexander Triads, themed mini-anthologies of three stories per collection. So far I have five out – “Once upon a fairy tale” ( a collection of three Oscar Wilde-ian fairy tales – don’t come here looking for sweet happy endings…), “Cat Tales” (three stories featuring felines), “Haunted” (ghost stories), “Weight of Worlds” (a collection of three stories all of which appeared in their time in the webzine “Edge of Propinquity”) and “Plaisir d’Amour” (love stories). 

More are planned – a science fiction collection, for example, and other groups and themes. Dark Quest came about through quite a different set of circumstances – I had this idea for an anthology that had been simmering softly in the back of my mind for some time. I kind of encapsulated it when I was invited to write a guest essay for a commemorative webzine on the occasion of the centennial of Mark Twain’s death – you can read my contribution here: (scroll down to page 8 for the beginning of my piece…) 

Dark Quest publisher Neal Levin heard about this anthology and expressed an interest in backing it – and thus, “River” was born (more about that at ). In the future, I intend to continue finding a balance on the shifting tectonic plates of the state of publishing today, and pursue opportunities where they present themselves, be they in the big-name trad arena, smaller presses, or going it alone.

  1. What are the most important elements of good writing?

Many people spend a lot of time and money going to writing courses which purport to teach just this – but here’s my take on such things. You can be taught the elements of basic craft – you can learn grammar, and spelling, and even plotting and pacing to a point – but all of it is completely wasted if one single and vitally important thing is missing, and this is something that cannot be taught, that HAS to come from within – you have to have a story to tell. Without a story that haunts you, that taunts you, that begs and pleads and bullies and whimpers and cries out to be told, you are at best no more than a brilliant stylist. And, indeed, you may be read for that reason alone – there are plenty of writers who create a certain identity by doing just that. 
But a brilliant stylist is still just a brilliant stylist, and this very well might make you incomprehensible to ordinary readers, impossible to understand or to feel any sympathy with, or for. But there have been many writers out there whose writing style is quite possibly no more than mediocre – but who have such cracking good stories to tell that you wind up not caring that the prose is pedestrian or that you trip over clichés far too often or that sometimes the words are downright awkward and trip all over each other on the page. It’s the story that carries the reader, and YOU, the writer, you carry the story. If you have a story to tell, that alone will take you far. This is not to say that just because you lucked into a magical tale you can simply ride roughshod over everything else. Being at least nominally in command of your language is kind of important, and if you cannot achieve this yourself you’d better get yourself a fierce critic for a beta reader and/or a fabulous editor who is willing to take the time to iron out your infelicities. But your story – your ideas – your voice – this is what defines you and carries you as a writer. And no, this does not mean that you are stuck with repeating and rehashing the same idea for each of your next twenty books. As I’ve already said before, ideas are cheap and plentiful if you know where to look. No, the gift that you bring to the table is the interpretation of that idea, your voice, the filter through which you see your world, and if you have the right filters every idea becomes that story that you need to tell, and that only you CAN tell.

Having said that, the other truth is that you simply cannot take shortcuts in this game, and you really DO need to write your thousands upon thousands words of absolute drivel before you find yourself able to write the real true thing – and, more importantly, to recognize it when it comes calling for you. The building blocks of good writing? Passion, perseverance, patience, practice.

  1. What tools are must-haves for writers?

Cats. They keep you humble. Also, if possible, marry money if you intend to try and make a living at this lark – because so few, so very few, succeed. Okay, though, all facetiousness aside – owning a computer, or having access to one, is vital these days, and so is access to and ease with the Internet because you WILL be expected to take a hand in your own publicity and promotion even if you are published with a six-figure advance from the big houses in New York. Carry something to write in and something to write with at all times – you never know when that absolutely fabulous evanescent idea will come calling. As far as more intangible items are concerned, let me just say that NO education is ever wasted, and the more you know about your world the better the worlds you end up writing about. Oh, and it’s important to have, and to know how to keep, good friends. When this writing game gets to be too much for you – and it does, at some time, for everybody – it is invaluable to have somebody to whom you can go to vent your frustrations and your fears.

  1. Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read. Read. Read. Write. Write some more. Get a cat to keep you humble, get a dog to be adored, have good friends, find a good and understanding partner, take your successes where you can and celebrate them. And (to borrow from a famous and fabulous movie) at least TRY to never give up, and never surrender. This is more difficult than it looks.

  1. What do you feel is the key to your success?

Unflinching support from the people who love me. The conviction that this is what I was born to do. The inability (with occasional lapses) to conceive of a world where I could do or be anything else other than what I am – a writer. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

  1. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you for coming with me on my journeys. The train is always about ready to depart, and it’s waiting at YOUR station. The price of a ride… is a book. Without readers, a writer is a voice crying out into the void – without you, my stories are unheard, and unloved. So thank you, one and all, to those who have consented to meet my characters and to love them or to hate them or to grieve for them; to those who have recognized my landscapes as part of your own heart; to those who have understood and shared the laughter or the pain whose seeds I leave between the pages of my books. Welcome to my worlds.

Contact Information:

More places you can find Alma on the web, or get her books.

Amazon: (Kindle store) or (Alma Alexander Books)
Other: 30th of every month:

What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?

Yes {grin]  As in, yes, most of the above. E-books are available both on Smashwords and on Amazon (and on B&N, for that matter, some of them); print books are available via Amazon or through ordering them via your friendly local indie bookstore. Contact me directly  if you want a signed bookplate for your copy of anything, or you want to buy a signed copy of some of the out-of-print first edition hardcovers of a selection of books, some of which I still have on hand.

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