Today I'm sitting down with Calgary author Adam Dreece, taking advantage of his exciting new book's release to ask about every aspect of his writing - and some non-writing - life.
You, sir, are a self-publishing success story. Your Yellow Hoods series sells widely and each book seems more popular than the last, both with children and with adults. When you leapt into this venture, what surprised you? Did you expect to keep on doing it, and did you expect you’d gain so much recognition so fast?
Um… you can’t see me blushing, right? Good. Thanks for that lead-in.
When I wrote my first book, Along Came a Wolf, I honestly didn’t expect it to find an audience. I’ve been a misfit in so many areas of life, from school to today, that I honestly was prepared to learn whatever I could from how things went with Along Came a Wolf, and use it to make me stronger going forward. When it found an audience and started to sell (even with the original cover), I was surprised. The success of the second book was what really took me by surprise. Did I really write something that was appealing to people? Were they actually seeing how it was written on multiple levels and… and liking it? Really?
Like many (most? all?) writers, I’m haunted by doubt. But every time I start thinking what I’ve written isn’t any good, whenever I think I might have hit the end of my road, my fans seem to show up and punch that doubt off my shoulder. There’s nothing like being at a comic-con event, standing behind your table, when someone shows up saying, “I love all of your books. What do you have new? I don’t care how different it is, I want it.” And the next day, when you see them and wonder if maybe now you’ve lost them as a fan, they come over and say, “I’m 5 chapters in. This is brilliant.” Man, that refuels the confidence tanks tons.
Talk to me about the ways self-published authors help or hinder themselves in the marketplace. How many mistakes did you make in your early efforts and how have you fixed them?
Oh, wow, there are many places where indie authors hinder themselves, from skimping on editing to 3rd rate covers to page layouts that don’t breath. In the self-publishing space, very often authors don’t realize they have become a publisher, and that comes with an entire set of business responsibilities above and beyond just writing.
When I worked at Microsoft, there was an executive who used to say that he didn’t care if he made mistakes as long as he could outrun them. I think that’s the essence of my career so far: learn, listen, think, pivot.
When we (my wife’s my business partner) first released Along Came a Wolf, we had 2 days to get a cover done so we could launch at CalgaryExpo (100k people attend CalgaryExpo each year, it’s a comic-con type event). The book sold well, but I quickly learned the cover wasn’t speaking enough to genre, and that it needed a re-edit, despite the great work done by a friend of mine who was a part-time editor. Two months after launch, after selling about 400 copies, we got a new cover, printed new books, and pulped nearly all the remaining 600 copies. It was a tough business decision, but I wasn’t going to keep selling books that weren’t at the caliber I wanted people to associate with my name and my brand.
Being an indie authors allows a lot of freedom, and sometimes that can be paralyzing, and sometimes that can allow you to do things that are terrible ideas. When I wrote The Wizard Killer – Season One, I wasn’t sure if this was a mistake in the making or a potential hit. I took the idea of post-apocalyptic stories and applied it to a magical world, and then wrote it in an episodic style, using a TV show model in terms of climaxes. Then I allowed myself to use a made up swear, a lot. I posted the raw episodes online every week, and had a small following, but would this sell? Would people stop and pick it up? I decided to roll the dice and see. It was radically different from The Yellow Hoods, though still within the realm of young adult fiction. Well, it’s turned into 1/3 of all sales.
Now, I’m releasing The Man of Cloud 9, which is a very different type of science fiction from the vast majority that’s out there. It’s character-centric, it’s emotional, and it’s cerebral. As one early reviewer said, you couldn’t get further away from The Wizard Killer if you tried. Several loved it, a few had a hard time handling that it was the same author as The Wizard Killer. Is it a mistake? No. At worst, it means that I’ve got a challenge on the marketing side, to make sure that I find the fans of 1960s style sci-fi and works like The Sparrow. If things are well-written, well-conceived, and well put together, you can find a niche for it. It just might take more effort than you originally planned.I could have just kept writing more steampunk-meets-fairytale, and there are PLENTY of fans who would have loved to have book 5 of The Yellow Hoods already. But then again, I don’t want to be the “steampunk guy,” I want to be “also the steampunk guy.”
You admit to many hours spent playing Dungeons & Dragons as a teen and young adult. Yet you don’t play now. What did that game bring to your story-telling, your life, and why aren’t you still playing it?
From the age of 7 to probably 16, I spent VAST amounts of time playing Dungeons & Dragons, or more specifically, being the dungeon master/storyteller. I think there were a few days in there when I was ‘allowed’ to play.It taught me a ton about world building, about dynamically adjusting stories, and about the nature of people. As I got older and engaged with games like the cyberpunk game Shadowrun, I pushed my plots and allowed for bad things to happen as a consequence of the characters' actions. The impact was fascinating. I remember sitting in the gamers' lounge of my college, listening to guys talk about campaigns, no one knowing who I was. And at one point, someone started talking about this legendary campaign where the actions of the heroes resulted in the death of a kid that was central to the story, and how that had knocked all the players into a light depression. I stood up, corrected a few facts, and was asked as I was leaving the room. “How would you know?”
I smiled and replied, “Because I was the guy running that campaign.”
D&D taught me a lot about what was ‘epic’, and what would sit with people. With university, and then building my IT career, role-playing went by the wayside, with two attempts to bring it back. These days, my daughter’s asking about D&D, so it might be making a return into my life. We’ll see.
Your first Yellow Hoods book, Along Came a Wolf, is a retelling of a bedtime story you once invented for your daughter. It’s often praised for its female characters who are both adventurous and very much girls, ie not girls acting like boys. How conscious are you, during the story process, of writing characters who will be good role models for your own children as well as other people’s?
I spend a lot of time reflecting on my characters and their actions. As a young adult writer, I take responsibility to consider what I’m putting on the page, and how it could resonate with someone. I like my villains to be complex, my heroes to be flawed and growing, and the evil I bring in to be carefully thought through. I once said on a panel that I would never write a psychotic character from their own perspective, which would have to include the enjoyment of their actions, etc. I can’t put that on a page.One of the best foils I have for my characters is my daughter. I love giving her my early drafts and seeing what she thinks. She’s challenged me on a number of things over the years, and it’s awesome.
Your new book, The Man of Cloud 9, is half a galaxy away from the low-tech world of the Yellow Hoods. It’s written for adults, another departure. Why the switch?
The Man of Cloud 9 was part of two experiments this year. I wanted to give my more mature fans something more emotional, cerebral and personal, as well as putting something new out there to bring in a new audience. I think of The Man of Cloud 9 as fitting into that classical science fiction space, ages 12-14 and up. With no kid characters, with no constant action, and with having a lot more social complexity, I was giving my readership a new part of me to discover that, for all I know, could be their favorite part.
First and foremost, I had to write this for me. The amount of myself that I reveal through the story terrified me at times, and I stopped a few times thinking that maybe I should hide some of it behind extra action or ‘exploring the world' moments, but then decided against it. I was going to put on the table something that, in a lot of ways, was my goodbye to my technical career, wrapped in the me that I’ve become.
I’d rather be the writer who lost some readers because of something that flopped, than not write what could have been the key to a whole new level in my career.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m working on Book 5 of The Yellow Hoods, titled The Day the Sky Fell (April 2017). Alongside that, I’m writing Season 2 of The Wizard Killer, due in February. Though, like any writer's, the planning part of my mind’s already wondering what I’m bringing out in Fall of next year other than Season 3 of The Wizard Killer.
I have a sequel for The Man of Cloud 9 in mind, but I’m not sure when I want to write that. I have a number of stories jockeying for the Fall, from my dieselpunk story, The Torrents of Tangier, to the Autobiography of the Villainous Mister Simple, to a few others.
The best thing people can do is stay tuned to my Twitter feed (@AdamDreece) or my facebook page (AdamDreeceAuthor) to find out what’s coming next.
Thanks so much for the interview, Jayne. This was great.
The Man of Cloud 9
AmzMc9 (this is an internationalized link, UK folks sent to UK, CA to .ca)
Order signed hardcopies from Owl's Nest: http://bookmanager.com/
The Yellow Hoods
Amazon eBook & Print: http://smarturl.it/
The Wizard Killer