When my wife and I bought TAM a couple of years ago, we wanted to use the site to help shine a light on the artists, writers and creators behind the projects we love. So, it’s with a great swell of pride that I get to talk about “Haven, Kansas,” a new book from New York Times Bestselling Author, Alethea Kontis.
“Haven, Kansas” has taken a long trip from Alethea’s imagination to the book’s published form, and many drafts were read by a lot of her friends over the past decade. This week, the book was finally published in e-book, hardback and paperback formats. It’s a fun, chilling story that feels as if it should be a part of Joss Whedon’s universe.
Haven, Kansas started out as a screenplay I wrote over Fourth of July weekend, sometime around 2004. I decided to turn it into a novel in November of 2005 as my first foray into NaNoWriMo. It was the first book I ever finished, clocking in at a little under 40,000 words. Based on comments from my Codex critique partners, I revised it, made it longer. Worked with established authors—dear friends who loved the concept and gave it their blessing—revising it further still. In 2010, armed with more experience after finishing Enchanted, I revised it again. In 2014, based on the recommendations of my agent who loved the manuscript so much she didn’t want to give up on it, I revised it again.
Countless beta readers, countless edits, countless other books and TV shows called Haven, multiple rounds of rejections from every desk in New York because they just couldn’t find a place for it…this little story has been through the ringer. But we live in the future now! At last, I finally have the ability put this long-beloved gem into your hands.
This book has been over eleven years in the making. To thank everyone involved would take another novel. On top of which, two of those original authors who gave their blessing have since passed away.
I am honored to finally share their blurbs with you…
To read the rest, please visit her blog, and you can buy “Haven, Kansas” here:
Jeremy Scott is one of the co-creators, writers and the narrator for the popular YouTube channel, Cinema Sins. In under two years, the Cinema Sins channel has amassed more than 4 million subscribers and has released an average of at least two “sins” videos a week. With the YouTube channel being so popular, Jeremy Scott has just released his debut novel, “The Ables.” Within 24 hours of being announced it became the #1 Barnes & Noble bestseller, the #1 “Amazon Hot New Release,” and the #1 title on “Amazon Movers & Shakers.”
“The Ables” is a story about disabled super-powered kids who are “invisible” or “less than” in society’s eyes, due to their disabilities. The main characters of the novel are led by Phillip, a blind teenager with telekinetic abilities who refuses to let anyone tell him what he can or cannot do. Faced with a threat powerful enough to tear apart their families, town and the world beyond, the kids form a team of superheroes and together help each other to overcome their disabilities and protect the ones they love.
Days after “The Ables” hit the shelves, Jeremy took time to talk to TAM about the book, its creation, and the business of self publishing.
When did you first come up with the idea for “The Ables”?
It was probably about 10 years ago. I was bored and sketching on a piece of paper, and the idea I started with was actually about senior citizens who were judges, attorneys, former cops and other people connected to the criminal justice system. They were a part of a vigilante super-hero squad after hours, but they were all disabled.
So, I drew these character names, descriptions and doodles and then set it aside. After that, it just kind of stayed in my brain and I kept coming back to it and attacking it from different angles. I think what mostly drove me was the idea of a super-powered individual in a world of superheroes, but who was stuck between the heroes and regular humans due to some sort of hindrance of their abilities, or physical disability, as it ended up in the book.
Eventually, I changed the characters to children and the book began to formulate, but it was just an idea that never left. A lot of my ideas come and go, but this one just planted itself.
When did you actually decide to sit down and turn the idea into a book?
My partner on the Cinema Sins YouTube channel, Chris, and I had been friends for about fifteen years. We both had ideas for stories, so we decided to keep each other honest and write at the same time and share chapters every week. “The Ables” was actually the book that came out of our second exercise doing that. We had each written another novel and while my first one was terrible, I think I needed to get it out of the way.
“The Ables” had started off as a comic book in my mind. Once I accepted that I can’t draw and don’t know anybody in that world, but I can write, that’s when it became a novel in my mind and I started typing.
How many hours do you think you actually put into writing it?
Oh my goodness… a lot. Hundreds and hundreds if not more. I wrote for a couple of hours a night for seven or eight months on the first draft and then over the last eight years there have been close to 20 rewrites. Some of those were more intensive than others. I don’t even begin to know how many hours, but I bet it is easily mind-blowing.
Was there ever a time in the story’s development that you began to have an issue with the narrative being through the perspective of a blind person?
The challenge of that was sort of why I did it. When I first thought of the idea, I originally wrote in third person perspective for about a third of the book. Something was missing though, so I went back and started over in the first person, which is a little more natural for me to write in anyway. I thought that while I am sure I’m not only author to ever write in the first person perspective of a blind person, the idea is definitely unique. I thought it would be interesting to try the to tell the story using either visuals from other people or Phillip’s other senses. It was tough. There were definitely times where I couldn’t do what I wanted to in terms of my original plan, but I think the book is better for it.
So there are elements in the book that seem to be left open for the future. Do you hope to revisit the universe of “The Ables?”
For sure. I’m not trying to count any chickens before they hatch, so I’m not actively writing anything yet, but I’ve got an outline of four stories that I want to tell. So, if everything goes well, there will be future stories in this world and with these characters.
Can you talk a little bit about working with CloverCroft publishing and the “custom publishing” model that they use?
We’ve had nothing but a good experience with the CloverCroft people. They’re local to Nashville, like we are, and somebody that works with us had an existing relationship with them. That’s how we started working with them. Make no mistake about it… we’re cheating. We’re self published, but we’re starting with the Cinema Sins audience on YouTube to market the book to, which gives us an advantage. Our model was always to parlay our audience from YouTube and market the book to them, so we don’t need the system that’s already there for the publishing world. CloverCroft’s setup was perfect for that.
What kind of benefits did CloverCroft bring to the table for you?
As I understand it, if I had gone to one of the big publishers, pitched it and had it accepted, a lot of the decisions would then have been out of my hands. It wasn’t really about finances so much as it was about what the cover was going to look like, what the formatting was going to look like and how the marketing campaign was going to run. When you are published through one of the big publishing houses, you lose some control of that stuff, and that was pretty important to me. My audience on YouTube, I feel, needs to be treated with a certain kind of respect in the way you market to them.
For me, that was the big thing, but then I remember a session where I sat down and picked everything I wanted. What kind of font, what kind of cover stock, what kind of paper… that was a really exciting day. I’m not sure if you were to go through the traditional publishing route that you would get to have all of those meetings. I’m not sure, but I don’t think you do.
Given the amount of time you put into Cinema Sins every week, how do you approach time management for yourself?
I struggle a lot with focus. I’ll put a kitchen timer on the desk when I’m really trying to get something done. I’ll set it to thirty minutes, work until it beeps, leave the room to do something else and then come back to it. I have to segment what I do, but it’s not scheduled so much. The luxury of being my own boss and working from home is that since I get a lot more done late at night than most people, I can stay up late and get the work done and not have to punch in at nine o’clock the next morning. I can sleep in if I want.
The videos on the Cinema Sins channel will always be 90% of what our time goes to any given week, until we get to a point where we can hire and train writers who think like we do to start taking some of the load off. I won’t be able to write a sequel to the book until we get to that point. It’s just too much time being spent on making the videos.
As a self publisher in print and online, what do you think your biggest challenge that faces you is? How have you overcome it?
Chris and I both worked for an online marketing news and information website called ReelSEO. For a couple of years I was an editor on the site, writing articles about how to grow a YouTube channel, about the YouTube Creator Playbook, search engine optimization for video and other subjects. Other than all of that, which seeped into our brains while we worked there, most of which we followed when we started our own channel, we were just very lucky.
Our first video got posted to Buzzfeed by someone other than us and that brought us a wave of coverage. After that it was just promotional hustle. Everyone that wrote about us that first week, we reached out to and told them we were making another video the next week. We were able bounce that coverage for four to five weeks with pretty big publications. Obviously, exposure is huge and I feel like a jerk telling someone that, because we kind of got lucky.
So, what’s next the idea for you?
We have other ideas, other plans for growth. We’re talking to other YouTube channels about entirely new endeavors that we would create together and co-own. We’re developing a series for Chris where he is going to travel around and do some movie trivia stuff that I am pretty excited about. We have plenty of people working for us now and managing the side channels we’ve started. For me, creatively, the next book is where my heart is. I can’t wait to get it going, whether it’s a sequel to “The Ables” or another story, I just loved the experience of doing it so much that I want to do it again.
“The Ables” is available now, in paperback, audiobook and for The Amazon Kindle. Order a copy here.
Be sure to visit the Cinema Sins website and watch some of their very funny videos. “No movie is without sin.”
“Star Wars” had new life breathed into it when Bantam Spectra released the “Heir to the Empire” 22 years ago; the first book in what is now known as “The Thrawn Trilogy.” Author Timothy Zahn’s story was set five years after the events of “Return of the Jedi” and featured the return of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the rest of the heroes of the rebellion. It became the first book in what is now known as the “Star Wars Expanded Universe.”
His original characters from “Heir to the Empire,” Admiral Thrawn, Mara Jade and Captain Palleon have gone on to become some of the most beloved characters in the “Star Wars” universe. Since “Heir to the Empire” was released, Mr. Zahn has gone on to write numerous other “Star Wars” novels, comics and short stories.
At Dragon Con 2013 in Atlanta, Mr. Zahn took some time to discuss writing and publishing in today’s changing marketplace.
Pointing at the iPad that had been placed on the table to record the interview, Mr. Zahn began talking about the first subject of the interview: technology. “I finally realized why I don’t like these things,” he said. “It’s because when I first started with a computer, we were careful not to touch the screen and we were TOLD not to touch the screen. Now, we’re supposed to touch the screen. It’s weird. I’m getting used to the idea, but that’s what my problem is with them. Tablets are fun to play with and occasionally read from, but I am always going to need a laptop to type with … an actual keyboard.”
When asked to explain how his approach to writing as evolved with technology over the past 20 years, he explained that he had gone from using pencils to a laptop. “I had no computer when I started out. I was unable to compose at a typewriter, because there were always changes to do and when there were strikethroughs and additions and such, I couldn’t read for flow because I kept fumbling over these changes. So, I always wrote it all in pencil, longhand in notebooks using every other line so that I could edit in the changes, add stuff in, erase, whatever. Once I got it into proper format, then I would go ahead and type it up to send it out.
“I love the computer because if I want to take out this word, I take it out and it still flows. You won’t see what’s gone and I can still read it for flow. I always work on laptops because I travel enough that I need to work on the airplane, and I work pretty well on planes. So, I can keep up with things that way.”
Technology has managed to fold back on itself, however. “Ironically, the last few books I’ve done, especially when I’m doing collaborations or other such things, we work with the track change feature in Microsoft Word and I’m right back to where I didn’t want to be with the typewriter. Because now, all those strikeouts are still visible and everything else is in different colors, so we’re back to exactly what I didn’t want to do.
“On the other hand, it’s convenient in many ways. ‘The Terminator Salvation’ prequel book I did, I was working with Titan Books in London and I think we went through like three versions of the book, changes and such without it ever hitting paper. You know, just emailing it back and forth. I still remember the old days, when even with a computer, I would budget a morning to printing out, tearing the pages apart, packing it into the box, address it and mail it to my agent. So, the ability to say ‘okay, it’s done,’ attach the file and send it out is immensely handy to be able to do.”
Mr. Zahn wasn’t always planning on being a writer. Before he dedicated his time to chronicling the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, he was a physics grad student. While he was writing as a hobby, it wasn’t until his adviser had passed away and he was told that he would need to start a project from scratch that the writing became a full-time job. “I decided I was having more fun writing, so I went from budding physicist to struggling writer in about a day … well, a week or so from when I actually made the decision to when I started full time. I spent that first year just doing short fiction. The second year I started on my first novel … doing about two weeks on the novel, then taking a break and writing a short story, etc. Then, I started doing novels, started mixing novels and short fiction, and eventually doing mostly novels, though I still do two or three short stories every year or two in addition.”
When asked if there was a particular format that provided him a guilty pleasure, he brushed off the mere notion. “I have no guilt about any of these things! It’s all pure pleasure. A novel is a mural, a short story is an 8-by-10 drawing or painting and a comic book is someplace midway between, or halfway to movie or TV. They are slightly different challenges and capabilities.
“In a novel I can do a lot more development, more plot threads, more characters. I can be a little more wordy in descriptions and such. In a short story, I have to write a lot more tightly. Every word has to matter. They’re different. They’re both fun, they’re both challenging; graphic novels, again the same thing … different style, different abilities, different drawbacks. I like all of them. I would like to do more graphic novels; I just haven’t had the opportunity. Short stories, someone will invite me to a collection and volunteer something. Novels are the bread and butter of the writer of course. They pay better and you get royalties down the line.”
In regards to the appeal of the graphic novel format, he explained that he appreciated the ability to let the reader discover on their own. “For example, in the six-part Mara Jade comic that Michael A. Stackpole and I did, ‘Mara Jade: By the Emperor’s Hand,’ one issue ends with Mara Jade having a fight with some bad guys who murdered her boss and such, and she’s decided to take out the gang.
“Well, the opening of issue four has Mara Jade at a cafe type place working on a computer trying to figure out where they might be. On the table is the distinctive knife the bad guys use, and I specifically put it [in the script] to be there as either a warning: ‘I’m part of the group, don’t mess with me,’ or it’s bait. But, it’s something that in a novel or in a short story you’d have to say ‘Mara put the knife here to entice any possible leads toward her.’ In the comic, I can just have it there, and the sharp-eyed reader can spot it and see she’s doing something with it. So, you can be more subtle and have more Easter egg type of things that are harder to do in the prose aspect.”
As a writer, organization and research are often paramount to success. Since he is primarily a science fiction writer he explained that often times research isn’t as important as documentation. “I usually use 4-by-6 index cards, and write down the characters and any of their distinguishing features gets added to that. If I’m doing something that requires a lot of research, I will probably find websites or pages and copy them into a file on my computer so that I have a quick reference type of thing.
“Ideally, as for the ‘Honor Harrington’ universe collaborations I am doing with David Weber, David already has a researcher who’s worked on the ‘Honor Herrington’ companion and such. I shoot questions to the researcher and he’s the one with the database, so he goes through the effort of digging things out if he doesn’t remember them, or creating the new tech I am going to need. So, I do as little research as I can get away with because it takes time, and I’d rather be writing.”
The publishing market has changed dramatically since Mr. Zahn began his career. Now, self-publishing, e-books and crowd sourced funding are all common practices. When asked if he felt that the traditional practice of shopping a book around to different publishers was still the best way to become successful, he had a good bit of insight to offer. “Well, the editing process [that publishers provide] is definitely good and necessary for pretty much everybody. But on the other hand, there are freelance editors out there. The editor that was on my first ‘Star Wars Thrawn’ trilogy is now freelancing. She also works for the Open Road people, but she does freelance editing. If you want to self publish, you can hire a freelance editor to clean up your stuff before you do that. There are lots of opportunities that didn’t exist 20 years ago, so we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
Freelance editors aside, Mr. Zahn had some other insights into the benefits of traditional publishing. “If you come out under a traditional publisher, the reader knows somebody edited this thing and somebody else thought it was worth paying some of their hard earned money to the author. So, you’ve got a ‘junk filter.’ Theoretically you have less garbage coming out of a major publisher than you do out of the self-publishing which doesn’t cost anything. So, I think still, traditional publishing is a good way to go if you can.”
But, he was quick to point out that the larger point is for the writer to not give up just because the traditional approach might not work right away. “The one piece of advice I can offer is: if you want to write, keep writing. Keep reading so you see what you like and don’t like in other people’s work. Incorporate into your work what you like and avoid what you don’t. Find your own voice. Write the story, finish the story, send out the story or put it on your website or whatever, and go on to the next one. A lot of brilliant writing minds out there will never be heard from because they quit. Their first story didn’t sell the first time, or whatever so they stopped doing it. Persistence is a major part of all of this.
“I don’t know how relevant it is now, but I started out with short fiction because the magazines were always looking for new writers. There are e-magazines out there still and they also serve the purpose of the traditional publisher of filtering out some of the bad stuff. Also, if you can do short fiction, I think those markets are easier to break into than the novels. Self-pub if you like – try the traditional route, or e-magazine, but just keep at it. Keep writing.”
Finally, the interview wouldn’t be over unless he was asked about “Star Wars: Episode VII.” When asked what he would do if JJ Abrams were to call him up tomorrow and ask for his help, he was very succinct. “Let me put it this way: we are a 10 hour drive from Lucasfilm HQ at the Presidio in San Francisco, Calif. I would make it in eight hours.”