Describing himself as a newbie self-publishing writer, Derek J Canyon was inspired by JA Konrath’s success in epublishing. After discovering his blog and reading it for about two days, he decided to dust off an old, rejected manuscript. That novel, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance, is due for release in November.
He also had 3 short stories that led up to the novel, and decided to publish them in an anthology, Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, which has been available since September 30th on Amazon.
For the last 13 years, his day job has been working as a Technical Writer at Microsoft in the Seattle area. A great place to work, it gives him the financial freedom to pay for cool covers and editing on his ebooks. But, spending all day wracking his brain to write computer documentation does sometimes sap his creativity before he gets home. Alas, one must take the bad with the good. He lives with his wonderful wife Shari and their long-haired chihuahua Andy in the exotic wilderness east of Seattle.
Tell us about Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds in a few sentences.
It is an anthology of three cyberpunk short stories revolving around criminal scum and the violence they perpetrate in the technological excess of the 22nd century. Vat-grown foods have eliminated hunger, bacterial petroleum is cheap and clean, and genetically engineered neohumans do the jobs no one else wants to do. But, even in such a world of plenty, humanity still suffers from hate, strife, and apathy. As always, criminals prowl the edges and feed on the chaos, and each other.
How did you come to write this particular book?
I had the title for my novel Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance in my head since about the late 1980s. Around 1994, I wrote the novel in 3 months. I didn’t do any revisions or editing. Not surprisingly, my efforts to find an agent and publisher were unsuccessful. I let the manuscript languish for 15 years until I saw JA Konrath’s blog and bought into his Kindle evangelizing. I spent the last couple months cleaning up the book, and I’m releasing it on Amazon in late October.
To give readers a taste of my writing, I just released an anthology of short stories, Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, set in the same world. These stories are actually a prequel trilogy to the novel. I’ve priced it at 99 cents, so it’s a cheap way to decide if you like my writing enough to buy the $2.99 novel later this month.
If you have a favourite character in your novel, why that particular one?
Noose the genetically engineered dwarf assassin. He’s cool, he’s tough, he’s hard-boiled, and he smokes a cherut. Imagine Dirty Harry, Rambo, and John McClain scrunched down into Gimli’s body, then throw him into Blade Runner and there you go. He only plays a brief role in the third story in Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds. However, he is the protagonist in Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance.
Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?
It’s set in the early 22nd century. The world is governed by the United Globe, a descendent of the United Nations. Everyone lives in vast metroplexes scattered around the world, while the rest of the world is being restored to pristine wilderness. These stories are set in North America, one in a desert prison arcology, the other two in the Regional Atlanta Metroplex.
Due to the travel undertaken by some of the characters in the upcoming novel, I needed the story to start east of Texas. I arbitrarily chose Atlanta. Therefore, the three prequel short stories also relate to Atlanta.
How can people buy your books?
My short story anthology is currently on Amazon. The novel will be available in November.
What qualities make a successful writer?
I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this, as I’m just a beginner. However, I expect that successful writers must be determined, imaginative, marketable, thick-skinned, patient, and in it for the long haul. In the traditional publishing arena, you also have to be well-connected and/or lucky.
I don’t expect to get rich overnight selling my ebooks. I’m hoping to break even within a year by selling around 2000 copies. Hopefully, in five years, when I have more titles available, I’ll have a nice tidy novel income to supplement my real job.
How do you set about writing a piece?
The genesis for one of my stories might come from a title (as it did with Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance) or a character, scene or setting. Once I have a story seed, I spend about a month outlining the entire plot. For a full length novel, this outline might be about 10 pages. Then, I bang out the first draft. I can write about 1000 words an hour, with gusts up to 1500. My daily writing record is 5000 words in one day. After I finish the first draft, I rewrite six or seven times. Each revision has a different goal, such as correcting plot holes/errors, cleaning up dialogue, purging extraneous content, tightening the prose, adding descriptions, etc. After about the 8th draft, I’m ready to hand off to an editor.
It takes me a total of about 200 hours to write a novel and get it into editable condition. That’s 200 hours of sitting at the keyboard typing, not counting the countless hours I spend outlining and thinking about the story.
Beginning writers make many mistakes; what do you think is the most harmful?
Inaction, procrastination, impatience, thin-skin, and excessive expectations. If you don’t write, you’re not a writer. It’s much better to write today than tomorrow. Don’t expect immediate responses or sales. Don’t expect every review to be glowing and take constructive negative reviews seriously. Don’t expect to make a living writing unless you spend five years building your market.
To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?
They are almost as important as imagination and plot. In self-pubbing, you can always hire an editor to clean up your grammar and spelling mistakes, but that can cost $25/hr. So, the cleaner your manuscript, the less money you spend on editing. If you’re going the NY publishing route, you better get your grammar and spelling in tip top shape or the agents and publishers won’t read beyond your first few mistakes.
How much revision of your MS do you do before you send it off?
At least seven revisions.
To what extent do you think genre is useful in the publishing world?
It is immensely important. How else will I find the books I like to read? How else will my target audience find my book? It’s much easier to say cyberpunk or science fiction than it is to say “It’s set in a near future Earth where computers, cybernetics, and genetics all mixed up together.”
How do you know where to begin any given story?
Never begin in the beginning. Start the book in the middle of a scene. Start it with a reverse cliffhanger. Drop the reader into the middle of something with limited information and then slowly reveal what’s going on.
What sort of displacement activities keep you from actually writing?
I suffered a yearlong bout of writer’s block during my home remodel because my general contractor was terrible. Fatigue from my real job, where I have to use my mind 8 hours a day. That can get tiring and make creative writing difficult in the evenings. Xbox, Big Bang Theory, RPGs and board games constantly lure me away from writing.
Do you have support, either from family and friends or a writing group?
My wife is very supportive and provides me with lots of motivation and input.
Is presentation of the MS as important as most agents and publishers suggest?
I do not have the experience necessary to answer this question.
How long does it normally take you to write a novel?
200 hours of typing for a manuscript that ends up being around 90,000 words when I hand it to editing. Those 200 hours, though, can take a year to accumulate.
Who or what inspires you?
JA Konrath, JK Rowling, Agatha Christie, Louis Lamour, ER Burroughs.
If there’s a single aspect to writing that really frustrates you, what is it?
I don’t get frustrated when writing creatively. I find it immensely enjoyable. If I am ever able to sustain a career as a novelist I will be in 7th heaven.
Is there any aspect of writing that you really enjoy?
Everything except the business end.
Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?
Acquired. I read voraciously as a kid, and I think that tempered me into writing. It fed my imagination, nurtured it, unleashed it. Now, I have an excessively overactive imagination which fuels my writing. I don’t think someone who has not encouraged their imagination would be good at story telling.
What single piece of advice would you give to writers still hoping to be published?
A tiny fraction of writers can earn a living as a novelist in the print publishing world. That probably isn’t me or you. However, with dedication and skill, after five or ten years of epublishing, you should be able to earn a nice living with your ebook income. Especially with the projected growth of the ebook market. For more inspiration in this regard, go read JA Konrath’s blog.
What are you writing now?
I’m finishing up a YA novel. I’ll be trying to get an agent and go the NY publishing route with that one. But, I’ll end up epubbing if those efforts prove fruitless.
Do you have a website or a blog that readers can visit?
Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?
In the mountains with a spectacular view of snow-capped, rugged peaks, castles, alpine lakes, trees, and raptors soaring about. Of course, I’d be on a balcony of a castle, in a comfy chair, with fruit and juice near at hand. Music appropriate to my current writing project is of course playing on my stereo.
Where do you actually write?
In my home office with a good speaker system and lots of mood music. I have a view of the street, but often enjoy fruit and juice graciously provided by my great wife.