Author Tony Noland, known by many as author of ‘The Grammarian‘ and the nationally recognized ‘Ode to the Semicolon‘, kindly agreed to an interview about his new book ‘Blood Picnic and other stories.’ For those unfamiliar with his work, he regularly posts to the #FridayFlash meme on Twitter via his blog Landless. His newest project, his recently published book, provides readers with a fine sampling of his writing.
How did you get into writing? What motivated you?
From 2004-2008 I had a blog that dealt primarily with weight loss and exercise, but also had random posts about life, movies, tech, or whatever I felt like. In 2006, I posted the opening scene of a science fiction novel. I should note that all I had was the opening scene, a fight scene, and a half-baked plot. Some readers really liked the fiction and challenged me to do NaNaWriMo that year. I did, and completed it. That made me realize that writing fiction just takes an idea, some time and some effort. Of course, writing GOOD fiction takes a lot more than that, but we all discover that, right?
How do you typically write on any given day? Do you set time aside or write between other activities?
I like to write in the mornings. Everything is so quiet at 4:00 a.m., I can let the coffee take hold and sink into whatever story I’m working on. However, I don’t write every day, and I don’t have a set schedule. Writing has to be fit in the spaces around work, family, etc.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
By nature, I’m a plotter. I like to have a roadmap to guide me as I work on longer pieces. However, in 2009 I made the mistake of doing a long, exhaustively detailed plot structure for NaNoWriMo. Adhering to that ended up sucking the life out of the project by preventing any crazy, last-minute deviations that would have taken the book into unexpected territory. The whole thing became a slog. In 2010 I just worked out the bones of a plot, 10-15 word descriptions of what would happen in each of 15 chapters. That worked much better.
Blood Picnic is your first book. What gave you the idea to release an anthology?
I started thinking about a flash fiction anthology when I finished up 2010 with “perfect attendance” at FridayFlash for the year. Since completing NaNoWriMo last year, I’ve been working on it as the first draft of a superhero novel, with a working title of “Goodbye Grammarian”. I’ve been fleshing it out, fixing it up and generally making a real book of it. My plan is to have it finished by the end of the year. I’ve been having some trouble with it, though, so I took a break and put together “Blood Picnic”. In a larger sense, I wanted to self-publish a book so I could see what that process was like, what was involved in it.
The anthology is divided into sections; Fantasy – Tales of the Heavens, Literary fiction – Tales of the Earth, Horror – Tales of the Moon, Magical realism – Tales of the Sun. What gave you the idea for those divisions?
The stories that I’d selected for this anthology ended up falling into these genre categories. It seemed too abrupt to just label the sections as Fantasy, Horror, etc. I noodled around for quite a while with different naming options. North, East, South West? Earth, Air, Fire, Water? These “Tales of…” names came along at some point and they stuck.
How did you decide which stories to include? What was your criteria?
Of all the stories I’ve put up on my blog for FridayFlash or have had on other sites, I picked the ones that evoked the strongest response in the readers and the ones I liked the best. I reexamined them with a more experienced eye and polished them up all over again. Then I took the comments from my beta reader and did it all over again before finalizing the anthology. Part of that finalization was to take out all the science fiction stories – by far the biggest section – and set them aside for their own anthology, which I’m working on now.
The cover for the book is wonderful. I understand you created it yourself. Would you describe how and why you designed your own cover?
“Why” is easier than “how”. I did it myself because I didn’t have the resources to pay an artist. Sad, but true. As to “how”, I first researched what made for a good cover, including all the comments on blog posts that discussed horrible covers and why they were so bad. I came up with a cover concept that had a thematic relationship to the title story, “Blood Picnic”, which is about a pulp fiction writer in the 1970s. Then, I pencil-sketched the concept a few times to help the visualization, and did the photo shoot. I set up my old typewriter with a few different props: the pencil, a knife, etc. I took at least forty shots with different kinds of lighting and angles until I got several I liked. Then I shot many more photos to zero in on a keeper. After that, I loaded the final image into GIMP (an open-source Photoshop-equivalent) and got to work on it. When it looked OK, I put the image out on twitter and my blog a few times for comments. Based on the feedback, I kept revising it with more blood spatters, better shadows, enhanced lighting, more dramatic focus lines, etc. I’m pleased with the final result.
Could you talk about why you decided to self publish instead of going through a separate publishing company? Maybe you could tell us a little about the process?
As it happens, after I tweeted about my idea for this anthology, an independent small press contacted me and expressed some interest in publishing “Blood Picnic”. That was pretty exciting, but unfortunately, the deal eventually fell through. After that, I decided not to wait for a publisher, but to do it myself, as had been my intention all along.
The process of self-publishing an anthology starts with the stories themselves. You write good stories, polish them to make them better, and arrange them so the reader’s attention is grabbed on page 1 and held until the end. Choosing a title involves a lot of second-guessing, and writing a blurb is an exercise in flirtatious restraint. It’s important to not let yourself get tied up with all the decisions, though. One can dither forever over getting something absolutely perfect. Having made the decisions at each point, I moved on to the next step in the process. It’s terribly important to read and follow the formatting guidelines (Smashwords, in my case). Once it’s written well, edited thoroughly, and formatted properly, you upload the book. After that, you wait to see which spelling mistakes you missed and which internal hyperlinks are broken. You fix those and upload again. Lather, rinse, repeat until the book is as perfect as you can reasonably make it. Then you publish it (and wait for the reviewers to point out the lingering typos and grammatical errors you missed!)
Are there things you know now that you didn’t know before, or things you wished you knew when you started?
I wish I’d known that Microsoft Word inserts hidden bookmarks into the formatting code for long manuscripts. Bastard!
Please let us know where we can find your work, twitter feed, etcetera.
My writing blog hosts a lot of my fiction. It’s http://www.TonyNoland.com. I’m @TonyNoland on Twitter, and you can find my on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/aSvNy1 My Amazon author page is at http://amzn.to/hWwRP9, and aside from that, check Google.
Thank you so much for your time. I know I’ve enjoyed your work in the past, and Blood Picnic was a wonderful read! I highly recommend everyone check it out.