Sunday, July 1, 2012

Indie Horror Spotlight with Author Vlad Vaslyn


If you ever get the chance to speak with horror author Vlad Vaslyn, I’m certain that you will discover the same thing I did—an indie writer who handles his work and his online presence with the height of professionalism and dedication. In the interview transcript below, you’ll find plenty of evidence for such an assertion. You’ll also learn a lot about what it really takes to write and prepare an independently created novel for the marketplace, all while working full-time, going to school, and being a husband. After reading, be sure to check out the links at the end to give his work a shot, and stop by his website (www.TheVlad.net) for some great indie novel reviews and fun informational tidbits like his weekly column dedicated to all things weird.

1. How long have you been writing horror fiction?

For about twenty years now. I began when I was fourteen years old with a story called Hatchet Harry. Feel free to laugh at the cheesy title! I was alone overnight, had nothing to do, and I'd been devouring Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels like there was no tomorrow. I'd secretly wanted to be writer ever since I could remember, so I took the plunge that night and never looked back. I still have a lot of those old stories, but literary Nirvana they are not! Still, I had to start somewhere, and Hatchet Harry was as good a place as any.

2. On your twitter profile, you say that you write “genre fiction with a literary twist.” What do you mean by that?

I combine the kind of character-driven stories found in literary fiction with terrifying and fantastic elements. My characters are not the static personalities often found in genre work, although that's not to say that many of those stories aren't great, they're just not mine. I push myself to add depth and dimension to even secondary characters because to me, the most gratifying novels are the ones that rely on character revelations and growth. I seek to emulate these elements in my own stories.

3. Before we go too far, take a minute to sell potential readers on your writing and, specifically, Brachman’s Underworld.

Brachman's Underworld is like seeing Lewis Carroll's character Alice in her dreams of Wonderland, but also seeing her awake and at home in the real world - one reality reflects the other. In my novel, you see Delilah Brachman's life as she faces everyday challenges, you see her navigate the strange and deadly world of Other Lowell where demons jockey for position and power, and you watch her change for better or worse. Throw in an idealist tyrant, a demon intent on supplanting God, and a disease that infects the food supply, and let the fun begin!

4. Brachman’s Underworld seems like the kind of book that would posit some interesting philosophies on the afterlife. Does the vision of the afterlife contained within it stem from any particular theological perspective?

In a word, no. The religious thrust of Brachman's Underworld is pretty broad, and it's meant to encompass a wide range of theological perspectives. It does raise questions that are often asked in Western and Eastern religions alike: did you live a good life, do you deserve to move on? Why? My book is far less about falling short of a specific dogma than it is about falling short of being a decent human being. Also, I think that a person's experiences are subjective, so likewise their judgments are subjective, and I wanted my novel to reflect this concept. What if you die and end up in a moral gray area somewhere "In-Between?" Add in individual moral codes, or lack thereof, and you've got some interesting dynamics to work with.

5. How much time do you spend doing research before writing something, and what kind of things have you learned for a writing project that you didn’t know before you started on that particular project?

I'll typically spend a year or more researching topics for a novel, depending on their length. For example, I spent a week just walking around Lowell, MA, the setting for Brachman's Underworld, and ended up with over eight hundred pictures of the city. I really wanted to get Delilah's Lowellian background right (yes, we call ourselves Lowellians :-), and these walks acquainted me with my city in unexpected ways. I found little oddities everywhere that I never would've noticed before. Lowell is speckled with all sorts of leftovers from its industrial zenith, so you can find walled-over doors, bridge pilings supporting nothing but pigeons and air, staircases that end abruptly at walls...all sorts of weird stuff. These ways of passage from a bygone era became the basis for the Nighthalls, the secret passages that lead "behind the walls of reality" in Brachman's Underworld. They're based on some of the things that actually exist in the city, or did at one time.

I also learned about medieval torture devices. Honest Jack has a bizarre but effective knack for using torture to get his way, so I spent hours perusing the internet for diagrams and images of devices that were actually used during times of conflict and the Inquisition. I'm also a junkie when it comes to documentaries. It doesn't matter what it is, if it's interesting, I'll watch it. You'd be surprised how many good ideas come from a bunch of random topics that seem unrelated.

6. In a recent blog post on thevlad.net you talk about an interesting experiment you tried when writing Brachman’s Underworld, i.e. giving readers of your site a chance to shape the story. That seems like a great idea to me that just didn’t pan out as you expected. Would you be open to other creative experiments in the future to engage an audience, or are you now committed to the solitary process of writing?

For the time being, I'm committed to the solitary process of writing because my time is at a premium. I work full-time, go to school part-time, and I'm an author, so I'm constantly juggling my priorities. Once I'm able to transition to being a full-time author (fingers crossed), then I'll be able to open myself up to other creative experiments. I do daydream about doing collaborative projects from time to time, and I look forward to a time when I'll be able to do more of them.

7. On your website, I can see that you are reading all the blogs of the big self-published heavyweights (J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, etc.). Now that you have dipped your toe into the water of self-publishing, what are you learning that you may not have expected from reading their stories?

I feel like their blogs prepared me very well for what to expect when going indie, and I'd recommend their blogs to anyone planning to self-publish. However, I did spend about a year and half before publishing Brachman's Underworld researching how things are done so that I wasn't completely blindsided by the sheer volume of work involved.

8. When speaking with you previously, you mentioned that you were very interested in the process of editing fiction. What is your editing process like from first draft to completed copy?

I've developed a system over the past two years that seems to be working pretty well. I do the first edit digitally, and then print it out and do a second and sometimes a third edit because I catch a lot of things that I would've missed reading off the computer screen. My wife does the next, and then one more before it goes to my editor. My editor and I will then go back and forth as many times as needed - I rely heavily on her judgment. Finally, my wife takes a final pass just to make sure everything is as polished as it can be without a major publishing house behind us. Once this process was completed for Brachman's Underworld, the book had been edited sixteen times. It's a longer process than I would like, but necessary.


9. Did you hire a graphic designer/artist to design your book cover or did you do it yourself? And what advice would you give a prospective author about cover design?

I commissioned a very talented illustrator to design my cover image because I wanted something specific and unique - I wanted a piece of art that would echo some of the devices I use in the story, but this approach had its pros and cons. Pro: I learned a heck of a lot about the industry specs required for a novel, and about the process of formatting the cover in general. Con: We had to go back and make adjustments several times in order to get it right, which was nerve-wracking and time consuming.

The illustrator I used isn't technically a cover designer, but I was confident in his artistic abilities, and I'm happy with the final product. Now that we have a better handle on what we're doing, I plan to stick with him for my next couple of titles, since I really enjoy his work and his ability to capture my vision. That said, if I were speaking to a prospective author about cover design, I would recommend a seasoned designer in order to avoid the headaches of learning how to do it yourself.

10. What role do you think a website plays in building an author platform?

If Facebook and Twitter are where you get a number, then your website is where you take your date to dinner. Social media gives you the chance to interest countless people in your brand, but in the world of micro-byte one-liners and instantly digestible media, you need to offer substance to get them to stick around. This is where your website comes in, because convincing someone to read your 300 page novel based on a 140 character tweet is a tall order if you're not Stephen King. Social media is all about rapid-fire content, but books require a commitment from readers, so something more static is necessary. I build relationships through social media, but I use my website to host the bulk of my content.

11. Did you try to publish with a mainstream publisher or obtain an agent for Brachman’s Underworld before self-publishing it? If so, what was the experience like? If not, what made you go it on your own from the start?

I decided to forgo the traditional route on this one, and I'm glad to say that it's been the right decision so far. Case in point: I've sent out 30 book review requests just in the last few weeks to various book bloggers and Amazon reviewers, and received four positive responses. That's not a bad ratio considering that I've sent out at least 100 queries to traditional agents and publishers over the years and received zero positive responses. So far it's a no-brainer, and the self-published route has the added advantage of connecting me directly with readers and other authors. Plus, it's gratifying as hell.

My editor really wanted me to find an agent for Brachman's Underworld since she's a traditionally published author and feels that this is still the way to go, but ironically our conversation had the opposite effect on me! After discussing it with her and a few other authors, it seemed that the average time to getting a book to market is over two years, and that's assuming I could find an agent in about 6 months! I knew I could do better, and after seeing so many successful independent authors, I decided to dive right in. I'm eager to bring more titles to market, so why wait?

12. What are your thoughts on pricing for a self-published novel? Do you see yourself utilizing the kindle select program to offer a free period to generate interest or do you think that giving away books devalues them?

I've priced my book at $3.99 for all digital versions. It's a 500 page epic, so I feel that $3.99 is a pretty fair price. Plus, this price point leaves me a little wiggle room to run discounts and sales later on. I think this is a tough decision for every self-published author, and since I've just released Brachman's Underworld, I'm still learning about this aspect of the business. I realize that I may need to change this price point from time to time.

I definitely plan to use the Kindle Select Program to generate interest as well! This is a great service that a lot of authors have successfully leveraged into spreading the word about their work. I don't see free promotions as devaluing books because giving away a certain amount of free copies is always necessary, especially if you're just starting out. Book bloggers and other industry reviewers get advanced review copies, so why not go directly to your customers? Their reviews matter too, and a happy customer is a happy author!

13. I see that you have begun to review other indie author’s books on your site. Do you have any indie writers to recommend that people should be buying?

I'm addicted to Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn right now, a sci-fi novel about mind-reading teenagers. Talk about crack! I can't put this book down!

14. What kind of schedule do you impose on yourself to ensure enough time to write in a day, and how do you balance living life with writing?

Scheduling time to write is always a feat. I try to get at least 24 hours of writing or editing in each week, and shoot for 2,000 words per session at the minimum. This time is inevitably split between nights, weekends, and mornings however, and it's not always easy to get the creative juices flowing at 5 am, or after a day at the office. It's a passion though, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Well, okay, I would, but reality is reality at the moment.

15. Well, you’ve done a tremendous amount of work and Brachman’s Underworld is out there now for people to pickup. So, what can you tell us about where your muse is taking you for your next project?

I hope to have Eddie Starcruiser out by late December. Geared toward all ages, this is the type of sci-fi adventure story I would've read when I was a kid...when I wasn't sneaking horror books out of the library on my older sister's library card! Eddie, an alien boy, along with an orphan from Earth, a psychic cat, and a thinking tree get sucked into a space adventure for a mythical device called the Apollo Box that can destroy and create suns. Meanwhile, the evil Grehan is making the Altruvian sun fade, and the planet is suffering under her iron grip. Can Grehan and her wicked henchmen be defeated? For horror fans, I'm working on a novella, as well as a horror/fantasy epic called Travelin' Isaac. Look for those in 2013!

16. Is your wife a horror fan? If not, how does she deal with a husband that is walking around with the plot of a horror novel in his head at all times?

She is NOT a horror fan, and getting her to read It or anything else by Stephen King was like pulling teeth. Now she says that It is one of her favorite novels, so I consider that a victory. My wife is one of the most well-read people I know, so her perspectives on my stories, especially from a developmental standpoint, have proved invaluable. She takes the darker elements of my work in stride, because she understands that one of the reasons I write is so that I don't turn my mind toward darker things.

17. Thank you very much for spending some of your time on Strange Amusements. It was my pleasure to have you as part of the site. In closing, take this opportunity to give a list of the places that people can find you on the web and where they can get a copy of Brachman’s Underworld.

An absolute pleasure to be here, Nick! Thanks again for this opportunity! I look forward to visiting often!





All other digital formats: www.Smashwords.com

Website: www.TheVlad.net

2 comments:

  1. A very interesting profile that I really enjoyed reading. I definitely agree that 3.99 sounds like a fair price for this amount of effort and quality. The author's upcoming projects sound pretty promising, will have to check those out.

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  2. Thanks for your feedback, Alex P! I'm glad you agree about my pricing, since this is something that I think most indie authors wrestle with; where is the sweet spot? It might be $O.99 for one author, and $7.99 for another, depending on what type of books they write! I hope you have a chance to check out my work - the first 6 chapters are available for free download at www.TheVlad.net. Thanks again for your comment! -Vlad Vaslyn

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