Monday, June 16, 2014

Jamie Delano Interview: Small Press, Creative writing, and Poker

I met Jamie Delano online in 2002.  He was gracious and kind to a newbie interviewer, and gave me two great interviews since.  Also, I've often felt that he was a mentor, giving me help with creative ideas, and direction, when almost no one else cared or gave one single damn.  So I definitely am biased here.  I think Jamie is a great writer, and a better person.   He writes dark stories, and the common thought about writers of darkness, is that they themselves are dark.  But I can honestly say, Jamie is a source of light.  He isn't superhero or god, just, a very good person in my estimation.  This is an e-mail interview done over the span of a month, May 2014.

What recent/current cultural and world events have most influenced your creative work?

In the sixty years of (more or less) sentience that I have (more or less) enjoyed, the primary influence on my creativity has been in observing the heroic resistance of human individuals to the madness collectively wrought by their fellows.  Wars, political ideologies, religious and cultural icons have all provoked reaction from time to time – sometimes inspiring, more often appalling – but it is some sick intrinsic need to comprehend the curse of life, to make sense of the senseless and celebrate the futility of our existence that keeps me writing.

As an established writer, what led to you going the route of self or small publishing?

Most likely it is early-onset dementia at the helm there.  Never a natural fit for me, I found myself increasingly awkward in the world of comics writing.  I had a generally good time and made some good friends there, and count myself fortunate to have been able to make a moderate living as a writer in that (or any) medium for a number of years.  But nothing lasts forever; my audience was increasingly ‘niche’ and the time available to write the novels I’d always planned to seemed suddenly to be shrinking fast.  So I arsed around for a few more lazy years playing poker and growing peyote, just to increase the pressure, and then someone put a gun to my head and forced me to sit down in my loathed study and write BOOK THIRTEEN.  I was a bit shy about it when it was finished, and it didn’t feel like a ‘Jamie Delano’ story, and I liked the idea of designing the cover myself, editing myself batshit, and spending considerable sums of my ill-gotten Hellblazer royalties to make it available to a discerning few via my own imprint under a pen name.  In fact I liked it so much that – despite the fact that sales have barely covered printing costs, let alone reimbursed me for the time spent writing it – I decided to do it again with LEEPUS: DIZZY.  I enjoy writing prose and wish I had done more sooner; spending a year on a manuscript, and then editing the text, making the cover and producing a work which is all your own (and whose faults you can consequently blame on no one but yourself) is very satisfying to me.  It’s gratifying too when a few people buy it and say that they like it, but – just as well – the main pleasure for me is in the achievement, having a well-made artifact to hold.

Where do you see publishing in general, now that you've taken this step?

It’s all a bit confusing and I don’t pay all that much attention.  The self-publishing industry seems to have burgeoned exponentially; no one now need feel precluded by anything but time and inclination from writing and publishing their book.  And that is a great and liberating advancement.  But the writers are rarely the ones being rewarded on any financial level.  The money is made in the servicing of this technological opportunity; by the online ‘retail platforms’; the ‘Ten Things You Absolutely Must Do to Sell Your Self-published Novel’ merchants, etc., etc..  It feels a bit exploitative – putative ‘literary lions’ exploited as ‘content providers’ scrabbling for self-promotion.  All those 99 cent eBooks, giveaways, arbitrary price-reductions and sock-puppet scandals -- I’m personally less and less inclined to go there.  I made eBook editions of BOOK THIRTEEN available via Amazon, etc., while handling print editions direct, but if people want the new one – digital or print – they’ll need to buy it from me personally, or a bricks-and-mortar independent store that cares about the product.  And it’s likely BOOK THIRTEEN will be brought back in house in the next month or so.  Commercially suicidal?  Maybe – but I’m happier trying to write and produce books that offer satisfaction to the few readers that may find their way to them than desperately blogging from dawn till dusk to ‘sell myself’ and creep my title up the Amazon charts by a hundred-thousand places.  I guess I’m a writer who publishes his own books, rather than a salesman who makes his own product.  Call me precious, I don’t care.  That said, I do enjoy engaging directly with readers and others via social media, in the same way that I enjoy packaging a book when they buy it and taking it to the mail myself.

As a creative writer myself I'd like to ask, what makes you write.  Do you write for the reward of money, or do you think, if you were to be a very wealthy man otherwise you'd write nonetheless? I have to write.  I get antsy and bad dreams if I don't, but I know not everyone is the same.

The Word is a virulent infection communicated by those closest to us and, although well-meaning, already hopelessly corrupted.  The act of writing is torment and the outcome invariably disappointing – all those monster babies, but we still keep going at it hoping the next one will be perfect. To anyone who wants to make money out of writing I’d suggest practicing blackmail letters as likely the most profitable option.  I write to scratch a personal psychic itch; I was lucky for a number of years to be able to earn my living by that scratching via the medium of comics – but I started writing poems and stories around the age of twelve, and it wasn’t until I was twenty-seven that a friend suggested comics might provide a financially rewarding outlet for my compulsion.  Whatever I write, I do it primarily to please myself.  I’m easily bored, and writing allows me to pass the time exploring my imagination and trying to wrangle some kind of sense from the madness I find there.  When others also find my work pleasing and are willing to pay to read it, I’m grateful.  When they don’t, I’m disappointed, but I rarely regret my approach, or wish I’d gone a different route with a story.  A thing goes how it goes; once I’m embarked on my one-word-after-the-next journey the game is out of my control.

Is there a model for self publishing or small publishing that you are able to follow, or, have we reach a place in the landscape of publishing that due to the collapse of normal markets and big publishing, everything we do is new?

If there is a model for successful self-publishing I’m not aware of it.  My only plan is to write as well as I’m able, and make books with as much care and attention as I can muster in order to offer value and provide a pleasing artifact and a satisfactory return to a reader on the investment of their intelligence, time and money.  I do my best to tell people they are available, but not to the point of butting in on every public conversation shouting ‘Look at me, look at me – I wrote a book, so I’m amazing and clever and you’re a fool if you don’t see that and want to buy it.’  (Although all that is undoubtedly true)

Do you foresee a better reward for writers in the future due to self publishing, or did the financial world and collapse of most print strip mine the reward aspect of writing for most people?

A few may get wealthy, if that is their aim, but the vast majority will not.  It was ever thus.  The only good reason to write stuff is to get better at doing it.  Writing is largely a legacy activity.  Do it to leave something worthwhile behind.  That said, as Leepus (the lead in my latest novel) opines from time to time: “Even idiots sometimes get lucky.”  – so never abandon hope of a random payday.

How do you balance the need for financial profit with releasing your creative energy for others to enjoy?  If you were so wealthy you could do anything including lounge about the patio or play poker, would you bother to write?

There’d be no point to being wealthy if it did not offer the liberty to write – other, of course, than funding the buy-ins to higher-stakes poker tourneys than I’m at present able to risk.

Currently I’m in the fortunate position of enjoying an inexpensive lifestyle, with the years ahead that will need financing diminishing with reassuring speed.  I have no expensive lovers, or outlandish drug-habits to maintain; my house is paid for and my children are generally self-sufficient; I receive the odd royalty payment in recognition of past labours; and the recent increase in the age at which UK females may claim their state pension means that my partner, Sue, will earn a regular wage for the next six years at least.  So I can indulge my word addiction for a while undistracted by the threat of bailiffs.  I plan to exploit the situation while it lasts.

What market beasts are the hardest for a self publisher or small publisher to face?  What are the best weapons for them to strike down said beasts?

The need to find readers constantly conflicts with the need to write stuff with which to feed them.  My only weapon is a desire to write as well as I can and a naive faith that the effort will be serendipiditously rewarded. So I’m doubtless doomed to die unknown and a pauper.  Oh well – c’est la guerre, as the fighting French say.

If your small press does well, will you publish others?  If so, how will you choose from the myriad of choices, and friends with scripts that are deserving?

It was my initial intention that Lepus Books would be no more than a platform to give an identity to my own prose fiction, however I have started to adjust that model, publishing Kiss My ASBO by Alistair Fruish in the autumn of last year.  I vaguely see a future role as publisher of last resort for work that I find intriguing by people who I like.  Sometime in 2014 we will also offer a memoir of a woman growing up lesbian in 1970s/80s middle England – so we’re not restricting ourselves to fiction, although that will probably provide the bulk of future content.  Lepus Books has a minimal bankroll, and does not seek to make profit from publishing the work of writers other than myself.  We act solely as a resource by which to ease getting a book into print and a platform through which potential readers can interact direct with an author, whose sole responsibility it is to manage and honour orders. Lack of time, energy and finance dictates that, at this time, unsolicited manuscripts cannot be considered and new works will, for the foreseeable future, be adopted only by invitation and at my dictatorial whim. I vaguely fantasise about expanding this model into a network of similar author/publisher independents who might coalesce into a cooperative network of writers and potential readers divorced from the churning madness of Amazon, etc.  But I’m not a natural entrepreneur, so anyone with the skill and inclination should feel free to take over the lead.

Do you have sequential story telling left to do?  What kind of comic stories are left to tell?

Yes, I’m pretty sure I still have sequential scripts in me. Despite its stagnant backwaters the medium remains vital and there are millions of stories to tell – everybody breathing lives at least one.  It’s summoning the energy to keep dipping into that seething pot of tragedy, pathos and humour that’s the problem.  And a novel is an easier (and more self-absorbing) prospect when one is flying solo, without any artistic talent, or either the funds or sheer brass neck to lure an artist into collaboration on no more than a promise.  I’ve no idea what type of story I might produce, though; but it seems likely it won’t feature superheroes or suit the mainstream.

Do you believe that the world populace reads less, or do you think the transition from print has made it hard to measure how much anyone reads?

The global population is increasing exponentially, so, even if a smaller percentage of humans are regular readers, it stands to reason there’ll still be plenty.  Question is what will they be reading, and where. It seems likely more is done onscreen now, via the Internet or devices, than by way of the printed page.  And I sometimes wonder if  –  as with the net mitigating an individual’s need to actually know stuff, rather than merely knowing how to access required information –  the easy availability of vast tracts of media generally means that more people collect it than actually read it.  Assembling resources can get to be a compulsion, become an end in its own right.  You can have the Library of Alexandria on an eReader in your pocket but, unless those volumes are actually accessed and their texts considered, a few well-thumbed books on a kid’s bedroom shelf is a lot more significant.  What the literary world needs is much more general boredom.  When I was a child I read the clock round because, as a suburban kid in dreary 1950s/60s England, with only one crappy TV channel, who wasn’t big on sport, vandalising public amenities, or raking the dead leaves from the garden at the insistence of a Philistine father, I was left with only bike-riding, fishing or books to pass the endless fucking black and white hours.  The bike was handy to get to the river (out of earshot of the irritating father), and fishing was okay in allowing space for the imagination to wander – a catch was fortunately a rare distraction – but books were where the cool and intriguing shit really happened.  If I’d had an Xbox or YouTube handy, though, things might have been somewhat different.

When in the midst of writing a story is it mostly written just needing to be typed, or, do you write the story as much during the typing out as before starting?

I usually have nothing much more than a vague idea of character and scenario when I force myself to boot up the PC and confront that blank-screen terror.  My ‘thinking’ is largely done on the keyboard, as I make stuff up as I plod along, one word after another, trying to follow an elusive scent into an indistinct future. The story is hidden in the journey; I usually don’t see it until I get to the end.  For the first third at least of a comic script or a book, I invariably go back to the beginning each day, editing text and adjusting rhythm, shifting punctuation minutely and looking for missed clues to the trail ahead.  Eventually I’m content enough to revisit only the preceeding day’s chapter until I reach a conclusion.  And then the real writing work begins.

Re-write, re-write, re-write until you’re sick of the sound of your own fucking voice, then rewrite again and once more.  Only when there is no time or sanity left in which to procrastinate further should one publish and be damned.  It’s a misunderstanding shared by many non-writers, to assume that writing is no more than blurting a plot out onto a page, an act of endurance only.  Guy’s, what you have there is a first draft, sometimes hardly more than a synopsis, a rough-hewn chunk of rock; you need chip away at it for half-a-fuckin’-lifetime more before you appreciate its perfect form and hear its music.  Writing is hell and a mug’s game.  You run the risk of going stone crazy convincing yourself it’s important; you may just vanish up your own arse.  It’s a dangerous sport you’re flirting with, worse than taking drugs, or parkour; so don’t join if you can’t take a joke.

You'd likely wish to punch me in the ovaries if I didn't ask a question or two about the books that your small press has sprung up to share.  Tell us about Leepus, where it can be bought, and what part of your dark dark soul did it spring from.  Fear?  Anger?  GWBush?

My first novel, BOOK THIRTEEN by A. William James aka Jamie Delano, was published in 2012. While in no way autobiographical, it arises from the travails of an aging and superstitious pulp fiction writer struggling to overcome a long-term block and the distractions of a large and ramshackle family to complete the final work in a series of fictions featuring a character called Leepus.

LEEPUS: DIZZY (2014) – which I occasionally think of as a graphic novel for which the reader must provide their own pictures – is set in the near-future alternate reality of Inglund. The ‘Leepus’ featured therein is likely not the fictional character created by The Old Writer of BOOK THIRTEEN, but the suspicion that the two are connected by some contorted skein of madness in the depths of imaginary space should not be disregarded. Who knows where this shit comes from, or why I feel moved to write it down; but the words of my old mum are often present in my head saying: “Better out than in, son.’  DIZZY is fast-paced, dark, funny, a bit trippy, occasionally violent, and has some libertarian fun with language.  I’m pleased enough by how it turned out to seriously consider calling it the first of an ongoing series.

I won’t bore readers here with lengthy exposition; suffice it to say that those interested can download sample chapters of both BOOK THIRTEEN and LEEPUS: DIZZY via the Lepus Books website, , by which means they can also purchase print and digital editions direct from the author/publisher, thus making him very grateful and incrementally enhancing his lifestyle.

The third title currently offered by Lepus Books is Kiss MY ASBO by Alistair Fruish, a debut novel recommended by many who know shit from Shinola, and which I personally endorse through being its publisher of last resort.

As I've asked many people, in interview, what do you find horrifying, and how do you translate your own fears into books that scare other people?  Is there a catharsis of fear release?

Fear is the constant companion of any halfway intelligent organism abroad and vulnerable to tooth and claw aboard our planetary spaceship as it spins dizzy through the icy vastness of godless infinity.  Tangling that human terror in fiction has always seemed to me some small, if futile, mitigation of the dire threat to health and wellbeing of those I love posed by careless Fate.  Naming the monster offers a slightly improved chance of magically defending against its assault.

Tell the readers of this how to find you, where to find your press, and what you hope happens with your company in the next five years?

My vague intention is that Lepus Books will continue to publish works by myself and others whose work appeals to my idiosyncratic taste  but which may not fill a conventional publisher with confidence of profit.  But please note – our resources are currently tiny and I am thus unable to consider unsolicited manuscripts.

Thank you sir, I adore your work and you.

Thank you, Alex, and your readers, for your interest.

Jamie Delano – 2014

Find Jamie on Twitter and upon Facebook

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