Yesterday I did a review of BLOOD DRAMA BY Christoper Meeks. If you missed it, you can read it here. And look for a giveaway at the bottom of the page. I want you to know, I actually BOUGHT this book before I became a tour host for it (which says a lot) and given the number of books sent to me, I almost never buy a book anymore. Today the man himself is here for an interview. Welcome Christopher.
I watched two of your videos on YouTube (they are at the end of the post, folks) and I enjoyed them. You must be a lot of fun as a teacher. Are you still teaching, or is the writing taking up all your time now?
I’ve been teaching in the classroom since 1994, but last year I wanted to try out online teaching, which is what inspired me to make those videos. Online is different, so I wanted to find its strengths. I discovered good online teaching takes two or three times the time and energy of classroom teaching. At first, teaching online for Southern New Hampshire University was great. My first two classes had only eleven writers each, which is an ideal number for online. There were enough writers to interact with each other, but it was small enough that I could give individual attention, which made up for not having all the writers in a room at once.
Then my third semester SNHU raised the class size, and I had twenty-four students—and no more extra pay. When I called the dean, he said they raised the maximum class size “for a better student experience.” Right. And it rains lollipops.
I obsessed and worked far overtime for those twenty-four, but there are only so many conscious hours in a day. There were some great students, but with that large a class, it’s difficult to give the kind of individual attention I like. Also, some of the assignments they made me include were bullshit (sorry to say). What had been wonderful became terrible, and I feel for the students who pay good money for such large classes with silly assignments. I’ve heard from some of my former students, who feel their education has been diluted. When it was done, I’d calculated I’d earned just over seven dollars an hour.
I can’t do that again. I’m teaching a little less in the classroom, though, to write and publish more.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I wanted to be a scientist of some sort, and I first majored in chemistry. Then filmmaking grabbed me, and I majored in Mass Communication. When I finished those requirements early, I finished a second major in psychology. Communication and psychology is a perfect mix for writers. It was in college that I discovered creative writing. I began in poetry and branched into fiction. I went to USC for my MFA, where I had to write three theses. I wrote a novel, a screenplay, and a full-length stage play. I flourished there. Professionally, I’ve worked in all three genres.
What writers have influenced you through the years?
In theatre, Lawrence and Lee, David Mamet, Wendy Wasserstein, John Robin Baitz, Michael Frayn, David Ives, David Hare, and Harold Pinter, among others. In fiction, Margaret Atwood (I’m reading her novel Maddadam now), Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, John Updike, Joan Didion, John Irving, and Erica Jong, among others. In screenwriting—poor screenwriters don’t get enough recognition—I admire Charlie Kaufman, David Mamet, Diablo Cody, Paddy Chayefsky, and David Franzoni, among others.
What is the best book you’ve read recently? Why?
Joyland by Stephen King. I hadn’t read any Stephen King novels until last year when I felt compelled to read his 11/22/63, which revolves around President Kennedy’s assassination. I found King to be an amazing writer, so I had to get his next one, Joyland. Wow. He does exactly what I aim to do in my books: come up with a compelling, page-turning story and slip in what literary writing does best by offering small human truths. His characters feel real, and they paint the struggles, sorrows, and joys of living.
I was so impressed, I wrote, “Stephen King: What I Should Have Appreciated Earlier,” which you can read by clicking here.
Did an actual bank heist inspire BLOOD DRAMA or did you just think it was time for women to get in on the act?
I have to back into this question. My first two novels were loosely based on events that had happened to me. The first, The Brightest Moon of the Century, was about growing up in Minnesota, going to the University of Denver, and settling in Los Angeles with a stop at a trailer park in Alabama along the way. Of course, I pushed things in a major way to reveal a sense of what it all felt like.
The second novel, Love at Absolute Zero, was inspired by my junior year abroad, living in Denmark. I really took a tangent, though, by making the hero a quantum physicist who, after getting tenure at the University of Wisconsin, decides to find his soul mate using the Scientific Method. He’s giving himself three days.
When it came around to writing my third novel, I’d run out of major life turns to draw on. However, I’d been correcting my student papers for over a year at a Starbucks in the lobby of a bank. It dawned on me that if I kept doing this, I might be involved in a bank robbery. What if I was taken hostage? Ah ha! That was the start of my novel.
As I researched bank robbery, I discovered it’s a stupid crime because every robbery is videotaped, and it automatically goes to the FBI. Mostly men rob, and they typically spend the money on sex and drugs and go rob again. I thought, “What if a woman robbed a bank?” She’d probably have a better reason than sex and drugs. That got me thinking, too. Soon I had an outline.
I ended up interviewing two FBI agents, one female and one who specialized in bank robbery, because I wanted to get it right. Because I’d been published, they were willing to talk with me.
You’ve switched genres with this book. Is there any chance this will become first in a series – will we see Aleece and Ian again?
A few reviewers before you have suggested this, which has me thinking. It’s on my mind. It depends if there are enough readers for it.
I see that besides being a writer, you are a publisher but not currently open for submissions. Do you have any intention of expanding beyond your current four writers?
I’m enjoying the people I’m publishing a lot, and once their books are showing a profit, I’m likely to expand. I’m certainly understanding more about how other publishers choose authors. First, you have to love their books and believe the world will be a better place for publishing them. With over two million new titles in the United States each year—compared to around 300 new movies from studios each year—the marketing challenges are enormous. I also need to consider how I’d market a new book.
Marketing tools quickly change. For instance, giving away your book for free for a few days on Kindle was at first a great marketing approach. A book’s ranking would go way up, and when it was for sale again, the ranking might be in best-seller territory. Plus, word-of-mouth spread like wildfire, and people were making thousands of dollars on their books. Then everyone was giving away books. Soon authors were making only tens of dollars on their books.
On any given day still, you can get around six thousand books on Kindle for free. The list changes daily. Once, giving away 10,000 books was easy. Now it takes work, money, and ads to give away more than 50 copies—and to what end? Few people who get free books actually read them.
Once you write, revise, edit and all the other steps before publishing, what is the most important piece of advice you have for a writer about marketing themselves?
People who have sold anything–such as shoes, clothes, or tile–for a living have a step up on others. That’s because you know the hard sell is ineffective. People are using Facebook and Twitter, for instance, to say, “Buy my book,” and you turn off people.
My best advice is buy APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.
I saw older pictures of you, and you had a mustache. I love mustaches. Why did you get rid of it?
I saw a picture of two friends and myself from 1979. We all had mustaches and looked much like Tom Selleck. Then I saw a picture of Tom Selleck now. I shaved it off immediately. Everyone has to grow up.
Now three things that have nothing to do with writing that I ask everybody:
- What is your favorite food? I love artichokes.
- What is your favorite TV show? This week: Breaking Bad.
- What is your favorite music? “Growing Up,” by Bruce Springsteen.
Thank you so much for being here today Christopher, I hope you are enjoying the tour, and good luck with BLOOD DRAMA.
Christopher Meeks is giving away a print (US ONLY) or ebook copy of BLOOD DRAMA. For a chance to win, you must leave a comment (with an email address) below. For more chances to win, click HERE.
A really good article: READING AS A WRITER by Christopher Meeks. I am always shocked when I hear a writer say they don’t have time to read. They should all read this.
Two great videos from Christopher Meeks. The first one is tongue in cheek although the number one rule, LIVE HARD is pretty good… and you should know the word eschew… but other than that, just funny.