My mother calls me, “The Priest Who Couldn’t Keep It In His Pants.” She wasn’t at all surprised, she tells her friends, because she knew her son wasn’t upfor the job. Then she laughs hysterically every time. I’m thinking about saving my therapy bills this year, putting them in a box, and wrapping it elegantly for Christmas. She won’t laugh, I assure you.
That is not where I wanted to begin this story. I intended to begin with God, not my mother, though in the shadowed voices of my psyche they often get confused.
What comes with the collar does not disappear when the little white piece of plastic is stripped away; it is not something you are one day and not the next. There is something that lives in the lining of your stomach and shapes you from the insideout. You don’t look any different, and most of the time you don’t feel any different, although when it happens the map of your inscape changes. But there I go again, beginning the story with me when it wasn’t what I meant to do. Let me start over.
There is no such thing as a successful search for the holy, no hunting it down with specially trained bloodhounds of the soul chasing its scent over the landscape of time. Go looking for the holy and it won’t be found. Don’t look for it, stay open to it, and then, sometimes there it is.
Most people look for God in sanctuaries sculpted by human imagination, or in the magnificence of natural beauty. Clichés abound when it comes to God but most of them are bullshit. If it sounds too good to be true it probably isn’t.
I know a brainiac who went off to M.I.T., an atheist, and says he found God studying mathematics. That’s weird, but he would say encountering God in a steam room is bizarre. Even so, the steam room I frequent is a gods spot. It’s not so much an encounter with God as it is a prickling on the back of the neck whispering that some holy thing was here a moment ago and the air still tingles with mystic mojo.
A sacred place is anywhere God has left tracks in the mud of human experience; still there is no guarantee a seeker will catch up and peer into divine mystery by following them. Standing at the edge of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the crust of the earth is broken open and the inside of the loaf crumbles out, paleontologists stumbled upon the grandmother bones of our humanoid ancestry and the place is thick with sacredness. The rolling battlefield of the Little Big Horn, its deep dry gulches and lonely cemetery hill, is crisscrossed and tangled with tracks running into and out of the sacred. At Lumbini, in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, dangling toes in the placid pool of the peeling temple of Maya Devi, knowing that this was the very place where the Buddha was born, the tracks are so fresh and deep a pilgrim can almost put a hand into them. In the little white steam room in the basement of the Robert L. Cohen Fitness Center in Buffalo, New York, you find fresh tracks of the holy left daily, just as you can see the newly pressed prints of deer and raccoon at the edge of a lake each morning.
The small rectangular steam room is floor to ceiling alabaster white tile, scrubbed in the merciless light of a single whining florescent fixture. It could, if you were on the edge of sanity, scream at you. There is nothing on its face to imply sacredness. It is, in fact, old and tired and in need of repair. But any place through which God routinely passes, a sacred space, requires neither beauty nor magnificence.
I visit the steam room almost every day, not so much to look for God as to reward myself for doing what I loathe. Ten more minutes on this freak’n Stairmaster, then I can have an extra five minutes in the steam room. As irrational as it is to promise a reward you can give yourself anyway, the enticement usually works.
The steam room is twelve feet long and six feet wide, easily measured by counting the tile. The only splotch of color is the worn sleeve of a five-foot length of ragged green garden hose attached to a faucet. The timer is broken so you have to spray the thermostat sensor above the door. If you put your finger over the nozzle it produces enough pressure to sustain a spray that will reach the sensor. If you hold it there long enough, sometimes up to a full sixty seconds, the pipes, which are imprisoned in a casing of cedar slats, begin a slow deep gurgle. The gurgles grow into tapping, and the tapping becomes a shhh-shhh swishing, and finally thick clouds of steam escape from between the slats of cedar. In seconds the small white cell is filled with such a concentration of steam that your skin cries out. I have witnessed grown men yelp like puppies and leap for the door.
An L-shaped ledge rims half the room, providing a small space to host rigorously sweating bodies. I am told women can tolerate less body space than men, but it is an observable phenomenon in the steam room that postures stiffen when too many naked males are required to sit too close to one another. I have felt my own body squeeze itself into a smaller size to gain distance from another male body as it enters my space, usurping the peace I created within my own frontiers.
The steam room is most therapeutic when I am by myself and able to lean back against the short wall, legs extended out fully along the tile ledge. Yet it only reveals its sacred nature when two or more are gathered in the midst of steam.
One other man sharing the steam room is most tolerable, so long as he does not shave or perform exercises. There are such offenders. One of the regulars is Frodo, a meticulous middle-aged man who seems far too concerned with keeping his body youthful and elegant. When I open the door of the steam room and through the clouds can make out the silhouette of Frodo doing naked sit-ups on the ledge, I am overcome with despair. Equally disturbing is when I am under the covers of hot vapor and Estefan enters. His lush white mustache curves upward in a smile as the cheap metal from a disposable blue razor makes the irksome noise of scraping whiskers to the moist fungal floor. Perhaps in their respective spheres, Frodo and Estefan are fine human beings, but in the steam room they are unwelcome vermin.
Wilson is a different story.
Monday and Wednesday I gleefully shared the steam room with Wilson who brought a small beaker of Eucalyptus oil to pour liberally between the slats of cedar. Few others (apart from Wilson and me) could tolerate the pungent, sinus liquefying intensity of the plant. Wilson was a rapper who said the oil compensated for the cigars he smoked when he was in Atlanta or NYC cutting music deals.
The steam room is an endangered habitat.
Even as you read these smuggled stories whispered from the walls of a sacred place, a major renovation is underway at the Robert L. Cohen Center, fondly known by members as “The COE”. It is unclear what will happen to the steam room. Will it be restored or eliminated? Or if it is simply torn apart and put back together, will its sacred magic seep out and leave behind an ordinary steam room? A damp chilling fog of anxiety has crept into my heart for which this steam room chronicle is my therapy.
Cameron Miller is a gentle giant whose outlook on life has taken him on a wonderful journey. I can say my life is enriched by the simple communications I’ve had with this man. Instead of telling you, let’s look through the steam to catch a small glimpse of what powers this highly-caring and giving individual.
IM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
CM: I grew up at the edge of a college campus in a rustbelt city in Indiana, the American heartland, squeezed between progressive and conservative ideas and values, in a family that cherished education, reading, and history. All of that propelled me forward as I left home, majoring in philosophy at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. After graduation, I spent time doing odd jobs in Boston, and then working as a therapy aid in a mental health unit back in Saratoga. On suicide watch with an adolescent patient one evening, I realized if I were a minister instead of a therapist—which was the direction I had been thinking about—that instead of knowing that kid in my office one hour a week, I would likely know his whole family and see them in a variety of social contexts. It motivated me to explore seminary— although I entered The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts with great hesitation and the expectation it wouldn’t turn out well. But more than three decades later, after serving congregations in Indiana, Ohio, New York, and Vermont, it has turned out very well.
In 2013, I left fulltime parish ministry to spend time writing about what I have learned and finding creative ways to share it. While writing novels and poetry, I also published a website devoted to what I call “religion-less Christianity,” and it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people around the world.
IM: Why did you start writing?
CM: Some people hear music in their head and they compose songs. I have stories in my head and they want to get out. I am a preacher by training (although my colleagues prefer the more refined title of “reverend”) and I would catch myself writing sermons in such a way that I could tell a story. I decided it would be good to find another outlet.
IM: When did you start writing?
CM: I had a sabbatical about twenty years ago and decided to write a book. I found a little office not too far from my house that I could bike to, and planned to write each morning until about noon. It was as if I fell into a magic spell and never wanted to come out. Mid-day would arrive and the next thing I knew, it was four or five in the afternoon. It turned out to be a pretty awful book, but the experience planted a niggling little whisper in my brain: “Are you a preacher that writes or a writer that preaches?”
IM: What was your original book called? What was it about?
CM: The Hunger that Nourishes. I still like that title a lot and in some ways, The Steam Room Diaries ventures into the same subject area as that first effort, only with fiction and through stories. It was about learning from our dark angels and the wisdom resident in our woundedness.
IM: What do you usually write?
CM: I’ve probably written three thousand sermons. I write them out because, if I didn’t use a text, there is no telling what would come out of my mouth—honest, that would be a high-risk proposition. In addition to drawing on stories, I use poetry and am a lover of contemporary poetry. In the last couple of years, I have been writing poetry for publication as well, with six poems published this year.
IM: The Steam Room Diaries: how did you come to write this novel?
CM: You would not believe the intimate stories I have heard from perfect strangers. I don’t know what it is about my demeanor, but people just start talking to me, and often unsolicited. I decided to write about some of those stories when suddenly, unintentionally, what I was writing wanted to be fiction. Literally, I found myself writing a novel in spite of myself and grudgingly ‘let go’ to see what would happen. I had never written fiction before and hadn’t planned to, but Steam Room insisted on a life of its own.
IM: What was your inspiration?
CM: Imagine if you had a friend who had wrestled with all the personal struggles you keep secret, and was willing to tell you what he or she learned from them? Steam Room Diaries is full of stories that give the reader a new lens to suddenly see the corners of their life in a whole new light—and that was my hope all along.
IM: Is there any truth to the stories?
CM: Who said, “I don’t know if it really happened or not, but I do know it is true”? What I would say is every story in Steam Room Diaries is true, even if it didn’t actually happen and even though the characters are purely fictional.
IM: Will you be writing another book soon?
CM: I’m deep into it right now, and again, the doggone thing has taken off and is leading me by the nose. I’m curious to see where it is taking me.
IM: What advice would you give to a younger you who was thinking about writing?
CM: Do it earlier, write every day, and keep writing. Even if it is only for half an hour, find a way to carve out time and make it happen. I wish I had taken a more traditional route to writing, like getting an MFA and participating in summer workshops, etc.
IM: Any regrets about your first publication?
CM: Not yet! Oh, well, maybe that I hadn’t done this fifteen years ago and already written several more.
IM: Tell us how you felt when the work was accepted for publication.
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CM: Absolutely giddy. You know what the process is like, sending out your baby to strangers and never hearing back from some and stacking up the rejections from others. Although I received a number of positive responses from publishers who took the time to give me feedback and affirm the MSS even though not for their collection, it was still an arduous and gruelling process. Everything writers say about it is true.
IM: What has been the best and worst part of the publishing experience?
CM: So far, the worst is the search for a publisher, It is such a lonely and uncertain process after the utter privilege and joy of having time to write a novel. Even the editing—which is not my idea of a good time—was at least interesting and a valuable learning for my current writing projects. I think the best part has been the real excitement of people who have known me professionally and personally, and their desire to read it.
Sam Roads is a man of many hats. The founder of the award-winning Harlequin Games, M.E. Games Ltd., and Game Systems International Ltd., he is also a writer, entrepreneur, and musician. In 2013, Sam launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring his first graphic novel, Kristo, to life. Two years later, he’s bringing us Silicon Heart. Sam was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule to chat with us about his work.
IM: What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
SR: Playing games on the Sinclair ZXSpectrum! The Hobbit, Manic Miner, Elite, Tau Ceti, Sabrewulf. Bit lo-fi compared to today’s output.
IM: What sparked your interest in comics and graphic novels?
SR: I bought 2000AD. I started reading around prog 250, when the mag was running classics like Nemesis the Warlock, Slaine, Rogue Trooper, and of course, Judge Dredd.
Later in life I discovered Sandman, Alan Moore, and Transmetropolitan, and thus discovered that indy comics people were my people.
IM: How have you developed your craft?
SR: I read a lot of books about writing, generally books on screenwriting, because that discipline has a better-developed literature than comics writing. Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! is probably my favorite book. He makes some claims I don’t agree with, but it’s chock full of solid writing advice.
I watch little TV, but listen a lot to BBC Radio 4, which produces unashamedly highbrow programs.
IM: You’re also the director of a game development studio. What does that entail?
SR: I run a team of four developers, writers, and artists. We develop games and apps for Facebook, including the official The Lord of the Rings game and, recently, a bilingual English/Welsh game based on the Hinterland/Y-Gwyll TV show.
IM: Has that had any impact on your graphic novels?
SR: No. I do virtually no storytelling during game development, so the graphic novels are an outlet for the creative part of me.
IM: Let’s talk about your first Kickstarter-funded graphic novel, Kristo. You’ve billed it as a retelling of (Dumas [père]’s) The Count of Monte Cristo, set in Soviet Russia. Can you elaborate?
SR: The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the classic revenge stories, about someone who gets locked up for twenty years and then, upon escaping… kills everyone. It seemed a great fit to move that story to Soviet-era Russia, where—in reality—people were being locked up for decades.
The original concept came from artist Alex Sheikman. He grew up in Russia and felt that this story needed to be told, but wanted to find the right writer to do it justice. I pitched him a version of the story that wove in certain ‘What If?’ concepts revolving around the Nobel Laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and we took it from there.
Alex’s art is just sumptuous. His panels have something of the same quality as stained glass—iconic and mythic. It was a real pleasure to work with him.
IM: How did you go about mounting a successful Kickstarter campaign?
SR: About a month of preparation, lining up interviews, blogs, spreading the news. Aiming at a target figure that felt possible. And having a strong product with an inviting brand. People seem to turn to Kristo if they have an interest in Russia or know the story already.
For both Kristo and Silicon Heart, I directly ignored the Kickstarter advice about videos. Instead of me facing the camera telling everyone how much the projects meant to me, I created teaser videos set in the world of the story. I feel people respond to the product more than the creators.
IM: When you decided to launch Silicon Heart, you had that experience to refer back to. Was there anything that you changed this time out?
SR: Yes! Alex was not involved in the Kristo Kickstarter, whereas Kat Nicholson was a powered-up cyber-rex of enthusiasm and promotion. We raised about three times as much in this second Kickstarter, and a vast chunk of credit for that goes to Kat and her legions of Katnatics.
IM: How did you connect with her?
SR: We’d said hello at one of the Cardiff drink and draw events, but I approached her after seeing a brief post she made of a picture called ‘My Favourite Neighbour’. It was in the style you can see now in Silicon Heart, but it seemed unlike her other work, or indeed most of what other people do. I found it warm and charming and, on the strength of the single picture, approached her to work on Silicon Heart.
IM: What is the elevator pitch on Silicon Heart?
SR: It’s set in the Welsh valleys in 2045 and tells the story of a girl who falls in love with the robot next door. And then how they deal with society’s prejudice about their relationship.
IM: Your plan is to tell the story in four installments. How would you say that the characters and the stakes change as the story progresses?
SR: One of the themes of the book is the question of how teenagers can take control. When the story starts, both our protagonists are struggling with life at school. But by the end of the story, the stakes are about as high as they can get. I don’t think I can go into much more detail than that here without giving away too much!
IM: Could you share your creative process with us? How do you and Kat hammer out the details and bring the story from vision to reality?
SR: I write a very detailed script. I learned from, amongst others, Steven Forbes and Yannick Morin of ComixTribe, and their method involves making sure your artist is never left scratching their head!
However, I’m very happy when Kat tells me that we need to add in a panel, or run things a different way. It’s about finding the best way to tell the story, built on our shared sum of experiences.
IM: Where do you go from here?
SR: There is one—and possibly two—prequel(s) to Silicon Heart. The first is called Pluperfect, which tells the story of a minor character from Silicon Heart called Pi. Kat and I have agreed to think about whether we want to work together on that, once Silicon Heart is finished. For all I know she’ll be sick of me by then! 🙂
I’m also developing a brand new story called Cryowulf. This is a retelling of Beowulf, set in a future dark age, on board a shut-down space station orbiting a black hole. I may have an artist lined up, but I need to further explore funding options before going ahead with issue 1.
IM: What advice would you give to someone looking to launch their own comic/GN?
SR: Find someone who is where you want to be in a year. Befriend them (try tea or biscuits) and ask them lots of questions about how and why they do what they do. I did this to Steve Tanner (Time Bomb), Lizzie Boyle (Disconnected), and Jon Lock (Big Punch Studios), and each was very gracious in giving me the advice I needed to get to where I am now.
IM: Is there anything else that you’d like to share that we haven’t touched on, yet?
SR: I only write if there is some (small p) political theme of the work. Kristo dealt with the kind of unjust incarceration that Amnesty International campaigns against. Silicon Heart was a direct response to the UK government being tardy at rolling out the legalisation of gay marriage. Pluperfect is about celebrity, whilst Cryowulf plays around with gender issues.
Hopefully no-one notices this boring stuff while they’re enjoying the Cossack swordplay and futuristic dialogue!
(KYLERand his friend, GRACIE, sit at a table alone.)
GRACIE. (Dabbing at his cut lip)Does it hurt?
KYLER. (Flinching at her touch)Naw. Not much anyway.
GRACIE. Sorry. I hurt you.
KYLER. It’s okay. Has it stopped bleeding?
GRACIE. Yeah pretty much. Who hit you?
KYLER. Who said anybody hit me?
GRACIE. Come on, Kyl, you’re talkin’ to the expert on bullies.
KYLER. Sam and Ken and that crew.
KYLER. It was stupid of me…I saw them coming and didn’t turn around and leave. I was late for my next class.
GRACIE. They shouldn’t be able to run the school like they do.
(Beat. THEY contemplate the injustice of the school hierarchy.)
KYLER. You still coming over to study at my house.
GRACIE. Of course. You still want to?
KYLER. Of course.(He smiled) Just don’t tell my Mom what happened. I’m gonna say it happened in gym.
GRACIE. I won’t snitch. But you know you gotta tell your parents that this is going on, don’t you Kyl?
KYLER. Yeah, I know. But I’m afraid they’ll just transfer me to another school. That won’t make a difference and I like Washington High.
GRACIE. You can’t keep getting beat up. So what if you think you’re a girl in a guy’s body? Most of the time, I wish I was a horse.
(THEY laugh at HER obsession with horses.)
KYLER. (Suddenly serious.) I want to kill myself.
GRACIE. No you don’t! Don’t talk crazy.
KYLER. Gracie, I don’t know how much longer I can pretend to be a guy. I don’t think like a guy, don’t feel like a guy, don’t do normal guy stuff, and I love fashion and makeup. Great smoky eye, by the way.
GRACIE. Thanks. (She paused.) Listen, you have got to get help. You can’t hide this and stay sane. What do you think your mother will say?
KYLER. I think she suspects. She’s great. Even when she came home early and caught me trying on her dress and shoes, she acted like it was cool. Asked me if I’d finished my homework.
(THEY chuckle together.)
GRACIE. I love your Mom. She’s the best.
KYLER. I know, right?
At Rise: Kyler and his family’s living room.
(KYLER sits on the floor at his mother’s feet. His homework is on the coffee table in front of him. KATHARINE sits on the sofa leafing through a magazine.)
KYLER. (Keeping his head down.) Mom.
KATHARINE. (Flips a page.)Uh-huh?
KYLER. You know how you’re always telling me that I can tell you anything—anything at all?
KATHARINE. Yes. And that no matter what I will always love you. Don’t forget that part.
(Losing HIS nerve, KYLER is silent. KATHARINE sits up and reaching out, ruffles HIS hair.)
KYLER. (Smoothing his hair down.) Cut it out, Mom!
KATHARINE. Sorry. I forget that you’re all grown up, in high school and everything. Where did the time go?
KYLER. I dunno.
KATHARINE. So?What’s up, Peanut?
KYLER. I’ve got something pretty serious to talk to you about.
KATHARINE. You finally going to come clean about how you got that busted lip?
KYLER. (He blushes) How’d you know?
KATHARINE. I have super Mom powers. I know all. What happened?
KYLER. It’s no big deal. There’s this bunch of guys at school, jocks, and they roughed me up a little.
KATHARINE. ‘Roughed you up?’ I’d call a split lip more than a little horseplay.
KYLER. You gotten promise you’re not gonna do anything about it. Promise, Mom! Besides, that’s not what I want to talk about.
KATHARINE. (Laughs nervously) Please don’t tell me you got a girl pregnant.
KYLER. Gross, Mom!
KATHARINE. (Teasing, she smiles.) Well! That’s a relief.
Do you suffer from writing ailments or publishing woes? Then look no further, because Cindy Davis (AKA the fiction doctor) has the cure. She started writing her first novel at the age of nine, and has since published more stories and acquired more editorial experience than you can shake a comma at. A solid editor can be your biggest critic, but also your greatest ally in getting your works in front of a publisher—and Cindy is no stranger at being either. As she will attest, there is no greater joy than seeing others get published, but sometimes it’s a hard pill to swallow.
IM: Your list of published works is quite impressive. Do you plan to continue writing, or have you shifted your focus solely onto editing?
CD: I am still heavily into writing and promoting. I’ll be honest though, the editing is what brings in the paycheck, so that’s where most of my time goes.
IM: Out of all of your past publications, which piece(s) did you enjoy writing and publishing most?
CD: I think the first one. There was such a note of satisfaction when I wrote THE END that I literally sat there crying. Wouldn’t that be the time my husband would come home? Naturally, he thought I’d crashed the car. The publication of A Little Murder was monumental also. A wonderful diner featured in the book put on a fabulous launch party for me. When my husband and I arrived, they got on the phone to all their friends and family. What a crowd! It was great.
IM: Are there any ongoing series that you plan on revisiting as a writer?
CD: I have just finished the sixth in the Angie Deacon mystery series. Stone Cold Sober should be out sometime in October. I have outlined book four in the Smith & Westen series, but that will be put on hold while I work on an unplanned sequel to A Lethal Dose of Love. I traveled to Italy last spring and was struck with a triple plotline that would be amazing with the characters from LDOL.
IM: At what point did you transition from writer to editor?
CD: I’d like to consider I’m still both, though seventeen years ago, when my then publisher had both her editors quit, she asked if I’d take over. I said, “I’m not an editor.” She said, “You’re an amazing writer. You CAN edit.” I found out I thoroughly enjoy editing. There’s little that’s more satisfying than when an author says, “OMG, so that’s how to do it!”
IM: How did the nickname “fiction doctor” come about?
CD: I have no story to go with this. I was looking for a name for my website and it just came to me. Seemed apropos, though.
IM: How did you know editing and helping others prepare for publishing was your calling?
CD: About two years into the job with that publisher I mentioned, things were going really well. The books were getting rave reviews. That’s when I decided to hone my craft (classes and workshops), then branch out to freelance work. It’s been my fulltime job ever since. I always raise a few eyebrows when I say I love writing a rejection letter. I love it because, along with explaining why a story or a character doesn’t work, I can help show the author how it CAN work. I have some freelance clients that have been with me since I started. When I lived in NH, I taught a lot of workshops at conferences and writers groups. Now that I’m in Florida, my schedule hasn’t filled up yet. Part of me is enjoying the freedom, because it’s given me time to finish my latest WIP, Stone Cold Sober.
IM: What do you find most difficult in dealing with the new and aspiring writers of today?
CD: Their resistance to acknowledging that their ‘baby’ might have a LOT of flaws. It’s not so prevalent with freelance clients, because they come to me knowing there’s something wrong. But working for publishers, some authors are aghast when the book doesn’t just float through the system without editorial work. I’ve been on their side of the fence, so I understand what they’re going through. We authors spend a lot of time, sometimes years, on our stories. It can be a blow to the ego to be told it’s not right. I try to get them to recognize an analogy with a pro ball player who practices every single day to hone his craft. He is never satisfied with the three point shot; he swings the bat till his shoulder aches; he putts till his eyes burn. Writers should always strive to make their writing better. Always be open to new ideas and trends.
IM: If you could relay one piece of knowledge to amateur writers reading this, what would it be?
CD: As I said above: Never stop trying to improve your craft.
IM: What is in the future for the Fiction Doctor?
CD: Hopefully, some new conferences. I’d like to find a writers group to help hone my own craft. Otherwise, take my work outside into the amazing Florida sunshine and continue helping authors ‘see’ what’s wrong with their story before they suffer rejection from a publisher.
Let’s be honest, a story is just a collection of words arranged in a way meant to entertain. And if you think any of the sci-fi or fantasy authors really know how to fly a space ship or weave magic, then they sure have you fooled.
Like a stage production or movie, a book is make-believe. But how do we really make people believe that we:
A: Have a fantastic tale that makes them believe a boy can fly
B: Have the knowledge to actually write about the science that is being used in our story
It’s called faking it, and women have been doing this to most men all their lives.
Okay, stop the booing on that line. Guys, hands up if a woman actually told you she faked it on you. Yes, get your hands higher than that, about the same height as I have mine.
On with the article. The actual act of storytelling is all about selling something to someone that you may not have a lot of knowledge about. It could be physics, sailing, horseback riding, bungee jumping, or any number of acts that you, yourself, have not experienced. You need to sell it. The reader must be able to relate it to their own experience.
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, published in March of 1722, described in detail the places and events—including the official statistics—of the plague. Generations of readers considered it to be so accurate that it was believed to be an eye-witness account of the event. It was completely fictional. It was written over 50 years after the 1665 plague had run its course.
Daniel Defoe is the first known creator of “Faction”: a fake recounting of plausible events, woven together around real events, and made believable by its realism.
Engaging the Reader
This works because we have tricked the reader into believing just a little bit of our lie. Once they believe that small piece of logic, they tend to swallow the rest of the story, until they have the big whopper in their mouth.
In Pentecost, Joanna Penn refers to Turf Tavern as the haunt of Inspector Morse. If you know of this Oxford tavern, you’ll recognize the reference, and thus, trust the rest of the story. The “low beams… walls leached with the smell of stale tobacco…” You stand there and hear the words of the story and say, “She stood here, just like I am now. Her story is real.”
An Author and Strategy
Realism is done by picking a location that you know intimately. Of course, when it is a strange planet across the universe, it’s hard. But think of this: draw a picture. Take out some paper and lay down the outline of a civilization. Make it real in your mind.
One thing to keep in mind is that Google is your friend. We can fake a lot of knowledge with Google Maps, Google Earth, and a Google search. Can’t draw that landscape? Search for a picture. Someone may have a picture that fits your vision. Use it to stimulate the words and eureka! There is the description that you were looking for. Remember to use more than sight descriptions. A description is so much more detailed when sound, smell and even taste is incorporated into the words.
Visit to Make it Real
So, some good news: if you travel to an exotic place to get a good feel of the location for a novel, you may be able to write it off as a business expense. That trip to Hawaii? Deductible, as long as something in your novel takes place there. The little cruise to the Arctic? Written off because you needed to see icebergs for that dystopia you wrote. It is best that you talk to your accountant about that. Just remember that it only works on traveling, not going to the bar around the corner.
The collection of stories in Haunted Hamilton take place all over that city. The names of locations are used, and that lends credibility to the stories.
Now, work in something that even the residents are either not sure of, or would not really know, but can verify quickly. This will really blow the board for you. Your novel will gain credibility. People will start reading it and going to the places cited in the work. This could be a very good thing, especially if you live close to the area and can leave a few Easter Eggs for people to find. They will then start talking about the novel and then there will be no end.
This trick can also be played with events.
Interweaving your fiction with factual events will encourage the reader to really become cemented in your story. When someone reads something that actually happened in a fictional novel, they realize that the author has taken the time to not only research, but pull real events into their work. This will gain you fans.
Do We Dare?
Just about every novel has that disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” If you use a real event, then it is not fiction, right? But you are using it fictitiously. Heck, if your main character watches the gassing of 1,000 Jews in Germany, then yes, the event is being used fictitiously, through your characters eyes.
Is your story taking place in a real location—like on Earth? Then it would be absurd to not use real locations, landmarks, or even businesses like hotels and restaurants. (Quick note: I am not a lawyer, so if you do use something and want to cite this article, be warned. You should look this up yourself before using something). The names of these places are in the public domain.
What we cannot do in safety is name the proprietors, or imply they have given people food poisoning (unless it is something proven in a court of law—and even then, it would be sticky), without their permission.
But I need to Use it!
So, you want to show a massacre at Jon’s Pub and Grill House. Then protect yourself. Contact them and get a signed disclaimer and you’ll then have a measure of protection. But remember: don’t take my advice on this as a law expert. Get your own lawyer and ask them what you can and cannot do.
When asking for permission to use their location, make sure you send them the exact wording as it will appear. If you don’t, they could have legal recourse to come after you. Make sure you keep good faith and send them a copy of the book. You never know what will happen. Some people will trumpet that their location is in print, while others may just leave it on the shelf. Either way, they will be grateful and be more willing to agree to let you run their location through another novel.
Stop looking at the jar; nothing is tinkling in it. Here are some tips if you are using real locations or events.
1. Be accurate with all your small details, or a pedant will shoot you down and smile while doing it. Then people on GoodReads will pick up the call and hammer it against you.
2. If there is something that sounds absurd, but is true, make sure you include it. This will make others sing your writing praises in reviews and buy subsequent stories you wrote or write.
Think about it. Have you ever been hooked by a novel because the setting is so believable? If so, why not use the same trick?
Woodrow was then taken to the next room, an area that looked much like a prison. He looked through a large glass window to a section where multiple “test subjects” were held in side by side cells, which more resembled cages. They were emaciated, yet some had large, distended stomachs. Their eyes were rolled up, mouths gaping open, standing slack shouldered. Some sat against the wall, some lay on the ground. Some appeared dead.
“These subjects are in the final stage, originally reached within 5 to 7 days after first treatment,” Dr. Moz explained. “The poor souls you saw will be at this stage by tomorrow. The process speeds up with each successive exposure.”
When they entered through a high security door leading into a corridor of cells, the subjects went wild, reaching, grabbing, trying to force their faces through the bars, biting, moaning, and shrieking. Some slammed their heads against the steel bars, attempting to get at their prey. One man ran towards the group and slammed his face against the bars with such force his cheekbones and jaw shattered, sending his teeth scattering onto the floor. The guards became visibly nervous, placing hands on their holstered guns, as if getting ready for a quick draw competition.
“How long will they live?” Woodrow asked, approaching one of the caged patients.
Dr. Moz shot out his arm to prevent Woodrow from getting too close to the skeletal subjects.
“These are no longer living.” He sighed. “These are the dead.”
“I understand they are beyond saving, but when will they truly die?” Woodrow asked.
“You don’t understand,” Dr. Moz said. “These are the dead.”
Moz removed a guard’s pistol from its holster. He put the barrel of the gun to the head of one of the caged subjects and fired point blank into the forehead. The top of the man’s head exploded.
Woodrow recoiled in horror and shouted his confused objection, but was silenced when he observed what happened next. The subject, who’d had his brains blown out, did not collapse to the floor in a crumpled dead heap, but only stumbled backwards a few steps. The gunshot victim then straightened himself upright and again begin reaching through the bars again, biting at the doctor.
Dr. Moz pointed the gun to the temple of another caged subject and pulled the trigger, this time blasting off the entire top of the target’s head above the bridge of the nose. Again, the creature arose, minus three quarters of his head, yet the body kept reaching and what was left of the jaw was still biting.
Woodrow stood motionless, speechless.? ? ? ?
Dr. Moz then fired a single bullet into each of the now nearly headless men’s stomachs, causing them to crumple to the ground, finally still. He handed the gun back to the guard, turned towards Woodrow and spoke in a tone that seemed relieved he had someone with whom to finally share this knowledge. “And my friend, that is not the strangest thing I am going to show you.”
Minutes later, Woodrow stood on unsteady legs in the mortuary area. On a steel table lay a body covered by a sheet. Dr. Moz lifted the sheet to expose the cadaver’s head, displaying that the cranial cap had been removed, and the brain was nearly gone; almost liquefied.
“At first, we thought this was some sort of spongiform encephalopathy, perhaps the Mad Cow Disease had spread to humans,” Dr. Moz explained. “And, in this particular instance, that would be a very likely possibility.”
Woodrow focused on how he said “this particular instance”. Mad Cow was caused by cows eating ground up cow bodies in their feed. He wondered what that scenario had to do with his research. The whole point of his theory was to avoid the raising, feeding, housing, and slaughter of livestock.
“Although the test subjects have become almost skeletal, their stomachs continue to expand. At first, we thought it was retention of gas and fluid. We were wrong. We could have never imagined what was really occurring in the stomachs of these poor souls.”
An assistant in a lab coat pulled back the sheet all the way, displaying the cadaver’s full body. It was a male whose stomach had been sliced open for autopsy, the vivisection displaying a stomach lining that had taken on features resembling those of a human brain.
“It is as it appears. And it does not just resemble a brain, it is functioning like a brain.”
Neil A. Cohen is the first-time author who created the novel Exit Zero—available on Amazon and Permuted Press. Exit Zero is a story about the zombie apocalypse, which began in New Jersey. The reviews have been nothing short of spectacular and William Morris Endeavor (WME) has entered into an agreement with Permuted Press to represent the film rights of the novel Exit Zero. I met Neil at a comic-con in Morristown, New Jersey (sans zombies) and we discussed doing an interview for Indyfest. Here we are a few months later.
IM: How did you get into writing? Is it part of your background, day job, or a hobby that paid off for you? NAC: I never wanted to write a book. I never wanted to read a book. But I am a zombie genre fanatic, and also a purist. I had an idea for what I thought was a truly original story set in the very beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse (ZA), and I wanted to share it. My day job is providing technology to first responders and the military, so I had lots of subject matter experts to bounce ideas off of to make the story as realistic as possible, yet still with a touch of sci-fi.
IM: Who are your biggest influences as a writer? NAC: I love zombie anthologies, but Max Brooks’ WWZ (the book, not the movie) was what inspired me the most. I also like the style of Bret Easton Ellis when he wrote Less than Zero.
IM:You must be living the dream. Your first novel is a critical hit and its film rights are with WME. How does it feel to be an “overnight success”? NAC: Depends on the definitions of “overnight” and “success”. I began writing the book in 2011 with a short story. I kept adding to the story and pestering people to read it. I finally decided I wanted to try and write a book in 2013, so it took a couple years. As for success, I have not achieved that financially for sure; self-promoting a book, any book, is an expensive proposition. I am just so thankful and grateful to anyone that took a chance and bought it, either on line or from me at a con. I am so happy when people like the story. I can chat about ZA all day long.
IM: Give us a snapshot of your life as a writer. The beginnings, the challenges, the successes and how you overcame any roadblocks. NAC: I don’t consider myself a writer yet, as I only have one published book, one yet-to-be-published short story, and I am working on a second book. If that one comes out, and is published and well-received, I will reconsider if I am truly a “writer”. The biggest challenge of writing is having people read and review your work. No one wants to read your drafts. Not your friends, family, or loved ones. If you are lucky enough to find someone nice enough to read it, they probably will not give you honest feedback, as they are nice. You need to hear brutal, unfiltered commentary. You need to take it and not push back or argue. And best way to get that is to pay an unbiased person. But when you get that feedback, the most important feedback is technical. Sentence structure, tensing, misspellings, or incorrectly-used words are killers. As for content, you have to go with your gut. If someone says a word is misspelled, fix it. If someone says your story sucks, screw them? that is just an opinion.
IM: On a lighter note, how did you get Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi to endorse your novel? NAC: My publisher had asked me to get celebrity blurbs for my book. A blurb is a word or a sentence expressing something positive about your book. I was watching one of the entertainment shows, either Access Hollywood or TMZ (as I am obviously an intellectual), and I saw Nicole being interviewed about her gig on Dancing with the Stars. She mentioned that she loves The Walking Dead. I reached out to her via fan mail and sent her a pre-release version of the book with a request for a blurb. She tweeted out her response a couple months later, then emailed me to ask if I saw it. I had just set up my Twitter account, but had no idea how to use it. So I went searching, found it, thanked her, and we struck up an email friendship. She is very sweet.
IM: How will she be involved in any potential film of the book? NAC: That is up to her. She is bringing the sizzle. I am fine with anything she wants to do.
IM: Zombies are a big deal in media and entertainment. What do you bring to the table that sets you apart from other zombie stories? NAC: I approached from several different angles. There were so many elements that were never addressed in zombie books and movies and I wanted to focus on those. That is why mine is set at the very beginning (please note, this was way before Fear the Walking Dead). I wanted to explain exactly how the zombie infection comes to be, why those infected must do what they do, and what the purpose of the pandemic was. Also, in ZA genre, it jumps from everyday citizens to zombie-killing ninjas and psycho cannibals. What happens in between? Society does not collapse that fast and people are who they are. I wanted normal people in abnormal circumstances.
IM: Your job allows you to interact with many agencies within the federal government and the military. Can you tell us a little about your work? NAC: I sell specialized software that is focused on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear preparedness and response. Nothing too sexy; basically a software salesman. But I get to meet a lot of very cool and interesting people, and spend a lot of time on military installations and in foreign countries. So it can be fun.
IM: What challenges did you face when trying to research all the possible scenarios involving a zombie plague? Did you get any weird looks from the NSA or any government officials? No, because I have been with the same company, selling the same product for fourteen years. Everyone in the community knows me and knows about my zombie fascination. Military and first responders love the zombie genre, and are really into pre- and post-apocalyptic concepts.
IM: You obviously go above and beyond to add layers of authenticity and plausibility to your zombie world. How do you balance the explanations of why something is happening with the actual narrative you are writing? NAC: It is tough, as I am not that great a writer. I write exactly how I would explain it if I was talking to someone. I did not want to get too ‘sciency’ and be boring, so I obviously made some leaps that require suspension of disbelief, as I wanted the book to be a quick and fun read.
IM: Are your characters based on your friends or any other people you’ve met in your professional or personal lives? NAC: Of course, everyone in there is a mishmash of people I have met or have known for years. My friends all ask me why “their” character did this or said that. I try to explain that, while they may feel that the character is “them,” it is not, and is a mixture of a lot of people.
IM: Your book is published by Permuted Press. How did you solicit the book to them? What made you look to them, as opposed to other publishers? NAC: I have been reading their books for years, as it was impossible to find ZA literature years ago; it was not popular and they were one of only a few that produced it. I contacted one of their existing authors, James Crawford—who lived in VA. We met, and he made the introduction. They blew me off at first, but I won them over eventually.
IM: What advantages does Permuted Press offer to new writers? NAC: They take risks. My concept was bizarre, to say the least, as is not a traditional zombie book. I had zero background in this area and no prior published works. But they took a chance.
IM: Did you consider going through Kindle Direct or other self-publishing sites? NAC: I strongly support it for beginning authors. I self-published first, then was picked up. But you have to be a strong, vocal, aggressive, and persistent person to get the message out about your work, whether you are published or self-published.
IM: We met at a comic-con a few months ago. What other venues have you tried (e.g. book shows, small publisher cons, etc.? NAC: All of the above. I have done book fairs, comic and horror cons, sci-fi cons (did not do well there) and zombie cons. Have had a great time at all, but you have to be a people person and want to talk shop.
IM: Since you’ve done the comic-con scene have you thought of, or ever been approached about, creating a comic book or graphic novel based on Exit Zero? NAC: That would be a dream come true!
IM: How did you get your book reviewed by different websites? Did you submit to them or did they find you some other way? NAC: As I said above, persistence and aggressive outreach!
IM: Where do you see this book going? Have you considered doing a sequel? NAC: Working on the sequel right now actually, thank you for asking.
IM: Besides zombies, what other stories would you like to tell and are there other books in the works? NAC: I have been working on this idea for a book that would show the flip side of Wolf of Wall Street, about a bunch of young Wall Street types who are not as successful, and don’t have the money, but are still degenerates and fools.
IM: Are there any established characters in film, comics, TV, or otherwise, you’d like to take a crack at writing? NAC: I was actually a stand-up comic for about eight years, working mostly up and down the East Coast. Several of the comics I worked with are now starting to make it big. My dream would be writing for Fear the Walking Dead, as I think I could add some unusual characters to that storyline. I would like to re-launch some of the classic 1970s movies that were a mixture of horror, sci-fi, and political conspiracy. Soylent Green, Rollerball, and Boys from Brazil are all touched on in Exit Zero. I would like to reboot those types of movies.
IM: What’s the best piece of advice you, Neil A. Cohen today, would give to the Neil A. Cohen that just graduated high school? NAC: Invest in Apple, go to a better college, don’t sweat the hundreds of girls that are going to reject you over the next couple years, and relax.
M.J. Moores Interview – “Getting it Right” – By Trisha Sugarek
This is one of more in-depth interviews that I have had the pleasure to do. M.J. delves into the writing process. Why we do it, what we are feeling, and what we experience when we write. I hope that the readers of Indyfest enjoy this one as much as I did.
IM: Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.
MJ: My ‘dream’ work space would be in the midst of nature, somewhere where the bugs didn’t bite and the weather was extremely temperate, lol! However, my actual work space happens to be one of two places in my home: my office or my craft room. It all depends on how much juice my computer has at the time and how severely external forces work to distract me. 😉
IM: Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write?
MJ: First, I do away with as many distractions as possible—and these tend to come mostly via the internet these days. I check my email accounts (all three of them), my social media, briefly snack on something crunchy (like flavored mini-rice cakes from Mr. Christie—cheesy tortilla when possible), then either review my notes for moving forward or dive into a list of feedback comments for a chapter revision.
IM: Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?
MJ: Oh, this is fun! I used to play a version of this game with my drama students called ‘Liar, Liar’. The idea was to reveal two truths and one false piece of information about yourself to a partner to see if they could determine which one was the lie. They had up to three questions they could ask to try and catch their partner in the lie. As an example, I always said: 1) I have moved more than 14 times in my life; 2) I tried out for the very first Canadian Idol TV show; and 3) my shoe size is an 8. My shoe size is 7. 😉
IM: Do you have a set time each day to write, or do you write only when you are feeling creative?
MJ: Neither. If I only wrote when I felt creative, I’d never get anything accomplished. As a wife and mother, as well as a freelance editor, if I want any time for myself, I need to carve it out of each day with striking precision and extreme flexibility. I intentionally set aside one day (out of the seven we can legitimately claim happen on this earth) to focus solely on my own stories. I devote an hour to writing my Infinite Pathways blog two mornings a week and try to sneak in a third morning whenever possible for my author blog. Every single day of the week, I’m writing replies and keeping up with clients or PR items (such as guest blog posts or articles for online magazines to keep my name swimming around out there in the ether of the internet). It’s not a lot of time to write for myself, but I have to support my writing interests by doing these other things.
IM: What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?
MJ: Know your tendencies, identify why you gravitate toward those things, be fully aware of what you are doing and when you are doing it, let yourself do these things for a set amount of time, and then push all that crap aside and simply let yourself write.
Personally, I need to procrastinate. It’s during those times when I’m scrubbing the toilet or baking a bunch of muffins that my mind does its best work regarding plotting and discovering things about my characters, their problems, and the world they live in. If I don’t let myself get distracted by the mundane, I’m not productive. 😉
IM: Where/when do you first discover your characters?
MJ: My characters are born from plot ideas. I say to myself, “Who might this happen to?” or “Who does the conflict revolve around?” and then my imagination takes flight. Unintentionally, each of my main characters is a reflection of some aspect of my life. It might be something I always wished I could be/do or it might be some unresolved aspect of my past (or present!) that seeps its way into the story to inform the core nature of these characters.
IM: What inspires your story/stories?
MJ: Often dreams; although recently, they have manifested from conversations I’ve had. The plot for my SFF quartet The Chronicles of Xannia stemmed from not understanding why my now-husband-then-boyfriend was so troubled by the plausibility of Y2K. It was after a particularly emotional reveal on his part that I began wondering about the idea of ‘those who believe’ and ‘those who don’t’, and my wily and tenacious character Taya Fyce was born. For my unpublished urban fantasy quartet The White Raven, it was me fooling around with a book title generator on a fellow author’s website and following the prompt she left: write out the title and develop a blurb for the book as if it were real. I got ‘The Hollow Kiss’ for a crime/thriller and, since I write speculative fiction, I also had to add a fantasy flair for my own sanity. I whipped something up in a matter of minutes, commented as requested, and then had to live with my brain chasing down this idea for the next week without respite! My lead character, who becomes the White Raven, was born of that conjecture.
IM: Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?
MJ: I can, and yes it does happen often, but being a planner keeps me always on the periphery, where I can orchestrate and oversee. But that doesn’t mean I never surprise myself or that my character always listen to what I envision for them. 😉 I tend to ‘get lost’ most often in the intense moments, as I live them right along with the characters.
IM: Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment?
MJ: I adore YA and certain types of NA or Adult fantasy that willingly take me on a journey. I have long admired the writings of Maria V. Snyder, but as of this past month, I have found a new, local author—Karina Sumner-Smith—whose books (characters and writing style) have lifted my heart and push me to better my writing so that I might affect my readers in a similar way.
IM: When did you begin to write seriously?
MJ: I first started looking for an agent for Time’s Tempest, book 1 in The Chronicles of Xannia, when I finished university and had time in my then-job (as an executive assistant) to polish this manuscript I’d been working on sporadically for the past five years. However, I got several rejection slips and decided to focus on other avenues of interest.
IM: How long after that were you published?
MJ: Nine years. I spent a lot of time working on my career and improving my craft. By 2009, I was a part of a great writers’ critique group and I started reworking my novel with them. Over the course of two years, I remained with that group until it disbanded, and then started my own group with a few of the interested members of the original group. That lasted another year, and then I joined two larger regional writers’ groups and began attending not only workshops, but writing conferences. Come 2012, I was trying to get a fledging freelance writing and editing business started (that was a year after my son was born and I was in desperate need of some “me” time). I hired a couple of substantive editors to give the manuscript another go over, integrated a lot of those suggestions, and then dove back into finding an agent with a much better understanding of the industry (although still not 100 percent). Just as I was seriously looking into self-publishing this series, a colleague from a small press in the UK mentioned that her publishing company was branching out into new genres and were now accepting manuscripts. I took a chance and sent her a copy of my magnum opus; she said yes. I’ve been officially published in print since 2014 (non-fic e-book since 2013).
IM: What makes a writer great?
MJ: Perseverance, a passion toward personal betterment, a willingness to keep learning, and above all, the ability to recognize good advice/feedback when you get it. 😉 If we can’t write believably and without error, we will lose our audience in a heartbeat!
IM: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?
MJ: Book 2 in The Chronicles of Xannia, Cadence of Consequences, took just over a year to write, but because I gave birth to my son in the intervening time, that was more realistically spread out over three years. Then, substantive editing and revisions took another four months before I could get a line and copy editor to check over things for me while I started on the logistics of cover design and interior formatting. Book 2 is now published one year after Book 1’s release. Book 3 will look much the same (without the birth of a child to spread one year into three), although I have been working on two novels at the same time and will be able to start querying agents for the new series just as Book 3, Rebel’s Rein/Rain, comes out. My goal is to work up to three novels a year. Seeing as I’m already publishing one e-book and one fiction book per year, this shouldn’t be too difficult—just need to find my stride!
IM: How have your life experiences influenced your writing/stories?
MJ: My life experiences are littered in large and small ways throughout all of my stories. The biggest impact usually has an emotional edge, but I’ll take something like the idea of being ostracized and magnify it 150 times in order to look at the big picture and emotional equivalency impact. Every main character (and many minor ones) has some aspect of my personality imprinted on them— it helps me love even the jerks and the ‘bad guys.’
IM: Have you written—or do you want to write in another genre?
MJ: While I enjoy the overriding genre of speculative fiction best, I will write general fiction, as long as there is a strong inner and outer quest/journey. I’ve dabbled in historical fiction, short stories, contemporary New Adult, sci-fi, and fantasy. And in 90 percent of my writing, I find a way to include an element of romance—I’m a bit of a sucker for the innocent stuff.
IM: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
MJ: If you’re a writer struggling to find representation, don’t lose sight of your goal. The road may be long, hard, and crazy-frustrating, but don’t let that get you down; don’t start cutting corners. If you have to yell at the wall and chuck a beloved object across the room, do it. Let yourself give up, but also give yourself permission to start over again with learned expectations.
If you’re a reader, keep trying indy works that aren’t free. The reason we charge for our wares is to attempt to make back some of the money that went into the publishing of our manuscript— and so many more of us are ‘doing it right’ these days, so keep trying; keep checking us out!
The twists and turns we take in life can be truly amazing. I’ve discussed a number of times how I want to bring together some new leadership to rebuild the SPA and, since last issue, I have entered into discussion with, like, five different people about different areas to address. It basically started with last issue’s editorial about developing an Availability Guide—which, as it turns out, is something people would really like to see. I’m not ready to name names and do introductions yet, but it looks like we’ll have at least two top-level developers join the initiative to achieve it. I may get an initial version of the new supplement into production soon, just to help us focus on how to improve it. Theories and discussion are great. Action is better. If you do the math, the Availability Guide only accounts for two of the five people I mentioned above. It all sort of twines back into SPA redevelopment, but here’s story #2. I’m driving down the road one day and spot a sign in a driveway. It’s for a music recording studio, like ten minutes from my house. So, I write down the name, look it up online later, and send the owner/operator an email. Basically say, ‘hi, I’m Ian, I happen to run this here international magazine. Would you have any interest in having people you record be featured?’ I mean, music is a side of things we’ve been touching on and dancing around for a while; getting an Indy studio involved seems like a no-brainer. And so, very soon, we’ll have an interview with the studio set up and, Cristie Hine, who runs it, will be joining the magazine to write articles and otherwise work with us to expand on the crossover audience-building opportunities. Meanwhile! It’s come to my attention that a local arts association has a class they run on making zines at the local library. And so, another e-mail introduction later… and hopefully soon, I will be helping teach such, and hopefully be able to attract some of them to work with the magazine, finally developing that layouts team I’ve been wanting to develop since Jay left us to open a tattoo shop. Which just goes to show how horribly disjointed small press has really become, and how social media fails to really connect outside your own circles. How does a class on making zines get started up in a small town like the one I live in, and I have no clue? Simple. We don’t have a real network guide that can be pointed to, where everyone says, that’s where we all meet. We have to get small to get big, get all of these local scenes connected into a network setting where we can set up real resources that can give fans, hobby-level publishers, and pro want-to-be level publishers, the ability to learn what they need to know. Like where ALL the places that carry ANY indy stuff are. If only there were an Availability Guide. Hmmm, so there you go. Folks, I say it all the time: I can’t do this all by myself. So cool, now I’ve got five people to talk to about making things better. Problem is, knowing the big picture the way I do, I know five is not enough. It’s going to take all of us, pulling together. How do we get there? Well, there is a clear and well defined first step. Go to the Indyfest website…click the register spot in the top/left…and get your profile started. It’s really that simple.