Before I became a writer, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was 4 or 5 years old, in my first year of school. I remember sitting on the floor of my English classroom, deep into a book about a magician and a dragon, completely oblivious to what was going on around me.
I don’t remember the name of the book or the author, or even specifically what the story was about. But I remember the feeling of being transported into another world. No matter what was going on in my young life (and there was a lot that was hard), I could pick up a book and be somewhere else. That may sound like escapism, but books, along with music, kept me alive and kicking through some difficult and trying years.
I still go to books when life feels overwhelming (and even when it doesn’t). Nothing helps me cope like a good story.
And in an effort to support other writers (and justify my love of reading), here’s the first in hopefully many blog posts about fellow Eugene authors.
Last March, I was in what seemed like a minor car accident — just a rear-end collision at fairly low speed. But it gave me a concussion and a whole lot of nerve pain in my left shoulder and arm (which is still healing). The concussion bowled me over, as far as its impact on my life. For more than a week, I sat on my couch in a daze, unable to drive or work or do much of anything.
I wrote about the experience a few days later in this blog post. That short post took me a couple of days to write and edit and post, because I could stand to look at a screen only for a few minutes before my brain was exhausted and I needed to rest.
Fortunately, I discovered that I was able to still read. So I sat on my red couch and read a whole lot of books, took some naps and let my brain rest enough to get better.
One of the books I read during that time was Emerald Emergent by local Eugene author James Aaron, whose book I had recently stumbled upon in a lovely series of small events.
I met James at last Spring’s Wordcrafters writing conference the weekend before the accident. He sat next to me, tapping away on a clackity smart typewriter thing with a tiny screen. He introduced me to the tall guy (Justin Tindel) in the EWA (Eugene Writers Anonymous) shirt and got me hooked up to their Facebook group.
Which is where James posted a link to Emerald Emergent, on sale that week on Amazon.com. I bought it, downloaded it, and got on with life, until I got whacked over the head by the universe.
So, there I was, sitting on the couch, wondering how to occupy myself, and opened my Kindle and found James’ book. Away I went, on an adventure outside of the confines of my healing body and brain.
I loved the book. I won’t attempt to summarize the plot, so I’ll just say that it’s a fast-paced young adult sci-fi adventure with characters I connected to and a world that I totally got into. My only complaint was that it wasn’t longer. And that there are terrifying dog-sized spiders (not really a complaint, but they were terrifying).
Here’s the thing that I also loved. I found a couple of typos in the book and contacted James about them through Facebook. (“Hi, I just read your book and it was great, but here are some typos I found…hope you don’t mind.”) He was gracious and grateful to know about them, and sent me an advance copy of the next book in the Emerald of Elegaia series, The Voices in the Woods, which I happily proofread for him.
Sadly for me, James has been taking a break from the Emerald of Elegaia series to work on some other books — he published two more novels last year (making a total of four in 2016): Ground Private Parvel and The Dead Miner’s Mother. And I’m sure he has more in the works.
An interview with James Aaron
Fortunately for all of us, James was happy for me to pepper him with questions about his books and how he goes about writing and publishing them. As an independent author, he gets to do the whole thing himself, figuring it all out along the way.
How long have you been writing books?
I tried to write my first novel in high school and got my first taste of professional rejection when Del Rey sent me a very nice form letter. I wrote another novel in my twenties.
It’s only in the last two years that I’ve been focused on writing in a dedicated way: writing every day, taking part in writing groups, and submitting to magazines. I guess I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, but the conditions to actually be able to write have only presented themselves recently. There were other times when I thought I wanted to take a class or join a group, went once, and just never went back. I don’t know why the thought of it made me so anxious back then, but something clicked two years ago and it’s been a lot of fun since then.
Why did you start writing?
I started reading seriously when I was thirteen or fourteen, and something about the experience of reading made me want to try it myself. I wrote mostly imitation back then. I guess if fanfiction had existed, that’s what I was writing. But it was fun and it gave me something to do after school. I had a computer and I wasn’t allowed to play games on it, so the only thing I could really do with it was write.
Where did the idea for Emerald Emergent come from?
I’m fascinated by the idea of the eternal return, that civilizations have risen and fallen across the millennia and their bones are always waiting to be discovered. I wanted to create a world where people live with the effects of those previous worlds, where your backyard might turn out be filled with ancient tech that might hurt or help you. . . so that was the seed of what became Emerald’s story. Now I’m on the process of building out some of the events that come long before her time.
What was the reception to it?
Readers have really enjoyed it, but there haven’t been as many readers as I would have liked. In publishing Emerald and Voices, I learned a lot about how Amazon works, what the readers there are looking for, and it lead me to change directions with the latest novels. I’ll still go back to the other stories to finish them. I wrote more to reader expectations with Ground Private Parvel, and it’s already beat the sales of the other two books in just two weeks.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I wanted to learn about publishing as it currently stands. I was part of a small press from 2000 – 2009, and spent a lot of time editing books, designing them, getting them printed and then selling through bookstores and online. We quit just before the ebook revolution really took off, so we missed that boat. I went to a few talks with authors whose books were so professionally produced that I didn’t realize they were self-published. That was a huge wake-up call for me that the market had changed, and it was possible to produce a book yourself that could compete and succeed in the market.
I also like the level of control self-publishing allows, and that I can quickly experiment and then shift to something new if what I tried doesn’t work, without spending a huge amount of money. I like that I can see nearly instantaneous sales data. I’ve also found a really supportive community of authors who share information from an abundance mentality, making it possible to be more successful with what I try.
What have you learned from the process so far?
Community is one of the most important parts of writing these days. Find yourself a writing group. Whether you’re focused on the traditional publishing route, self-publishing or something in-between, there are other people in your area or online doing the same thing. It’s so much more fun when you can share your wins and commiserate over your losses, and hopefully help someone else avoid the same mistakes. Writing is work, but it’s so much more fun when you like your co-workers. The idea of the author struggling alone is a myth that no longer holds true.
I never got to meet Jay Lake, but I remind myself of his advice almost every day as I think about my writing journey:
- Write a story every week (for me this is write every day)
- Finish everything you start
- Don’t self-critique while writing
- Work on one thing at a time (I am mostly good at doing this)
I remind myself that writing is a journey, and I won’t get anywhere if I don’t get the words out, share them, and keep moving forward. We live in a time where feedback is everywhere, in reviews and writing groups and places you least expect. . . don’t let negative feedback stop you from telling your story. Think about the feedback from all directions but don’t let it stop you from creating. The worst thing you could do in response to negative feedback is to stop creating.
I still work full-time and don’t plan on leaving my day job anytime soon, so my writing process is based on getting up everyday at 5am and doing the work. Some days I’m better at this than others, but I’m doing my best. I finish everything I start, and I write at least a thousand words a day. They might not always be the best words, but I feel better once I’m done.
Anything else you want to share?
I love to hear from readers. You can email me at email@example.com or join my newsletter list at jamesaaron.net/list.
Being part of a community of writers and readers is the best part of all of this for me. I love to read/hear a great story, and if I’m able to share my own and have it connect with someone, that’s the best feeling.