Welcome back to any readers I have after that obnoxiously long hiatus … Our radio silence was for a good reason. We recently moved the entire Traveling Circus and Menagerie from one coast to the other, and have finally gotten settled in. I wanted to share an interview with author Clay Gilbert, who has been quite patient with me as I pulled myself and my interview list together. His a recent release, Cassie’s Song (Tales of the Night-Kind Book Two A Modern Vampire Novel), came out June 8. It’s the second in a series that gives a unique take on vampire fiction. I invited him here to talk about the series, as well as a little bit about writing in general. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the first book, Dark Road to Paradise, and check it out.
And now, without further ado or excuse, a conversation with Clay Gilbert!
Q (Infamous Scribbler): First, can you provide a short bio/insight into your writing career?
A (Clay Gilbert): Sure. I’ve always loved stories; I was reading and writing at a very early age. I wrote my first short story—I’m not sure what else to call something that’s only five page long other than ‘short’—when I was four. I know I was four because, at the time, I was in the habit of putting my age along with my name on the story. It was a science-fiction story. I don’t remember the title. I do remember the title of another one I wrote when I was thirteen; another sci-fi story called “The Computer Conspiracy”, about a shy, outcast boy who finds a way to live inside his computer. Scholastic Magazine liked that one; they paid me $25 for it and published it. From the time I realized writing was something some people did for a job, the way my father went off to his office every day, that was the job I wanted to have. Pretty much everything I did in my life from that first sale to Scholastic, through two master’s degrees and a handful of other publications, was setting the stage for finally getting my first novel published in 2013, even though I took some other professional side-roads along the way. Writing was a goal I never really let go of.
Q: In your novel, you tackle a number of weighty issues, from topics such as living with HIV to issues of adhering to the unspoken rules of a tribe or in-group, and the consequences that result from transgressing those rules. Are these themes that you sat down to consciously write about? How did you develop them? Where might we see them go in the next book?
A: I’ve always loved vampire novels and vampire movies, and I had toyed with the idea of writing my own spin on the genre. I began working on Dark Road to Paradise in the early Nineties, using some characters I’d come up with for the live action role playing campaign of “Vampire: the Masquerade” I was playing in downtown Auburn, Alabama, once a week with some friends. One of the things that concerns me as a person and as an author is the experience of life as an outsider, or life on the fringes of mainstream acceptance. That certainly was a conscious concern in Dark Road, but it was also something I grew up with. I was born with hydrocephalus, and growing up with that experience taught me what it was like to be pushed to the fringes. It’s hard to be that one kid who doesn’t participate in gym class because his parents are afraid (and rightly so) that he might injure his head, or to be someone who people slow their cars down on the road to ask ‘why’s your head so big’? True story.
Cassie’s health concerns are different, but they came both from wanting to explore my own experiences as an outsider and the empathy I felt for the lack of understanding I saw HIV patients being treated with in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Finally, there was the historical fact that Dark Road was begun before any of the “Twilight” books were published, and a romance between a mortal girl and a vampire wasn’t all that common in fiction at the time. Perhaps even more significantly, I recognized that somehow, there had never been another vampire novel focusing on HIV/AIDS in an actual, literal way, as the central concern of a story–and there still really hasn’t, even now, in 2018. As for where the themes of Dark Road end up going in the next book, Cassie’s Song—Cassie grew up not really feeling like she had the freedom to make her own choices or live her own life. What will it be like for her to have that freedom? I think that’ll be as fun for readers to find out as it was for me.
Q: You’ve published a number of books in a variety of spec fic genres. What draws you to creating other worlds? What are some aspects of worldbuilding that you find essential when writing in these genres?
A: ‘Worldbuilding’ is something I find myself speaking about on Con panels a lot, as I guess kind of makes sense for an author of speculative fiction. And this may be an unpopular opinion, but in talking with younger writers, and particularly with would-be writers, I find that ‘worldbuilding’ is the thing that bogs down beginning genre writers most of all. For me, characters are most important. I care about the people in my stories first and foremost. Once I know who they are, they can tell me about the world they live in. Everyone does this thing called writing differently, but I’ve seen people spend so long on building the world of their story that they end up having no idea what the story is, or who it happens to. People in a story are just like people in our world—they don’t live in a vacuum; they have histories, fears, hopes, likes and dislikes—but if you find out about the people in your story first, knowing about them will supply everything else you need. That’s what happened when I started writing about an eighteen-year-old girl named Annah in the book which became Annah and the Children of Evohe. I didn’t spend any time thinking about the world of Evohe in advance; instead, I got to know Annah as best I could, from her upbringing as someone whose odd opinions and obvious birth defects got her ostracized in her small community, to her claustrophobia, dislike for raw fish, and love of music. She filled in the rest of her world for me. I would advise aspiring writers to build their stories around the people in them, not the world they take place in.
Q: You have an MFA from the University of South Carolina; academia also plays a part in your novel, as well as your professional career. What are some of the insights into writing that going through a program like an MFA provides? What are some of the advantages? As a professor, how have you communicated some of those lessons to your students?
A: I wouldn’t undo the time I spent in academia, although I don’t teach anymore, and haven’t done that since I became a full-time author in 2015. I will say, though, that I find snobbery toward genre fiction to be alive and well in the academic arena. Dark Road to Paradise was my MFA thesis, and it was a real struggle to convince the professor who eventually became my thesis advisor that there was any literary merit to a story with vampires in it. I feel that any kind of story, whether it has vampires or aliens in it, or features people who could live across the street, must be rooted in human concerns to have any weight to it. I’m not interested in writing purely escapist fiction with no relation to the real world. I’ve always found that the imaginative distance a writer gains in the genres of speculative fiction provides a great lens for focusing on the best and worst that the ‘real world’ has to offer, and enables an author to suggest ways that things might be made better. As far as advice to my students, or to aspiring writers–if you have a dream, go for it. Don’t compromise. Don’t settle. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Q: What is some of the best writing advice you’ve received? What’s some of the worst?
A: Stephen King advised me, when I met him when I was thirteen, that he tried for ten pages every day. I adopted that, and I still follow that. Ten pages a day adds up fast. Ray Bradbury added to that when I met him three years later, by advising me that it was important to be regular about writing—do it every day, in the same place, at the same time. I still follow that advice as well. Worst writing advice? Whatever that was, I’ve forgotten it already.
Q: What can your readers expect to see coming up next?
A: I’ve got an urban fantasy novel coming out real soon called The Kind Book One: The Golden Road. It and its sequel, Terrapin and Back Again, comprise a two-part story mythologizing my own experiences following the Grateful Dead on tour during my college years, although the band in the book is called Coventina’s Well. It also has a little to do with the value of myth in culture and history, and hopefully has as much fun in it as ‘meaning.’ I’ve also got a fourth Children of Evohe novel coming out called Annah and the Arrow, a third Night-Kind novel called Heartsblood planned for next year, and also next year, a standalone monster novel set in East Tennessee called Pearl. I like to stay busy.
Q: Anything to add?
A: If you want to be a writer, remember this: you can do it, if you have the drive and put in the time. Don’t wait for ‘inspiration’ to come; make it come to you. There’s no such thing as writer’s block; that’s an excuse people make for not doing their job. Just imagine if you had a stopped-up toilet, and the guy you called told you he couldn’t fix it because he had ‘plumber’s block’ that day. You wouldn’t stand for it. Don’t let yourself get away with anything like that as a writer, either.
As most of the readers of this blog are aware (all three of you…), I often post reviews and author interviews, here and on Medium (if you happen to be writing as a member of the military or military-affiliated community). I like doing this because a., free books, and b., I like doing it. I am an author for two small presses, and a member of a number of groups of authors of like-minded backgrounds (enjoy writing spec fic or are military veterans), and so I usually go ahead and see if anyone has something new they’d like me to spotlight. That pretty much fills my review/interview quotient.
On the rare occasion, however, someone will reach out to me via Goodreads, or LinkedIn, or even Amazon, and offer me the chance to read their book for a review or interview. I don’t mind this at all, as it gives me a chance to meet new authors and check out their stuff. And, let’s face it, it provides me with content when things are slow (or a chance to procrastinate if I should be writing.) Some authors, or future authors, may be reading this blog post to find out what they need to do to get me to review their book, so here it is, broken down…
I was perusing Twitter today, and an author mentioned that bloggers who do reviews would be helpful if they mentioned whether or not they were interested in stories from diverse authors. I know that publishing outlets still consider stories with persons of color and LGBTQ+ characters to need their own subcategories and different spaces, but this space is for stories of all shapes and sizes, so if you are wondering whether you should send your SF story here, even though A,B,C, feel free to hit me up.
I hesitate to speak for other online reviewers, and so I don’t know if all of them prefer these guidelines, but I can say that if you are interested in striking up a conversation with me, and getting me interested in reading your book and doing an interview or review, this is the way. I need to get back to writing words for a project, and not for a blog, but if you’d like to send me something, email me at infamous_scribbler ~at~ yahoo, or fill out this handy Google form, and let me know what you’ve got.
For immediate release! On January 29, Boroughs Publishing Group will release a double-stacked Valentine’s Day compendium, Sealed With a Kiss. (Available now for pre-order in multiple digital formats.)
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As readers of this blog may be aware, last year I started writing romance under the pen name, Becca A. Miles. My project is a romantic suspense series, set in Wilmington, N.C., which is one of my favorite places to vacation. This Valentine’s Day, one of my stories, “Sweetheart,” a novella that follows up my debut novel, Negotiating Her Release, will be available as part of a two-story collection with Marilyn Baxter’s “The Last Take-Away.” I’ve invited Marilyn to join me as we talk about our stories.
MARILYN: The Last Take-Away is contemporary romance and tells the story of both the hero (Drew Paxton) and heroine (Maggie Sullivan). Because my editor liked the story so much, she’s asked me to develop this into a series, so it’s the beginning of the larger universe of St. Magnus Island, a small fictional barrier island off the coast of Georgia.
BECCA/IS: I love the idea of a novella that introduces us to a larger world. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy reading romance–in many cases, authors write not just books, but whole series, that allow the reader to spend time in the worlds that they love. My story, “Sweetheart,” is a romantic suspense that takes the characters from my first book, and puts them in a new predicament. It also introduces a few more of the characters that I’ll be sharing with readers in future stories. For example, there are two characters who seem like total and complete opposites. But here’s a romance pro-tip: If a character declares that another character is absolutely, totally, and definitely “Hot, but not my type …” well, I’ll let you be the judge.
I came to writing romance first as a reader who enjoyed the genre, but didn’t have much luck getting any ideas off the ground. Luckily, I had a mentor, romance author Emmy Curtis, who saw promise in my other writing and encouraged, bribed, tricked, and offered me resources to start plotting and creating this series.
MARILYN: My first published work was in my ex-husband’s government agency’s professional journal. He was a federal auditor, and we were gypsies living all over the southeastern US for the first two years we were married. I wrote a humorous article about living out of a suitcase for the southeast field office newsletter, and the regional manager liked it so much he sent it to Washington, DC for inclusion in the national journal. I even got a nice plaque from the Comptroller General of the United States! Fast forward to the early 2000’s. I read in spurts in the years after college (Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, Belva Plain to name a few) but in 2004 I discovered romance, and oh my gosh, I was captivated! I especially loved category romance and devoured them. I got to know a couple authors online and was asked to work for a now-defunct website as a reviewer. A couple of those authors (one of whom is a brainstorming partner) encouraged me to write. I dabbled and dawdled and took five years to finish my first book. And a month after I finished it, my marriage fell apart. It’s hard to write happily ever after when your own has ended. But fast forward again a few years, and Boroughs had a novella contest I was a finalist in, and they not only published my novella but invited me to submit a full-length novel. That novel was the five-year endeavor. And I haven’t looked back. Also, in and around the romance, I began writing for the confessions and romance magazines (True Confessions, True Romance, True Story) and sold about 50 stories and features to them before they closed shop last year.
BECCA/IS: One of the ways that I began to get a handle on how to write was to review the various romance novel tropes, and see which ones spoke to me. With a background that includes military service, a degree in criminal justice, and an interest in politics and high stakes, it seemed that romantic suspense was my most natural genre, and the alpha male/law enforcement/military was one of the tropes I was drawn to–with a twist! I love it when my male and female characters both live in that world. I also really enjoy opposites attract, friends to lovers, and character in peril, especially when they save themselves with the support and love of the other character. Surprisingly, my first novel, NHR, also uses a virgin trope. I’m not sure why that spoke to me, but I hope that people give it a chance!
MARILYN: I love marriage of convenience, friends to lovers, jilted bride and accidental pregnancy. Least favorite? Uhm… I haven’t read one yet I didn’t like. Some are just more favorite than others.
After we talked about tropes, I asked Marilyn, what’s the most challenging thing about writing romance?
MARILYN: EVERYTHING! I hear people say “I could write that,” and I want to challenge them to do it. Creating a world and relatable characters with good motivation and conflict isn’t easy. Or it isn’t easy for me. Then you have to put it all together into a compelling story. But struggle as I might, I always love the end result!
BECCA/IS: I don’t have much to add to that!
So what’s coming up next for us?
MARILYN: In addition to writing for Boroughs Publishing Group, I also write for Amazon Kindle Worlds, specifically Roxanne St. Claire’s Barefoot Bay Kindle World. I’ve had two BBKW novellas released so far and my next project is another one to be released in July of this year. It will feature a trope I haven’t tackled yet – the billionaire hero. And I have no idea who he is yet. ACK!
BECCA/IS: I’ve just submitted another novel in the series to Boroughs, and am currently working on researching and plotting the next book in the series. It’s been challenging, because I’m working on spending more time in my characters’ heads–and one of them is a serial killer! My goal is to share more of these stories, including writing more holiday-themed novellas, as they are just so much fun.
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If you enjoyed our conversation, please stop by our Facebook release party on Tuesday, January 30, from 5-10 pm! There will be some terrific authors present, awesome prizes, and much fun to be had. Also, you can check us out online, drop us a Tweet or a Facebook comment–we’d love to hear from you!
Visit Marilyn Baxter at her Web site: www.marilynbaxter.com,
My guest this Wednesday is urban fantasy author Tiffany Shand, who is currently doing a virtual book tour for her new release, Shadow Walker. I wanted to ask her a few questions about herself and her work, including her approach to the craft and her work as an “authorpreneur.”
Q (Infamous Scribbler): Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your latest project?
A (Tiffany Shand): I’m an urban fantasy and non-fiction author and work as a professional editor. I started off writing stories as a child featuring my pets and did a creative writing course in my late teens. This really inspired me to publish my first novel back in 2015 and start writing professionally. Doing that also introduced me to editing. I love working with and helping other authors on their books and making them the best they can be.
Q: On your website, you talk about how writing helped you through the transition to home-schooling when you had to leave school. Can you talk a little more in detail about that? What made you pick up writing, as opposed to another form of creativity?
A: Transitioning from senior school to home-schooling was very strange for me at first. I had to leave school because of ongoing health problems and having to go to hospital frequently. Writing became a way of coping with that difficult transition and it really helped me to have something else to focus on rather than my health problems. I’d been writing for a long as I could remember and having more free time on my hands without going to school gave me the chance to explore my creativity more and write things I hadn’t written before, such as non-fiction.
Writing had always been a big part of my life and had always been a creative outlet for me. I always loved crafting out stories and watching my characters come to life. To me there is no better form of creativity than that and that’s why it appealed to me most.
Q: You also spoke about using the Dragon voice recognition software. I’m very interested in this–were there any changes you had to make in your writing process when going from physically writing to writing using Dragon? If so, what were they? How did you work through them?
A: I mainly started using Dragon dictation software because typing became physically painful and tiring for me due to having disabilities that affect my hands and joints. My rheumatologist mentioned dictation software to me and my grandparents were nice enough to buy me a basic version of Dragon software one Christmas. I found it very strange at first talking to my computer and watching it write out words for me. My writing process didn’t change that much, I still wrote stories by hand but instead of typing them I used the Dragon to put them on computer. This actually proved to be a lot quicker than typing as my Dragon types a lot faster than I physically can and also saves me from hurting my hands.
Today I still write all of my first draft fiction stories using good old-fashioned pen and paper, then transfer it onto computer using my Dragon. I have tried typing or using my Dragon to do a first draft, but I don’t find it as creatively inspiring. The only thing I find frustrating about my Dragon is that it sometimes writes things that sound nothing like what I have said to it and it seems to have a mind of its own!
Q: What made you choose urban fantasy as your genre? Who are your inspirations?
A: I got bored of contemporary fiction and fantasy in my late teens so I started reading other genres. I read one book by Kim Harrison which is what introduced me to the urban fantasy genre. This was very different from anything else I had previously read, and I fell in love with the genre and naturally started writing in it. Kim Harrison is one of my inspirations, as are authors such as Cheyenne McCray and Kresley Cole.
Q: I like the word you use on your site, “authorpreneur.” What advice would you give writers looking to get better at the business side of the craft?
A: I would say treat publishing as the business and remember that it is a business. Writers aren’t just writers nowadays, they have to be entrepreneurs as well. Don’t try to do everything yourself such as editing, cover design, or marketing, delegate where you can. Don’t overwhelm yourself with everything, take it one step at a time. Remember that you get better with every book, try to study writing craft and make your book the best it can be.
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More about Shadow Walker…
After her enforcer teammates are killed in a bust gone wrong, Denai witch Charlie McCray struggles to carry on working the job without them. Using her gift of communicating with the dead, she’s determined to get justice and find those responsible no matter what. But her only clue to go on is a mysterious orb with a deadly reputation that everyone wants to get their hands on.
The only one who may be able to help her figure out their deaths, and the connection to the orb, is the dark and sexy demon from her past. Convinced she’s his life mate, to her denial, Charlie isn’t happy to see him again. Can they really work together as partners to track down the truth whilst ignoring the ever-growing attraction between them?
As we enter the New Year, I do what I normally do, which is sit down to sketch out my plan for the year. Some of that I’ve put here in my last post, some is still hanging out as an outline in my bullet journal, and some remains to be uncovered in the book I’m currently reading, The New Rules of Marketing and PR (more on this, just scroll down a bit.)
One thing that has changed from previous years is that this time, I’ve set up a system of tracking what I am doing which will enable me to identify areas of effort that are performing, underperforming, or actually quite lucrative. My brain does well with systems that allow me to fill in numbers and see, in a tangible way, what I am doing.
Also, I spent some time, money, and effort in previous years on things that did not really do anything except waste all three.
The first thing to do, though, is get some words down. I’m putting off a few submission goals until I complete the two series I’ve got going on now. The intended result is to improve my craft, and build an audience through giving readers a full series instead of just a one-off. (It will also, with luck, demonstrate to any future agents I query that I have the ability to stick with writing a series, which is pretty important in the genre work I prefer.)
I will talk about my Patreon page, which falls in here somewhere and is intended to create a community of storytellers through coaching, but I’ll hit that at length at a later time. Although you can definitely check it out if you’ve been thinking about wanting to write your own stuff. I won’t stop you. 😉
The next thing is to build social media through connections and interactions. I’m under no illusions that I will sell books through Twitter, but again, it’s a way to demonstrate to readers and potential agents/publishers that I am more established and serious about what I’m doing. Connections and interactions are another reason that I’m applying to various conventions and conferences as a panelist and workshop leader. My theory is, if people want to read books or hire someone as a coach, they are more likely to do so if they’ve met that person in real life, and are able to then connect with them (me) online. So I have some shiny new bookmark/business cards, and a couple of dates in 2018.
The last thing, and this is courtesy of The New Rules book referenced above, is taking a look at how I can use content to gain a wider audience. (I realize I’m burying the lede here, but bear with me.) I’m about halfway through the book, but what grabs me as Mr. Scott’s central concept, is the idea that we’ve gone beyond marketing and public relations to a new concept of communicating and interacting on an authentic basis. The book delves into tactical-level concepts and courses of action, but the overall idea is that an author, or an organization, or a corporation, etc., must find a way to engage an audience of both potential buyers and non-potential buyers. (I know, what? I gotta talk with people who have no intention of buying my book?) This communication then shapes the general perception of that organization.
While much of what I write is available on places like Amazon or my publisher’s Web site, or at my Patreon, I wanted to find a way to continue to share content that would be the basis of interaction. And I specifically wanted that content to come from articles and interviews with a wide variety of interesting people doing interesting things. While some of them may be authors, or poets, or journalists, I also wanted to interview nurses, and scientists, and crafters, etc.
When I first started this Web site, I had a page called “Characters and Conversations.” I still entitle my interviews “A Conversation with …” My goal is that in inviting people to come on here and talk about who they are and what they do, these articles will spur more conversation and invite more people to join us.
If you are an author, or someone who works in any sort of capacity with trying to generate interest in, publicity for, or interaction with any sort of organization (or your sole proprietorship), I can’t recommend this book enough. It comes with a lot of great suggestions and stories, as well as a full online presence, and a blog.
I also suggest checking out the Twitter hashtag #bookmarketingchat as well as The Author Biz Podcast. Find what works for you, even if you have to do a little experimenting to figure that out. (Don’t forget to track your data and set your benchmarks!) And if you figure out the magic overnight secret to amazing online book success, feel free to share in the comments. 😉
Today’s conversation is with Lonnie Wilson, a fellow former military police officer, and current project manager on the civilian side. I asked him to talk to me about his decision to leave the military, the transition process, and where he is on his current journey. Without further introduction, let’s get started…
Q (Infamous Scribbler): First, can you sketch me a quick bio, tell me a little bit about yourself, especially as it relates to where you are right now in your career?
A (Lonnie Wilson): I enlisted in the Army Reserves in the summer 2005 and spent most of three years as both reservist and a ROTC Cadet through the Simultaneous Membership Program. I then entered the active duty Army in 2008 where I served as an officer in the Military Police Corps until late 2017.
I joined the Army for three reasons:
My original goal for my Army career was to complete company command and then decide whether or not I wanted to stay in for a 20 year retirement. I completed company command in 2015 and decided to PCS once more, which would allow me to complete a Master’s degree while in the Army. During my time at this duty station, I decided to leave the Army. I did not leave the Army because I hated it, but I do believe it was time for me to move on. I had little desire to progress in the Army and had become increasingly interested in finding a civilian career with meaning that I could potentially build a career around while I still felt “young”. I’ve put in about 9 years in active duty and need to serve either another 11 years in active duty or 8 years in the reserves to qualify for retirement. I left this second door open by remaining in the IRR, but have no intention of using it.
I used Alliance Careers to assist in my transition from an active duty Army officer to a civilian. I looked into several similar companies and chose Alliance because of the personalized feel their experience provided, as well as success stories from some of my colleagues. Alliance places junior military officers in corporate careers, typically in the fields of engineering, operations, and business to business (B2B) sales. Beginning about a year from my projected separation date, I participated in collaborative web training sessions with the team at Alliance. These classes were self-scheduled, typically required a read-ahead and often coincided with the recommended reading list. The team at Alliance also offered in-depth interview preparation with multiple mock interviews, both telephonic and in person. Alliance holds multiple hiring conferences each year for their candidates. The hiring conference experience could not have gone smoother. Alliance did an excellent job pairing me with companies that matched my interests and desired locations.
I began terminal leave in October and began working about two weeks later. I now work for a global concrete forming and shoring company. In other words, my company provides formwork, braces, scaffolding, etc., that support concrete during the construction of large building projects. My company also provides engineering support and rents the previously mentioned equipment to contractors. Every project is unique, but a typical project could be a parking garage or condos/apartment buildings, often more than 15 stories tall. My current position is that of a project manager and I intend to move into a sales role eventually.
Q: We originally met at the Captains Career Course. Talk to me about your decision to leave the Army for civilian life–what were some of the factors involved? What was the deciding factor?
A: There were many reasons why I wanted to leave the military. One was to give my family more stability and not move so often. Unfortunately I went through a divorce during my separation from the Army, so my reason of leaving the Army for family stability was ultimately unimportant. Another reason was that I noticed that some officers who stayed in for 20 years struggled to find meaningful employment while those who left mid-career often had an easier time finding a great career. I watched several of my peers transition to civilian careers and earn more money with greater job satisfaction, and knew I could do the same. I also questioned whether or not I would be competitive for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel if I stayed in. I did not want to waste some of the most productive years of my life in the Army, only to be sidelined in 5-6 years.
Unfortunately, I had become tired of the Army. Perhaps I was the proverbial “disgruntled captain”, but I was tired of people that hung around for “easy money” and tired of the military police corps; I freely admit that I was never passionate about law enforcement.
Last but not least, I wanted to leave the Army because I wanted a career that I was passionate about. Early on, I hoped that the Army would give me this career satisfaction, but it was not to be. I wanted to leave and become an expert in my field, whatever that field might be. This may seem like the least tangible of reasons, but it was probably the most important reason of why I left.
Q: During your transition from the military, what advice did you find helpful on the outside? What advice did you find less than helpful?
A: Alliance Careers did a wonderful job helping me to learn how to present myself in interviews and what to expect in the civilian sector. Advice that was less than helpful was from people who thought I should just “stay in” until retirement. I’m not sure I would have made it to retirement, and I really wasn’t enjoying being in the military anymore. I would not give anybody advice that basically says, “Just suck it up for another 12 years”.
The worst part of leaving the Army was defining success. It was difficult for me to “know” what I wanted to do as a civilian. What is success and what does success look like? In the Army it’s simple because it’s tied to a position and a rank. As a civilian it could literally be anything, money, fame, a simple life, a position, travel, possessions, family, hobbies, etc. There simply isn’t an answer that works across the board in the civilian sector. It’s up to the individual to decide, and then pursue that goal.
The issue of defining success is something that is vital to us all, whether we choose to stay in the Army of get out. We need to be mindful of how we position ourselves so that we can best achieve our goals.
I now feel connected to my roots through construction as I was a construction worker before college. I like the people I work with and found a forgotten, or perhaps sidelined, passion for construction (I had forgotten this), and there is the potential to make a lot of money. My last day of terminal leave passed without my realization. I do not miss the Army.
Q: Talk to me about your current job–what are some of the skillsets necessary to be successful?
A: Some of the job specific skillsets in my field are: The ability to read and understand blueprints, organization, attention to detail, the ability to manage a large number of complex problems at once, and people skills – selling a solution. I had most of these skills, although I had to brush up on blueprints.
Q: What, if any, of your military experience/training do you find helpful in your civilian career? What might you find to be less than helpful?
A: The military does a decent job of teaching leaders stress management. I learned the value in placing “the mission first,” and the ability to apply systematic approaches to problems (Troop Leading Procedures, Military Decision Making Process, etc.). I use basic organization skills honed during my time in the Army, such as creating and using execution matrixes to do routine things routinely every day.
Less than helpful: This is probably a really long list, but the one thing I’ve noticed a lot is that despite ‘never having enough people and constantly being overworked’, the Army has too many people for the work they put out. Civilians often do more work with less people. I understood that when I got out I would probably be working harder than I’ve ever worked in the Army, initially for less money, with less benefits.
This does not mean that getting out is a bad idea. Just like the Army you may need to pay your dues up front so that you are better off in 5-10 years. You can’t be afraid to start over.
Q: Where would you like to go next in your career? Life goals?
A: I want to become the best project manager in the company and then become a sales rep. I want to create a training plan for future project managers so that they are able to become effective in less time.
Less than a year after divorce, my life goals are still in a state of flux. What I do know is that I want to provide for my children to the best of my ability, and that I want to simplify my life and be less materialistic. More than anything, I want to be mindful, to be happy in the present, to be healthy, and enjoy the outdoors every chance I get. If I can do these things, I will consider myself successful.
Q: What advice would you give to someone transitioning from the military? What advice would you give to someone interested in the same career?
A: If you’re not happy in the military, do not put off getting out because of money. My advice is to not waste your time “easing yourself out” through the National Guard or Reserves, either. Those organizations often take up more of your time than you realize, especially as an officer, and will hinder your ability to be effective in your new career.
Do make a plan! Set some money aside and be realistic about the cost of getting out. There will be higher taxes and health insurance is expensive! Look around you and see what your paycheck buys you. Does all that stuff make you happy? Learn to live with less before you get out if you think you are going to take a pay cut (and you probably will for the first year or so).
Don’t let mandatory job qualifications stand in the way of the career you really want. If you can’t figure out how to get in front of the right person and convince them that you are awesome and they should hire you, maybe the Army is a good fit for you for just a bit longer. You’ve got to be confident!
My advice to someone in a similar career field: Alliance helps place people in three career fields: Engineering, B2B Sales and Operations. I think that’s a pretty good way to approach the civilian job market, maybe with the addition of Entrepreneurship. There are pros and cons to each. My advice to people entering B2B sales is to do so with caution. It’s an “eat what you kill” environment, so make sure you understand the hunting and farming landscape and take a good assessment of your abilities before jumping in. I insisted on entering the environment as a project manager rather than a sales rep because I wanted a stable income while I was learning the ropes.
Q: Anything to add?
A: Happiness is something you create for yourself. Nobody can tell you what happiness is for you, and nobody can make you happy. You can’t make anyone else happy either, but you can share happiness, and that’s the best part of life.
Randy Brown embedded with his former Iowa Army National Guard unit as a civilian journalist in Afghanistan, May-June 2011. He authored the poetry collection “Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poems from Inside the Wire.” His essays, journalism, and poetry have appeared widely both on-line and in print. As “Charlie Sherpa,” he writes about military culture at: www.redbullrising.com, and about military writing at: www.aimingcircle.com. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild.
Q (Infamous Scribbler): You’ve worn a lot of hats professionally, and sometimes even masks. Can you give readers a little background before we jump into your latest project with the Military Writers Guild?
A (Charlie Sherpa): I started Middle West Press as a solo freelance writing and editing business in 2003. I had previously been an editor of national newsstand and trade magazines—as well as an editor at small metro and community newspapers. In 2015, I reorganized the business as a limited liability corporation, and extended operations into independent publishing. We’ve published three books so far—two poetry collections and a collection of journalism—with an objective of publishing from 1 to 4 books annually.
While our mission statement focuses on finding unique stories and voices of the American Middle West, the Military Writers Guild “Why We Write” anthology project stems from a parallel interest in finding new ways to bridge the “civil-military gap”—the lack of mutual empathy and understanding often present between civilians and those with military experiences. The latter can include service members, veterans, family members, contractors, and more.
Q: The project’s call for submissions seeks stories of “how individual military-writing practitioners promote professional and/or popular discourse,” which is a theme after my own heart. Talk to me a little about where this theme came from?
A: When I was a member of the Iowa Army National Guard, I started military blog called called “Red Bull Rising.” I was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, in what was later billed as the largest call-up of Iowa troops since World War II. While I didn’t work in public affairs, my duty position potentially involved blogging and social media. I wanted to learn by doing, so I started an off-duty blog under a pseudonym, based on a nickname: “Charlie Sherpa.”
In my early childhood, I grew up in an active-duty U.S. Air Force family. I remembered my mom and me recording messages to my dad, on these little reel-to-reel tapes. He was a navigator, then flying in and out of Vietnam. When I was in college, my dad was still flying as a reservist, and sent letters home while deployed to Operation Desert Shield.
My personal blog was originally intended to be my gift to my kids—like those tapes and letters from Dad had been to me. They were too young to understand why Daddy was leaving them to go to Afghanistan for a year, but I hoped they’d want to hear my stories when they got older.
In the meantime, I expected that my blog might entertain my citizen-soldier buddies. What I didn’t expect was that I’d get enthusiastic responses from wives, husbands, parents and relatives of soldiers, thanking me for explaining what was going on in our training—and in their loved ones’ interior lives.
I found myself writing not only for my kids, but for everyone. I was bridging the gap, before I knew there was one.
Q: So where does the Military Writers Guild anthology fit in? What sorts of stories you are hoping to receive?
A: Fast-forward to present day: Much to my surprise, I’m now longer just a magazine editor and writer. I’m an award-winning blogger, a military veteran, and even a published war poet. The greatest joy has been in finding a new tribe—finding people like you—who are also out there, telling military stories.
I’m not talking about “expressive” or “therapeutic” writing, although that can be a motivation for some. (I always joke that writing can be therapeutic, but it sure as heck ain’t therapy.) I’m talking about writing for literary merit—writing for the love of words, and great stories, and new ideas. Stuff that can change the world, or other people’s perceptions of it. If you’re lucky, you even get paid for it.
Through organizations like the Military Writers Guild, I’ve been fortunate to encounter other practitioners—novelists, essayists, historians, think-tankers, policy wonks, Sci-Fi writers—who ground their work in military themes, topics, and milieu. From poetry to policy papers to pulp fiction, we’re all doing similar work—sharing military stories and exploring possibilities for our society’s present and future—in wonderfully diverse ways. Broadly defined, military writing is a Big Tent—one that’s “General Purpose, Extra Large.”
And many of us are writing in more than one category.
In my Army days, I often found myself assigned to “lessons-learned” roles—documenting and sharing stories of organizational successes, and sometimes failures. The idea was that everyone has something to teach, based on his or her experiences.
So, in the Military Writers Guild’s “Why We Write” anthology, I’d hope to see stories of how and why writing professionals apply their skills, regardless of genre or objective, in capturing and communicating military stories. What inspires them? What storytelling techniques do they use? What great research finds have they discovered?
I expect we’ll be surprised. I expect we’ll hear from writers of military history and humor and doctrine and theory and practice and things we’ve even never heard of. It should be awesome!
Q: This is not your first project to solicit and spotlight the writing of other veterans. I’m currently reading my way through “Reporting for Duty,” a 668-page collection of military public affairs reporting from Afghanistan. How does that relate to the your work as a publisher, and to the Military Writers Guild anthology?
A: When my buddies got back from their 2010-2011 deployment to Afghanistan—I visited them briefly as an embedded civilian reporter, toward the end of their time there—we noticed that all the great public affairs reporting that the brigade had done was in danger of getting lost on the Internet. This was publicly released information—stories that had previously been published on division and brigade websites—but the public-facing websites were rotting away. Different units take over the mission downrange, websites change and disappear.
In short, we worried about a small-scale “Digital Dark Ages.”
As a former print-media guy, I suggested that one answer was an old-school trade paperback, one that could be a useful, permanent resource on the shelf of every family historian and county library. In many ways, the “Reporting for Duty” project was an exercise in preserving and promoting Midwestern history.
It was also an exercise in military history. For those interested, I wrote a lessons-learned article about it, which won an award from Small Wars Journal.
Middle West Press LLC has previously published two collections of military-themed poetry from Midwestern authors: My own “Welcome to FOB Haiku: War Poetry from Inside the Wire,” and Eric Chandler’s “Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love and War.” Those helped us validate our production processes, in a relatively low-risk context. In poetry, if you sell more than 100 copies of a book of poetry, you’re near the top percentile. If you sell a thousand, you’re a lyrical rock star.
The size of the “Reporting for Duty” project validated our capacities and capabilities in the production of larger work: Collecting, curating, editing, indexing. So, when the board of the Military Writers Guild wanted to illustrate the breadth of what “military writing” encompasses, we knew that we could deliver.
The great thing is, they’ve opened it to non-members as well! If you’re working and writing on military topics, themes, characters, stories—we’d love to hear from you!
We’re planning to launch the anthology parallel to the 30th anniversary celebration of the War, Literature & the Arts Journal. There’s a conference scheduled Sept. 20-21, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo. I hope to see a lot of my fellow military writers there!
Q: How does this project fit into Middle West Press’s overall publication schedule?
A: We’re planning to slowly grow production over the next couple of years. We’ll looking to publish another Midwestern poetry collection in 2018—not necessarily from another veteran, although I suppose that might make a nice progression or series. It would really be great to publish a collection from a woman veteran and/or person of color. There is a growing number of published collections from 21st century war poets, but few from non-white cishet perspectives. The military is like the American Middle West, and vice versa—our uniformity camouflages our true diversity. To paraphrase Walt Whitman: We contain multitudes.
We’re also looking at a themed war poetry anthology—announcement of that project should take place in January—and another, non-Midwestern, mostly non-fiction military anthology. I say “mostly,” because there may be a way to include flash-fiction and poetry. We’re still play-testing concepts for that one. Prospective contributors writers can stay tuned at Middle West Press website here: https://middlewestpress.submittable.com/submit
Q: Anything to add?
A: Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you and your readers! The call for submissions to the “Why We Write” Military Writers Guild anthology is here: https://middlewestpress.submittable.com/submit/99751/call-for-military-writing-essays-on-craft-why-we-write-anthology
And, remember: You don’t have to be a member to contribute to the anthology! More information on the Military Writers Guild is here:
Welcome back to filmmaker Conrad Glover, currently on set in Las Vegas filming his series “Shades of Sapphire.” I’ve been following Conrad’s work in film ever since he hired me to do some set photography for a horror feature he was directing. (2005’s Woods of Evil.) Since then, he’s been doing ever bigger and better things with his production company, JOCO Films. He’s in the middle of production and all the craziness that entails, but he stopped by to answer a few questions and give us some quick peeks into the world of Sapphire.
Q (Infamous Scribbler): What is your current project?
A (Conrad Glover): Sapphire St. Clair, known as Queen St. Clair, has a heart of gold, but is the most feared woman in Las Vegas underworld. This is her story. She is the great granddaughter to Stephanie St. Clair, who was the right hand man to Bumpy Johnson, Harlem’s notorious gangster and crime boss. This is how Sapphire learned the street game that was passed down to her as a small child.
Once released from Danbury federal prison after doing a 10 year stretch, Sapphire St. Clair moved to Las Vegas to start her own criminal enterprise. As Sapphire’s success grew in her many businesses, this brought on unscrupulous attention from dirty law enforcement who tried to stop her, all for a piece of the wealth that they knew Sapphire obtained from her illegal dealings.
“Shades of Sapphire” is a crime action/drama that is full of plot twists and turns. Las Vegas will serve as the backdrop of this web series. The show will be shot at a high production value. The WIRE meets POWER type of story, but with more action!
Q: There are tons of filmmakers out there, trying to bring their project to life. How did you get yours off the ground?
A: I was able to get this project off the ground after talking with my distributor Doug Schwab, CEO of Maverick Entertainment. We have had a long working relationship for over a 10-year span. We talked about “Shades of Sapphire,” he liked the concept, so he decided he wanted to come on as the Executive Producer on the project.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have faced doing the project? How did you overcome them?
A: The biggest challenge with this project I would have to say is scheduling the day-to-day shoot. Shooting a series is much harder than doing a feature film, because you’re casting more actors, and you’re constantly on the hunt for new locations for each new episode. It can be very stressful at times.
Q: You are working in a bit of a stylized genre. What do you do to keep the project aligned with your vision?
A: This project is more of drama/action. I think what’s different about this project is that the female lead is black for one. Second she’s running a crime organization in the heart of Las Vegas. Plus no one is squeaky clean in this series. We have all types from the Russian mob, Italian mob, street thugs to the Mexican cartel, etc.
Q: What are some aspects of working with actors that you find integral to the process?
A: I love working with actors. Acting is where I started in this business. I love being able to speak the language of an actor, knowing what strings to pull to get the performance I want from them. (IS Note: For more of Conrad’s insight into the craft of acting and film, check out my 2013 interview with him on filmmaking and the work he was putting in to his career.)
Q: What is the next step in finishing the project? What comes after that?
A: Post- production, which usually takes two months if everything goes as planned. Once that’s done, the project is sent to the distributor to be cleared. Then it’s just a waiting game on a release date. In the meantime, it’s back to writing and preparing for the next project.
Q: Anything to add?
A: Anyone thinking about becoming a filmmaker? Learn to write, write, write, I can’t stress this enough. Everything starts with a good script. Also learn to write stories with a budget you can put your hands on to make your movie. I’ll close this out by saying…. Always follow your dreams, never give up.
It’s the sign that retailers put out when they’re going through renovations, but still want to stay open for business. And now, as I find myself in the thick of NaNoWriMo, I am also going to be slowly renovating this Web site to reflect some new directions, new writings, and a new focus on coaching the writing process.
Part of this renovating process includes doing more “Characters and Conversations” interviews. If you check out the “Conversations” category tag, you will find a series of blogs spanning a few years at this point. The posts are conversations that I have had with authors, entrepreneurs, artists, Army commanders, homesteader/preppers, teachers, journalists, filmmakers, and a whole host of other folks who have shared cool information about themselves and their lives.
During the past year or so, I’ve mostly been focusing on author interviews, which are totally fun and enable me to spread the word about upcoming releases. On the other hand, my original intention was to first, keep a hand in my old journalism training by interviewing people outside the realm of my experience. Additionally, I find that learning about real-life characters not only helps to inform my writing, but might inspire others who are also working on their own writing projects.
So, stay tuned. Check back in. Check out some Conversations. Maybe shoot me a suggestion for someone cool to interview (even if it’s yourself. Don’t be shy.)
And now, back to my regularly scheduled NaNo writing panic. Peace!