Here's a transcript of an interview I did, has some semi-interesting tidbits about the book. Which comes out tomorrow. Rut-roh.
What is the book about?
It’s a psychological thriller/romantic comedy noir. A man goes to work as a cook in the restaurant of the women who murdered his best friend after she’s exonerated by the courts.
I set out to write a simple revenge story, but I’ve learned that books are rarely about what the author intends—this one is no different.
When did you start writing the book?
Initial outlines started in early 2016 and the novel itself started that summer.
How long did it take you to write it?
The first draft took about two weeks and each subsequent draft was another few weeks of writing. There were long gaps in between. I wrote something like 300,000 words to get an 80,000 word final product, talk about killing your darlings.
Where did you get the idea from?
A real-life friend from college was murdered during a domestic dispute. My friends were I were eager for his murderer to get what she deserved (she did). In the aftermath of the shooting I began to wonder how I would feel if she went unpunished. The real person who was murdered was a sweetheart, a really fantastic human being, so I also wondered how strongly I would feel if he wasn’t so nice. Would that tribal instinct to protect your own override reason? Can you see someone for what they are when you love them?
That is a huge theme in the book. How it’s hard to see the people you love for what they are, good or bad. Your wife will probably never recognize your genius because she was in the bathroom with you that time you got food poisoning, the same way you’ll never see your best friend as an idiot because you’re wired to always take his side.
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
Yes and yes and yes. I struggled a great deal with pacing and fitting the epistolary elements of the story in the right spots. This is a split narrative. The main story comprises seventy percent of the text while the rest is filled with journal entries and excerpts from a fictitious memoir that plays a key role in the story. I can’t believe how stupid (or arrogant?) I was to think this was a simple idea and an ideal candidate for a debut novel. I eventually got it all together by making a graph of Fibonacci spirals and overlapping them according to numbers that appeared in each section. That sounds really convoluted but it was just a method of outlining for nerds. The main character used to be an engineer so I based all the numbers in the book on the Fibonacci sequence, so the book has an unusual emotional arch for a psychological thriller.
What came easily?
Tone and diction. I knew exactly how I wanted the story to sound, if that makes sense. Voice is the only part of writing that comes easily to me.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
Since this book was inspired by an actual tragedy I went out of my way to make sure none of the characters resembled anyone I knew. I didn’t want anyone to think I was retelling it or trying to somehow profit on the death of a friend.
Looking back, all of the characters are actually some aspect of my personality. The main character is a guy who abandoned his fancy engineering job to rediscover his life through art. Writing this very response I just realized the extent to which this book is about me. I’m blowing my own mind, lol.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
This is a complicated question. I don’t know that any modern author influences my actual prose but so many authors, writers and storytellers have had a profound impact on the way I think and experience the world. Aldous Huxley was the first person to tell me that magic was real when I was fourteen. George Carlin taught me to question everything. Jack Kerouac to live the stories I want to tell. Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Mike Mignola, Ken Kesey, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Chris Cornell, Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, Shel Silverstein and so, so, so many others influence me all day, every day. These are my heroes, my uncles, my psychologists, my friends, my adversaries, my teachers, my shepherds, my mentors, my role models.
Do you have a target reader?
Based on beta reading this book has been best received by adults 22-49. I’d never intentionally put an ideology into a work but many of the readers commented that it had feminist themes. There’s a really powerful female lead character and I certainly believe in equality but it isn’t intentionally feminist, it is what it is. If girls like it a bit more because they get to see a chick kick some ass, fantastic.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
My process is to not engage with the so called “war of art.” I write from 9 p.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday. No exceptions. Fiction, essays, blogs, whatever. I may write at other times but this is when it’s compulsory.
If I am having trouble getting words out then I write “Shellies.” That’s the word I use for grown up versions of Shel Silverstein poems. I was obsessed with Where the Sidewalk Ends when I was a kid, so much so that my grade school librarian gave me the school’s copy. I scribble out one or two or ten poems and maybe do an illustration or two and then I get back to it.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
I outline at the outset so I feel like I am getting something accomplished. I know I’m going to ignore it, but I do it because it’s a way to avoid doing the real work (for me). I’ll outline a haiku if it means I can put off doing the hard stuff.
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
I discarded a Fellowship of the Ring’s worth of material editing this book. I finished a draft and then edit. This book was edited four times. It’ll be nice to go dumpster diving for snappy dialogue one day in all that refuse.
Did you hire a professional editor?
No, I’m a madman. I did everything myself (don’t do this). I wouldn’t know how to hire an editor unless I’ve edited a book. The same with anything else in life. I’m one of those really odd, self-learning people. It’s unbearable for me to hire someone to do something I don’t know anything about. It’s not that I want to know, it’s that I have to know. I did it all. Editing, cover design, book layout, typesetting, eBook design. I even made my own imprint, who knows what I will do with that. It’s not that I’m arrogant or feel I can do it better than someone else, it’s that the world is so incredibly fascinating to me and filled with a million different sandwiches. I want to eat them all. Oh, I’m in the process of reading and producing the audiobook too. I’m not kidding, I’m nuts.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I spent about nine months querying. First to agents then to publishers once I found representation.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
It was a particular event, well two. I received two offers for this manuscript and I turned them both down. I’ll elaborate.
The first was a small, hybrid publishing house and I didn’t see how they offered anything beyond what I was capable myself. I was able to parlay this into representation and after six months or so of querying in earnest I got an offer from an established house. I was really excited until I read the terms. It wasn’t an especially bad deal, from what I understand it was the exact same deal offered to most new authors. Maybe I understand the math of it a bit better than the average creative-type human. Simply put: it’s wildly unfair.
Mainstream publishing is too risk averse in their handling of new authors. They invest very little and in the unlikely event that author does hit, they make a windfall. It’s not about what you deserve or the merit of your work, it’s about what you can negotiate. It’s about metrics, twitter followers, visibility. The intersection of business and art will always be an ugly place but the entryway is by far the worst. I truly believe in the book I’ve written, so for now I am going to go at it alone and see if I can find an audience. I’m not ruling out the mainstream but I’m not in a great place to negotiate what I think is fair, so until I am I’ll be over here.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
I did it. I work as an illustrator, I have a drawing tablet and an art studio. The cover I ended up using isn’t what I intended. The girl is actually my wife. I took a photo for reference because I was going to do an ink drawing or a painting or something. I imported it into Photoshop and farted around for 45 minutes and knew I had the cover. Happy accident.
This is a psychological thriller but it isn’t all doom and gloom, it’s quite funny. The first reference that comes to mind is that great Colin Ferrell movie In Bruges. That movie is about him killing a little boy but it’s incredibly comic too. I wanted the cover to reflect that. A good deal of the plot is hidden around in there and it shows there’s going to be food but it isn’t too bleak. A black and white and blood red ink drawing is going to be bleak, so I’m glad I didn’t go that route.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I don’t know anything about what works in book marketing. There are endless blog posts and $.99 eBooks but at the end of the day I put the majority of my effort into writing a great book. A book that twisted trope and convention and had something to say. Hopefully I’ve succeeded there. As for marketing that, I am going to try and win people over with sincerity.
No author sells their book, other people sell your book.
I don’t have much of a base audience or email list to work with so to grow that and let people really get to know me I’m launching a podcast in May called “Interesting Sh!t with Mike Wehner.” Each week I write an essay and then I riff on that theme for the podcast, it’s a one-man show. It’s lighthearted but filled with, uh, interesting sh!t. It’s a way to keep content pumping into the world in a healthy way and not spamming away on twitter or writing the zillionth article on why adverbs and the passive tense make for bad writing.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
You are going to die one day, but that ole’ axiom is wrong. Life isn’t too short. Not if you start right now. Live as passionately as you write and write as passionately as you learn.
Anyone can kick a crappy book with a garbage cover and terrible prose out into the ether of Amazon. It takes a real champion to go at it alone and make something great, something indistinguishable from a professionally published book. Like the infamous sign coming out of the locker room at Notre Dame, “Play like a champion today.”
Where did you grow up?
Northwest Indiana, the region as they like to call it. A few miles from the worst stretch of Lake Michigan imaginable, the part lined with steel miles, ports and other assorted sludge factories.
Where do you live now?
Bloomington, Indiana. Home of the IU Hoosiers and some of the best and worst Chinese food on planet earth.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I’m a low-rent polymath in the age of specialization. The truth is that I’m not truly great at anything but I do a little bit of everything.