Today Sam Reeves has joined me on the FSFN couch. Sam has written sci-fi short stories and is working on his first novel - a horror tale. Sam describes his genre as 'horror, fantasy, science fiction.'
Hi Sam, tell us a bit about yourself.
In 1974, when I was 3, my family moved from Kansas City to the Ozarks of southern Missouri. Next to the Mark Twain National Forest sat our 100-acre farm, where grew maples, strawberries, and snakes. (The snakes outnumbered
Growing up, I occasionally was seen carrying my pet chicken under my arm because all chickens love tricycle rides. When I was 15, my family moved to a small mining town in Oklahoma. I have lived in the general area since.
I met my wife at Wal-Mart. She told me my watch was ugly. I proposed to her a week later.
After college, I worked 6 years for a Native American casino as both their IT manager and director of marketing. (Yes, simultaneously.) For a couple of years after that, I returned to college, but this time instead of sitting in class, I sat at the end of a long hallway to write programs and analyze systems.
My hobbies include writing horror and fantasy and painting with Photoshop. I also enjoy reading and (I am told) complaining.
I love your sense of humor. When did you start writing and why?
I started twice. Well, three times if you count the most recent.
At 8 years old, right after my mom, dad, and I moved to a 24-acre farm in southern Missouri, I decided to write a play. The title sizzled with all the childhood originality I could muster, “The Monster” or something similar. The story loosely resembled The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I drew pictures for all the words I could not spell. I even developed a suggested cast list, which included Lorne Greene as The Monster. Eventually, as childhood became adolescence, my plays became short stories.
Around freshman year of high school, I quit writing. I told myself that I enjoyed reading books more than writing them.
Gonna Be a Writer When I Grow Up – Take 2 started in the fall before I turned 18 in February. I lay in bed reading a paperback science fiction novel and had that universal experience of “I could do better than this.” (Yes, I remember what book it was, and no, I am not going to tell you. Now that I have shed some of my youthful arrogance, I realize that if this writer has not already been named a grandmaster of science fiction, he will be.)
I threw the book into the floor and shouted, “For crying out loud! Can you use a word that is under four syllables?”
As if it had been waiting for the opportunity to introduce itself, a voice spoke up in the back of my head. “Well, Sunny Jim, if you think you can do better, do it.”
I said, “Okay. I will.”
And oh boy, I didn’t.
The productivity was there. I wrote 10 pages every day until I finished a manuscript that landed in that purgatory between long novella and short novel. As for quality, it was a wretched, neophyte attempt.
I completed a few more short stories after that, but I skipped the whole submitting-them-to-publishers business. . . . Okay, honestly, I probably garnered one or two additions to my form letter rejection collection, but that wasn’t much fun.
Then I discovered the writing-by-proxy joy of reading how-to writing books. This turned into the decade of Learning to Write but Never Finishing Much. If I didn’t write anything, at least I didn’t write anything awful.
For another decade, my writing began to suffer from exposure to the elements (e.g. the Rules of Writing) until it blew away. Making a living writing seemed as certain as making a living trying to win the lottery.
Only in the last couple of months have I picked it up seriously again.
Hopefully hanging around all of the Fantasy Sci-Fi authors will keep you motivated this time. We're keen to see your work.
What made you choose this genre?
Mom. Not that she wanted me to write horror or science fiction. She wanted me to write children’s books. I am not sure why. My ability and desire to write children’s books ranks somewhere around my ability and desire to teach cats to whistle.
Mom infected me with an appetite for horror stories, what she called “a good, juicy, scary one.” She was the 75-year-old grandma who in one breath would call you Sugarman and in the next squeal with laughter when the dude got himself bisected in 13 Ghosts. So, there was little hope for me.
The love of science fiction novels came from my brother-in-law, who I did not know very well. One day when I was 13 or 14 and the thought of a library seemed like the greatest invention since oxygen, I decided, “I want to be a bookworm.” My parents told me that my oldest sister’s husband, David, loved to read and that I should talk with him.
David and I had not been very close before then. He was construction worker in Kansas City, a gun collector, and a hunter. I was an adolescent who spent a lot of time riding my bicycle and saving Coke bottles I could sell for quarters and immediately dump them into the Dig Dug and Robotron machines at our local grocery store. During our next visit to Alice and Dave’s farm, I broached the subject of bookwormism. He gave me a grocery sack full of science fiction paperbacks: Keith Laumer and Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl. The drive home was 8 hours, squeezed between Mom and Dad in the bench seat of our 1978 GMC pickup, and I read the entire way.
Mom and Dad probably though, “Thank God! There is something that will shut him up!”
Your family are pretty cool. How do you develop your characters?
After years of asking myself “To outline or not to outline…” I realized I am a pantser. It scares the bejabbers out of me to write without a net, but whenever I brainstorm outside of a manuscript, the idea machine freezes up. Characters evolve and deepen as the story builds.
Note: A 'pantser' is an author who flies by the seat of the pants, without plotting the entire story in advance.
I paint and sketch the same way. I might start with basic shapes, but after that it is a continual process of rendering. I have to write through the crap to get to the good stuff.
But as for tools that might be useful to your readers, I often start with tropes and juxtapositions. Say we start with a robot. What is a type of robot that I have never seen? Or, what is an unexpected milieu where I might find a robot? Who could I pair with this robot as an ally or enemy that clashes with the robot’s self-concept? Then come the questions about what could go wrong.
Have you used any real people in your characters?
You can’t do it any other way, can you? Everyone is an amalgam of their experiences. So, you take some of the cool Lego pieces from this guy and snap them into this other guy and then you wedge in some of your personal traits so that you can see something of yourself in the character and thus like him. Eventually, you end up with this sort of insane color wheel of Legos that now may or may not be a guy (or human). He/she/it picks up detirius as the story moves along, and somehow it all works, or doesn't.
I am not sure how to answer that, because, in a way, I am all of them. That sounds like a pat writer answer, but I only have one brain. As far as traits that I lack… Hmm. In my WIP, my protagonist’s ability to see things in patterns would be kind of cool.
Hey, I love that idea of seeing things in patterns.
What do you do when you have writers’ block?
Writer’s block is a temporary condition that for me results from 1) dissatisfaction with my WIP, 2) fear that I won’t know what to do next, or 3) I got a good case of the don’t-wannas.
With dissatisfaction, I can switch to something else. Doing that though risks leaving a long trail of unfinished manuscripts. Alternatively, I go back through the story and discover where I took a wrong turn. The ideas usually free up after that.
Fear of the unknown burns away quickly when you simply write through it. Start writing down whatever comes to your fingers, even if you know it is not useable. Even if it is simply asking yourself questions on the page.
Why did I stop writing? What do I dislike about how this is going?
You have to write through the crap and remember that only 30% of what most writers produce is publishable.
The worst thing you can do with the don’t-wannas is to question whether you have what it takes. I was stuck in that particular mud hole for a long, long time, and I couldn’t even answer the old question about “Do you want to write or want to have written?” I have always believed that talent is directly proportional to the level of desire. If you want it bad enough, you will work through the trials to become proficient. Those who don’t want it bad enough, probably never started in the first place. It is easy to burn yourself out, though. One of the reasons writers resist the thing they love and instead opt to go surfing the Internet is because they have set goals too lofty for their current situation. If writing 2000 words per day is wonderful at first, but by day 3 it becomes a chore you are looking to avoid, then how about starting slower? Try 250 for a couple of weeks until it becomes habit and increase it by 125 words per day every week after that. You rack up thousands and thousands of words that way as opposed to a lot of chewed-up pencils.
Sometimes though resistance is simply the need to change gears for a little while and let your subconscious recharge. Take a walk. Especially take a walk through the woods. It might take 10 minutes or it might a lot longer (everyone is different). Eventually, you will walk into an idea out there that hits you like a thunderbolt.
You've sent in the great book cover you did for Yancy Caruther's novel.
How do you go about developing your cover artwork?
As the proverb goes, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
So, first I open a blank Photoshop file . . .
I have painted and sketched just about as long as I have written. I worked as the marketing director of a casino for five years, and during that time, they allowed me to do quite a bit of graphic design, sans any formal art training. I got to meet other artists, who showed me some of the techniques I could not find on YouTube.
Often I will start with a basic image in my head. The first images are quite similar to the tableaus that become my stories. The elements might not fit together quite yet, but there is some good detail I can build upon.
Most recently, I did the cover for my best friend’s Iraq War memoir. It is called Northwest of Eden by Yancy Caruthers. There was quite a bit of collaboration with that image. Yancy had an idea of some elements that he wanted. We simply churned the rendering process again and again until a picture emerged that we both liked.
What type of books do you like to read?
There are very few that I habitually avoid. I read mostly horror, science fiction, and fantasy. I also read quite a bit of nonfiction, which will be anything that I am curious about at the time. It could be nanotechnology, Medieval Europe, biographies, or Taoism.
Wool by Hugh Howey
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
Northwest of Eden by Yancy Caruthers
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Horns by Joe Hill
The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene
The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon
Who are your favourite authors?
I started really falling in love with books when I stayed up for 3 nights of my summer vacation reading Stephen King’s Cujo.
Otherwise, the list is huge: Ray Bradbuy, Octavia Butler, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Isaac Asimov, Nancy Kress, Shirley Jackson, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ben Bova, Robert Silverberg, Piers Anthony, Orson Scott Card, Jonathan Maberry, Whitley Strieber, Terry Brooks, Robert Heinlein….
What is your favourite quote?
I have three, and I can’t decide which I like better.
“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus
“Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” – Wil Rogers
And a paraphrase of Thomas Eddison: I did not fail a thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with a thousand steps.
What do you write about in your blog?
Mostly about the mind-boggingly stupid situations I get myself into: “The Tractor Tire Story,” “Department Store Adventures in a White Miniskirt,” and “The Day Dad Violated the Deep Freeze” to name a few. There are sections for my photographs, sketches, and paintings. You will also find some writing techniques articles.
Do you prefer ebook or hardcopy?
Complicated question. I used to avoid electronic books. I felt that when you buy an ebook, you are only buying data. There was nothing I could thump and sniff the scent of musty old book shops. However, I discovered the joys of being able to read on my iPad without keeping my wife up all night because of my bedside lamp. I like ebooks over paperbacks, unless they are old paperbacks (especially SF) that have a unique, age-of-wonder nostalgia, and for my favourite authors, I buy hardcover.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us today, Sam. We'll definitely look forward to your published work when it comes out maybe late this year or next year. Best wishes.
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