Welcome to the Thinkerbeat Anthology Interview
Q: What inspired you to start publishing?
A: I wrote my first story when I was really young. I used to sit with a typewriter and clunk away at the keys for hours. I’d make a lot of mistakes, but I kept trying. Later, I started sending stories out for publication. I got a lot of rejections, just like everyone does.
In college I studied the music business and learned about managing talent. I also played around with the idea of becoming a computer programmer, but my creative side won out and I spent a number of years working in the music business.
Down the road, I got an offer to write a children’s book for a publisher. I thought, well, 500 words, how hard can that be? It took me months to finish it. You spend more time describing the illustrations on the page than you do putting words on the page. The staff editor was never happy and we disagreed on a lot of things. But I learned from him. I also kept in mind that if I didn’t play along, I’d never get the book published with my name on it.
From there, I started working on writing textbooks for schools for a publisher. Around that time, I was struggling with my own writing, though, writing creative stories, that is. I more or less thought I’d never get anywhere, because the rejections for my stories were still pouring in. That's when the practical side took over and I decided to go back to school and get an MBA degree.
In the master's degree program, we had to write a lot. And it became apparently early on that I was better at writing research reports than the other students in my classes, just because I'd been writing for a long time. At that point, I decided to take what I was learning and start up my first publishing company. We handled mostly textbooks. We also sold internationally, which was challenging, dealing with import/export laws, shipping costs and taxes. It was great experience, though.
After earning my MBA, I landed a full time job at a university teaching both business courses and writing courses. During one semester, I wrote the code for an online business simulation platform. For this, students could log in and form online companies and market fictitious products. Although it was only a simulation, the platform was a great success and from there I started pondering how I could make something similar available for authors world-wide.
Thinkerbeat was born, but under a totally different name at that time. The code has gone through hundreds of revisions before resembling what we see on the website today. For work flow, I really believe in finding consensus among the active members of the site. An example of that is the name of the site. Thinkerbeat is a combination of heartbeat and mindset. Kate Cudahy of Wattpad fame come up with the idea for the name and everyone else endorsed it right away.
Kate was one of our earliest members. She and I were working on a book I was revising at the time. She's a great beta-reader. Getting feedback from her on my book gave me the idea that the site could be utilized for providing feedback for other authors. If you don’t know about Kate, she has amassed over a quarter million readers on Wattpad as the author of Hal and recently she teamed up with Firebrand to sell her books there.
Many people join a reading circle or a writing circle in their neighborhood or city. Our idea is to make that kind of interaction available online. However, some people can't find a circle to join or they don't have time for the weekly meetings. With it all being online at Thinkerbeat, your manuscript is in one central location for everyone to look at. And with it being the Internet, you can form a writing circle with people from anywhere, not just people in your own backyard.
Another big influence on the site is David Grigg, also an early member. He's been really helpful in getting the book cover for the Thinkerbeat Anthology finished, giving constant feedback and support. He runs a professional book cover and book formatting business. He's also a really prolific author. David is a low keyed person, taciturn by his own definition, but by my definition a really solid guy and someone I consider a friend. David's claim to fame was being the chair of the 43rd World Science Fiction Convention. He's also the current editor-in-chief of the Novopulp anthologies, another site I endorse and encourage authors to take a look at.
Q: What bothers you more: spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors?
A: Punctuation. It’s right there in front of you in the books you read. You should know how to do it. Look closely at how it’s done when you read. And you should be reading a lot, especially if you want to be a great writer.
Q: Tell us something that will surprise us.
A: I once road my bicycle across Alaska. I spent two months living alone in the wild there, writing a journal, and that inspired me to try my hand at travel writing.
Q: What do you do for cover art? Do you do it yourself, hire an artist, or purchase pre-made art?
A: It’s different every time. Sometimes the answers come easy and sometimes problems like this take forever to solve. For the Thinkerbeat Anthology, we decided on the title almost overnight. I like to get a consensus and so I shared a short list of ideas with several people. The Art of Losing stood out as the best choice in everyone's mind without much debate. When you know you've got the right one, you breathe easy.
For the cover art, that took weeks. We played with so many ideas that I was getting frustrated with it. We talked to professionals and got a lot of feedback from everyone. I had this stock photo of a set of lost keys that I really liked but I didn’t want to use a stock photo, even if I could have, because there's always the chance it will show up somewhere else. I wanted an original.
One day, I took about half a dozen pictures of my own set of keys, as reference shots, probably spending a whole 5 minutes on it. Then I sent those photos out and asked if any of the professional photographers I knew could make a better one for me. The answer came back that one of the pictures I’d already taken was going to be the final one for the cover. The shot we wanted to use was right there in front of me, in my own camera. I’m still a little surprised by that. I'd taken the winning picture myself.
Q: What is the single most important quality in a story—what must an author do to win you over?
A: Clarity. Make the image in your head clear on paper. As writers, we get a picture in our minds and we draw it with words, but we often don’t realize that other people, our readers, can’t see that picture because it’s not inside their heads like it is in ours. When we read the words, everything makes sense to us, because we can see it clearly. What's hard is making other people see it the same way. Make the picture in your head as real as possible on the page so that your readers will know exactly what you're talking about.
Q: Any advice for aspiring authors?
A: Start with short stories. Avoid writing a full length book for a long time. Focus more on structure of the story and less on individual word choice. Learn the meaning of exposition, conflict and resolution, and the way to write a basic three act story. Don’t get too hung up on the rules, either. Do get totally hooked on developing a unique writer's voice, full of your own nuances and idiosyncrasies. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Only after you've tackled all these things, then try to write a book.
Q: Who are your writing heroes and why?
A: William Faulkner: he created a genre by himself. Cormac McCarthy: he took what Faulkner was doing and brought it to a whole new level.
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