When not reading, he is writing. When not writing, he is reading. Author Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick lives with his lovely wife and their two boys in Southwest Colorado.
A novelist with five published works—only four of his books are available as e-books.
Being a fierce supporter of independent and self-publishing, Joel straddles the fence quite well in the industry. He is the current Senior Acquisitions Editor for JournalStone Publishing, and is the first contact for authors wishing to be published in the traditional modes.
Time to chat with Joel!
What is your latest book?
When America Slew Her King. It is an alternative history, so plausible that readers might wonder what parts I really made up. The only bit of fiction in it, is that none of it happened. I rewound reality and played it differently from one instant of madness.
Is your recent book part of a series?
What else have you written?
Four other books…but, I can’t remember what they were.
What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?
That one of us, somewhere, is earning huge money on pure trash. Only traditional publishing can pull that off. Indies are ordinary people, writing exciting books between the mundane episodes of daily life.
How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?
On every page. I don’t script my characters. They lead me and I only listen and type.
One character, in my fourth book, did something so unexpectedly that it took me several minutes to write the sentence. I just sat in silence trying to find the words. I’m still shocked at that scene every time I read it.
What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?
I love the sounds in my head. It’s a madness that is so comforting. I get to hallucinate and write it all down. You would think that would lead me to write naughty shower scenes into every book…but, I’m too old for that nonsense.
What I like the very least, is the continuous toil and drudge after the book is written. That is the real work. But, I’m too old for that nonsense, too.
Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?
I know which direction to go, but endings have changed. My first novel did that to me—demanded a different ending than I wanted. It’s a horrible, boring book now and I love it.
Only my third book ended according to plan. That was tougher than I expected…getting all the plot to work properly. There might be three extra chapters in Breathing into Stone, because the conclusion had to be supported properly.
I always know the title of the book before the second page is written. Titles never change.
Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?
I don’t edit. Music fans have to deal with Bob Dylan’s voice; readers have to deal with my writing. Traditional publishing has edited all the life out of books for a generation. That’s why they are suffering. An editor would make me sound a pompous shit, and I can do that on my own.
Do you have any advice for first-time authors?
Shut up and write the book. When you are done, get to work and learn something.
Look at it this way—no one ever learned to swim without getting in the water. Until you have finished the book, you haven’t done a thing. Forget every expert. They are not writing your book. Forget the readers…half of them will hate it anyway and you can’t write for them. Write for yourself. Just get it done.
Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
I had no clue at first, but had three complete books in my hands before starting to even think of publishing them. Every book was queried out to agents over two hundred times. That led to some very interesting conversations with people in the know, and I learned what a mess that industry has become. Social media got my attention only because there were thousands of writers out there just like me. I went online to converse and learn—and stayed. I’m savvy, but I’m also lazy and loathe self-promotion.
The best thing that happened for me was discovering BestsellerBound.com. That is hands-down the finest author-centered forum on the web. There is some extraordinary talent collected there. Of all the members, I’m really the only boorish jerk.
What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?
That question should pull a trailer behind, just for the answer. I do not choose what to read now. That is both the best, and the worst thing about reading. In eighteen months, I’ve read 300 different authors. JournalStone Publishing, in San Francisco, employs me as their Senior Acquisitions Editor. That means every book submission comes to my Outlook inbox.
I read Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult…with smatterings of Paranormal and Mystery. Sometimes it overloads my senses. Only so many zombies a week will fit into my brain.
When I do chose…I turn to books like yours. Crooked Moon, or Squalor, New Mexico. I can read you when I’m tired of reading.
One thing is fact: I only read Indie books now and love them.
How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?
Tons of research for Harmony’s Passing. I pulled up two monitors on my PC and had star charts, orbital calculators and human anatomy websites opened the whole time. The internet teaches me as I write.
There was only a smattering of research for books two and three, just to get the story elements right. Shared, my fourth novel, actually went interviewing. Nearly a hundred people answered my questions about their spiritual beliefs. From their experiences, I built my characters. That book has earned some strong reaction, and plays with issues of faith and character. I did not play nice.
When America Slew Her King took about four hours research for every hour of writing. There isn’t a single fictional character in the book. Even the sailing ships were real. You can Google your way through the whole thing. I even include an enigmatic white horse in the story, and you won’t believe who owned it, or why it has its own place in our history.
Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer? If so, what is it?
Do I really write in my bathrobe? Yes. (but, not right this moment. J)
Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?
Only with my fifth novel did I let anyone know about the project. About a dozen people read the first half of that manuscript. Normally, I don’t share until I’ve formatted a book for publication. When America Slew Her King was different. To me, the idea of Ben Franklin as a murderer was something delicate and not easily written. Early reaction was crucial to convincing me to complete the project. It is a book that readers might hate in the first page. The whole story is complete in the first one hundred eleven words. The rest of the novel is reaction to those first paragraphs. Four of my beta readers sent back the draft, refusing to read it. They have never said why.
I also had to share it, because the whole thing is an experiment. WASHK only exists in hardbound. It will never be available to the public in eBook or paperback. Early reactions to the story helped me decide that it can survive as a hardbound-only book.
Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?
A few reviewers have bothered to explain how they would have written my stories. I always find that amusing, and pointless. Caraliza confuses readers. About two-thirds of them have disliked the modern half of the story, preferring the lyrical, historical language of the early 1900s that I employ in the early chapters. Some readers believe it was an accident—that I couldn’t have planned the two time periods to sound different from one another.
There is a general consensus of my works, finally. Readers are telling me that I write beautifully, stupidly.
Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?
I’ve played with a couple of short stories. One is really almost flash-fiction. My problem is only that I never get brief ideas…
Someday, I shall write a play (because of you), and I shall write a book that my wife won’t write. It will be based on one of her nightmares, and she does not want to go there to put the words on a page.
My two short stories can be found here, and here.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I was born to talk. Writing shuts me up.
My first book was only a reaction to a devastating, personal situation. I turned all my despair into that text, and survived the event. (…the book AND the personal disaster.)
I truly should have begun writing twenty years ago. I’d have eighty books in print.
Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?
I love writing blurbs. Other people have used blurbs I wrote for their books. That is not difficult at all. But then, I love writing reviews. Those are easy, too.
Now, after saying that, I must offer this as a professional reader for a publishing company. A synopsis is not the text on the back cover of the book; a common misconception. The text on the back cover of the book is a marketing invention of the last hundred years. Authors don’t write them—a committee from marketing writes them. When a book blurb is poorly written, it is the publisher’s fault.
A synopsis is not for public consumption. They exist only for promotion to agents or publishers. If your synopsis is poorly written, YOU have fallen flat on your text. It is not the book’s fault… it is not the editor’s fault…it is not the character’s fault.
When an author get the synopsis wrong….it would have been better they had left it off entirely. (Extend that bit of advice to prologues as well. If they are not perfect—rip them out of the text.)
Too many authors write a synopsis as though they were the voice-over guy for Hollywood summer movies…
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what might it be about?
The history of a life-long slave. I discovered him while writing When America Slew Her King.
Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?
Settle for being an author first. Complete a book without a plan to get it into print. Expectations are only a prison, and your book might die while you try to decide how it should exist later.
Don’t try too hard. Let your writing come naturally. Readers can instantly spot a writer who is trying to create by the rules.
Write first. Send it out to everyone for reaction. Publish it yourself. Publishers only want to know if you can earn them money. Prove to them you can, by pocketing all of it yourself first.
Here is something else to consider. No publisher will have your book on the shelves in less than about nine months. (Longer, if they are already booked up with other projects.) Why waste all that time?
What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?
My books sell when I leave them alone. I’m boring. My books are not.
Oh, Okay… I own six websites. I have three Twitter accounts, two Facebook pages. I’m on a dozen social sites and Pinterest. I’ve run ads on Facebook (fair response), Google Books (no response). All of my books are in one small town library, and those folks love them.
I don’t have a clue how to sell books, except by handing someone the actual printed copy. THAT sells books. One of my books is in a bookstore in The Netherlands.
Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?
I am proud of my latest book. It might be my finest work yet. But, I love a few of my characters, dearly. Anoria, from Breathing into Stone, is so real to me I can hear her voice.
Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?
Ignore them. No author ever printed has been free of negative reviews. Nowadays, they say more about the reviewer than they do about the book. Amazon seems to attract all the snotty twelve-year old book trolls. If you are too sensitive for bad reviews, find a less dangerous hobby than writing—like alligator wrestling.
Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?
For every ebook sold, I’ve given away 100. I infrequently give away prints books, because I’ve never had the budget to keep a large stock. Giveaways work, though. Do it, or you will never be read.
Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?
No. I’ve not heard from anyone who was satisfied with their results. Also, I think Amazon should have its nuts smashed for demanding that authors remove their books from other retailers while enrolled in the KDP. While we are at it, let’s remind folks that Amazon is only a store. They are not a publishing company. They sell pet supplies and garden tools online for crapsake. We treat them like they are leading publishing, when they are only a retail monster without any brains. Amazon is to publishing what combs are to hair color.
Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?
Let’s see… I sleep four hours each night. While the house is asleep, I read. I’ve not written anything in half a year. But, I adore coffee and candy. I also love to sit for hours with headphones on, writing. The music has to be instrumental. I cannot block vocals out of my concentration, and I can’t read or write while someone is singing or speaking.
Oddly, I can do both during a Godzilla movie.
We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?
Very good question. I love good book covers. Two of mine are beautiful, and I didn’t make the images, but hired them both. However, my last novel has no cover art, except for online promotion. It is a plain, blue linen cover, with only the title on the spine. One hundred years ago, books didn’t need splashy, printed covers. I wish they didn’t now.
Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?
Small-press publishers will remake the industry. A couple of the Big Six will do a phenomenal amount of corporate expansion, buying up small presses to try and stave off their own death. Big Traditional Publishing has doomed itself to mediocrity and irrelevance. Ebooks will continue to expand, but never overtake printed books.
Book agents…are toast. Their livelihood and usefulness has dried up.
How would you define your style of writing?
I am the elephant in the rowboat. Get in with me, and you won’t have much say in the results.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
At best, a review is a get well card to an author with a broken heart. But, reviews are half trash. Say you like the book, or disliked the book, and then stop saying anything.
Would you like to write a short poem for us?
You were—once— here;
you couldn’t be.
you shouldn’t be.
Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?
Well, I’m in Durango, Colorado. We chose to be here for our kids, and because this is a beautiful, stress-free place to live. (if you can tolerate the 50% of the population with opposite political views from yours. They are such nitwits.)
Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?
Tall sailing ships. I was born four hundred years too late. But, we have a Narrow Gage Steam Train in Durango, and I adore that thing.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?
I love to eat. ANYTHING. I don’t give a hoot about nutrition. When you stop eating…you die.
If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?
Gather proof that a few famous people are not worth their public adoration.
What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?
My two sons. I had cancer once, and those boys were not supposed to be here.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
The woman who married me.
Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?
Yes. I had a manager once who was a mean practical joker. We had his wife call him to say his garage was on fire one day and he nearly drove all the way home before realizing he didn’t have a garage.
I’ve always been the butt of little gags, cause I blush bright crimson when embarrassed.
What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?
Honesty, and common sense.
Care to brag about your family?
They haven’t put me away yet. That makes them wonderful.
If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?
I wish I could play a musical instrument. It hurts me that I was born without any skill in that area. Don’t suggest that I try. I have.
What was your favorite year of school? Why?
Hated school. Every year of it. My sixth grade teacher was a fine fellow, and made that year less hell than the others were.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
That I seem to be able to put out street lamps by driving past them.
What makes you angry?
Dirty socks on the floor.
What music soothes your soul?
Traditional Oriental music, Chinese or Japanese. Tibetan Throat Singing is something very special. If the tune is a thousand years old, and played on the same instruments, I’ll probably love it.
Sure do love Bossa Nova too, though.
If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?
Books. And a shower.
What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?
Crap! I have to say Fearless Vampire Killers. But, Fiddler on the Roof comes in at a very close second.
My favorite book is Aztec, by Gary Jennings.
Have you ever walked out of a movie? If so, what was it?
Fantastic Voyage. For some reason, that film creeped me out.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Dirty socks on the floor. Again.
What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?
1. Listen more than we speak.
2. Expect less from everyone.
3. Look in the mirror more often, to see what a true hypocrite looks like.
CONNECT WITH JOEL