How do you strike the balance between writing something you want to write and writing something that people want to read, in terms of the compromises you make, if any?
That's something I'm getting my head around, and a balancing act I'm hopefully getting better at. In my earlier books, before this whole ebook business became so prevalent, I was far less concerned with worrying about what might be marketable. I suppose I thought: that's for the editors and marketing staff at the publisher to worry about, if I ever find a publisher. Now all the roles normally performed in the publishing process are often covered by a team of one. It's not enough to write what you want to write, you do need to compromise to fit reader expectations. Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and other reader feedback has been invaluable in making that shift. I don't think it's something you can do with a small circle of friends or beta readers, it's a process which requires some brutality: I didn't like it because of X, it should have done more of Y, it sucked because of Z. As long as you get that X, Y or Z, you can take something out of it if you pay attention.
It's not enough to just be the creator. You have to be the creator and the marketer, and the hardest part is keeping them separated. If you let the marketer in too soon, he will basically piss all over everything you're doing and you will get nowhere; if you let him in too late, you'll have ninety-thousand words of blog material.
What excites, attracts or appeals to you about the genre(s) you write in?
Before I can answer that, someone's going to have to tell me which genres I write in. When it comes time to tick the boxes for genre selection, I'm invariably drawn to comedy, and sometimes mystery/suspense. Often I just toss a coin. I like stories which straddle genres, or slip between them, or sprawl across four or five of them like child choosing his own ice cream toppings. I like the comedy aspect of writing. I like to make myself laugh, and other people if possible (unless that involves them laughing at me, which is just mean). A story which promises laughs is usually the one I'll gravitate towards. But if I look back at the books I've written, and think what I've got in the pipeline, I'd say I'm drawn to stories which are essentially about change, often transgressive change. But funny transgressive, nothing too gruesome or, you know, kinky. If Amazon would let me create my own genre, I'd take transgressive comedy.
Do you have a box, drawer, folder etc where you keep thoughts and ideas for future stories? Such as names you have come across, bits of dialogue, ideas, characters - even if you have no idea when you might use them?
I've had notebooks and document folders for all that sort of thing, but bits and pieces are invariably lost. Now I use Evernote for all my note-taking. I have a bit of a geek streak, and the idea of a cloud-based idea repository appeals to me and my several gadgets. I like being able to jot down ideas while at work, on my own laptop, with my phone, with my tablet, and have them all recorded in a single place.
How do you manage plot bunnies (ideas that invade your mind that aren’t usually helpful to the story you’re writing but breed like...er...bunnies)?
Are you kidding? Bunnies are so cute, I let them all in. I might be forced to cull many of them once they're in, but I can hire people to do that who are much better shots than I am.
How much of you is in your characters? Which of your characters is the you that you’d most like to be? Or be with?
Hopefully not too much, but it's hard to avoid sometimes. I'd like to say all the bad stuff is complete fiction, and the positive attributes are reflections of my essential goodness ... but that would be a lie. In the beginning I might substitute bits of myself into a character's personality, just until they find their feet. Like training wheels.
Picking one of my characters I'd like to be is risky, because some of the stronger, more admirable characters have been female. I'd like to be friends with Sara from Cellar Door -- she's a magnified blend of characteristics from some of my actual (and best) friends.
Do you become so wrapped up in your writing that your spouse wonders if they're married to you or one of your characters?
My wife put a pillow between us for a few nights after she read Punchline. Yes, I would tell her, the protagonist is a writer, but he's NOT ME! Usually she just wishes I'd snap out of it for a second ever now and then to answer her damn questions.
What type of book do you like reading? Is it the same genre as you write?
I like comedy, black comedy, and miscellaneous. Original story ideas always grab me, I don't read a lot of genre ... though I'll always read whatever Elmore Leonard publishes, and I do have a soft spot for Stephen King and Jim Butcher. I'll often browse bookstores and pick up anything from the general fiction section which catches my eye. That's how I stumbled upon Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis, one of my all-time favourite finds.
What lengths do you go to to convince us readers that your book has the X factor?
I suppose that's what every author tries to do, but I'm terrible at it. I majored in marketing at university, but I'm loath to promote my own books. Perhaps that's because self-promotion doesn't work on me, so I can't see it working on anyone else. I try to focus on making the story as tight as possible, and representing the story as best I can in the blurb. Weak, I know. When I stumble across an approach which works for me, I'll let you know. If I get really stuck for ideas, I might adapt the Homer Simpson approach to bowling promotion (strolling around outside the bowling alley, firing a shotgun into the air and shouting, "Bowling! Get your bowling here!").
How do you feel when a reader points out the spelling mistake(s) you have made?
Grateful, every time. You can have ten pairs of professional eyes go over the manuscript prior to publication, and blips will still slip through. The beauty of ebooks is that we can fix things, and quickly.
What do you like most about visiting KUF/GR/forums?
I like the sense of community in the Goodreads forums, particularly the UK Amazon Kindle Forum. I used to spend more time in there than I do now -- after moving to Australia, time-zone differences mean I only have a small window of overlap, and some of the best conversations in that group are the one which are live. If I pop in and try to make a joke when everyone's sleeping, it usually goes stale within a few hours. They're still a friendly, good-humoured group of people though, and very supportive of the writers onsite.
What is on your near horizon?
Secret projects! Also, a not-so-secret project, a novel with the working title "The Brisbane Line". The Brisbane line was a hotly-debated military strategy during World War Two, wherein the US and Australian forces suggested that in the event of a Japanese invasion, they would focus their defences on the cities and ports south of Brisbane. The story I'm writing is set in the near future, wherein Australia has succumbed to economic collapse and is once again the target of an invasion. The Brisbane line becomes a reality, and a high-profile Australian couple find themselves on opposite sides of the line when the order to evacuate is given. The story is about the couple trying to find each other, with considerable outside help and interference.
Where can we find you for more information?
I have a blog which I'm generally rubbish at maintaining (www.fentonton.blogspot.com), otherwise I'm on Goodreads. I'm also totally loose when it comes to accepting Facebook friend requests ... yet I only have about a hundred. This goes to show that writers are essentially friendless creatures, and so am I. My Twitter handle is @p_fenton (I know, my creativity knows no bounds).