Keith Blenman Author Interview
A haunted forest. A killer on the run. So begins a love story. So begins the apocalypse.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Hmm. Just one? Environment are mood are ridiculously important for me. Most of my writing happens late at night, when the rest of the world is asleep. I can’t have anything going around me as a distraction. Like, music is fine, but as soon as somebody starts talking to me or if I can’t help but hear another conversation, that’s pretty much it for me that day. I’m either completely in the zone or totally out of it.
I don’t really know if this is a quirk or not, but most of the writers I know use fiction and poetry a stress relief. I know so many people that have to be angry or sad, and the work pours from them like a bucket of tears. And I’m the total opposite. If I’m stressed or moody, I know the writing will suffer. At least the first draft. It doesn’t matter how I feel when I’m editing because I can still maintain a lot of objectivity. But that initial beginning, getting the rawest form of the story onto the page, I feel like if any part of me is in the moment, then I’m not totally with the characters or their environment.
I also seem to write in phases. Like I go through periods where I’m writing a ton, every single night, and just can’t wait to get back to it. And then one day everything just stops and I’ll go months without working on anything. So I go back and forth between these writing phases, and my self-proclaimed dead phases.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m a pretty dorky guy. Surprise! I love video games and movies. I think I own something around six hundred movies on my Apple TV. Then there’s the blu rays. Plus I could practically live at the local theater. A part of me wants to ask the management if they can set up a small table for me in the back of theater so I can just write and watch movies all day. And then listen to audiobooks on the drive home. Really, I consume fiction in any form I can get it. I love experiencing other people’s creations.
I also have quite a few pets lurking about, and they’re all just wonderful. Two dogs and three cats at the moment. It wouldn’t be home if I didn’t have a bunch of critters running around.
I’m also going to go ahead and include here that I enjoy going to the gym. I do. I really do. I’ve just wasn’t going for like eight months, and in that time I got a promotion at one of my jobs, to a much less physical position. So I gained thirty pounds out of nowhere. Well, maybe not nowhere. Mostly I gained thirty pounds out of pizza and chocolate chip cookies and playing video games during a dead phase. So I started going again a few weeks ago, and highly recommend it to everybody. Sloth is fun, but you’d be amazed how much more you can enjoy laziness when you’ve also put in time for your own health.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
It must’ve been about twenty five years ago. I was twelve or thirteen. I’d written a few short stories, poems, and little comics. But I was compelled to write something huge. Just to see if I could. So I lied to my dad. I told him I needed a new notebook for school. In retrospect, I can’t recall or think there was even a good reason for lying. My family has always been supportive. But I was being secretive about it. I didn’t want anybody to know I was writing. And the story was awful. It was about this undead boy who takes revenge against his friends that killed him in an experiment. If I remember correctly their battleground was all the monuments in Washington DC, because you know, you can’t have an epic battle if it’s not around historic architecture.
…That actually might be a rule among bad to mediocre film makers. If you’ve ever seen a Michael Bay movie, they’re rampant with famous monuments and locations.
Anyway, I think it took about six months and I’d written my little abomination. It was around one hundred and fifty pages. For a thirteen year old, that’s not too shabby. And it’s a feat I didn’t accomplish again until I was in my twenties. Most of my fiction is in that novelette to novella range. I actually still have that old notebook somewhere. I don’t read it. That’d be too embarrassing. I’d definitely need a few drinks to be able to sit there and try to enjoy it. But I’m still glad I have it. I’m still glad, you know, writing that was sort of what put me on my path.
What does your family think of your writing?
They’re supportive. They don’t always read it, but they’re typically encouraging. Except my Dad. He reads everything I give him. He offers to edit, and will always give suggestions. And it’s really cool, especially since my stuff hasn’t ever been his cup of tea. And I’m still sort of embarrassed to show him what I’ve been working on because of that. But he’s always happy to read it.
The rest of my family is sort of up and down. They’re always supportive. They’ll always tell people to check out my work. But I’ll publish something and maybe a year goes by and one of my brothers will say, “Hey. I read that thing. It was pretty good!” And that’s totally cool. Or much better than the alternative of publishing something, a year goes by, and somebody says, “I just finished that, and I couldn’t wait to put it down. That was horrible. No wonder you self publish. Nobody would pay to print that. In fact, if I was a publisher, and I read that story, I’d probably just go ahead and put a hit out on you. It’d be for the best. Better to see you gone than continue to taint the Internet with… well, I don’t even know what to call it. Just garbage I guess.”
Of course, now that I’ve said all of that, one of my parents or brothers are definitely going to call tomorrow and say all of that. Word for word.”
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I’ve been self-publishing for years, and I can safely say I’ve learned tons. From editing to cover design and basic formatting… If there’s a mistake I could’ve made along the way, I’ve made it. Multiple times over on a few occasions. But I’d say the most surprising thing is just how difficult it is to sell books. I’m sure you know -every writer knows- plenty of people who say, “I’m going to write a book and it’s going to be an best seller. It just will be. I’ll have twenty billion dollars within six months of its publication.” In my experience, a scary amount of people assume that. I mean, I think I got over that fantasy when I was in my teens. But I’ve always maintained that if you just keep advertising, marketing, and sharing your work, eventually your audience will grow. …I am yet to have this happen and I’ve been publishing for over fifteen years. If there is a secret or trick, I certainly don’t know it. But take my novel, Necromantica. It’s been available for over years. I advertise on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve tweaked keyword searches and book descriptions to use popular search terms so it’s easier to find. I tweet. I use Instagram. Facebook. I’ve taken it to comic conventions and author fairs. I’ve donated copies to libraries. I’ve left copies in Little Free Libraries all over Michigan. I’ve submit for awards and even won a New Apple last year Every bit of feedback I’ve received from strangers and acquaintances alike has been wonderful. So even with all of my insecurities, I can be confident that the years put into this book weren’t in wasted. I’ve made something I can be proud of that people can enjoy. But selling it, most days, feels impossible. I am thrilled, over the moon thrilled, if I can sell two copies in a month.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t slowing me down. It’s just a little sobering to face that reality as an indie author. The entertainment industry is a juggernaut. Something new and exciting is always a click away. There’s always a new movie, a new show to binge, a new game to play, band to listen to, meme to share, and so on. As a writer, you’re not just competing against other books. You’re competing against an entire world of new and exciting things being presented at a daily rate. For a lot people, it can be a challenge to break away from all that to just sit and enjoy a good book. Even when they do, you have mainstream publishers and thousands of other self-published writers vying for attention. And frankly, all it takes is one dull or poorly edited small press novel to turn people away from all indie fiction.
Is it worth it? Totally. But whether you’re selling books yourself or submitting writing to agents and publishers, it’s a tough business to stand out in.
2016 New Apple Summer E-Book Awards Official Selection – Action/Adventure
From the Back Cover
War and death have swept the Pure Nation of Fortia. What began as a skirmish on the outskirts of the kingdom spiraled out of control into a full scale orc invasion. With cities falling and countless lives lost, King Stolzel has rallied his remaining forces to the holy city of Dromn; to make one final stand against their savage enemies. Amongst the soldiers and countless orc hordes, a thief and a necromancer arrive with plans of their own.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have one novel, four novellas or novelettes, and a book for writers on character development. Honestly, it’s difficult picking a favorite. Some of it depends on my mood. I’m proud of different works for different reasons. One novelette, Tender Buttons Two: Disco Wrecklord, is a story based on the writing of Gertrude Stein, and it’s something probably only other writers and lit majors can thoroughly enjoy. It’s cubist. It’s Dadaist. It’s completely off the wall. It’s not for everybody, but it’s practically sacred to me.
I could babble on about each of my books, but I suppose Necromantica still occupies my mind a lot these days. In part because it’s sort of my flagship, the main thing I’m trying to promote. But also because it’s just such a fun, cool story.
Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they
Study your other interests. That’s my main piece of advice for every writer. Whatever else you find fascinating, spend as much time as you possibly can absorbing every little facet of it. Become an authority in something, anything other than writing. The reason you’re doing this, apart from broadening your horizons, is that saying, “Write what you know.” The more knowledge and experience you have, the more you’ll have to write about.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Ha. Not really. I wish I did. I love hearing feedback. I’m always exciting to see a new review or mention of one of my stories. Mostly I just seem to get likes on Facebook and Instagram. Which is cool, but man it’d be nice to get an occasional fan letter or something.
Do you like to create books for adults or children…Why?
Adults. Maybe teens and adults. No real reason. I even enjoy using children as my protagonists in my fiction, but I can never seem to write specifically at a child’s level. The philosophy, mature themes, nostalgia, and occasional bit of the old ultraviolence just seeps through.
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters. A million times over, know your characters. If you’re not sure what I mean, check out my book, Character Development for Badass Writers. It’s a template of over three hundred questions and prompts for developing a single character. You can have the coolest plot twist, or more fascinating plotline. If your characters are boring, your readers won’t attach to them. People care a lot more about the person the events of your story are happening to than the events themselves. Think of it like the difference between building a relationship with a person and building a relationship with a cardboard cutout. When you know your characters, the writing comes easier, the story feel richer, and the reader is going to get so much more out of it.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I remember in the second grade having a serious debate with myself, pondering over whether I wanted to be Batman or a Ninja Turtle.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always knew. Even as a kid, there was something magical about books. It wasn’t enough for me to read them. I wanted to create them. I wanted to share my own. Again, still, wanting to be Batman was a high priority, but once I started writing, there was just something special there.
How long does it take you to write this book?
Necromantica took me about three years total. It started as a short story. Like, sixteen pages. But it kept growing and growing until I had a novel on my hands. After a year of that, it was another two years of editing and updating drafts until I felt it was ready. Of course, then I had to hire an editor who told me it wasn’t. Once she was done, it took another few months to make changes and finalize the whole thing.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I fit writing in when I can, and not anywhere near often enough. I have two other jobs. I work in a store. I’m essentially their internal auditor. And I teach forensic investigation classes at Wayne State University. Like I said, always explore other interests.
What brought you to write this book series?
I was in love. Or at least I had a major crush on a girl, and I was pretty sure she was into me. Not entirely sure, but one night I couldn’t sleep and she texted me to try and dream about something. She’s really into fantasy, and the story evolved from that text message. I didn’t sleep at all that night, but in the morning I had a several page email that eventually became a skeleton for chapter two in the novel. The whole thing was written that way actually.
How you become a published author? Any inspiration?
I’ve been self-publishing for years. That’s certainly not a knock on more traditional means of publishing. It just isn’t for me. I like having the control and being a part of the entire process.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Depends on the story. Like I said, I teach forensics, so there’s a world of knowledge to be had there. Law, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology. I don’t even write crime fiction, but there’s so much material to pull from. Apart from that, it’s mostly a matter of what’s on my mind. Politics is there a lot of lately, so I seem to be writing scathing, apocalyptic stuff. Just the days we’re living in I suppose.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
A few things. I’m doing a sequel to Character Development for Badass Writers, a book of questions and prompts to help writers with world building. Also another character development book with a slight sci-fi twist. I’m working on two sequels to Necromantica that take place hundreds of years apart. And I’m editing books two and three in a series of monster stories I’m writing.