7. The Blue

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: The Blue

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 


I wasn’t about to stop writing, but Ten Minutes to Midnight wore me out. I was exhausted with trying to chase success, with trying to fit a mold. So when it came time to write another novel, I was sick of trying to bend to trends. That only led me to failure.

So I wrote what I wanted to write. The Blue. My most personal book, my simplest in many ways. An adult literary drama, postmodern and existential. Inspired chiefly by Camus’ The Stranger.

It is a book that contains my deepest fears and insights on humans and human interaction. The Blue follows the path of Derek, an alcoholic and struggling painter who finds himself stricken with face-blindness, a real disability in which the sufferer cannot recognize anyone by their appearance. Not even themselves.

Isolated by his condition, Derek finds himself in the center of a legal battle over a car crash which resulted in the death of a mother and her children.  He’s hunted by the surviving members of the family, ostracized, and left struggling with the nature of reality itself.

blue front cover

Another great Greg Poszywak cover. You can get your own copy of The Blue as either a paperback or an e-book by clicking here. 

It is my shortest book, at around 50,000 words. I also further developed my style; rather than the flashback/forward structure of [sic], I wrote in one uninterrupted first-person narrative. The reader lives the book with the narrator.

The Blue is my choppiest book, in that I stayed away from semi-colons and dashes but stuck with small, simple sentences. It’s a divisive style, and it will bother some people. Others love it, and my biggest fans tend to swear by The Blue as my best work.

At one point, it was the #1 most downloaded free e-book on all of Amazon.com. It’s been downloaded around 80,000 times. By a weird coincidence, I met NYT bestselling author John Lescroart through a mutual friend who’d sent him The Blue. He was impressed by the book, and we talked on the phone about it.

I love it. I’m happy to take stylistic risks. The Blue is probably my personal favorite of my novels. The reviews are mixed, but then the reviews are mixed on some of what I consider to be the greatest books ever written. This is the sort of novel that speaks to me the most.


For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.


6. the lost novel

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: the lost novel

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 


I was on the right path in terms of ability. However, any competent author can write a bad book. A movie can be filmed beautifully, but still be terrible.

I was bitter over [sic]’s rejection from Simon & Schuster. So, I decided to write something more commercial, something that fit the popular trends of the time but still carried my brand and style.

A young adult supernatural book. I already had a bunch of fans on Wattpad, and Wattpad is primarily made up of teenage girls between the ages 13 and 18. As you might imagine, this was around the era of the “Twilight” phenomenon and supernatural young adult stories were all the rage.

TMTM Cover front - Copy

Another beautiful cover courtesy of Greg Poszywak.

Ten Minutes to Midnight is about a group of kids who uncover “the truth,” in an existential sense. Except if they tell anyone the truth, that person immediately dies.

Drama and action ensues. I completed the book, had a cover made, sent it to my agent – ready to move forward with this hybrid attempt at commercialism.

But something became apparent as I began reflecting on it. This book was poison, because it was average. Boring. Normal. I’d cut too much of myself out. I’d much rather have an audience that hates me for my particular style than one who cannot pick my books out of a lineup.

Never got into this to be normal. I never released Ten Minutes to Midnight to anyone. It remains locked in my vault, a reminder that I can’t sell out. Whatever came next had to be true.


For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.


5. enter [sic]

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: enter [sic]

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 


Despite mixed results from my work between Jimwamba and Frightened Boy, there was never any thought of quitting. Frightened Boy was gaining traction online, and I landed a new agent. She gave me the hint that young adult was blowing up right now, and that I may have an easier time targeting a concept like Jimwamba to teenagers.

She might be onto something.

[sic] was a new novel that copied the central premise of Jimwamba. The game remained – tag someone on the back, and they have fifteen minutes to change their lives. Except now it was a story about teenagers, and written much more competently. I pulled in many elements from my personal life, but it was in no way autobiographical. There’s a big difference between a diary like Jimwamba and a novel inspired by my childhood. [sic] felt real.

For the first time, I pulled a book together the way I’d always dreamed. Motifs, themes, recurring elements, a direct attack on our assumptions about life. I became much more critical of my own work, refusing to write the next chapter until I knew exactly where the story was moving. My career was stalling, and it was because of my material. Enough wild creativity; I needed control, direction, something to temper my outlandish surrealist tendencies.

It was time to evolve. If I had any doubt about a scene, it was replaced or deleted entirely. Brutal self-reflection. The book may have wound up at sixty-thousand words, but I cycled through well over a hundred-thousand words of material that didn’t make the cut or was reworked entirely. This has been my process ever since.

I first released [sic] on a webpage called WeBook, as part of an audience-voted contest. [sic] won the whole thing; suddenly I had offers of representation from three different literary agents. The tables were completely flipped from just a year before.

So I chose one. Over the course of a year, I was in serious talks with Simon & Schuster over publication of the book. A new editor on their youth fiction imprint was smitten with my novel, and said it was the sort of book he got into the industry to publish.

But the larger editorial board disagreed. I received a very lengthy and polite email from the chief editor at Simon & Schuster’s young adult imprint, Pulse. [sic] wasn’t being published. It was too different – people didn’t want to be challenged like this, it didn’t fit their mold. The market wasn’t proven.

I was crushed, I’ll admit. The process of choosing an agent and having them shop your book around takes about a year, and at the end of the long road I found defeat.

Still wasn’t about to be done writing, though. I write because I love it – when I wrote Kid, Dark Scary Monster, and Steam, virtually no one read them. But I still wrote them, because I have to write. If I’ve got forty novels written by the time I die and no one has read them, so be it.

So I put [sic] on a new type of website, a sort of Facebook for authors and readers. It’s called Wattpad, and it turned [sic] into a huge hit.

It’s been viewed over a million times, with fifteen thousand individual votes and hundreds of comments. I started getting emails from people who really tried to play my hypothetical game of changing your life in fifteen minutes. I still get those emails today. Just a month ago, I got a letter from a teenager who said he’d read [sic] over ten times in the past two years, that it helped him through a crisis. Students started convincing their school libraries to order copies, and I still get a spike of paperback sales around Christmastime as parents order copies of the novel for kids who fell in love with it on Wattpad.

A group of student filmmakers from Bosnia turned their favorite scene from my book into a short film and entered it into a contest. You can view it here. 

Christopher Pike, the guy whose books I devoured when I was thirteen, read it. He messaged me out of nowhere saying he really enjoyed it. We exchanged messages for a few weeks; he offered me some industry advice. This was a first from me – mutual respect from an author who I was a fan of.

One thing I became aware of, is I started to feel like I’d passed that 10,000 hours mark. You know, the hypothetical amount of practice required to “master” a craft. From Kid up until this point, I’d written seven novels. And not first drafts or outlines – completed, rewritten, best-of-my-ability books. I’d received guidance from a wide audience, as well as from professional editors, authors, and agents. My voice was developed, my style coming easy and natural when I sat down to compose.

[sic] taught me I was on the right path, even if mainstream presses weren’t willing to roll the dice on me. I stood in a park and sold printed and stapled copies of my books before, and I’d do it again if that’s what it took. Luckily, self-publishing and the world of e-books has developed around my career, and now I’ve got the ability to grow fans directly.

And that’s where you come in.

For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.


4. the books roam

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: the books roam

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 


Jimwamba didn’t sell. There are plenty of reasons why, like that indie presses often aren’t equipped for commercial success or that a twenty-year-old doesn’t know a lot about marketing. Let’s not linger.

I wrote a sequel called Liq, which never saw the light of day. Still stored away on a hard drive somewhere.

But I wasn’t even close to being finished as a novelist. Instead, I took to abusing my university’s printing privileges and mass-producing my own printed/folded copies of Jimwamba. I sold them at festivals and coffee shops for $3 a pop.

buymybook

I once sold thirty-five copies at Eeyore’s Birthday, an annual event in Austin. And yes, those are yard signs I stole and spray painted over. I’m hoping the statute of limitations on whatever crime that is has run its course.

At the same time, I was developing as a writer. I got my Bachelor’s in English Literature, and started paying more attention to my own approach to writing a novel. If you manage to find a copy of Jimwamba, you’ll see a fundamentally different approach to the basics of scene craft than I use now.

I started to strip exposition away whenever possible, instead relying on obscure details and reactions to supply the reader with evidence of my backstory. There was also a shift to seeing the book as a series of a scenes, a bit like a movie, with each scene having a definite beginning, middle, and end.

But my focus slipped. My early twenties were… wild. I wrote two more books in this period – one was a fully-illustrated novella with its own soundtrack called IDa. It was extremely surreal and very experimental, largely a reflection of what a mess my life was at the time. It was also my first (and last, really) attempt at collaborative art. A supremely talented artist by the name of Chad Stoermer supplied all of the illustrations for IDa, and it’s really my writing that let the project down in the end. Here are some examples from the story:

It’s still around here somewhere. I tried something very experimental, basically writing a cartoon, and I am just not confident in the end result.

After IDa came Frightened Boy. This was another experiment in writing as creatively as possible, with no boundaries. I think there are some good threads in Frightened Boy, and some interesting imagery. It’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel that may or may not take place inside a gun-toting terrorist’s mind. And that terrorist is the artist MC Escher, convinced he’s in a bad dream.

FBCoversm

The first cover Greg Poszywak did for me. You’ll notice I cannibalized the graphic for my Identity Crisis box set, because I wasn’t going to let this amazing cover go to waste.

The end doesn’t really hold together, and it’s not as good as the books that came later. Nevertheless, it’s been clicked about a million times on Wattpad and has quite a few fans. I never plan to sell it, and would probably delete it if not for the loss of followers, votes and readers. I do plan on revisiting the central theme – solipsism – in a future novel. It is something that intrigues me.

Sorry, Frightened Boy. Still, I learned a lot from these experiments. By this time I was about twenty-five, and my writing was about to get serious.

It’s also around this time that I met Greg Poszywak, the brilliant artist behind all of my covers from Frightened Boy to the present. He’s had a huge impact on my career by distilling the essence of my writing into a series of eye-catching covers, and I wouldn’t have made it this far without him.


For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.


3. Jimwamba

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: Jimwamba.

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 

 


I was looking for a followup to Steam. I wanted to ground the story in my life, take a more Kerouac approach to it. I was about to be a freshmen in college and all, and it was my time to write that pseudo-biographical coming of age story that all serious authors seemed doomed to commit to at some point.

So I came up with an idea. I knew it was a good one, because it scared the hell out of me.

A group of people agree to play a game – if one of them is tagged on the back, they must change their life in a direct, irrevocable way in the next twenty minutes. Afterward, they can tag whichever unsuspecting player they corner.

People fear change. I fear change, at times. And yet, we’re also very aware that we’re at the whim of change. You can work your whole life to build a stable and secure home only to have a natural disaster or personal tragedy demolish it all.

So what happens if we embrace that? If we revel in that?

jimwambafrontcover

This was Jimwamba. Written in a first person, past-tense confessional style. It was published by a small (now defunct) independent press in the UK called Flame Books. Not a vanity press, not some situation where I’m paying – it’s the other way around. When I was nineteen, I signed my first publishing deal.


For the next entry in the Poor Traits series, click here.


2. My first three novels

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: My first three novels.

For a table of contents of the entire series, click here. 


I never wanted to write “normal” books. I wasn’t interested in writing what I would call “simple” thrillers, or fantasy, or sci-fi. Books that fall directly into a genre category and bring little else to the table – for instance, a sci-fi book that plans to attract an audience by including space ships, laser guns, and little else.

My goal has always been to give my readers that same sense of the rug being pulled from under me that I got when I first read Catch-22. And it had to be uniquely mine.

kidcover3

I made my own covers. Can you tell? Haha. Give me a break, I was fifteen.

And it was uniquely bad, because a fifteen year old wrote it. However, from the plot hook you can already see where my mind was going in terms of literary goals. Kid is basically the story of a modern day Jesus and his apostles, except the Jesus figure in this allegory steals the girlfriend of the main character. My envisioned tagline: What would be it be like if Jesus stole your lady? It was around 50,000 words, and I did wind up writing it three different times. A lot of this was spent just figuring out the basics.

After a few re-writes, I moved on to this:

dsmcover

The novel I wrote at sixteen.

Also pretty bad. About a clandestine organization that travels the world faking miracles and otherwise creating false evidence for religious phenomena in the country.

And then, Steam. Here, I was starting to mature a bit. I actually may revisit this theme at some point.

steamcover

I thoroughly wrecked it, because I still hadn’t quite hit my stride, but the premise was this: Steam was a woman who has seen everyone’s last breath. She knew how everyone would die, and when, but nothing else about them. She was the only supernatural element in the story, and a trio of men sought her for their own purposes.

I wrote and rewrote these three books up until I was about 18 years old. And then, while mowing a lawn one day, an idea struck me that would wind up escalating my career to new heights.

For the next entries in the Poor Traits series, click here.


1. How I got to be Scott

Poor Traits of an Artist as a Young Man: How I got to be Scott

This is the first in a short series I’ve written to satisfy some readers’ curiosity on the history of my writing career. You can find the full table of contents for this series here.


I blame it all on the glasses.

I’ve had them since I was five. And on the Gulf Coast of Texas in 1989, if you were a pasty kid with glasses, you were a nerd.

So, I was a nerd.

My parents, wonderful people that they are, encouraged me to read. And so I did – voraciously. My first true loves were fantasy epics. I must have been ten when I finished David Eddings’ five-novel “The Belgariad,” and that took me over to Terry Brooks with the Sword of Shanara series.

At the same time, I am cursed with being the sort of nerd who isn’t particularly good at school, and my grades have always been pretty average. However, I could read. Port Lavaca had an accelerated reader program and that put me in touch with a lot of fantastic novels that planted the seeds of awareness of just what novels are capable of doing.

A Wrinkle in Time. Bridge to Terebithia. The Giver. The Call of the Wild. Hatchet.

Real books. But mostly, fantasy and sci-fi.

Middle-school was my rebellious years. I remained mostly a social outcast, spending my time with my nose in books. I remember a phase where I was reading a Christopher Pike book every single day – which was handy, since he had about 70 at the time. As a side note, Christopher Pike later messaged me out of nowhere saying he loved my novel [sic], sparking up a series of conversations… but more on that in a later post.

As all teens seem cursed to do, I started writing poetry. Basically our elementary take on Nine Inch Nails lyrics, if we’re all going to be honest.

But by high school, I was starting to fit in and mature a bit more. I still wrote poetry, but English classes at Calhoun High School rekindled that spark I’d built in my early years of consuming literature.

Some great people in my life (like my older brother, Mark) opened me up to some more complex art across a lot of different mediums, breaking me out of the pop I’d rather thoughtlessly consumed before.

A new world of artistic appreciation opened up for me through the complexities of Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A albums, or the depth of tragic films like Requiem for a Dream. Fight Club hit us all like a bat to the face; Palahniuk made literature something aggressive and challenging and cool.

But where it really took hold was in literature class. I found books that expressed all this and more, and went so much deeper than lyrics or film ever could.

Catch-22 was the first book to pull the ground out from under me. This was postmodern fiction at its most challenging and I was in love. From there, I found Slaughterhouse-V, which began a ten book love affair with Vonnegut. Then Hemingway, Gardner, Hesse. I was insatiable.

And then, when I was fifteen, I decided to do it: I was going to write a novel. Even though I looked like this:

ScottROCKS

And they weren’t going to be just any novels. They were going to be novels that mattered, books like the ones that had just changed my life. Books that shake your hold on reality.

Join me for the next post, the first three novels.