Today, I’m delighted to welcome indie author, the camera-shy Gunnar Angel Lawrence to my blog. Gunnar grew up in the city of Orlando, Florida and spent most of his youth writing odd stories that popped into his head. He spent the last several years as a ghost writer (the second ghost writer I have interviewed in recent weeks) getting paid in advance to write stories in various genres and didn’t take the plunge of publishing under his own name until three years ago when he wrote the thriller entitled ‘Fair Play’. He used to live in Key West on a houseboat that he misses dearly, but recently moved to the quaint small town of Saint Cloud to be closer to family. Much of his 2013 year was spent finishing the sequel to ‘Fair Play’, entitled ‘The Perfect Day’. He loves to read when he’s not writing and loves to cook.
(Aside: My sister, Anne, has lived on a number of houseboats but her home is now an island on the Thames.)
Jane: Gunnar, please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Gunnar: I always loved writing. I was eight years old and had finished reading every book my school library had that was for kids my age and ran out of things to read. So I started writing the stories I would have liked to have read but couldn’t.
Jane: What genre do you generally write in and have you ever experimented with other genres?
Gunnar: I love thrillers, mysteries and occasionally some horror. But I have written erotica, mostly the ghost-writing projects that I got paid in advance for. And one day I saw that one of those books I wrote was in a bestselling list, with someone else’s name on it. I’m happy for them, because they’ve got the recognition I don’t and were able to sell the books quite well. Publishing under your own name is a risk. And it takes a long time to pay off.
Jane: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?
Gunnar: I finished ‘Fair Play’ a full year and a half before finally self-publishing. I sent the queries to agents, publishing companies and more. Before I understood the concept of self-publishing I didn’t realize that that was really an option for me. I didn’t have, and still don’t have, the finances to pay a company to print my books. When the e-book revolution hit, I decided to go that route and learned that I could put out books and even print on demand books with no money invested at all. The tide really is turning toward the indie author as the market opens up to talent that under the traditional publishing model would have never seen the light of day.
One of the many advantages to the indie route though is that there is no such thing as an ‘out of print’ book. Traditional publishers have a six-week window typically for a book to become a hit. If it doesn’t become a hit, it becomes ‘out of print’ and difficult to find or buy. With indie publishing, the reader can discover you at your sixth book and still go back to your first and find it ready and available.
Jane: As a self-published author, how do you divide your time between writing and marketing?
Gunnar: This one is hard. As I’ve said, I don’t really have a budget to hire editors, publicity agents, or any of that so a lot of my time that I could be writing, I am marketing myself on social media sites. Add on top of that my day job and it restricts me to one book per every 18 months. I utilize as many free social media managers as I can and have developed a system to promote myself and other authors 24/7 on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In. And no, I don’t sell the system to people I just explain it and if they want in, it’s free. Authors helping authors.
Jane: Do you market your published works or yourself as a ‘brand’?
Gunnar: No I don’t and this is why. If I could ‘brand’ myself, I would do so as a thriller/mystery writer. But there are days when I want to write horror, humour, or in other genres. So perhaps if I knew enough I might, but I don’t want to be ‘stuck’ in a brand if one day I want to write a sci-fi thriller or a time traveling romance.
Jane: Home for you is Central Florida. How does your environment influence your writing?
Gunnar: For most of my life have been in one of the Central Florida cities. Orlando is a big part of the action in ‘Fair Play’ and ‘The Perfect Day’. There is a big city feel in some parts, but very much a local small town attitude with the people. The people are polite and laid back for the most part, but there is more than enough action going on at all times of day in and around the city. I try to take a little of life in the Florida Keys, blend in a little country atmosphere from Saint Cloud and add a dash of the ‘big city’ Orlando to come up with the atmosphere of the Detective Paul Friedman thrillers.
Jane: With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?
Gunnar: It is! An author really needs a dedicated (hopefully volunteer) group of street teams and promoters who will post on their behalf, tell their friends and family and help them. Just using social media, I maintain a presence on Facebook, Twitter and others. It’s more than just promoting yourself though. If you promote other authors, they will promote you. If you spend ninety percent of your time posting about the books you wrote, that’s a turn off. Promote others, help them and they will help you.
I’ve also contacted indie bookstores about doing book signings, and if that is a route one can go, fantastic! But where I am in Saint Cloud, there are literally no indie bookstores. There’s not even a big name bookstore here. With the steep consignment fees some indie bookstores charge, an author would be doing good to break even in costs. That’s something many of us just cannot do.
Jane: I completely agree and, to be honest, I have stopped pushing for this. Whilst I would love to have a presence in my local book store, the terms they offer are 50% of the RRP (plus the dreaded sale or return clause, which means books their customers have damaged come back to you).
Do you think the media gives enough coverage to books?
Gunnar: The media is in for the quick sound bite or video clip, unless a book makes a splash or does something no other book can do, then no. The media just doesn’t give a lot of attention to books.
Jane: One of the key stories of the year was the revelation that The Cuckoo’s Calling had been penned by J K Rowling. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Gunnar: I write some books under a pseudonym simply because the books are in such a different category than the thrillers I prefer. If the book is good enough regardless of which genre it is, I don’t think it should make a difference at all.
Jane: Do you think literary agents are vital to an author’s success?
Gunnar: I think they are a great help. But they get deluged with requests every day. To date, I still don’t have an agent because I just can’t go through the traditional model of waiting 18 months for a rejection of my manuscript to submit it to another agent and wait another 18 months. I know it would be great to have one, until I do, I’m going to just keep writing what I love.
Jane: Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if if you’re prepared to share) why?
Gunnar: All of them do. I’ve dedicated some of them to people in my past who have been a source of encouragement and to others who mean a lot to me.
Jane: Which publishing platform/s have you used and why?
Gunnar: I started with the Kindle Direct Publishing for ebooks and CreateSpace for paperbacks. As more and more ebook providers came online, I started utilizing them. I’ve used Draft2Digital and Smashwords as well. The why is easy – because it didn’t cost me anything.
Jane: Who designed your book covers? If you used a cover designer, what brief did you give them?
Gunnar: I design all my own book covers, again mostly for financial reasons, but I’ve gotten better from the first covers to now.
Jane: Which professional services won’t you skimp on? (editor/ professional proofreader? designer for your book interior.)
Gunnar: When I have the ability to pay someone, I would definitely opt for the professional proofreader. I end up re-reading my books about a hundred times before I ever publish and there are still errors that I catch later.
Jane: What was your first recognition/success as an author?
Gunnar: As an author, when the book I wrote made it into the bestsellers list. As an author under my own name, well, I am still waiting for that day.
Jane: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you react to them?
Gunnar: Yes. Rejections from publishers and agents. At first it was difficult, a little soul crushing at times, but now it is pretty much par for the course and I just ignore them. I’ve had readers rave about my books and want more, and that’s who I write for, the readers.
Jane: I am always very wary talking about my current work in progress, but I still can’t resist asking, what are you working on at the moment?
Gunnar: I am working on the sequel to ‘The Perfect Day.’ It is entitled (tentatively) ‘The Consortium.’ It follows the continuing cases of Detective Paul Friedman as he discovers the existence of a human trafficking ring in his city.
Jane: What is your ‘writing routine’ – if such a thing exists?
Gunnar: Several months I am putting together the ‘skeleton’ of the story so to speak. I know where I want the story to end, and I know where I want it to begin, and the rest just fills in here and there. When that is done, I’ll spend three to four hours a night working on the book, then go to my day job as a freelance writer. Hopefully, one day, I can quit the day job and start work on some other projects I have been wanting to do.
I am a big believer in the NANOWRIMO which is the National Novel Writing Month held every November. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I try to maintain that count throughout the rest of the year to finish my books. 2,000 to 3,000 words per day. ‘Fair Play’ was my first ‘novel’ and came in at just over 60,000 words. ‘The Perfect Day’ is more than double that amount because of so much going on in the story. I’m aiming for about 100K words for ‘The Consortium.’
Image from Imagebase free stock photography
Jane: Where do you find your inspiration?
Gunnar: News headlines. A twisted ‘what-if-this-happened’ kind of imagination. ‘Fair Play’ was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine about the Casey Anthony case about how can an attorney set aside his morals and defend someone he knows is guilty of murdering a child. ‘The Perfect Day’ was inspired by actual documents discovered in an Islamic terrorist training camp with blueprints of American schools and an actual pre-fabricated building that was built to resemble an American school. The phrase that was used over and over again to describe the ‘dream’ attack of Islamic terrorists was ‘The Perfect Day’.
Jane: Just reading that description is very chilling. Is your writing plot-driven or character driven?
Gunnar: I start with the plot, it’s the characters who will then tell me how they want to play out the scene. I like to throw the everyday-Joe or Jane into an extraordinary situation and see how they react. Every character has more going on in their lives than just the events that are happening to them in the main action of the story. Each of them react differently based on those life situations.
Jane: Do you have a method for creating your characters’ names and what do you think makes them believable?
Gunnar: No. Okay I’m laughing now because when I create the name for a villain I usually give them a name of someone I know and just don’t like, then before I publish it I change that name to something else. I have been almost done with the entire book before realizing that I didn’t like the name “Sam” for this one character, so I changed it.
Jane: Some authors have one particular person in mind when they write. Do you have a muse – or perhaps an imaginary ideal reader?
Gunnar: I am writing for those readers who like the fast-paced, action-oriented novels and television shows. The readers who care little about detailed descriptions of the tree outside the home of the killer and more about what the killer is doing in the house. If you liked the shows Alias, 24, or any other multi-POV thriller, that’s my type of story to tell.
Jane: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Gunnar: I have a close friend who is a great beta-reader. She lets me know what she thinks and she is honest. I need that.
Jane: Do you write your first draft on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Gunnar: I prefer the computer. Paper gets lost, misplaced and takes up a lot of room. I can cut and paste, keep accurate word counts of my progress and know how close I am to finishing with Microsoft Word’s program.
Jane: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you (like me) need complete silence?
Gunnar: It depends. If there is a lot of action going on in the story, early part of just getting everything put together, I am blasting 1980’s music in my ear. If I am editing, rearranging or changing anything, I put on a little Diana Krall or Norah Jones. When I come back to the story when it is completely done, I need quiet.
Jane: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Gunnar: I prefer third person as most of the stories I write utilize more than one POV of more than one character. It keeps multiple plotlines moving forward at the same time and converging together into one cohesive story.
Jane: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Gunnar: There was a very classical whodunit mystery I started in high school, very Agatha Christie-ish, with the shocking reveal in the parlour at the end. I don’t think readers today have the patience for that kind of classic type murder mystery.
Jane: You might be surprised. They are making a huge come-back in the UK. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Gunnar: For my favourite aspect, it’s breathing life into characters that I know so well now that I can hear them talk to me in my sleep. And as far as my least favourite, it is definitely the lack of time and money to devote myself fulltime to writing what I love.
Jane: What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Gunnar: I love Steven James and his Patrick Bowers series of books. The Pawn, The Rook, The Queen and onward. Lots of action, lots of shocking reveals and villains that will give you nightmares. Vince Flynn is another and I miss looking forward to his new books.
Jane: My favourite books when I was growing up were The Owl Service by Alan Garner, Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay. What were yours?
Gunnar: Hardy Boys, and when I finished all of them I started on Nancy Drew, Tom Swift and the Robert Aspirin “Myth, Inc” series.
Jane: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Gunnar: Keep writing. If you love it, write it. There is just something so satisfying about finishing the last word on the last page. When you are holding that paperback in your hands and can flip through the pages of the words you know so well, there’s just this overwhelming sense of achievement that makes all the sweat and tears so worth it.
Jane: I couldn’t agree more! Thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m very grateful that you took time out from your writing and wish you all the best with your future projects – especially those published under your own name.
Readers, you can find out more about Gunnar:
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, enter your email in the box in the sidebar to subscribe to my blog.