Interview with Emily Devenport

Published 2013-10-23.
How do you approach cover design?
I usually hire a professional to do the art. In the past, I've worked with Elinor Mavor (Spirits Of Glory, The Night Shifters, Belarus), Donato Giancola (EggHeads and GodHeads) and my husband, artist/writer Ernest Hogan (Pale Lady) for my cover art. Sometimes Ernie and I cobble something together from our own photographs and other graphics using the Gimp program, as we did for the cover of Broken Time.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Watership Down, because Adams got me to worry so much about a bunch of rabbits, I couldn't put the book down until I found out what was going to happen to them; The Road To Oz, because Dorothy literally walks into adventure through sheer force of will, and on the way she meets the Shaggy Man; The Haunting of Hill House, because a good ghost story is never about the ghosts -- it's about the people who are haunted by the ghost; Dragonwyck, because it's a perfect gothic/romance/thriller; The Hobbit, because it captures the magic of Middle Earth before that world was shattered by the events in The Lord of the Rings.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read geology books. I'm fascinated by the subject. Lately I've also been buying the biographies of scientists, because I think that's one of the best ways to really internalize the subject of science -- to get inside the discovery process of the people who shaped the scientific method.

When it comes to fiction, I really enjoy audio books. I have an itouch, and I download books from Audible. I like to listen to thrillers, mysteries, science fiction and horror, but I especially love books that combine genres. Recently I've really enjoyed 14, by Peter Clines; 11-22-63, by Stephen King; all of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, by Elizabeth Peters, and Robert McCammon's Matthew Corbett series. I can listen while I drive, clean, cook, garden -- it's a delight.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I'm between devices, but I'm leaning heavily toward the Apple ipad. I don't entirely trust my judgement on this -- I really like Apple as a brand, but their device is not necessarily the best one on the market at any given time. One the other hand, a device that has a lot of brand loyalty from customers is more likely to stick around, so maybe I should just bite the bullet . . .
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
The first thing I tried to do was buy advertising spots on Facebook. This was a big bust.

Next, I looked for reviewers from professional markets (magazines, etc.) The only reviewer who responded was from RT Book Reviews, a website that specializes in romance but also reviews other genres. I got a featured/spotlight review for The Night Shifters, and I hoped this would drive sales for the ebook. But it didn't.

For a year, I languished in obscurity, without any clue how to drive interest in my titles. I saw other writers blitzing Facebook and Twitter with blurbs and links for their books, and I was told this was the only way to drive sales. But these postings always came off like annoying commercials to me, and what do most of us do when we see commercials on TV? We mute them and fast-forward.

Then I read a profile about a YA author who had become one of Kindle's best sellers. She had approached book-review bloggers and asked them to review her ebook title. She also asked them to post their reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc. They did, and the increased visibility drove her sales.

So I wrote a query letter and started searching for book-review bloggers. I quickly discovered that the majority of these bloggers dislike ebooks and pretty much despise self-published books. I had good credentials -- nine of my books were published as mass-market paperbacks by NAL/Roc, and one of my titles, Broken Time (written under the pen name Maggy Thomas) was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. I included all that wonderfulness in my letter, and I queried at least 1000 bloggers. My target was to get 50 reviews for Spirits Of Glory and The Night Shifters. I ended up with nine reviews for Spirits Of Glory on Amazon, seven reviews for The Night Shifters. About twice as many reviews made it to Goodreads, but almost none of them showed up anywhere else. The whole process consumed huge amounts of time, and I'm not sure it was worth it.

I'll be publishing some new (and some ebook reprint) titles within the next year, and I will probably approach a few of the book review bloggers with a query. But now I've got an approach that I think is more successful. Instead of asking these bloggers to review my book (essentially asking them to do a lot of work), I ask them if I can do a guest blog combined with a give-away (using a Smashwords coupon). I can generate these postings pretty quickly. Bloggers will often publish my blurb/synopsis for a given title, along with the cover graphic, and I end up getting the opportunity to entertain readers and promote my work without sounding like a boring commercial.

I back this entertainment/promotion process up with my own blog, in which I write on a variety of topics. I have links to my books on the side bar, and that allows me to entertain visitors without blaring ads at them. This process has allowed me to start building an audience. Once I've got more titles available, I think my online presence will increase too. In a year or so, I'll update this interview with what I have learned.
Describe your desk
My current desk is an antique-ish writing desk that was handed down to me by my Aunt Katie, who traveled abroad when she worked for the State Department, and who traveled more extensively after she married my Uncle George, an executive for Pan American Airlines. It's about three feet long and two feet wide. It has two lower drawers that I almost never open, even though I have stuffed many things in there with the assumption that I will need them later (the same is true of the two smaller upper drawers). My apple laptop sits in the middle. Papers, books, pencils & pens, my phone, and my rolodex are crammed into available spaces to either side. The desk has a small mirror, so it could conceivably be used as a vanity. But I have covered that mirror with a Periodic Table. I've also taped pictures cut out of calendars and magazines to the wall above the mirror, to use for reference. A small space survives between my laptop and the mirror, and various things are piled there, but my half-pint cat, Jingle Monster, also finds that space attractive, and he is often curled there when I'm working.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, located in the upper part of the Sonoran Desert. I'm accustomed to wide-open spaces, cowboys who are actually Indians, temperatures that can reach as high as 123 degrees F, enterprising plants that can survive on less than 7 inches of rainfall per year, and some of the most fascinating and varied geology in the world. During this era (the 60s) Phoenix had some excellent program directors at the local TV stations, so I saw a lot of Golden-Age movies (1930 to 1970): science fiction, fantasy, mystery, adventure, thrillers, drama, horror, foreign films, musicals, comedies and even silent movies. TV shows included Star Trek, Lost In Space, The Invaders, Time Tunnel, The Outer Limits, NIght Gallery, Gilligan's Island, I Dream of Genie, Bewitched, and The Addams Family. I loved them all, and they helped to shape the bizarre mish-mash of my world view.

My local convenience stores (Circle K and 7-11) carried comic books, everything from Archie, to Superman, to Swamp Thing. When I was a kid, I could get 4 comic books and two packages of Zingers for less than a dollar. This was Unadulterated Paradise.

Phoenix had lots of libraries, and I loved books, so I had access to unlimited reading. I favored Space Cat, fairy tales, and ghost stories when I was in grade school. When I was twelve, paperbacks began to appear in the local supermarkets, and they cost between 95 cents and $1.50. My mom let me pick as many as I wanted, so I read Conan books, Fritz Leiber, Andre Norton's Witch World books, H.P. Lovecraft, Tolkien, and a zillion others.

Arizona has typically been described as a Red State, politically, and we do have a Republican population that varies from moderate to Tea Party (and a few who could be described as anarchist/militia). But we have almost as many Democrats, and most people have a live-and-let live attitude. Indian reservations make up about 1/4 of our territory, more than in any other state, and Indians have a lot of political and cultural clout. We have a large Mexican American population, and I'm accustomed to hearing Spanish spoken along with English. And last but not least -- we have the best Mexican food in the country (that's right Texas and New Mexico -- you know it's true).
When did you first start writing?
The first time I tried to write, I was twelve. I woke up from an inspiring dream, and decided to write a novel. I got about 1 1/2 pages into it, and got stuck. I think if we were talking about schizophrenia instead of writing, this could be described as the advent of my illness.

The next time I put pen to paper I was 14 or so. I got an entire short story written. I managed to write a few more stories in high school. They sucked, but my teachers were impressed, probably because I had some grasp of grammar and structure, something that most of my fellow students lacked. I'd like to say I could spell, too, but my mastery of that skill has been hard-earned and is still a bit spotty.

I gave up on the idea of writing (after all, it was hard and I kept getting stuck). I stumbled around for a few years without any idea what I should do with my life (looking back, I wish I had gotten a degree in geology, but I was a bloody idiot). And then I got hit by the writing compulsion again, hard. (Once again, if we were talking about schizophrenia, this would be the point at which I began to wander the streets, barefoot and raving).

It was still really hard to finish projects, but I couldn't stop. I had a full-blown obsessive-compulsive condition. So I kept at it. I taught myself to write short stories, and I sold a few of them. Then I taught myself to write novels, and I sold nine of those. Along the way, I kind of forgot how to write short stories, but lately I've found myself writing them again. Another phase has begun.

And in the meantime, I'm still hacking away at a geology degree. Because life is no fun if it can't also be ridiculously complicated and challenging.
What's the story behind your latest book?
My current project is titled A Merciful Plague, set in Arizona. It's a post-apocaplyse story, and even has a sub-theme about super powers. I'm very surprised to be writing this, because I hadn't thought the post-apocalypse theme interested me that much. Yet I've written 90,000 words on exactly that subject, and I just finished a short story on the same theme ("Cruddy").

Another theme that left me cold (I swear, no pun intended) was the zombie theme, and I was positive I'd never write one of those. Yet I just finished a zombie story titled "Appetite." Go figure.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I had no choice. I was a mid-list author with NAL/Roc, with nine books under my belt, and the sales for those books were pretty good. But then 9/11 happened, the publishing world panicked, and they shed 75% of their mid-list authors. Suddenly none of us could get published to save our lives. If indie publishing hadn't been possible, many of us might have tried the old-fashioned self-publishing route (expensive and loaded with road blocks), and maybe we would have been able to cobble something together (it's interesting to ponder what shape that would have taken without the ebook option). Fortunately, Smashwords and other sites were available for self-publishing, and those of us who continue to compulsively write books and stories have an outlet for our work. For most of us, there's not a lot of money to be made. But that was true about conventional publishing too, and I love the creative freedom I have with indie publishing.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
There are two things I love best about Smashwords: the distribution system and the freebee coupons. Smashwords distributes my titles to Barnes & Noble, Apple, and other big retailers, making it unnecessary for me to wrangle all of those formats and sales reports myself. And being able to generate freebee coupons allows me to promote my books to readers and reviewers with a variety of ereader options.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing stories makes it easier to explore the strange worlds you dream up. Before I began to write, I entertained myself with daydreams, essentially telling myself stories. I still do this. But once you've engaged your brain in plotting stories and fleshing out imaginary worlds, those daydreams become a lot more detailed and vivid, a lot more satisfying.

Writing also changes the way you experience the world. It expands your perceptions and sparks your senses. You become more aware of people deliberately trying to influence you with words and images, too. This is especially helpful when you're shopping and just before elections.
What do your fans mean to you?
My sales figures have been pretty good, and I hear from fans all the time. But I'm always surprised to have them at all. My experience in life is that my endeavors are met with a great deal of criticism and negativity. I have to overcome all that and forge ahead with what I think is right. I suppose it's sort of a hero's journey, and for that reason I ought to be grateful for it. But if I'm grateful, I can't suffer, and if I don't suffer I'm not on a hero's journey. So instead I've decided to nurse a secret resentment and just have fun with that. That way, when a fan contacts me, I feel very surprised and pleased.
What are you working on next?
I aways have several projects going. I'm almost done with a new novel, A Merciful Plague, and I'm in the middle of a new short story, "Until You've Seen Their Shadows." My husband and I will be self-publishing a YA thriller, The Terrible Twelves, within the next few months. I'm about 1/4 finished with a YA novel, The Order of the Dragon. These are just a sample of the many projects I'm trying to juggle.
Who are your favorite authors?
For audio books, I enjoy listening to Stephen King, Peter Clines, Robert McCammon, Elizabeth Peters, Patricia Cornwell, Ellis Peters, and Dean Koontz, among others. For geology titles, I really like Wayne Ranney, though I'll read any title that captures my interest (and that would be most of them). For classics, I love Andre Norton, Fritz Leiber, R.A. MacAvoy, Gordon Dickson, L.Frank Baum, Ray Bradbury, C.J. Cherryh, Leigh Brackett, Shirley Jackson, Cornell Woolrich, Anya Seton, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and so many other authors you would become quite annoyed with me for trying to list them.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I have to go to the bathroom. And then the cats pounce on me.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I study geology and chemistry, I hike, garden, take day trips around Arizona, search for garden rocks, clean, cook, and goof off.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I do, but it was some muddled thing about a girl and a tree she loved. I think the tree got chopped down. We all know how that sort of thing ends.

My first published story was "Shade and the Elephant Man," published in Aboriginal SF Magazine. Later I adapted it into the novel, Shade, published by NAL/Roc in the U.S. and by The Women's Press in the U.K.
What is your writing process?
Often I have a vivid dream that sparks a frenzy of writing. When this happens, I know a great deal about the story and can write up to a hundred pages, as well as copious notes. Other times, a story percolates for days and months, even years, before it suddenly gels and presents itself to me as a prospect. Once that happens I write what I know about it, bits of scenes and notes about plot, characters, etc.

The annoying thing about writing down what I know is that my subconscious may decide that I've completed my work, and now it's time to move on to the next thing. At this point, it takes real dedication to finish anything. The fun, creative, inspirational part is over, and now I have to get down to the pick-and-shovel part. While I'm slogging through that, pretty new ideas keep popping up and clamoring for attention, insisting that they're way more interesting than that boring old thing I'm trying to finish. This is why I often end up with several projects going at once. But eventually I finish something and pack it off to my editor. And in the end I probably don't take any longer than most other writers to complete a novel or a story. It just seems that way.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
It was probably a fairy tale. I loved stories when I was very young, and when wasn't reading them I made up my own.
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