Yee-haw, an Indie’s Life for Me

When I started writing my debut novel Embers at Dawn, I simultaneously started exploring the possibilities with self-publishing and found “the deal” enthusing. One deciding factor to not pursue the traditional route of publishing houses was royalties. The idea of getting paid more per book sold (at a lower price), than if I’d been signed to a publishing house sounded like a good idea… Or a very fair lottery ticket. The other deciding factor was control.

I relied heavily on my experiences as a freelance photographer when I made the decision to try my luck with self-publishing. I kept coming back to a want and a need to be in complete control of my first book project. I was tired of my success being at the mercy of others, being given half creative freedom on jobs I did for free and… I’ll stop right there, before I go into an angry rant, but I’ll tell you this much: It’s a whole lot easier to sell a finished product, such as a book, than to boast that something can be done.

Self-published books have started to find their way into the regular charts and bookstores. Self-published authors are being headhunted by agents and publishing houses. This is another reason why I figured self-publishing might not be such a bad idea. I get to publish my book my way, but still don’t opt out of the world of “regular” publishing if I should change my mind.

Choosing to self publish was also an easy choice to make because it has become easy to do, relatively speaking at least. Yes, I have to do pretty much everything myself, but there’s a plethora of guides and forums with all the information one could need. And as you have probably picked up on by now, doing everything myself is just the way I like it. I still have to market my work, but I don’t have to buddy up with the local fashion mafia, hoping to get an editorial in the next issue of [insert name of generic fashion magazine] that would give me half a toe inside whatever door is the trend that season.

I haven’t entirely given up on photography, my previous post should state that fact quite clearly, but I no longer pursue a career as a photographer. I started losing the joy in doing it and decided that I’d rather flip the industry a big, fat bird and enjoy photography with personal projects instead.

The irony in this is that what’s going on in the world of publishing looks a lot like what the world of photography has been through. The digital revolution made “everyone” a photographer and ultimately rendered my hard-earned craft’s certificate redundant, and my endless hours spent in the darkroom a quaint skill. Now, indie publishing has made “everyone” an author too, but what I experienced as a negative effect in the world of photography feels more like a positive revolution in publishing.

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Yellow Highlighters & Black Powder

For me, research spans from poring over books to saddling up horses and loading guns.

IMG_4132I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was eleven years old when I mounted one three years ago. I joined a riding class for beginners. I trotted, no: walked around in circles during my first lessons. The riding instructor was the only one there who was anywhere near my own age, except a few of the parents accompanying their 6-12 year olds. And yes, I’m talking about three years ago.

The riding instructor just so happened to be a returning customer at the video rental store I was working at back then. We got to talking, and when I told her that I could hardly wait to go trail riding; she immediately picked up on it. From then on I had most my riding lessons on trails in the woods. It was challenging, fun and inspiring. We’d cross rivers, climb steep paths, gallop across fields and cuss at cyclists who’d come zooming past us – startling both us and the horses.

I believe that being new to horses made me notice things about them that I would have otherwise ignored if I’d been a seasoned rider, details that I’ve integrated in my writing. I can say pretty much the same thing about being a tyro gunslinger.

IMG_2595I handled a firearm for the first time about a year and a half ago at a gun safety course. I had done some research about guns of the Old West, but felt like I was grasping at straws without hands-on experience. I needed answers to questions that no book could truly answer.

My questions have pretty much been answered, and more so: I have found a sport I’m serious about. As far as horses go, I greatly enjoy getting to know their nature and pursue to become a better rider, but horses remain a hobby for me. I have no intention of winning a derby. Shooting, on the other hand, has made my competitive instinct surface. I compete in local ISFF competitions and train several days a week. My love for shooting and the Old West has also brought me to CAS (Cowboy Action Shooting). What better way to live the dream, than to dress up in cowboy attire and shoot guns (replicas) from the Old West era?

But research isn’t all about guns and horses, I’ve spent my share of hours with my nose stuck in a book, or scrolling through websites in search of what truly was. It’s a never-ending search…

IMG_5778In response to the phrase :”Write what you know,” I’m stuck between saying: “Hells yeah!” and: “That’s BS!” I have read countless interpretations of the phrase in writer’s guides that explain it as simply a way to make it easy on yourself: Set the story in your home town, in the present, construct the characters around yourself and people you know, and voila: you don’t have to do any tedious and time consuming research. Obviously, this doesn’t work when writing historical fiction.

Another tip I’ve come across more than once is: If you have to do research, don’t do any until you’ve completed your first draft. That way you’ll only have to do a minimum of research because you’ll have pinpointed exactly what you need to learn. I can see the logic in this, but I find this piece of advice flawed.

I’d like to expand the phrase “write what you know” into: “know what you write – write what you know.” By “know what you write,” I mean: Do your research and know your characters. Having a firm grasp on the what-fors of the period your story is set in will help you from stumbling into the pitfall of assumption. What use is it to do research post writing if you find out that half of what you thought you knew turns out to be plain wrong?

The ultimate kind of research would be to travel to the places I describe in my writing, but until the opportunity to do that arises: I pretty much live the dream anyway.

The Cowgirl: An Interview

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Photo: Martin Guttormsen Slørdal

I’ve been featured in the magazine HK Nytt, distributed by the workers’ association Handel & Kontor in Norway.

I was interviewed by the journalist Martin Guttormsen Slørdal earlier this year when I was still working at a video rental store. When asked about what I do beside work, I told him about my book project, which lead to the interview you can read here.

The interview is in Norwegian, but I’ll come back to some of the subjects we touched upon in later blog posts. Some of the things we talked about were: The western genre, chewing tobacco, Calamity Jane and Deadwood, feminism, self-publishing, Cowboy Action Shooting and horses.

Once Upon a Time in the North

There’s one question in particular that keeps popping up more often than others in regard to my writing: What made you write a western? And then there’s a string of follow-up inquiries: What inspired you? How did you come up with the idea for the book(s)? Have you always liked westerns?

A lot of folks seem puzzled about my passion for the Old West. I can’t blame them. I realize it must seem odd that a 30-something year old Norwegian girl, who has never set foot upon a prairie, delves into an era long gone and far away from the fjords and glaciers of her home country. Frankly, I find it hard to explain, but I’ll give it a whirl.

Up until a few years ago my interest for the Old West was a fleeting fascination that manifested itself at irregular intervals. It was kind of like a big ole fish with a double revolver rig and broad brimmed hat that kept to the murky shallows, out of sight, but ever present, occasionally breaking the surface with a whoop and a holler.

As a child, I was far more interested in constructing swords out of sticks than anything that went “pang” or “boom” or “pew, pew, pew.” I didn’t give a hoot about horses, actually: I found them downright intimidating. The closest I got to a stable was a pink and white plastic house for my My Little Pony ponies.

I read the Lucky Luke comics and watched the cartoons, he was the cowboy of my childhood. I saw the Terrence Hill movie Lucky Luke at the cinema in 1991. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, although I was somewhat distraught about Luke being blonde in the movie.

A few years later Bad Girls came out, and the next year: The Quick and the Dead. Women badasses! Huzzah! I watched Dances with Wolves on VHS with my mother. My grandfather gave me Tom Sawyer to read. I was fascinated, but I was a kid and my fascination turned to the next cool thing quicker than you can reload a Schofield.

I played the video game Gun when it came out, and my fascination for the western genre was again revived. I discovered the work of Sergio Leone and watched a handful of his movies. I absolutely loved them. This was at the time when I studied literature. My main interest was works from the 19th century, but “all things western” had yet to enthrall me.

It wasn’t until the video game Red Dead Redemption came out that my fascination for the western genre would yet again bloom and finally: not shrivel. This reclaimed fascination spurred my interest to delve further into the genre.

Right in the middle of this cowboy daze I was given a book about writing from a writer friend. At the time, I had started outlining a fantasy novel. I put it aside, figuring a short, action-packed western would be a better place to begin the project of writing a book. What was meant to be a test, to see if I could write a book-length text, turned into my main writing project.

Lee came to life from an outlaw costume I was constructing for myself (preparations for Halloween). I drew a sketch of the attire and started thinking up a name and background story for the character. The skeleton of a story emerged. The first half of that story became Embers at Dawn.

I think that’s about a good a description as I can give y’all about the whys and hows of the uprising of my western fascination. I’ll save details on research, musings on the western genre and further ramblings from an author’s life for later.