Early Out

Early Out cover

In the early 19th century, a young Spanish scout named Rafael Rivera wandered off from Antonio Armijo’s trading expedition – en route to Los Angeles – and came back to report he had just discovered a breathtaking oasis in the middle of nowhere. Though long traversed by Southern Paiutes, the Patayan and even the Anasazi, “The Meadows” (as it would be named by European adventurers) would soon become a happenin’ hot spot and refueling venue in more ways than one. We simply know it as Las Vegas – the backdrop for debut author Jesse Kaellis’ gritty collection of real-life stories about the gambling capital of the world.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What prompted you to write a book about the twilight glitz that is the casino subculture of Las Vegas?

A: I wasn’t really planning on writing a book. I started writing stories that I was posting on an online writers forum that was connected to a free dating site. I developed a following. When I had a body of work together my girlfriend helped me proof it and I started making submissions mostly to Canadian publishers. My girlfriend found out about a contest, the Simon Fraser University/Anvil Press 1st Book Contest. This was under the auspices of the SFU Creative Writing Department and the winner got a contract with Anvil Press, a mid-level lower mainland publisher. I shortlisted and I came in third place. The head of the department, John Mavin, kindly sent me comments from the reviews. I realized that I had a lot of raw talent and a strong voice. My style was unique; that was the feedback that I received.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book is a memoir about Vegas, boxing, violence, sex, love, grief, narcotics, the death industry, irony, despair, surfacing, humor, black humor, arcane jobs and subcultures, and the alchemy of transforming pain into empathy. Traditionally, autobiographies about people who aren’t well known to the general public are a tough sell in the publishing industry. What was the thought process that made you pursue it anyway rather than opting for a straight work of fiction?

A: Because some stories are stranger than fiction? People of notoriety have stories but can they write? Those stories are usually ghost written. I don’t read fiction and I only ever wrote one piece of fiction which was transparently my alter ego. My stories were earned the hard way, I lived them. But I have a voice; I have a style, a style that is not contrived in anyway. I wrote a story, it’s in my book, and it’s called ‘A story about nothing happened’ and, of course, the point being that there is always something happening if I have eyes to see and a voice to describe my perceptions. To sum it up, I wrote about what I know; if nobody wants to read it, then that’s just my hard luck.

Q: How much creative license did you take in relating real-life events?

A: Zero; no embellishment and I didn’t spare myself at all. People call my book painfully honest. It didn’t pain me, or I should say the pain was already there. The surcease for me was in writing about it. For instance, giving up in a fight, a boxing match, that’s never going to be okay. I made a decision at a moment in time; I took the back door because I wanted out of there and I did it in front of friends and strangers, and I didn’t have to do that and it was not remotely worth it. I learned the hard way.

Q: What do you feel distinguishes your book from the competition?

A: I do believe that I have a unique style, one reviewer, an online magazine I did an interview with years ago; she said I have a gift for literary simplicity. The first thing I do is figure out what I want to say, then I want to get there fairly directly. At the same time, I’m writing and remembering and getting insights as I write. The story is pulling me along. I’m also looking for that payoff, and it could be a sentence or even just a single word.

Q: Tell us about your choice of title and what it means to you.

A: “Early Out” is a term that any casino dealer is familiar with. All it means is that you get to go home early. Let’s say you have a dead dice game, no action, and there is another game with a little bit of action. So let’s say it’s a six pm to two am shift. Around midnight you are on a dead game and, “Who wants to go home?”

I always did because I wanted to get home and party, a party at which I was the only guest. They count the bank, get a fill, if they need it, bring up the lid and lock it and then the crew goes home. We maybe stop at the back bar to get a drink. See the casinos pay dealers minimum wage. Most of your income comes from tokes, tips. Casinos have a rock hard bottom line. Why pay dealers to stand around, even if it’s just at minimum wage? These joints count every penny.

As well, “Early Out” has a more sinister connotation, given how hard I pushed it over the nine years that I lived in Vegas. “I got so high this time that I never came down, never came back.”

Q: Is Early Out your first published work? If so, how difficult was it for you to construct?

A: It is my first published work; no—wait, I had three pieces published in SubTerrain Magazine, a quarterly literary magazine, published by Anvil Press. That was a couple of years ago. Writing it was not difficult. I wrote it one story at a time. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have to develop characters, I mean all I did was remember and write. I started with the Vegas stuff and after a while I felt I should provide motivation for the protagonist, I mean, why was I such a lowlife? I didn’t alibi, but I did delineate a bereft childhood. I figured that was fair enough. Everybody comes from somewhere. Nobody is born a monster, or perhaps they are, I don’t know. Maybe I was concerned with being a sympathetic character. One of the reviewers from the SFU Creative Writing Department wrote that in many ways I was not likable but he did like me and he had empathy for me.

I wept when I read that because I knew I was doing my job. This is what I’m saying, honesty is not just in the facts but it is in the tone, the “feel” of my narrative. My character came through as authentic. And I may be a sympathetic character because of my flaws and deformities, because we all fall short.

Q: Did you start with a working outline or simply let the creative juices flow from one day to the next?

A: I just wrote it one story at a time. The more I wrote, the more I remembered.

Q: How long did it take you to write Early Out?

A: About ten months.

Q: Were you editing throughout the process or did you wait until the whole thing was done?

A: I was proofing it. I have little formal education. I didn’t complete grade school. I was an undiagnosed dyslexic as a child. I didn’t read until I was eight years old. I have taken no creative writing classes. Just the same, I’m articulate and I write the way I talk. I wrote on instinct and I improved as I went along. I believe that my book gets stronger and ends strongly.

Q: Tell us about the audience you’re hoping to attract and what the book’s takeaway will be?

A: I have no idea—how about anybody under the sun? Naturally I’m hoping that I can touch everybody, anybody. I wrote a story, or dozens of stories and I stitched them into some kind of intuitively non linear order. I didn’t write it to an audience, how could I know, and I still don’t. What’s the takeaway? That the book is interesting? Many people read it in one or two sittings. There is nothing that I could ever write that would fundamentally change this world, and how about this? The world doesn’t need changing. Be careful how you hear that. This is a perfect world. Careful.

Q: How did you go about choosing a publisher for your book?

A: I took whoever wanted me and I was grateful for it. I was resigned to dying in complete obscurity. There were more than a few people that knew I would find a publisher, “You’re too good.” They believed in me more than I ever did my own self, particularly my ex girlfriend. I got Mountain Springs House, got a contract that I signed last March, and I was happy for it. At one point, at what seems like a lifetime ago, I thought I was going to get one of the Big 6 publishers. That story is partially told in my book.

Q: What do you know about the publishing industry now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: This has been about three plus years now. I was warned about how tough it can be but it takes going through it yourself to really know the vagaries of this business. The publishing industry is in upheaval at this time in particular. It really hasn’t shaken out yet, if ever. It has been painful at times and difficult, it has also been exhilarating and moving for me. My book has touched people. I wanted to be known, that’s why I wrote it. That’s why guys fight, as well, by the way. Fight in the ring. They are making a statement: I am. There is no higher expression of individuality in my perception. And women also fight as well, especially now a days.

Q: What would you have done differently in your journey to publication?

A: I wouldn’t have alienated one publisher in particular. I didn’t need to do it. There was nothing but a loss in it for me, I had a bi-winning moment and I burnt this guy down and maybe every other publisher on the lower mainland, but live and learn; and I got a second chance with another publisher.

Q: What are you doing to promote the book?

A: Not enough really. You can always do more—I’m doing online stuff, using my blog, interviews…

I found a service that places books in Nevada and Northern California for a nominal fee. They put paperbacks in casino gift shops and at the airport, convenience stores. They are based in Reno and Las Vegas and I expect to move books through this venue.

I am at number 3 on the Smashwords bestseller list in my genre. I broke the Amazon top one hundred about ten days ago; I had some really low numbers.

Q: Were you a voracious reader growing up? If so, what are some of the books and who are some of the authors that most influenced your style of storytelling?

A: Once I was able to read, yes, was an avid reader. My reading wasn’t restricted and my parents were left wing types, so: Mailer, Baldwin, Claude Brown, Alex Haley, George Orwell, Upton Sinclair, Jerzey Koszinski, Primo Levy, Joyce Carol Oates, Nick Touches, many more.

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: I’m not currently reading a book.

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I don’t leave much room for speculation in my book. I’m not sure. My left eye is smaller than my right eye – noticeably. Seriously, I don’t know. I’m standing naked in my book, pretty much, but I don’t tell everything and I never will. God knows all, nobody else.

Q: If Early Out were turned into a movie, who would be in your dream cast for it?

A: I would like Daniel Day Lewis to play me, just because he’s a great actor. I don’t think you could turn my story into a movie—the scope of it. It could be a cast of thousands. However, any one story could be turned into a screenplay.

Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring writers who want to get published?

A: I am probably the worst person that could give advice. When publishers that allow unsolicited submissions give you submission guidelines then you better obey. But I didn’t and I don’t. I mean if you follow their guidelines it can be very time consuming. I’ll advise this; make multiple submissions. Tell the publisher that you have multiple submissions out there and you don’t have to list them by name. It’s an industry practice no matter what they say. You can’t wait on each single submission. You have an average six week turnaround. Be careful with contests, they can get costly. They generally charge an entry fee. Use your instincts if you have any.

I’m not organized, I’m not patient, I have thin skin, and the whole process has been inordinately painful for me, so, take heart. If I can do it, you can do it. Just don’t give up.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: My biggest problem with this business is that it is a business. I wanted the deal where I would be discovered and be transformed into an overnight star, something like what happened to James Frey. I know and I have known that I need to publish more material, and I do have a good deal of stuff that I can use, I think I have a book’s worth already. Now I just have to light a fire under my rear end and do it.

 

 

 

 

The Blade

blade-cover

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Unless, of course, a villain has plans to completely obliterate it from the map. While investigating the theft of a 4000-year-old artifact, a federal agent finds herself confronted with an international fugitive who threatens to destroy Sin City. Such is the pulse-pounding premise of The Blade (Stone Creek Books), an adult thriller recently published by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore. The pair took time from their busy schedules to talk about the collaborative process of bringing their ideas and characters to life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: How and when did the two of you become collaborators?

A: Lynn: Joe and I belonged to the same writing critique group that met every week. During the middle of each session we’d take a break and we’d all chat. Sometimes we’d share ideas about other projects we’d like to do. I had this idea about a book I wanted to write, but it wasn’t in my comfort range because of the genre. Joe thought it was a great idea, and after a year or so, he finally threatened me that if I didn’t write the book, then he would. We decided to give co-writing a whirl.

That produced The Grail Conspiracy, our first collaboration, which did very well. It was ForeWord Magazine’s book of the year and an international bestseller. So far, it’s been translated into 24 languages.

Q: So how does your collaborative process work (i.e., brainstorming, logistics, editing one another, utilizing each other’s respective strengths)?

A: Lynn: I can only vouch for what Joe and I do. At first it was very difficult, not because we disagreed on anything, but rather because our styles and voices were so different. Joe wrote male action-adventure with a very bold voice. I wrote historical fiction with a more lyrical voice. So blending took a lot of work, but we stayed with it. As a matter of fact, friends are always guessing which line one of us wrote! They’re usually wrong, but we never tell.

As far as the mechanical process, we do outlining and brainstorming so we know the story. Either of us could write it. Then whoever feels they have the best handle on a scene takes on the first draft of that scene. We send it back and forth for revisions. Using Dropbox makes it easier. We drop a file in the shared Dropbox folder and voilà! The other picks it up.

Q: Where do you get your ideas for the fascinating characters and compelling stories the two of you compose?

A: Joe: An idea that sparks a story can come from anywhere, anytime. Movies, newspapers, magazines, other books. What we look for is the seed that grabs our attention. Our first book written together came from an article in Discover Magazine about a cup found by an archeologist in Israel. He believed it was the Holy Grail and subsequently discovered that traces of blood residue were present. Could it have been the blood of Christ? What if someone used the DNA to clone Christ? The result was our first thriller written together, The Grail Conspiracy. An article I stumbled across on the Internet about the Germans working on an atomic bomb at the end of WWII prompted our latest thriller, The Blade.

Q: When it comes to character development and dialogue in a thriller such as The Blade, do you think it’s easier for a female to write from a male’s perspective or a male to write from a female’s perspective?

A: Lynn: I don’t think it matters to us. Joe and I have never decided to write scenes because of a character’s gender. We don’t take on specific characters when we write; we take on scenes. When Joe has a better handle on a scene or better vision, then he does the first draft of it. If I feel I have a strong image of a scene, then I do the first draft. We both have our strengths, but they aren’t gender-related.

Q: Do you revise as you go along or wait until the novel is complete?

A: Joe: Because there are two of us and we exchange drafts of each chapter many times, the revision process is ongoing, with the final one after input from our editor.

Q: What is your strategy behind short chapters vs. longer ones?

A: Joe: Most of our chapters average 1000 words. We do that to keep the reader turning the pages. If they see that the next chapter is only a couple of pages long, they will decide to read just one more. And then one more…

Q: If The Blade was made into a movie, who would you choose to play Maxine, Kenny and Applewhite?

A: Lynn: Maxine –Julianna Moore, Kenny – Hugh Jackman, Applewhite – Tommy Lee Jones or William H. Macy?

A: Joe: I see Naomi Watts as Maxine, Jude Law as Kenny, and Brian Cox as Applewhite

Q: What’s the best part of working with your partner?

A: Lynn: We left our egos behind years ago. We both have a vested interest in the book so we sort through plot, the details and motivations together. It’s great to have a sounding board and brainstorming partner with the same goal. And the really good part is if someone criticizes something, I can always say, “Joe wrote that part.” 

A: Joe: Like Lynn said, we both have a stake in the book that no one else has. Our spouses give us both a mountain of support, but they are not writers nor do they think like writers. I can ask my wife her opinion and she will give it honestly. But she doesn’t see the big picture; she has other things to think about. I’m sure it’s the same for Lynn and her husband and family. Having a writing partner means I can make a suggestion or throw out an idea, and Lynn will analyze it while considering all the consequences of how it would impact, improve or detract from the story.

Q: Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you handle it?

A: Lynn: Because Joe and I write together, I don’t think we’ve ever had writer’s block. Having a brainstorming partner tends to prevent that. Of course we have plot issues we have to work out, but not true writer’s block. One thing we have learned is that when we come to a stumbling block we talk through it and something eventually pops up. We also know that there will come a time in the process that is devoted to revision.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about writing?

A: Joe: Entering into the “zone” where you lose track of time and place as the words flow freely.

Q: Learning to write compelling fiction takes a lot of time, study and practice. It’s also not uncommon for a writer’s style and vision to evolve and undergo reinvention from what it was originally. Do you ever go back and read your earliest writings? If so, what’s your reaction?

A: Lynn: Yuck! Yes. When I first decided to take writing seriously, I wrote a book called Talisman Rose, mostly to see if I could sustain 100,000 words.  I wrote it on a typewriter which convinced me to get a computer and printer.  Well, I discovered that I could write my way through 100,000 words. But that manuscript rests in a box high in the closet that I never intend to show anyone.  Every time I write a book, I learn something new. Sometimes I look back in horror and slap my forehead asking myself if I really wrote that.

Q: Like many writers, the two of you have ventured into indie publishing rather than going the traditional route. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages you discovered during the process of taking The Blade from concept to publication to marketing?

A: Joe: With the advent of indie publishing, writers have become a self-contained business and must handle most or all of the facets of sales and marketing. It takes away from writing time, but it’s also liberating and fulfilling.

Q: What’s next on your plate (collaboratively or individually)?

A: Joe: What’s next? Maxine returns in The Shield (working title). Former OSI federal agent Maxine Decker is recruited by a blacker than black government operation to track down the theft of alien artifacts originally collected from the 1947 Roswell Incident. Stay tuned!

A: Lynn: As a note of interest, I have just handed over my first four books, written under the name Lynn Armistead McKee, to enter the digital world. Those books are a totally different genre than what Joe and I write. Woman of the Mists, Touches the Stars, Keeper of Dreams and Walks in Stardust are historical fiction in the tradition of Clan of the Cave Bear, but not quite as far back. These are stories about the extinct aboriginal peoples of Florida before European contact.

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Readers can learn more about the authors at http://www.sholesmoore.com/p/author-bios.html.