Bill Gourgey - One Million Reads and Counting
Today we speak to Bill about how he became a writer, what he thinks the best methods are that a writer can use to promote themselves and how he thinks we can best save the planet from its worst enemy – us!
Darrell - How did you become a writer?
Bill - At the risk of invoking cliché, it all started with being a reader. When I was a kid I read everything and anything I could. Luckily, my parents had a large collection of books and encouraged reading. By the time I was twelve, I had read all of the Tolkien books, all of the Oz books, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Dune, and many more. In high school, when most of my peers were dreading Dickens and Dostoevsky and Woolf, I looked forward to A Tale of Two Cities, Crime and Punishment, and Mrs. Dalloway to name but a few.
Despite my early love of fiction, since math and science had always come naturally, nothing propelled me in the direction of writing. In college, engineering was an obvious choice for me, but I stuck with literature for my electives since reading and analyzing fictional worlds had always been my great escape. Faced with the drudgery of engineering labs, Maxwell's Equation, and Laplace Transforms, I needed that fictional escape more than ever!
On a whim, I took two courses my Junior year that put me on Frost's proverbial road less traveled. First, a Creative Writing course taught by the renowned poet, Archie Ammons. I'm still not sure what he saw in my poetry, but whatever it was he encouraged me to pursue a career in writing. At the time, I thought he was nuts, but he seemed sincere enough to give me an A+. Second, the Art of the Essay with Lydia Fakundiny, who remains, perhaps, the most articulate person I ever met. Her command of language was truly brilliant and inspiring. She opened up the writer's toolbox in a way I had never before imagined possible. Like Ammons, she surprised me by encouraging me to stick with writing, as if it was something I was good at!
By the time I had taken these two seminal writing classes, however, it was too late to change majors (financially and practically). Writing, it seemed, would have to remain a dream. When I left college, I pursued what came naturally--technology--but never let the writing dream wither. For many years, I would wake up early or stay up late into the night, filling the nooks and crannies of my busy days with writing, some structured, most un-.
I have reams of lousy stories, essays, and poems to prove it, but those small daily efforts brought me closer to where I am today. A few years ago, I decided it was now or never, so I set my technology career aside and have been writing full time since. My publications include a volume of poetry, Outside the Box, and my first novel, Glide. I plan to publish a collection of short stories this spring and, hopefully, a sequel to Glide later this year. For me, becoming a writer is a dream come true.
Darrell - Can you describe a typical writing day?
1) Wake up
2) Grab coffee
3) Kiss my son on the cheek and my wife, too, as she takes him off to school
4) Plant my butt in my office chair for a minimum of 4 hours, often more
5) Repeat, Monday through Friday, weekends if my loving family permits
lol! Sounds simple, but it's not. After all these years, I've discovered that I write better in the morning, when I'm sufficiently caffeinated and energetic enough to grab my muse by the heels and pin her to a page. That's on good days. On bad days, my muse eludes me as easily as Pan's shadow and no matter which keys I press, “blah, blah, blah” appears on the screen. But as awful as the day's work might seem, when I stick to the routine, I feel productive. Afternoons I save for marketing activities, catching up on emails, and hunting down answers to those persnickety research questions that come up during the morning.
Oh, and much to my family's and friends' chagrin, I carry a voice recorder everywhere I go. Since I'm not a genius who can pull unique and interesting thoughts out of thin air at will, I have to be ready when one hits me with bruising impact. My solution: Have Voice Recorder, Will Travel. In this day and age of smartphones, Facebook, and YouTube, I find it amusing that people get intimidated whenever I whip out my voice recorder--as if the ancient device holds some numinous power that might do them harm.
Darrell - Your book Glide deals with a category of fiction you call Green Sci-Fi. What does this involve?
Bill - I have always wondered at the plethora of dystopian novels and worlds anchoring our literature. It's as if the facts on the ground are always so grim that it's impossible for even our most brilliant writers and artists to imagine a road that leads anywhere but Armageddon. Bright, hopeful futures are relegated to Disneyesque animations, if they're told at all. Of course, the facts on the ground ARE grim when it comes to matters of ecological stewardship, peace, and prosperity across our world. And, as the Prophet in Glide says about our politicians, "oil flows through their veins and gunpowder salts their meals."
But it occurs to me that we can hardly ask corrupt politicians to set us on a more hopeful road if our artists and writers can't even imagine one. Being an optimist by nature, I truly believe in humanity's capacity to innovate ourselves out of the dark places our biology and self-interest often lead us. Green Sci Fi, then, is my attempt to bring to life (bring back to life?) a genre that focuses on a hopeful future. The backdrop of Star Trek, for example, is an Earth that has achieved a harmonious, healthy global society--one that enables and encourages space exploration. But just because the future is not dystopian does not mean it has to be utopian. After all, we migrate to horror, suspense, and tragedy because they trigger in us a kind of biochemical rush, which makes utopias boring and dystopias thrilling. Thus, Star Trek has its villains even if they are based in space.
Likewise, it's my belief that we can set thrillers in a future world where science and good will have overcome TODAY's challenges even as human nature threatens to undermine that future with its usual shortcomings. Green Sci Fi, then, is that future world where we have defied the odds and solved many of the worst problems of today even as tomorrow threatens us with its own new challenges.
Darrell - What do you think are the best ways a writer can promote themselves? i.e. Facebook, Twitter, advertising etc.
Bill - I'm still figuring this one out! Conventional wisdom says to a) have a unique platform; and b) get out and meet people and market your product. As for meeting people, a great way to get started is to sign up for readings at book stores, schools, wherever and whenever anyone will listen. I'm a believer in this tried and true form of promotion. Although I haven't done as many readings as I should, whenever I leave a book reading and signing, I know I have that many more fans.
Face to face interaction really works, but it is time consuming and can be costly depending upon travel requirements. As far as promotion on online venues, my own experience has been that genre specific blogs--even if they are niche in nature and therefore cater to a small audience--are the online equivalent of pressing the flesh. You're more likely to strike a chord with readers and garner new fans.
For me, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have been necessary, but have such a high bounce rate, I don't rely on them for direct promotion. I suppose they come in handy if your work truly "goes viral." My own website seems to attract a small but steady flow of unique visitors, and tends to offer one of the stronger clickthru rates to online sales, but the jury is still out.
On the matter of platform, for fiction writers it can be tough to develop one unless you're a long-time career person who's turned to writing (Grisham-Legal Thrillers, le Carre-Spy Novels, etcetera). Still, it's not impossible to develop a platform that's unique to you and your work. In the end, I find that a platform helps to hone your message and does seem to make a difference. For my novel Glide, I've been promoting the idea of Green Sci Fi based on the novel's themes, my interests, and some of my background. Again, the jury's still out, but along the way I've garnered the interest of the Huffington Post and the NRDC who posted articles on Glide because of its Green Sci Fi angle.
Darrell - Glide has been featured on Wattpad. In what ways has this been successful for you?
Bill - From its management team and staff to its readers and subscribers, Wattpad has provided me with a rich, engaged community of people who clearly care about writing and reading. I can't say that my experience with Wattpad has translated into gobs of sales, but it has translated into invaluable feedback for my work, thoughtful fans, and nearly a million reads of my novel Glide (and counting).
When discussing Wattpad, however, I have to call out one person in particular--Nina Lassam, Wattpad's tireless, creative, and thoughtful Marketing Exec, who has helped me to navigate Wattpad and offered me the opportunity to promote myself outside of the Wattpad environment. Thanks Nina!
Darrell - What do you think is the single, best thing a person can do to help the environment?
Bill - Love it. When you love something or someone, you want to spend time with them, appreciate them, enjoy their beauty, help them to thrive. If we impart the same kind of love and respect to the environment that we would to anyone who nurtured us, provided for us, and supported our own pursuit of happiness, in the long run the environment would love us back.
Sadly, from the Sahara to the Amazon, Arctic to Antarctic, examples abound of what happens when we abuse the environment and it begins to fail. There's only a finite amount of Earth, and, as the Prophet tells the Captain in Glide when it comes to humanity and civilization: "If we believed in our own ingenuity and wisdom, truly believed in our ability to survive without consuming everything in our path, then we would be able to reject our primordial programming for what it is, evolutionary scrap. We would live in a more tolerant world...and that means we would take responsibility for our condition."
And an enormous thanks to Bill!