When I first met Adam Dreece on Twitter, I was immediately curious about the author’s photo featuring himself in a steam punk outfit. That particular genre of fiction has always interested me, especially considering my studies in history. He sent me a story called The Torrents of Tangier, and I was immediately drawn to his distinctive style.
I was very happy to have interviewed the author recently, to pick his brain about the craft, and to find out more about the conception of his Yellow Hoods series.
When I first started writing seriously, it was actually on a typewriter. These days, I’m thankful for word processors. Do you write on a typewriter, computer, or longhand?
I first started writing when I was in grade 4, and that was on a typewriter. In grade 6 when we got our first computer I wrote on that, and found myself by grade 8, going back to the typewriter for a while, but only for creative writing and only for a short while. That was when I started to develop a very fast typing speed and the keys would jam. I’ve been mostly on the computer ever since.
I do a limited amount of writing longhand, usually only to capture notes and ideas. I can’t write fast enough to keep up with what I’m thinking.
Do you write full-time or part-time?
Part-time. I decided in November of last year that in five years I wanted to be a full time author, what’s more that I was going to do it as an author-preneur. By January I had a plan in mind, in April I released my first book, and in September I’ll be releasing my second.
What do you do in your spare time?
When I’m not spending time with my three kids and my wife, I’m writing. I’ve had to be ruthless with my time because otherwise, I’ll never meet my goals. I treat writing like a second job, and the marketing and production side of book-work almost like a third job. It’s very time consuming, but I’m getting more efficient at it.
Do you have a strict daily word count?
No. I’m not really concerned about daily word count, I’m more concerned about the impact of what I’m doing in that session. I organize myself mentally to support when I feel highly creative, so I write new things, or when I feel blah and therefore I do edits or restructuring. I glance at my word counts, and I know what my average is, but I don’t use it as a means of measuring my success for a day. That is solely measured by how much better I’ve made the story. Some things are hard, and take more time, and less words.
What was your inspiration for The Yellow Hoods?
November last year I decided to take a break from my memoir I was writing (about chronic pain, fraud complex and other fun stuff) and had an idea. In December I got myself all organized with a proper writing tool, instead of MS Word which drove me half to madness and back, and found myself unable to move forward. I’d over structured myself. I was kicking some ideas around for what I wanted to write, and my daughter asked me to write another story of The Hoods.
I’ve been reading to my daughter since she was hold enough to sit still. Often after reading an actual book, we’d turn out the lights and I’d make something up. Her favorite had been a silly tale where I twisted up the fairy tales and the heroes were little girls running around the forest in coloured hoods (little Red Riding Hood, Blue for Cinderella, and so on).
When she asked me to write it, I figured it was going to be just a short story.The story became something very different, much more textured and mature. The next night after I wrote something, I’d read it to her and get her feedback. She became my muse and cheered me on.
What I found was with that memoir tale out of the way, I was very much free but didn’t know where to go. She helped me see that I could just pick a direction and go.
What are the struggles/joys of parenthood that you find while being a writer?
The struggles are time and energy. Nothing zaps your energy like getting up three times in the night. Another struggle is carving out time to go to the coffee shop & write for an hour and a half on Saturday, time I am consciously taking away from my family. However when I come back from that, it’s like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders.
Part of the joys is looking at the world through different glasses, re-learning how to ask “ridiculous” questions, and reading tons of imaginative stories and talking about them afterwards. Kids have definitely made me a much more well-rounded writer.
What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?
I’m dyslexic, so in terms of books there weren’t tons apart from comic books. In terms of real books, I remember reading Jupiter Jones (detective series) and DragonLance Chronicles. For Jupiter Jones what stuck with me was how the trio of boys had to work together to solve mysteries, the dynamics were interesting. For DragonLance I started reading book 2, and the character of Raistlin was a lot like me in that I was sickly, and often underestimated.
What was the hardest/easiest thing about writing Along Came A Wolf?
The second hardest part was definitely being comfortable with the size of it, which was about 33k words. To put that in perspective, book 2 of that series Breadcrumb Trail (Sept 2014) is 70k words. Along Came a Wolf was a complete tale, and was about the transition from innocence to the next part of maturity, and everything that I felt I could say without introducing unnecessary tangents was said.
The hardest thing was facing my fear of what people were going to think. I decided to self-publish, and that meant no hiding behind query letters; I was going to go direct to the readers. I was going to get judged on the content of the book, the cover, the way it was presented to people on whatever platform it was presented on, and it was 100% me (and my awesomely supportive and talented wife).
After I got about 20 pages in, I’d painted enough of the world and the characters that I felt the story naturally flowed, and I had enough experience writing over the past 25+ years, that I knew my process. I’d draft it, go back to the beginning and comb out the knots, and then repeat that two more times.
Tell us a little bit about the characters, Tee, Elly, and Richy. What inspired you to create them? Are they based off of anyone in particular?
The three Yellow Hoods (Tee, Elly and Richy) come from the idea of having a classic trio. It would allow me to have 3 sets of 1:1 dynamics, which I felt was ample for me to start with as a first time author, and the most that I could expect a reader to quickly get into and emotionally bond with.
Tee and Elly’s closeness was inspired by my daughter’s relationship with her two best friends. The character of Tee is derived from my daughter, while the character of Elly is actually derived from some sister figures in my life, the classic counter-weight needed to keep a fire-wind type personality of Tee grounded.
Richy was the classic boy in the neighborhood who has that cemented pre-adolescent relationship with girls, who sees them as sisters and they see him as a brother. In a lot of ways, this was me at a young age. He was also my mystery element, and to emphasize that I gave him an “Asian heritage” that is elaborated on in book two.
I was introduced to Steam Punk through Anime and Cherie Priest’s novel, Boneshaker. Do you feel as though the genre is still evolving or still just emerging?
I think the genre is emerging in terms of people’s understanding of what it means. There’s still a lot of readers, I find, who are immediately intimidated once they see something is “SteamPunk”, as if you have to have 5 years tabletop gaming experience before reading page one.
As a genre, I think it has a lot of evolving and growth coming, and I think this comes from pushing what the limits are that still allow a story qualify as SteamPunk. It can’t just mean Victorian era, taking place in England or the US, and all the technology is in place. Mind you, I find as soon as you have talking fox-people and what not, you’ve really stepped out of SteamPunk and into Fantasy w/elements of technology.
I define The Yellow Hoods as “Emergent SteamPunk.” That means technologically, we are seeing it come into being. That creates a much lower anxiety barrier for a reader who isn’t familiar with “SteamPunk.” Also, I decided to not make their world Victorian, it’s not even our Earth. I wanted to see how true I could be to the core elements of SteamPunk, while making it more accessible and more grounded.
I read that you are inspired by the concept of classical rhymes and stories having a ring of truth to them. What sort of rhymes and stories in particular are you talking about?
I was inspired by the rhyme “Ring around the Rosy,” which is a way that we remember the Black Plague. So I decided to add depth and texture to The Yellow Hoods by challenging myself with the idea of, “What if their 21st century world used Little Red Riding Hood, or Santa Claus stories as a way to remember real things that happened in their past” and making my stories take place at that time.
In Along Came a Wolf, I derive some elements from Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Santa Claus. The master inventor, Nikolas Klaus, is kind of a Santa Claus character mixed with Nikola Tesla, the great 20th century inventor. In book two, Breadcrumb Trail, I draw on the of tale of Hansel and Gretel.
These classic tales have great themes and subtext. For example, Hansel & Gretel, for me, are about childhood abduction and identity loss, among other things. Incorporating that into a tale allows me to have a story that a young adult can read and enjoy, and that a mature adult can read and enjoy on a whole different level.
You are a founding member of ADZO Publishing. Tell us how that came about.
A couple of years ago, when I thought I was nearly done writing my memoir (which would end up taking me another year and a half), I turned on the radio. Seth Godin was being interviewed, and happened to be saying at that moment, “If I had a book in hand today, I wouldn’t go after getting an agent and seeking someone else to publish it. If I had any business skills whatsoever, I’d create my own company and publish it myself. Here’s why…” and he then listed several reasons. It was one of those moments where I felt he was talking directly to me.
When book 1 of The Yellow Hoods was nearly done, it was clear to me and my wife that we were going to publish it ourselves, but now there was a bigger question. Did we want to ‘just’ publish it ourselves, or did we want to try to create a brand and idea that could be bigger than us over time? We decided we wanted to make a difference for authors, and given our entrepreneurial background, we weren’t afraid of getting into learning everything we needed to about marketing, printing, cover design, etc. We knew we wouldn’t get things right on the first or second shot, but we loved the learning opportunity it presented and were up for the challenge. We decided before we’d bring any other authors on board, we’d need to see if our ideas worked, and that would mean building a certain amount of success for myself as an author, so that we could prove to ourselves we knew what we were doing.
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published in the traditional sense?
Traditional publishing has the advantage of a series of individuals involved that know the process and so you’re the only one who is new to the equation. They have established distribution channels, editors, marketing people, etc. The biggest issue to start with is your customer is not the reader, your customer is their portfolio manager and their customer is those who buy books (the book stores, not the readers). The portfolio managers and the business need to balance risk with likely return, they will allocate budgets with that in mind (therefore you might get $0 marketing budget) and they have minimum sales thresholds that wouldn’t be of interest to them but would still be awesome for you. Also, traditional publishers because they are a ‘machine’, they are a lot slower to react to change. You lose a lot of control by having that machine behind you.
Self-publishing, or indie publishing, is very much a different beast. You can develop a niche audience which would never be of interest to a large publisher. However, you also have a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of writers who slap a cover that screams “home made” on their book, don’t pay for an editor, and wonder after uploading it to Amazon or Kobo, why the money isn’t rolling in. Your greatest responsibility, as I see it, is engaging people and listening to the feedback. We’ve revamped the description for book 1 of The Yellow Hoods five times, and now see what the readers meant about it being way better. We have a new cover coming out that we shared with folks on Twitter and got a “Knocked it out of the park” reaction, which helped us set the direction for book 2. The thing a lot of people fail to realize is that as an indie, you’ve got nowhere to hide, so you better work your butt off.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I’m not unique in saying that I believe the agent/publisher vs self-publishing model is going to lose the ‘versus’ and really become three pieces that can partner. I believe there’s a lot that an indie author would happily hand off to professionals for part of the profits if they didn’t lose control and agility.
Tell us your thoughts concerning marketing in the age of social media. Do you have a social media preference?
Hands down, bar none, if I didn’t have it I’d just sob in the corner, is Twitter. I’ve got a modest following on Twitter that I engage with daily. I banter with people, I share pieces of wisdom if I have them, I’ve gotten feedback from people and I’ve helped other budding authors by connecting and then giving feedback on their writing.
My experience with Facebook was terrible, and I’ve had this happen twice. I’ve created an official page, I’ve built up an audience, and then I’ve watched my ability to reach that audience decrease and decrease as Facebook seems to decide who should and shouldn’t be seeing my posts. I noticed a significant change in 2013 as they tweaked their algorithms, and another change after I paid for a Facebook ad. On Twitter, when I post everyone has the potential to see what I wrote. If they don’t and want to keep tabs on what I’m up to, they can join my newsletter. While I maintain my FB fan page for The Yellow Hoods, it’s really only because I haven’t decided to stop it entirely.
Looking a bit down the road, what’s next for you?
From a writing perspective, I’ve just written a DieselPunk short which I’m submitting for a compendium, and have already started to sketch out book 3 of The Yellow Hoods. I intend to make it a 5 part series. After book 3, I’ll likely write the first book in one of two other series I have in mind. My plan is to publish 2-3 books a year for the next 5 years, plus additional shorts on the side.
Zooming out a bit, as an author, I’m going to build my brand and my quality engagement with my readers. That means continuing to find the time to meet a budding author for coffee, or taking my lunch hour to read someone’s story to give them feedback, or chatting with people on Twitter. It also means continuing to get out to the local Fan Expos, presenting at more schools and learning and listening and improving.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Do you have any final thoughts?
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to reflect on where I’ve come and what I’ve learned. If there’s any single message that I can stress for a new writer, it’s get out of your comfort zone. In my case, I got way, way out of it.
Discover More About Adam Dreece:
Website: AdamDreece.com TheYellowHoods.com
Amazon Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/adamdreece