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Advice from IR Approved Author Steve Searls: “Expect a lot of rejection, but don’t take it personally…”

My Travels With a Dead Man received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Steve Searls.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

My Travels With a Dead Man. Publisher is Black Rose Writing. Release date is August 27, 2020.

What’s the book’s first line? 

I lay on a metal surface, unable to move, in a dark room except for a single light bulb swinging in a far corner.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”. 

My Travels With a Dead Man is a literary novel that blends fantasy and magical realism in the coming of age story of Jane Takako Wolfsheim, a young woman who takes up with an enigmatic man going by the name Jorge Luis Borges. Soon, though, the manipulative Borges and a demonic presence known as the man in black, who plagues Jane’s dreams, lead her to the brink of madness. The ghost of haiku master, Basho, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a statue of the Amida Buddha who speaks to Jane in her dreams, both offer cryptic advice to Jane about her newly discovered powers, and the danger Borges poses to her. Borges exploits Jane’s new found ability to alter time and space in an attempt to fulfill a terrible prophecy that Ulrikke, Borges mother claims will lead to her death and the extinction of humanity. Unable to know who to trust, Jane must choose what to do to save her life and prevent the prophecy from coming to pass.

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event? 

My inspiration came from various sources, the principal one being the short fiction and essays of Jorge Luis Borges, the poetry and prose works of Basho (in particular, his haibun, Oku no Hosomichi – often translated as The Narrow Road to the Deep North) and my interest in Japan (my partner is Nisei, her parents having immigrated to the United States in the mid 1950s).I was fascinated by the conceit of writing a story in which Borges and Basho were prominent characters. Once I began, the characters took over the narrative, and I was just along for the ride.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book? 

There are many reasons to read my book, but the main reason will depend on the reader.

Fans of Jorge Luis Borges should read it because it explores many of the same themes and motifs one finds in his short fiction: the nature of time, identity, dreams and labyrinths (plus he’s literally a character in the novel).

Those who like philosophical novels should read it for its exploration of the nature of free will, suffering, evil and the meaning of human existence as revealed through the lives of the characters of the novel and the choices they make.

Young women should read it as an example of how to stop relying on the men in their lives for their self-worth (especially men who are physically or psychologically abusive) to become strong and independent women.

But the main reason for anyone to read it is that My Travels With a Dead Man is because it tells an entertaining and suspenseful story filled with romance, adventure, and many wonderful characters that people of all ages can identify with.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of? 

What’s most distinctive about Jane Takako Wolfsheim is the narrative arc of her character. In many ways she is the protagonist of a traditional Bildungsroman, but with paranormal and SF elements. Her maturation and growth over the course of the novel from a young woman without any real goals, a person easily manipulated by others, into a strong and competent adult in full control of her life, and the choices she makes, for better or worse, is the most distinctive thing about her.

There is no single person or fictional character that Jane reminds me of. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and the struggles she overcame certainly influenced my depiction of Jane. In addition, fictional characters that inspired me as I developed Jane’s character include the unnamed female protagonist of Rebecca, the classic gothic novel by Daphne du Maurier, and more recently, Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy.

If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character?

Jane: Prefer an actress with both Asian and European ancestry, e.g., Katie Cockrell, Jessica Henwick, Katie Chang, etc.

Borges: Robert Downey Jr.

Ulrikke: Robin Wright

Basho: Ken Watanabe

When did you first decide to become an author?

It was a gradual process. I began writing poetry, most of it posted online at various poetry forums from 2001-2009. A chapbook of my poems was published by Didi Menendez of Mipoesias using Lulu.com in 2004. As my poetry evolved, it became apparent that most of my work had a strong narrative aspect to it, so I began to take certain poems and expand them into stories. This was late 2009 – early 2010. I began work on my first novel in 2011, and began work on My Travels With a Dead Man in 2014.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

Not the first I’ve written, but the first that I have been able to get published. I completed a very long short story cycle intended as a single manuscript, all written in the second person, but I could find no one who was interested in considering it for publication. I was told it was too experimental, though subsequently I’ve managed to publish a few of the individual stories.

I then worked on a sprawling contemporary novel, which was notable for numerous storylines and shifting timelines, all narrated from the perspective of its multiple characters.  It became very long (roughly 200,000 words), and I realized that, as a first time author, the likelihood I could find a publisher for it was essentially nonexistent. At that point I shifted my attention to My Travels With a Dead Man, which I initially wrote as a long short story or novella. I expanded the original story to a 125,000 word manuscript, before cutting it down to its present length (95,000 words) during the editing process once it was accepted by my publisher.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I was an attorney at a regional law firm head-quartered in Rochester NY, but a rare autoimmune disorder, Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Cell Associated Periodic Syndrome (a/k/a TRAPS) forced me to take an early retirement within a few years after I made partner at my firm. That was a devastating blow to me, both psychologically and financially. Writing, beginning with poetry, became the means by which I reclaimed my self esteem. It gave purpose to my life again.

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

It varies. In general, I suffer from fatigue, and the more I do the likelier I will incur a flare of my autoimmune symptoms, which are inflammatory in nature and affect all parts of my body. When my illness flares up it can make it difficult to do anything. However, when I take corticosteroids (Prednisone) to treat my symptoms, the drug acts much like an amphetamine. While taking that medication, I l have a boost of energy, much as someone who takes any amphetamine would. When I am on prednisone, I can write for hours at a time.  So, I often tend to write in spurts, especially when it comes to my longer prose works.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?   

The best part is having more control over the editing process. As an Indie, I was the ultimate decision maker on any edits to my novel. I understand that is not the case with traditional publishers.

The hardest past for me is marketing and self-promotion. I have limited funds and, as first time author, very little knowledge of what to do to get my novel into the hands of readers.  Once my book was accepted, I’ve spent far too much time trying to learn how to market my book, and what strategies will work best for me with the budget I have, which has left little time for writing.

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

Expect a lot of rejection, but don’t take it personally, and don’t get downhearted. If you want to publish your book, and you persist despite all that rejection, eventually you’ll find a way to make it happen.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?  

Yes and for one simple reason. I am by nature an introvert. Self-promotion and marketing are not among my strong points, and as an Indie writer that is a necessity. That aspect of being an Indie writer is not something I enjoy. It doesn’t come easily to me. On the other hand, I am thrilled that Black Rose Writing, a small independent publisher, accepted my book and gave me this chance. Because my novel does not fit neatly into any one genre, I was unable to find a literary agent willing to represent me after sending out about 20 – 25 query letters over a 4 month period, before querying small presses. Perhaps if I had kept sending queries, I might have found the right agent willing to represent me. I’ll never know, however.

Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)

Since I can remember, my earliest dream as a child was to become a writer. When I am writing and the words are flowing effortlessly, I lose myself in my work. It’s difficult to describe, but nothing makes me happier and gives my life meaning, than when I am writing.  Publication validates that sense of purpose, and the chance to make money from my work is nice, but it’s not what drives me to write.  Simply put, writing is an end in itself, whether I’m working on a novel, a short story or a poem.

Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?

That’s difficult. There are so many I admire for different reasons. I don’t think I could come up with just one. Among novelists, those on my short list would include Kurt Vonnegut, Virginia Woolf, Cormac McCarthy, W.G. Sebald, Roberto Bolano, Haruki Murakami, Phillip K. Dick, Kafka, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Which book do you wish you could have written?

I don’t wish to have written anyone else’s book. While I admire many authors and love the books they have written, I only wish to write my own books.