Voice, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Voice?
JOSEPH GARRATY: Voice is a dark fantasy/horror novel about a group of rock musicians with some unique and unfortunate problems. Johnny’s a lousy singer for a mediocre rock band, and he wants to be famous more than anything. Case is a hotshot guitarist with an enormous chip on her shoulder who happens to need a band. When she joins up with Johnny’s band, Ragman, the group gets a jolt of new life, and it soon becomes obvious that Johnny doesn’t have the chops to keep up. But somebody’s been watching Johnny. Somebody who can give him a voice to move millions—if he’s willing to make a deal.
But when you deal with the devil, you never get quite what you bargained for. . .
Voice is an attempt to put together a couple of my greatest passions—rock music, and horror fiction. I’ve spent over ten years playing electric guitar in college and local bands, and the personality interactions at the heart of any band fascinate me. A rock band is like a strange pseudo-family unit, complete with the family member who always needs to borrow money, the “mom” who tries to keep everyone organized, and the unique dysfunctional bits. I wanted to take that dynamic and turn it up to eleven by stress-testing it in the context of the classic deal with the devil (though that gets its own strange twist in this story). What if one of the guys in the band did that deal? What if he didn’t get exactly what he bargained for? How would his band “family” react when things started getting weird, and what effect would all their individual ambitions have on the group’s trajectory? What price would they be willing to pay to succeed? I started thinking about those things, and Voice was the result.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?
JOSEPH GARRATY: Dramatic tension comes about as a result of a fairly straightforward process for me. Start by developing realistic, three-dimensional characters. Make sure they each want something. Then make sure they have a hard time getting it. In the case of Voice, you’d think the members of the band would have the same agenda, but they don’t, in subtle and important ways, and exploring that as the cracks widened really created a lot of tension on its own. The supernatural elements around that basic tension amplify it considerably as the story progresses.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
JOSEPH GARRATY: That’s a great question, and a surprisingly tough one. I know some authors who write detailed descriptions and histories of their characters, and that works incredibly well for them. When I try that, though, I get a soulless dossier instead. I have to start with a few defining personality traits instead, and build a character around those traits. In Voice, for example, Case starts out as a prickly, talented young guitarist who thinks the world is out to get her and conducts most of her relationships according to a sort of scorched earth model. As the story progresses, Case’s interactions with the rest of the band combine with her desire to actually connect with people for a change, and a more fully-developed character emerges from there. That element of change over the course of a novel is crucial, and again, it comes from making sure a character wants something and has to work to get it. Johnny, of course, starts as an incarnation of the desire to be famous coupled with gigantic insecurity, but it’s the later developments—his regret, his concern that maybe he’s gone too far—that make him a real character and help us empathize with him.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
JOSEPH GARRATY: My ideal reader is somebody who loves both dark fantasy and music. Music lovers, I think, will especially enjoy a lot of the behind-the-scenes views of an up-and-coming local band. And I hope everyone will get at least a few shivers out of the macabre supernatural forces surrounding Johnny.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
JOSEPH GARRATY: That old saw (attributed to everybody under the sun, as near as I can tell) about how you have to write a million words of crap? Yeah, that’s pretty much all true. I started writing science fiction stories and novels in earnest about five years ago, and I put down a whole lotta words before moving away from sf. I still love the genre, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it, but for now, I find that dark contemporary fantasy affords me more opportunity to get cozy with my characters, which is really what I’m interested in right now. Voice is the first novel I’ve published, but I’ve got a very dark urban fantasy book in the works that I expect to release later this year.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
JOSEPH GARRATY: I probably oughta get one of those. Seriously, though, it’s a little haphazard. I generally start with an idea and turn that into a very coarse outline, then start writing like mad. About a quarter of the way through, I realize that the book has turned into something that the outline will no longer support, usually due to intransigent characters (“But Alice would never do that!”) and I revise the outline accordingly. At about half or two-thirds of the way through, I realize that has happened again, and I chuck the outline entirely and sprint to the finish. After the first draft, which is usually so rough I call it the first first draft, I go back and fix all the obvious plot holes, continuity issues, and other problems. Then I send the book to a couple of good friends to go over. After that, I fix the remaining issues and do the final polish.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
JOSEPH GARRATY: Stephen King, of course. Nobody does character better. Charlie Huston, for plot and economy. His books tear along at an insane pace, and there isn’t a word wasted. They’re also very tight in terms of the elements fitting seamlessly together. Caitlin Kiernan, for her powerful imagery. Whenever I read her stuff, it challenges me to write more vividly. Charles Stross, for his ideas.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
JOSEPH GARRATY: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. Yeah, it’s not horror—it’s not speculative fiction at all—but it’s a masterful blend of the absurd and the profound. Even when dealing with the heaviest of subjects, Heller never loses his sense of humor, and I think that’s an important, and essentially human, element. I try to keep that in mind in most of my writing.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
JOSEPH GARRATY: This website! This is my first novel, and it was published at the end of May, so I’m just getting started at the promotion bit. Currently, I’m approaching lots of book bloggers who enjoy books like mine and maintaining an active presence on Twitter, Goodreads, and KindleBoards. As I learn more about this, I’m constantly humbled by other authors who have built platforms not only to share their own work but to help promote the work of others. That’s a great example for all of us, and I hope to do more of that in the future as well.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
JOSEPH GARRATY: I got hooked on ebooks not that long ago, due to having a lot of traveling in my schedule. When you have the choice between jamming half a dozen heavy, bulky books into your luggage or slipping in one slim ereader, it’s no contest. Because of that, and because ebooks are an increasingly large share of the fiction market, I think publishing on Kindle is not only a great way to get started, but a great way to build a career.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
JOSEPH GARRATY: Hire a copyeditor. That’s not exactly a Kindle-specific requirement, but all too often self-published authors neglect some of the polishing work that I feel has to be done in order to make a work professional and enjoyable. Just because it’s relatively easy to publish on Kindle does not mean you should throw up your first draft and call it good.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
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