Jay Hartlove, author of The Chosen

Jay Hartlove is the latest author to bring new life to what some writers think is a dead or stagnant industry (traditional publishing, and he has some comments on that below.) I’ve known Jay for a while, certainly through Bay Area based Science Fiction conventions and numerous costumed events. A great talent – I am cheering wildly at the release of his novel The Chosen. It’s a chilling thriller.

Assuming you’ve always been a writer, at heart, at what point did you decide “now is the time to put it into publication?”
What made you take the leap?

Jay: I first started working on this story about 25 years ago. It was a very different story back then but I always envisioned this book being published. This is my second novel, and I felt pretty sure of myself after actually finishing the first one. I had several very kind editors (back when you could talk directly to an editor at a big publisher) tell me the first book wasn’t good enough to break into the biz, but was promising enough that I should stick with writing novels. I clung to this approval to get me through the times of doubt.

What sort of blocks did you run into that nearly stopped you from making your book happen?
Jay: The biggest stumbling block was this high concept dream I had for the book. I wanted it to read like a secret history, with lots of touch-points in real history that would leave folks with the unsettled feeling that this might have happened in the real world. Since reality is very complicated, with lots of competing motives and consequences, I tried to put too much into the story. After several drafts and even hiring a free lance editor to fix it, it just wasn’t working. I put it down for a couple of years and worked on other things. When I came back to it, I realized I had written the novel and its sequel, interlaced together in one concurrent timeline. Once I decided the two stories could be told sequentially, I separated them into two novels. So the sequel is already written – at least the first draft is done. It is called Daughter Cell.

What parts of your book, events or characters come from deep inside you – and do you really want to tell us why?
Jay: A good friend of mine read The Chosen and asked me how I had managed to write these characters convincingly, given that the two protagonists are black followers of Voodoo, while I am a white Episcopalian. My answer is, this isn’t my first novel. My first attempt was a YA Fantasy and the protagonist is embarrassingly me. With that out of my system, I am free to method act my way into any character a story needs. The Chosen is about revenge and redemption. The bad guy is out for revenge and the good guy is out for redemption. I have been pretty pissed off at times, so I know what seeking revenge feels like. And I have had huge guilt at times, so I know what the need for redemption feels like. I whole heartedly ascribe to the Strasburg school of Method Acting – throwing yourself into your characters and drawing on everything you’ve got to feel what they are feeling. You write what you know, so you’ve got to make yourself know your characters at a deep level.

What is your take on the eBook vs. printed text book discussion? Do you think traditional publishers are becoming obsolete? Basically, how do you see the future of published writing?
Jay: I’m not too concerned about eBook vs. paper book. There are enough folks who prefer each that the marketplace will have to accommodate both. My publisher put this book up on Amazon as a download first just because it was faster. As soon as the paper proof was finalized with the printers, about a week later, my publisher put it up on Amazon as a paperback. The only nasty part of the debate is who ends up with what rights. Putting an eBook up on Amazon is a Faustian bargain, since they won’t sell it unless you give them exclusive rights. It is, after all, the Kindle version. Even though you can use apps to read Kindle versions on non-Kindle machines, Amazon is still the sole distributor. Paper books don’t have that kind of distribution rights problem. On the other hand you have to get your reading public to go tell their booksellers to order the book or no one will stock it. So that channel has its issues too.

Jay: To follow up on your last question, the only reason traditional publishers are in danger is they have decided they can no longer afford to review new material. They have pushed all slush reading off onto agents. And so the game now is to woo an agent. This kind of bribery is so far removed from the art of writing that many writers have just walked away. Small press and self publishing are now producing more great material than the traditional publishers, and it is their own fault. And it has nothing to do with eBooks or any other technological change. In my case, after wooing agents for two years after the book was done and ready to go, I realized my holding out for an advance and an advertising budget (the perks of a big publisher) was only preventing the book, and myself from ever becoming published. So I networked my writer friends and found a likely small publisher, Damnation Books, and sent it off. They read submissions, and a couple months later we had a contract. They’ve been great. They did a thorough edit, they got me a great cover, they’ve done the press releases and gotten the book into all the sales channels, and they’ve handled all of the Amazon postings. More than anything, they have been patient with my million first-timer questions.

For all the people who want to read this amazing historical novel of yours, what is the best way to get your book? And can you tease us with a brief synopsis?
Jay: eBooks can be downloaded from the publisher at Books website www.damnationbooks.com, or from Amazon. You can get the paper book from either Amazon or your local bookseller. You will have to tell your bookseller to order it for you, since it is new and no one will stock a book unless they see a demand. I will be spending the summer doing book signings and appearing at conventions. I just did Baycon, and I will next be at Westercon in San Jose over the 4th of July. In October I will be at World Fantasy Con in San Diego.

The synopsis:

The man who would beat the devil isn’t a hero, but a ruthless madman.

Running from his dark past, former Duvalier hit man Charles Redmond is forced to take sides in a battle that has been raging since Exodus, between a power mad magician named Silas Alverado and Sammael, the Demon Prince of Liars. When Charles’ beloved Voodoo is threatened with extinction, he must wager his life between pure evil and the man who could destroy the world. Charles’ psychiatrist Sanantha Mauwad steps into this maelstrom of nightmares, violence and insanity to help Charles find his strength. She tries to save Charles’ mind but can she save his soul?

Jay: Thank you very much for having me on your blog.

Thank you Jay for letting me have you as one of my first interviewees.

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