Yesterday, I had the pleasure of a very informative conversation with author Robert E. Dunn, creator of the novel, THE RED HIGHWAY, and the new novella, MOTORMAN. I’ll be reviewing MOTORMAN soon so watch for that and do check out that interview we had. Today, I have the pleasure to present to you a guest essay featuring Robert’s insights on the importance of community and the use of social media as a mode of connection.
Community by Robert E. Dunn
A lot of writers like to talk. Stories are in our blood and it’s no surprise that we like to share them. But it surprises many that people engaged in such a solitary pursuit are so gregarious. It would certainly amaze my family. That’s because talking about writing to people who don’t write only annoys me. And I’m not the only one. You put two writers together, especially those that work in the same genre and we’ll cackle on like old hens. Put a writer with a non-writer and you get questions. Not only questions. Non writers mostly fall into two categories when they talk to anyone that will admit to have written a book. Either they tell you their idea for a best-selling novel, which is not quite an idea. Several times I’ve heard something like, “A guy falls in love with a woman but you only find out in the end, she’s a robot.” Or maybe, “Imagine a modern King Kong only it’s a monster brought back from space.” The other kind of non-writer are the ones that want to hear all about what you do while telling you they could never do it.
Most of us are polite and smile at the story ideas. My usual response is to tell them they should write it and I’d like to read it. It’s not a lie. Usually the idea is something I would read if it was done well. It’s that done well thing. The only response to the other people is that there is no secret beyond doing the hard work and a commitment to finishing. I always say, a writer is made by completion because everyone has many beginnings in them.
So I am reticent to talk about writing most days. But you get me with another horror writer— they don’t have to be published or have a big name. They don’t even have to write fiction. Give me book bloggers or reviewers and I get quite chatty. Give me a non-fiction author with a PhD and a book about the Crusades and I’m the gushing fan. People who know me and my work know that I write fairly broadly across genres. I have horror books out that are firmly zombie and alien horror. I have one that is about racism as much as about the supernatural. I have also written mystery/thrillers and erotic/romantic suspense. The books have little in common but the authors that I’ve met discussing and promoting them have inspired and educated me no end.
That’s the thing. People enjoy being around and supporting the other people who get it. Like cops that congregate at a certain bar. When I directed news casts the crew would go out after the 10:00 PM show (central time runs earlier than the coasts) and just hang out. We talked about, you guessed it, work.
Now take that desire to swap stories and experiences from the bar and inject it into the internet. You see where I’m going don’t you? It’s one big bar with a billion sparkling, metal-flake vinyl booths. Each booth has the regulars and the neighbors from the next table and the drifters that pass through. The further you get from a particular booth the further you get from the idea that brought the regulars to there. A billion little communities that overlap in many billions of ways.
Most of the people I encounter are horror writers or involved in horror writing. That’s my regular table but I drift. I’ll get over to the romance tables and talk about the difficulties writing sex scenes and having to work through them with a female editor. The first time I did that it was the hardest part of creating the entire book. Sending explicit e-mails and pages to someone of another gender is not what most of us do in a professional setting. Certainly not this Midwestern boy brought up by a good mama. By the way, keeping it professional is the only way you don’t feel like a complete idiot. A lot of times I hang out over at the mystery table or listen in at the science fiction booth.
To tell the truth, I never imagined that I would use social media. It seemed like a lot of work and something for young people. Once I discovered the idea of tables and all the writers in their groups I jumped right in. My social media presence is mostly not a publicist’s dream for a writer. I can’t claim to reach a lot of readers. That probably explains my sales numbers. The posts I make, and I spend more time on Twitter than any other social media venue (short attention span) break down into four main thrusts.
- I find writers I admire and tell them. (Stalking.)
- I find writers and books I enjoy and tell others.
- I find blogs and reviews about those writers and share the word.
- I show and promote my own stuff. (Bragging.)
Of the four, stalking and bragging are the smallest parts because who wants much of either. You can just become a pest. I can tell you that a quick tweet to a writer you admire telling them you liked a book will not only get a polite thank you but will be genuinely appreciated. The greatest bulk of my tweeting is sharing the news about other writers, reviewers, and book bloggers. I’ve been asked a few times, why do that and not simply concentrate on promoting my own work? There are a lot of reasons. One is that social media book promotion, the way so many do it, does not work. Endless pleas to buy my book make your audience tune out. Another is that it’s just not as much fun to yammer on about yourself. Mostly I guess, it goes back to the idea of the tables. Community. I support the community to give us all a bigger table. That gives me a lot more people who get it.
Speaking of people who get it—I want to shout out here to Erin Al-Mehairi. She is the publicist for my horror books and this post went to her first. She keeps me from totally embarrassing myself. Not just me but a lot of us writers who sometimes type with less thought than we should. Erin read this bit of rambling and made a comment about the guys sticking with the guys. She’s right. Writers, especially the genre writers like those heavy into horror, science fiction, westerns, thrillers, etc. are not just numerically dominated by men but by their own maleness. It is a boy’s club and we tend to do the testosterone dance around each other. It’s not intentional but that’s the thing about inclusion, you have to think and break your own habits. It’s good for everyone. Really good because Erin’s point has much wider implications for the writing community. Most readers are women. Most editors and agents, most of the profession of publishing is women. If you can’t speak to them as professionals and comrades you can’t write to reach them. I can say that part of the problem, my problem at least, is the internet itself. It is the venue through which I make most of my connections and social interactions with writers. The truth is no one wants to be the creepy guy. I can write a thoughtless note to any number of male writers but if I reach out to a female blogger or reviewer I tend to wonder, did I say something stupid or weird? In other words, it’s not you, it’s me. Yeah, I know. I’ll work on that. But keep in mind it’s not entirely one-sided. I’ve mentioned that I also write romance. I write romance with erotic content that includes kink. When I cruise on over to that table and try to engage I’m often the one guy in the room. I’m the one excluded because romance of all types, is completely, sometimes ferociously, dominated by women, writers and readers. Imagine how I feel as the one guy approaching a blog built in shades of pink, littered with covers of bare chested men, and asking for a review. That’ll make you feel like the creepy uncle let me tell you.
Let’s go a step further while I’m thinking about it. The community of horror writers is not just male it is white male. I have reached out where I saw an opening and I have made an effort to be more inclusive and diverse in my books. One work in progress is set in south Texas and includes Hispanic and black cops, Indian spiritualist and bad guys, (I say that intentionally, Native American is a weird artificial designator that in my experience is not much embraced by the group it is supposed to respect) and gay cops in a positive light. The thing is that I had to think about that. It is a lot easier to write in your comfort zone and that’s why so much writing is white guy story telling.
I’m working on that too. At least my part and I invite you to help me. Reach out, help me engage you and I’ll help you engage me. We’ll make it a two way street and push a few of the tables together. I’ll even take the chair with the shorter leg that keeps rocking.
The one thing I want to tell everyone I encounter, is to make use of these new ways of communicating. Engage. Not because it will help you sell anything. It probably won’t. But it will genuinely enhance your life to be a part of a community. And if you are one of the big name, or small name for that matter, writers I occasionally stalk, forgive me. I really don’t want anything except to tell you that your work mattered to me.
Now, since it would be rude to list Twitter ID’s of the writers I think you should follow (check my feed for that) let me tell you a little about my next book of monsters. Insert shameless promotional plug here. Don’t stop reading now this is important too. Motorman comes from Necro Publications. http://www.necropublications.com/
Running from a night of humiliation and murder, Johnny Burris leaves the city and his junkyard home, fleeing into the Ozarks countryside. While on the road, mysterious streaks of blue light in the night sky drive him into a forgotten bit of nowhere lost in the hills. Johnny thinks he’s found home and good work in an odd little gas station from another time.
Johnny quickly gets pulled into a world where the cars aren’t the only things all chromed out and everything seems touched with the energy of the flying blue streaks that led Johnny there. Enticed and torn between two sisters, one an outcast for her normality, the other a beautiful monster, Johnny becomes the pawn of their father. The old man is both the town’s mechanic and its doctor. He’s looking for a replacement and Johnny Burris is the man with just the right skills.
When Johnny learns the truth behind the doctor’s plans, he runs, taking the “normal” sister with him. But the town, and the girl, turn out to be even more than he imagined. And his whole world becomes the one choice, live as a monster, making monsters or die like a man. If he chooses to die, who will he take with him?