Interview: Darrell Bain
-- Stepping into the Future
By Lazette Gifford
Photo By Mary Nicklow
If you haven't heard of Darrell
Bain, here are two facts to consider:
Obviously, he's doing something
right, and Vision tracked him down so we can learn from his
Darrell Bain etched a spot for himself in
ebooks, a section of the writing world where it's hard to draw readers – at
least, for most writers. His career clearly shows that ebook publishing can
produce not only good books, but also turn a profit. Darrell Bain's novels
include both humorous and serious works spanning many genres. Of course,
Bain makes it look easy: He has thirty-six ebooks already published, and
twenty-seven in print or soon to be scheduled to be printed.
What are his secrets? He shared a view
with Vision's readers!
Be sure to visit Darrell's Website at
You have been named Fictionwise.com's best-selling author of the year,
beating out many authors who are in both print and electronic formats. What
do you think the reason is for your success?
Well, it's not only Fictionwise. My books have also enjoyed tremendous
success at ereader.com, the other big electronic book store, and the
competition with nationally-known best-selling authors is even fiercer
been mulling this question over myself, and I'm not sure I can give
you a definitive answer. It's not like I'm the greatest writer in
the world. I know my limitations, and I don't believe I'm in the
same league as King or Niven or Bujold when it comes to the
technical quality of my writing. I'm getting quite a lot of mail
from fans now, but I can't figure it out from their letters, either.
What I do gather from them is that my stories include subjects that
are interesting and sometimes controversial, such as sex, race,
religion, politics, and so forth. Mind you, I don't set out
intentionally to be controversial, nor do I most of the time delve
very deeply into those themes. However, those and other topics dear
to the heart of our contrary species usually creep into the stories,
perhaps because most of them are subjects I find eternally
fascinating. But basically, I just try to tell a good story in the
traditional fashion: create some characters, give them some
problems, get them into trouble, then get them out of it.
So back to the question. Why my
popularity? Here are the best answers I've been able to come up with.
First, I don't write really long novels. They move right along and
before you know it, you're finished and asking, "Is that all? I want
more!" Lots of fans want to know if I'm going to do sequels to various
novels (and I have for some of them), so perhaps length is some of it.
It's like the news producers say: "Always leave 'em wanting more."
Second, I write in more of a narrative style than a lot of other modern
authors, probably because I like the narrative style when I'm reading a
book myself. The narrative method of writing has sort of gone out of
vogue, and I personally don't think it should have. Sometimes telling is
better than showing and I don't care what the writing instructors say. I
don't do all narrative writing, but I mix a lot of it into my stories.
Anyway, the proof's in the pudding, as
the saying goes, and my success, when stacked against so many other
notable writers, may be an indication that there's still a lot to be
said for my particular style. Third, unless I'm doing pure space opera,
I try not only to keep my science accurate, but to use things which have
been in the headlines; prions, for example, or autism. Readers can
relate to stuff they understand. I don't get really technical but I do
give some explanation for how particular mechanisms might work if
projected a little father into the future. And last, I try to throw a
little humor into my books. Why make your characters so serious all the
time? Everyone laughs and tells jokes occasionally, and I have most of
my characters do the same, particularly the Williard Brothers in the
series I'm doing with them.
That's about all I can come up with,
and I promise, I'm not this long-winded when I'm writing a book!
What drew you to electronic publishing?
Oh, boy, I kind of hate to go back over this, but I may as well be
honest about it. After I got my first computer back around 1990, the
first thing I discovered was how easy it was to type using a word
processing program. I had always fiddled around with writing, but my
poor typing skills (I'm self-taught) put me off. With the advent of
computers, that changed (and as a sidebar, computers greatly expanded
the number of prospective writers in an already overcrowded field; I'm
no exception to this).
of the first things I did after learning the ins and outs of my
computer was to write a novel, The Pet Plague, the first I
ever completed. I bought a writer's market book and looked at the
list of agents, then picked one at random. I made as bad a choice as
I possibly could have. In fact, I couldn't have made a worse choice
had I tried! I picked the absolute biggest crook in the business,
one with a line of blarney perfectly geared to my naivety and
To make a long story short, over
the next several years I was scammed out of a lot of money, and,
unknown to me, my first manuscript and those of several other books
I wrote in the meantime weren't even being sent to prospective
publishers. When the house of cards finally collapsed, the crooked
agents were sentenced to well-deserved prison terms, but it left me
bewildered and despondent. I was in the same position as any other
person who's been the victim of a bunko artist: I couldn't believe I
had been so stupid.
Anyway, for a while I was so depressed
that I did no writing at all, other than short humorous stories about
life on our Christmas tree farm, descriptions of my ineptitude as a
househusband, and local events; a lot of them involved our pets... I
made no attempt to publish those little stories and skits, but just sent
them to friends and family to enjoy. They got a lot of laughs. My
stepdaughter passed some of them out where she taught school and the
other teachers kept asking for more. Colleen and her friends finally
asked me why I didn't collect the stories into a book and try to have
them published. I did, and sent them to a few major publishers but got
no bites. Desultorily, I posted the collection on a web site for
prospective publishers and agents to look at, not really expecting
anything to happen. But heck, it was free, so why not? Now this was just
when e-publishing was getting started and there was a big demand for
manuscripts of any kind. A few days later I got an e-mail from a
publisher who wanted to publish the collection as an e-book, something I
hadn't heard of at the time. Shucks, why not? I told myself. So I did.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
I went on to have all my novels and non-fiction to date published,
although at first the royalties were minuscule, to say the least. And
then Fictionwise opened its doors, vastly increasing distribution of
e-books, followed shortly by ereader (formerly known as palmdigitalbooks).
My sales shot up and almost immediately my books became best sellers at
both sites. All my science fiction and thrillers since then have been
So that's the story. I might mention
here that most of my books are also in print as trade paperbacks.
They're available at Amazon and B&N on-line and can be ordered by
bookstores, but most of my sales are still coming from e-books.
Has your career gone the way you thought it would?
Not at all, considering that I started writing in about 1990, and other
than a few shorts in obscure magazines had nothing published until the
advent of the e-book industry around 1997 or 98. By the way, I'm still
looking for a reputable agent.
What sort of marketing do you do? Do you think it's important for e-book
authors to have a good web presence?
I don't do much marketing, mainly because I've never had to. As I said,
almost from the day my first e-book made an appearance at Fictionwise,
I've been a best selling author so far as e-books go. What marketing I
have done with my trade paperbacks never made much of a difference, so
far as I can tell.
do believe authors should have a web site and keep it up to date.
Since opening my web site (www.darrellbain.com),
I've seen a great increase in fan mail. A newsletter helps, too, but
I'd suggest making it available at your site rather than maintaining
a mailing list and sending it yourself. My newsletter certainly
increased traffic at my web site. It comes out every month and is
archived on my site. Here's a caveat: don't just talk about your
books. In my newsletter, I try to write about subjects I think
readers might be interested in other than myself or my books, though
I do mention some of them from time to time.
As an example, one of my newsletters
told about our tool-creating and tool-using dachshund. Another went into
love vs. lust and another talked about comic strips. And I always write
about a number of subjects each issue, so if readers aren't interested
in one thing, maybe they will be in another. I really like doing the
newsletter, too, and have had a lot of positive feedback. One of my fans
also started a newsgroup devoted solely to discussion of my books. It
can be joined at
I saw that you just signed a movie option for your book Sex Gates.
That's unusual for an e-book. How did it come about?
Well, as I said, most of my books are also available in print.
The Sex Gates is the only one of my trade paperbacks which has
had noticeable sales, though still not that many. The e-book sales
have been much higher. It's just a matter of the print books not
being in a national distribution network, something few
print-on-demand books manage. The Sex Gates was a huge seller
as an e-book and, including print sales, has already assumed the
status of a science fiction cult classic. As you said, it's very
unusual for an e-book to get a movie option, even one also published
as a print-on-demand paperback. On the other hand, I felt from the
day I finished the book that it would make a great movie, with all
the room in the world for a series.
Do you foresee any changes coming in the e-book industry? What would you
like to see changed?
Yes, I see the e-book market growing, but it's going to remain
comparatively small until we see
a good e-reading device at a reasonable
price with a long battery life, one that's marketed in book stores and
computer sections of department stores and so on. I don't know when that
will come. The new Sony e-book reader looks very promising. It will go
hundreds of hours on a couple of AA batteries and the print has the look
of paper books. It's based on E-Ink technology which is just coming on
Right now, the vast majority of the
reading public still has no idea that e-books can be read on hand held
devices as well as desktop computers. Shucks, you can even read e-books
on the new Palm phones! Most are read on Ipaqs and Palms and devices
What suggestions would you give to new writers?
The best advice for any new writer is to write! And read! I've never run
across a writer who isn't also a reader. But constant practice at
writing is the real key. There are a few of us who have so much natural
talent that they don't need the practice. Most of us do need to write a
lot and keep writing as much as possible, myself included. I began
writing fifteen years ago with not the slightest idea of the techniques
taught in writing courses. In looking back at the manuscripts I wrote
then and comparing them to some of my latest ones, I can certainly see
the difference, although I will say I think they came out pretty well
for first efforts.
I'm not really sure how much good writing courses, as presently taught,
do for new authors. Heck, I was a ninth grade dropout and essentially
stopped paying attention to anything at school past the seventh or
eighth grade. I did take one college English course and skated through
it, but my degree is in Medical Technology. I skipped all that stuff
taught in high school and started college with a GED. It was only after
I began having a lot of success with e-books that I went back and looked
at some of the monkey tricks and techniques writers use to create a good
story. I was able to put a few of them to use then, where I doubt I
could have earlier. I repeat: if you want to be a writer, write! And
keep writing! A couple of years ago I taught a community class in
creative writing for a local college. I discovered that aspiring writers
think there exists a magic formula for turning out good fiction. There
just isn't one. Like any other craft or profession, you have to work at
it to become good. Which would you choose for eye surgery, a beginning
ophthalmologist or one who's done hundreds of the operations with a good
success rate? You'd choose the one who's practiced a lot, wouldn't you?
What genres do you write in, and why? And would you like to try your hand
at any others?
I do mostly science fiction and suspense/thrillers these days, along
with humorous action/adventures, but I've already published work in most
other genres, including romance. I believe experimenting with different
genres makes me a better writer. Pure fantasy is about the only genre I
haven't tried and I'm thinking about attempting it. The romance I wrote,
Hotline to Heaven, was done at my mother's request. Out of
curiosity, I tried my hand at erotica -- and despite what a couple of
the reviewers at Amazon said, The Sex Gates is not erotica. I
offer the opinion of the Science Fiction Chronicle, which
reviewed it, as my authority. Taboo Love is the title of the
erotica I tried. It didn't come out too well.
Who has influenced your writing?
Without doubt, Robert A. Heinlein has been the biggest influence. He was
a great storyteller, especially in his earlier novels. Having said that,
I'll go back to what I mentioned earlier. A writer is a reader and I
believe everything we read that we enjoy probably creeps into our
creations in one form or another.
Do you see the Internet as a good tool for new writers? How should they be
using it, if it is?
Certainly the internet is a good tool. In fact, it's hard to imagine a
writer not using it nowadays. There's a wealth of advice and support
groups on the net, as well as help for just about any problem you can
think of. I belong to numerous groups involved with and about writing,
but the best part of the internet is how easy it makes your research. I
used to get a lot of my facts wrong, but hardly ever do now. And if I
do, one of my fans will be sure to let me know! The internet makes it
much easier to submit queries and manuscripts, too. I just wish more of
the major publishers would accept manuscripts by e-mail. I suspect some
of them don't simply as a way of holding down the enormous amount of
submissions they are inundated with.
How has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there
themes that matter most to you?
Yes, indeed. For one thing, writing helped me realize how many
crooks and shady characters there are waiting to take advantage of
gullible people, not just writers but in every endeavor. I will say
that I took advantage of being scammed myself. I used the experience
to write a novel about a scam artist, Hotline to Heaven. As
another example, writing books with some political content made me
get into politics more -- and, sadly, realize just how self-serving
most politicians are. One more example: The Sex Gates made me
delve much more deeply into how the other half of our species thinks
and feels than I had ever done before. Themes which matter the most
to me are the ones I've previously mentioned: sex, politics,
religion, and race. Add war to that, along with medical care and
probably a good many other themes. I read a great deal, including
newspapers, magazines, and articles on the net about these subjects.
All of them are at least touched on in my writing, some more than
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I've dabbled with writing since I was eleven or twelve, but only got
serious about it after I got my first computer. I've been writing at a
fast clip ever since, but my career certainly hasn't progressed as I
thought it would. After some successes in e-books, I thought I could
finally find a decent agent and/or have some of my books accepted by the
major publishers. It hasn't happened. Agents who are good are generally
so busy they tell me they can't take on new clients, and with the
plethora of prospective writers generated by the personal computer age,
the major publishers generally won't look at unagented manuscripts.
What is your average day like? Do you write every day?
I spend the first few hours of the day answering mail, reading the paper
and articles of interest on the internet, and generally clearing up any
leftover business. Most of my writing is done mid-morning and afternoon.
I take breaks fairly often and relax in my easy chair with a book. I
write just about every day, but it's nothing I feel compelled to do. I
just enjoy writing. It makes a good second career for my retirement
What do you have coming out that we should look for? What sort of things do
you plan, or hope, to write in the future?
I have a collaboration with Gerry Mills about a revolt in America, which
should be published early this spring. It will be followed by, or
perhaps appear at about the same time as, a science fiction novel
dealing with a future where whites are discriminated against as much as
blacks were during the Jim Crow days of the South. This is the other
side of the coin from my most recent offering, The Melanin Apocalypse,
where a man-made virus is in the process of killing most blacks, and
racial warfare erupts in America and the world. I'll be getting together
a collection of the short stories I've done recently, and I have another
Williard Brothers novel in the works.
probably do a couple more short stories. I got back into writing
short fiction last year and have enjoyed doing it more than I
thought I would (a consequence of a lot of practice since my first
ones, I believe). After that, I'm not sure. I'd like to put together
another volume of the e-mail between myself and Will Stafford,
similar to Toppers. Lots of readers thought the first book
was hilarious and I have enough material for at least one more book
in a similar vein. I'd like to do a semi-biography about my brother
(whose web site is
www.videoexplorers.com), and there
are a few more ideas for novels percolating around in my mind but
not ready to break loose yet. I'll also be busy with the editing of
a number of my books which are going into print. And, as mentioned,
some of the fans want sequels to several of my books. If I do any
sequels, they would be continuing the stories of either Savage
Survival or Alien Infection, or yet another Williard
Brothers novel (the fans of that series are really devoted to the
zany, adventure loving, politically incorrect characters).
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Any last words you'd
like to say to our readers?
Thank you for the opportunity to appear in your magazine. It's an honor.
I sincerely hope the readers enjoy it. Mail to me can be sent from my
www.darrellbain.com or from the People Page at
And last but not least, the views espoused by my characters are
sometimes, but certainly not always, similar to my own. I'll leave it to
readers to try to figure out which!
Be sure to check out Darrell's website at