Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Interview: Darrell Bain -- Stepping into the Future

By Lazette Gifford
2006,
Lazette Gifford


 

 

 

 

 

 


Photo By Mary Nicklow

If you haven't heard of Darrell Bain, here are two facts to consider:

  • He is Fictionwise.com's top selling author of the year for 2005.

  • His ebooks are outselling those of the 'big name' authors.

Obviously, he's doing something right, and Vision tracked him down so we can learn from his experiences.

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 www.darrellbain.com/

 

Vision: 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?

Darrell:  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 there.

I've 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!

Vision:  What drew you to electronic publishing?

Darrell:  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).

One 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 trusting nature.

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 best-selling e-books.

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.

Vision:  Has your career gone the way you thought it would?

Darrell:  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.

Vision: What sort of marketing do you do?  Do you think it's important for e-book authors to have a good web presence?

Darrell: 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.

I 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 darrellbain@yahoogroups.com.

Vision:  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?

Darrell:  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.

Vision:  Do you foresee any changes coming in the e-book industry?  What would you like to see changed?

Darrell:  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 the market.

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 like that.

Vision:  What suggestions would you give to new writers?

Darrell::  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.

However, 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?

Vision:  What genres do you write in, and why? And would you like to try your hand at any others?

Darrell:  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.

Vision:  Who has influenced your writing?

Darrell:  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. 

Vision:  Do you see the Internet as a good tool for new writers? How should they be using it, if it is?

Darrell::  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.

Vision:  How has writing changed who you are or how you see the world? Are there themes that matter most to you?

Darrell:  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 others.

 

Vision:  When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Darrell:  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. Catch-22.   

Vision:  What is your average day like? Do you write every day?

Darrell: 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 years, too! 

Vision:  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?

Darrell: 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.

I'll 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).

Vision:  Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Any last words you'd like to say to our readers?

Darrell:  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 web site, www.darrellbain.com or from the People Page at www.sff.net. 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 www.darrellbain.com