Friday, March 15, 2013
Author Interviews: Terry Mixon
By Jacob Donley
Terry Mixon is one of the three hosts of the DEAD ROBOTS’ SOCIETY, a podcast for aspiring writers. He has science fiction and historical fiction currently available under his name. He also has erotica and erotic romance available under his pen name, Lynn Mixon. On the podcast, Terry has a great personality and gives great advice for writers new and seasoned. I asked Terry if I could interview him and was very pleased that he was interested. On to the interview:
[FFM] Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into writing?
[TM] It’s funny, but I’m never quite sure how to answer that question. I’m a middle-aged married guy living in Texas. I work at the Johnson Space Center in Mission Control as computer support for the flight controllers. I’m one of the people responsible for making sure they see what they need on their monitors while supporting manned spaceflight at the International Space Station.
I’ve done other things in my life; most notably, I proudly served as a non-commissioned officer in the US Army back in the mid-80’s. I was a helicopter crew chief for the scout side of the hunter-killer teams in the 101st Airborne. I maintained and flew with the aircraft that located targets for the attack helicopters.
Writing as a career came to me late in life. I’m not one of those people that knew they would be a writer from a young age. In fact, I didn’t start until I was in my 40’s. Before that, I was a voracious reader. I still am. Whenever I read a bad book, I would tell myself that I could do better, but I never sat down and actually did it. A few years ago, a friend sent me a draft of the story he was working on and it motivated me to start writing.
In the first few years, I published half-a-dozen erotic novels under a pseudonym on websites like storiesonline.net and literotica.com. Those early novels make me cringe a little now when I look at my old writing style, but they helped me learn the craft. Even though I was just a beginner, the stories were very popular with those audiences. They showed me that I had what it took to tell a good story and that gave me confidence.
[FFM] I know that you have quite a few short stories out in the marketplace right now, but can you share with us a little about your work that is already published and anything that you are currently working on?
[TM] I write mainstream erotica and erotic romance as Lynn Mixon, although I am getting edgier with some newer stories. I've published one erotic romance novel and have another in the editing stage.
In the same vein, I also have a "super-secret" pen name that I use to explore topics that push the envelope quite a bit further. Not surprisingly, those sell significantly better than my mainstream erotica. So I'm adapting to the market and my future work will likely explore some of those subgenres more thoroughly, as well as any others I think might be underserved.
As Terry Mixon, I also have some science fiction and alternate history pieces in the editing process.
For the most part, I don’t plan my story schedule too far in advance, but I can say that I will focus mostly on short stories. My novel doesn’t sell nearly as well as the short fiction, so it’s difficult for me to justify investing the time it takes to produce another one when I can put out the same number of words in short stories an achieve better sales.
My wife keeps telling me that I should publish some of the stories I wrote under another pseudonym, but I’m not sure about doing so. I’m not convinced the amount of time and energy I would have to pour into them would generate a high enough return. I believe I would end up gutting them completely and would have to rebuild. They’re good stories but it's a daunting task and I have more productive uses for my writing time. I’ve built up momentum and going back to fix those would slow me down. Maybe one day, though.
The newest project I’m working on is making my stories available in paperback. I’ll be creating print versions of everything over the next few months as well as making selected titles available via audio book. Both of those projects are a bit intimidating, but I’m very much looking forward to adding those skills to my repertoire.
[FFM ]What was the hardest part about going from writing predominantly short stories to writing a novel?
[TM] I actually started with writing novel-length stories first and moved to short fiction later on, so my learning curve is probably different from other writers.
My guess is that most people moving from short stories to novels would find the change in scale to be challenging. With a short story, brevity limits how much character development you can do as well as the number of subplots you can create.
You have to fulfill the reader's expectation of a well-developed and complete story. You may intentionally choose to use a larger plot element to tie several stories together. Who doesn't love a good cliffhanger? My first pieces were erotic mysteries and I published a chapter a week. Each one ended as a cliffhanger of some sort. My fans quickly dubbed me a “cliffhanging bastard”, but they kept coming back.
Expanding into longer fiction means, you have to find a workable tempo to weave multiple plots together while still showing true character growth. I’ve read a number of novels where I suspect the writer hadn’t figured that part out completely. The characters seemed flat and the storyline jerky. Only practice, brutally honest beta readers, and a ruthless editor can help a writer hone that skill.
Read good novels, of course. Just because you write doesn't mean you should stop reading. Never stop reading. Just find your balance. You can always pick up some good pointers by noting what you like in books, what worked or didn't, and trying to emulate that style. Not the voice, mind you. The voice needs to stay your own.
For me, the challenge was the reverse—trying to cram a novel into a short story. My first attempts were too long. I wasn’t as efficient at cutting words as I needed to be. My novels usually had one major plot and several subplots, and I put the character development front and center. To make my short fiction work better I had to cut back to a single plot and be more succinct with character development. Sometimes I had to start the story with certain assumptions that became obvious to the reader as they moved through the first couple of paragraphs and go from there.
Again, reading good short fiction helps you figure out how to make that work for you. Bad short fiction helps, too, because you identify things you want to avoid.
One more thing you can do is find good How-To books on writing and its components. The good ones I've read seem to provide the same or similar advice. Look for titles rated highly on all the various aspects of writing, such as dialog, voice, character, world building, and story structure. You’ll pick up a lot of theory that way. Then you must practice.
I was an avid gamer for several decades. I was able to use that world-building experience to help strengthen my writing and reinforce what I learned from the experts. It was the same with other elements of storytelling.
[FFM] Lots of authors have trouble when it comes to getting published. Can you tell us about any challenges that you may have faced in getting your first book published?
[TM] I’m the worst person to ask this question. I sold exactly one short story professionally. On my first submission. After that, I researched the emerging trends in the market and convinced myself that Indie publishing was something I wanted to explore. It’s worked so well for me that I haven’t looked back.
The challenges I’ve faced centered mostly on learning the business side of publishing. I learn new things about it every day. Thankfully, my wife has a business background and she’s very supportive. Once I felt comfortable, I focused on learning how to format books, write decent blurbs, create salable covers, and upload them onto the various platforms.
I’ve attended three workshops put on by author Dean Wesley Smith to pick up various parts of the business. That’s meant travelling to Oregon, and paying for the privilege, but that kind of supervised training is worth its weight in gold. I’ve learned some incredible lessons not only in classes, but also by associating with established authors who know the business. They take a sincere interest in us newbies and are willing to share their collective wisdom. I’ve even met authors whose material I’ve been a fan of for years. It’s a great community.
Indie publishing isn’t for everyone, though. People have valid reasons for going the traditional route; but the world has changed significantly over the last three years and it isn't finished yet. Indie publishing doesn't carry the same stigma it used to. It's not about vanity presses, although those are still out there. Or scammers. Those are out there, too. Many well-known authors are starting to take advantage of the flexibility and freedom that indie publishing allows in addition to their regular publishers.
Learning how to indie publish isn’t as hard as I feared when I started. Really. I think fear might be the biggest barrier to people who might be considering trying it.
If you’re afraid to do your own covers, edit, or format your books, that’s not a problem. You can hire knowledgeable people for a reasonable fee to do that for you. All you have to do is look at places where writers hang out and listen to what they’re saying. Ask them questions. It's all very doable.
[FFM] In the works that you have had published, who has designed the covers for them?
[TM] I contracted out a couple of my early covers, but now my wife does the cover design and creation. I could try to make them, but she has a much better eye for it.
[FFM] Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
[TM] Only that I appreciate you reading my work. If you haven't had a chance to check out my stories, you can find them Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Apple. I hope you enjoy them!
To your readers, thank you for taking the time to listen to me blabber.
And to writers, remember to practice your craft every day. Even if it is just half an hour. Even if what you write is nonsense, a journal entry, something completely meaningless to anyone else, or total crap. You have to keep your words flowing. It’s the best thing you can do to help yourself grow and it will help keep your creative juices flowing. Keep your muse happy.
Thanks for asking me to come on. I've enjoyed it.
[FFM] We appreciate the chance to interview you. I hope this helps to spread the word about you and your work! It would be really great if you could also include any links that you would like to be included with the interview. Thanks!
[TM] You can find my work on all the major bookseller sites. Soon I’ll have them available in print and select stories in audio. I have links to everything and blurbs listed at my author web page, too.