Anonymous-9 (pseudonym for Elaine Ash) is the author of the recent hit novel Hard Bite, reviewed recently on Hellnotes.
HN: Unlike many writers, you have worked in a variety of capacities in the publishing field. What was the transition from editor to author like?
A-9: First Andrew, thanks so much for inviting me to the Bookworm’s Lair. Do you have another chair, maybe? That stalactite is dripping on me … thanks … Okay, first, I transitioned from author to editor, not editor to author. I won a church essay competition at the age of 7 and completed my first novel at 26. After a few decades of writing and proofreading advertising, and writing fiction long into the nights on weekends, I started editing. The greatest challenge is not seeing what a manuscript needs – by now that’s second nature to me. The challenge is getting the message across so the writer understands it. People have different needs, they hear things differently, they attack and solve problems in many different ways. The challenge is not the story when you really know your stuff – it’s the writer.
HN: Your recent novel Hard Bite began as a short story published online. What was the process of transforming a well-received short story into a longer work to be professionally published like?
A-9: It was gruesome and painstaking. First, I was writing about things I didn’t know about. How stupid is that? Writers 101, “write what you know.” Did I do that? No. So I had to research everything in depth. What I could fake in a short story I now had to understand for real from helper monkeys to paraplegics to police procedure. I knew NOTHING about police procedure. So the research took ages. Then there was the pressure. HARD BITE had been praised and touted as something unique and special. Not to mention I had my shingle hung out there as an editor. So expectations were high. On top of that, I had my own requisites. I wanted to break rules. I wanted to deliver an ending never seen before. I wanted the whole third act to be a reversal of the usual and expected. I wanted to take risks and they absolutely, positively had to work and not leave me looking like an idiot. Every agent in New York turned the first draft down. Friends and trusted readers like Albert Tucher, Glenn Gray, Brian Drake and Alan Griffiths gave great feedback but I could tell something was lacking. So I rolled up my sleeves and chopped 15,000 words out and replaced them with 10,000 words in new plot twists and action. I hired editor Jenny Jensen and when our work was done, I avoided agents the second time around and sent the manuscript directly to publishers. Blasted Heath and Snubnose Press both wanted it, so I knew I’d finally hit the nail on the head. So far, with readers and reviewers, it looks like I might have pulled it off.
HN: I think it’s fair to say that Hard Bite is unlike almost all other books on the market today. What other works and authors would you compare your writing with? Who are the authors we should be reading but maybe haven’t heard of yet?
A-9: Did I say that I love to break rules? Rule #2 (or thereabouts) for writers is read, read, read. Know what’s hot and what’s not. So I didn’t. I probably read three crime novels in the last year. I didn’t want anyone else’s work to influence Hard Bite expect for the authors I had already embraced – T. Jefferson Parker and LA Outlaws, Tom Robbins (not a crime writer) and Tom Wolfe (also not known for crime). My favorite writers are selected for their energy and voice, not genre. I also love to defy genre, and was so happy when you reviewed me for Hellnotes and suggested that Hard Bite was a horror-crime crossover. In terms of comparisons, I’m probably most often compared with Duane Swierczynski. I haven’t read his novels yet, but it’s on the TBR. Now, lots of people are on the TBR. What should everybody be reading? Why, the online short story sites, of course. I started online as Editor at Large for Beat to a Pulp in 2007 (to 2009). The e-zines are where writers are cutting their teeth, establishing their names and reputations. It’s where you can find the new sprouts emerging. It’s where I came from, it’s where I always go back. The scene is fresh, vibrant, evolving. It’s where a new writer can get a toehold. It’s where Chris F. Holm, Frank Bill, Hilary Davidson and myself all came from.
HN: Hard Bite had a somewhat non-traditional origin, though the route you took in getting it published may become more common in the future. Given the tremendous transformations we see in the field of publishing and book retail, what do you see as the future of publishing and the book industry as a whole in the next five or ten years?
A-9: I think people will continue to buy e-books as well as print books. I think print copies will get more elaborate and detailed in terms of beautiful covers and special features to compete with digital. About 20% of the reading public now uses e-readers. That figure will continue to grow. Writers have never had more options and opportunities. The great temptation is to self-publish work digitally before it’s really ready and compromise one’s reputation as a writer. A good book is crafted over many passes and multiple runs by an editor or editors. That being said, avoid English teachers like the plague. Don’t let anybody add commas. Ever. Other punctuation can be considered. Now I’m getting off track. So I’d like to say that the book is not dead. It’s as strong as ever. The delivery system will always evolve, but the book will stay forever.
HN: So what’s next for Anonymous-9? Will we ever see more of Sid, the helper monkey? What are you working on next?
A-9: Yes, more Sid coming. Bite Harder, the sequel, is already in motion. I’m also adapting Hard Bite into a screenplay. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the screenplay is possibly turning out even better than the novel. I’m looking forward to playing the Hollywood shuffle when it’s ready. I’m making another one of my short stories into a novel, too. It’ll draw from parts of Dante’s Inferno and you’ll be happy to know the genre is probably horror. I think the title has to change though, it’s probably a little too strong. M-N-S (n) murder-suicide-necrophilia was nominated for Spinetingler’s Best Short Story on the web, 2010. See what I mean about the title?
Interview by Andrew Byers (Tales from the Bookworm’s Lair)