Local Author Puts The Finishing Touches On His Debut Novel
Manchester resident Brian Fence is an interesting guy. He's back home in Ocean County after a few "quick" stops in between - a few quick stops like Japan and England in the meantime. And now he's preparing his debut novel.
Brian did his undergrad work at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He went from there to Japan, where he spent a few years working while learning the culture and language. Then he headed to one of the oldest universities in the world, Oxford, to gain his Master's Degree. He's now back home in Manchester and is putting the finishing touches on his very first novel, Librarian. I had an opportunity to chat with Brian about the book, the process, and what's next:
Give us a quick synopsis of the story.
Reticent and unconcerned with trivial matters, Lenna, a young librarian, is almost laughably nonplussed the day her childhood friend, Gilbert, appears at her door, asking her to help smuggle stolen goods across national borders.
When unfortunate circumstances leave a bizarre, out-of-place artifact in the sole custody of Lenna, she is forced to question her own wants, the source of her withdrawal from others, and how to survive in a world sullied by what she sees as random loss and turmoil – all the while being the target of numerous political factions longing to possess the strange item bound to her by a child’s promise.
What made you decide that you wanted to be a published author?
I knew that I wanted to write since I was a little boy, and to this day I can remember forcing some truly cringe-worthy short stories and the like on some of my teachers. During my twenties, I had the opportunity to live in various places in the world and witnessed so many unique ways of life and different cultures that now my mind is a jumble of ideas and run-on sentences. I realized my stories were going to burst out of me one way or another, so decided to put them to paper. And if somewhere along the way, I get a smile or a tear out of someone for my work, then getting published is worth the effort.
From your first idea for a story, how did you get from there to a whole book?
The first scene I wrote happens to sequentially fall just before the middle of the novel. It was a snowy day, murky all about, and I was taking an extra-long, extremely hot shower when a kind of melancholy overcame me. I missed some very important people in my life and felt like I wasn't expressing myself enough. I wasn't shining like I used to. I wrote the book's most poignant scene that day, over a glass of wine.
I was already working on a few ideas at the time -- ideas that are going to tie directly into Librarian and its two sequels -- and I thought I could use that melancholy as a starting point for a bunch of stories that would express my view of our world. It sounds cliche -- forgive me, I studied sociology -- but the entire writing process has been a study of my own post-modern malaise. So at first, my scribblings came in random, disjointed bursts; eventually, I went back to square one and wrote sequentially, incorporating some of the more powerful scenes into a (hopefully) unified and coherent structure.
Did you have any periods of writers block? If so, how did you break out of it?
Writer's block is inevitable, professional or not; staring into the blank white background of a word processor can be one of the most daunting things ever. The best way to prevent writer's block is use your words like weights; if you make sure to get something down on a schedule, like a workout, you're going to strengthen your writing muscles and be able to produce more swiftly and consistently. You'll end up with the novelist's equivalent of a six-pack.
Personally, when I had writer's block, I would change my venue, turn off the internet (seductive Facebook; tantalizing Twitter!), and then challenge myself to pump out a certain number of words in a session. I have software that shows my session word-count grow like an experience point meter in a role-playing game, so if I achieved my target word count for that day I'd "level up." (I'm pretty epic now; roar!)
How long has it taken you to write the whole thing?
It's hard to measure the actual hours that have gone into Librarian, especially since in the beginning I wrote whenever I could, but not exactly consistently. I would say, though, that the first draft of the manuscript (close to 100,000 words) took me four months while working a daytime job. I finished that up in September, and have been editing and marketing since then.
Did you always plan to self publish or did you try getting a major distributor?
Originally, no; I wanted a contract. There's a stigma that many people -- myself included, until recently -- associated with self-publishing; i.e., that your work isn't good enough for a proper agent and contract, so you have to do it yourself. But just like the music industry, we're moving on from huge, offline distributors to online retailers and the tremendous power to produce our own content.
I wanted to be signed with an agent from the get go, but in 2013, with social media at our fingertips and the technology to have a book launch literally overnight, who wants to wait weeks for a reply from an agent?
Historically, most authors have been rejected numerous times before being signed; now, the readers get to choose what they want directly. And, by cutting out the middlemen -- agents and editors -- I get to retain control of my imagination. If you look at some recent figures, it turns out self-publishing is a viable and perfectly valid path for many contemporary writers.
If you went to the big guys, how did you go about it and what kinds of responses (if any) did you get?
With traditional publishing, there are two routes: submit to publishing houses and wait six months for a rejection letter, or submit to a literary agent and wait for them to decide if they want to represent you or not. It all starts with researching publishers/agents who deal in your genre; that's done by spending a lot of time on Google. Then you draft a letter that summarizes your story and why it will sell. Tradition is fine and good, but I didn’t have the patience to wait around for weeks when with a little gumption, I could just become my own publisher.
That being said, I did, admittedly, seek out representation with a few agents before researching the market and deciding to self-publish. It's the novelist's dream, after all to be represented, and I think we're all programmed to want that magical windfall of success. I waited several weeks for a couple of responses that basically amounted to, "Great query letter, love the idea, but I'm just not into this right now." It was all very polite and there was some constructive criticism, but ultimately, rather than rewriting a query over and over again, I decided my time would be better spent polishing my manuscript and starting to establish an online presence.
When and where can we get Librarian?
May! The manuscript is with my copy-editor and the artist is currently working on the book's cover. I should have all of that done by the end of March, so with a little more obsessing over the prose on my part and incorporating feedback from beta-readers, I'll be launching just before summer.
Librarian will start out as an Amazon exclusive and print-on-demand, but afterwards be pushed out to other venues like the iBook store, Nook, et cetera. Of course, if anyone is eager to read some rougher drafts, I'd love to let them take a gander. The best part about self-publishing is being able to connect directly with your readers and get really personalized feedback, so I encourage people to follow me on Twitter (@BrianFence) or read the first chapter at brianfence.com.
Anything else you want to add?
Read! Read, read, read! It's especially important for aspiring authors to read, both in- and outside your genre. And everyone should embrace online communities, such as Reddit, because people are curious and want to read if you're willing to write for them.
Thanks for your time, Brian! We're excited to check out Librarian! Keep in touch and let us know when it hits the streets.