Today I talk with JF Dubeau, author of two novels, The Life Engineered and A God in the Shed, both published by Inkshares, a publishing platform described as the future of publishing by The Wall Street Journal.
JF Dubeau, thank you for joining me. Can you tell me about yourself?
I wish I had an interesting story. In today’s attention economy it pays to be interesting and have a hook, but I’m afraid there isn’t much to me. Obviously, like everyone else, I’ve had ups and downs, but nothing that would make it into a compelling book. Except one thing…When I was twenty-one, on my way home from work, I was hit by a car and had both my legs shattered. Note that I did not say ‘broken’ or ‘snapped’. I picked the word ‘shattered’ because the x-rays made the bones in my legs look like someone had dropped a crystal vase. Hundreds of shards. I didn’t even know bone could break like that. Had to learn to walk again with muscles that didn’t react quite the same way as before and bones that didn’t twist on each other quite right.
I found you through the Inkshares website where The Life Engineered cover jumped out of the page at me. Can you tell me who designed the covers?
The cover art for The Life Engineered was produced by my friend Eric Belisle. He’s an incredibly talented professional illustrator and happens to be one of my beta readers. He came back with such great feedback and such a profound understanding of the characters that I knew he’d do a great job for the cover and I insisted on hiring him. I think he knocked it right out of the park.
Can you explain what Inkshares is and your experience of using the service?
Inkshares is, at face value, a crowdfunded publishing platform. The concept is that, by selling enough pre-orders of a book, Inkshares will publish that book. That isn’t quite the entire truth however. Inkshares is a lot closer to a ‘crowd voted’ publisher. Because they allow themselves the right to refuse books that meet pre-order benchmarks and will also publish books that don’t, it means that quality does matter and that pre-orders are only a metric in the decision to publish or not. They’re also a small and young company. After my first experience publishing with Inkshares, I wrote a blog post to give my impressions. A lot of what was true then isn’t so much anymore.
Was it a positive experience?
Overall my experience with Inkshares has been positive. It wouldn’t be realistic to expect it to be 100% positive. There are ups and downs and of course the difficulties of being a new writer collides with the difficulties of them being a new company. But as an author, they’re great because I get to grow with them. Their successes are my successes and vice versa. I’m still working with them on the sequel to A God in the Shed and look forward to working with them in the future on other projects.
Would you do everything the same way if you had your time again?
Probably a few details here and there. No major changes though. I might hold back on some projects I feel I was too hasty on and I might have gotten more involved with the company at an earlier stage, at least as far as they might have let me.
You have two novels published through Inkshares, The Life Engineered and The God in the Shed. Are you planning to release future novels through Inkshares or have you chosen an alternative route?
Currently I’m in the late stages of editing the sequel to A God in the Shed (titled Song of the Sandman and scheduled for release this summer) and I’ll soon be going into editing for the sequel to The Life Engineered (titled Arch-Android). There’s a third book in the God in the Shed trilogy and I hope to be publishing other works with Inkshares after that. I’d love for my relationship with Inkshares to continue far into my career.
That being said, Inkshares has a certain vibe to the kind of books they want to publish and I have projects that I don’t feel match that vibe very well. I’m also more prolific than what Inkshares can reasonably publish from me and I’ve seen a few authors who are following similar paths to mine but further ahead and they tend to hybridise their writing efforts. Hence, I am shopping around for different avenues through which I can publish my non-Inkshares works.
Can you tell me about your writing process?
I write everywhere. I wrote my first book on an iPad while commuting in the subway and lying in bed. I can’t believe my spouse at the time didn’t kill me in my sleep for keeping her up with my incessant typing. Since then I’ve kept a habit of writing where I can. At work during lunch. At cafés or restaurants. I go to a library once or twice a week and of course I have my office at home and a comfy leather chair. Writing happens between me and the page. What surrounds us is irrelevant.
I like to pick a piece of music or a short playlist for each book that I write and listen to it for the entirety of that project. It helps block out noise from whatever environment I’m in while writing and serves as a sort of auditory trigger to get me to work and set up the right mindset.
I plan well so I can pants better. In other words, I lay down a solid foundation of structure and understanding of my characters in order to write with more abandon when I get into it. If I don’t have to stop and second guess everything I’m doing along the way because I have no idea who my characters are, what they’re doing, what my story beats are, etc. I’ll have an easier time just sitting and writing and improvising the connective tissue between plot points.
What do you enjoy the most about producing a novel?
The writing is by far my favourite part, though when I get into it, the editing can be a lot of fun too. I don’t know if it’s a side effect of doing marketing for a living, but I don’t love the self-promo part of the job and I’m still trying to get comfortable with how I interact with readers. I say ‘readers’ because I dislike the word ‘fan’. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that anyone might be a fan of me or what I do. I love chatting with readers as just people who’ve read my books without that distinction between me as the writer and them as the fan.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
So much advice, but I’ll keep it to a couple of short points. If you want to be a writer you’re going to have to write. Not just stare at a blank page and bemoan that you have writer’s block or go down rabbit holes of research for the perfect word or perfect world building element. There’s room for all of that of course, but at the end of the day writing is a skill. You build skills through practice. All things being equal, you’ll be better after a million words than anyone will be after a hundred thousand.
Your first work will be garbage. That’s normal. Your second will be a little better, and so on. The faster you get rid of your terrible first attempts, the faster you’ll be working on the books that really matter. So, push aside romantic notions of having your first draft of your first manuscript be picked up by a big publishing house and becoming a best seller. Pay your dues, put in the work (the incredible amount of work), learn your craft, practice and ignore every pithy quote about ‘bleeding onto the page’ or ‘writing drunk and editing sober’. In fact, ignore anything Hemmingway has ever said. Tremendously overrated barely functional drunks aren’t role models.
Can you tell me bit about those two novels?
The Life Engineered is the story of Dagir, a newly minted Capek (a class of sentient robots) as she takes her first steps into the robot-dominated galaxy of the mid-third millennium. She’s immediately thrust into the early stages of a potential civil war amongst Capeks and the philosophical upheaval spurred on by the inevitable return of humans to the Milky Way. It’s both an exploration of Capek society and how promising a future with artificial intelligence can be, and an allegory on motherhood and the power and responsibility of creating intelligent life. I’m incredibly bored with post-apocalyptic dystopian evil robot stories and wanted to tell something different. Something where the robots are the main characters but are also clearly not just surrogates for humans.
A God in the Shed is a completely different beast. It’s the first part of a horror trilogy. It’s the story of Venus McKenzie and her friends, all teenagers from the village of Saint-Ferdinand in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Their home town has been terrorised by a serial killer for the better part of two decades, but it’s only when the killer is found and apprehended that the true horror is revealed. Venus accidentally captures the malevolent entity that the killer had been keeping prisoner, all the while the fabric of Saint-Ferdinand starts coming apart. Old cults and histories come back to the surface demanding a toll on the villagers that should have been paid a long time ago. This story is very much about the nature of evil and corruption. I tried to blur the lines between heroes and villains so I could end on a middle ground: humans. As I’ve mentioned, it’s the first part of a trilogy and there’s a lot more to explore about the main characters, but I’m hoping the end result will be a fun, if a bit disturbing, journey through what it means to be a human being trying to be a hero while struggling not to become the villain.
It just leaves me to thank JF Dubeau for taking the time to talk with me today and if you like the sound of his books they are available to buy from the Inkshares website and from Amazon. If you want to connect with JF you can find him either on Twitter, Facebook or by following his website.
If you enjoyed this interview then why not follow my blog where I’ll be posting more interviews and conversations soon. I regularly provide an insight into my own experiences as I publish my debut novel, In The End, an apocalyptic thriller that will leave you breathless, on sale now!!
A final note – If you’re ready this in December 2018 and have a moment to spare, please can you take a second to vote for my novel’s cover by clicking here and pressing the vote button! Thank you.