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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Giving Your Reader Something to Remember: An Interview with Steven Wilkens

What or who inspired you to write a novel?
I always told stories and even wrote a few as a lad. Mainly to make people laugh. I didn’t like school and hated English class most of all. In fact, the only subject in school I enjoyed was history. Sadly, I never had a teacher for history class that truly loved the subject. In my youth, I probably read a total of four or five novels. However, I did enjoy reading about history.

My two favorite subjects in history were Abraham Lincoln and the TITANIC. I knew everything there was to know about the ship and became the local expert and was often a guest on radio shows discussing the subject. Shortly after getting married, my mother-in-law gave me an old copy of Clive Cussler’s Raise the TITANIC. It sat around for months before out of boredom I picked it up and started reading it. I didn’t set it down until I had finished it. I was impressed, to say the least.

The next day I went out and picked up a copy of every book he had written to that point. When I had finished reading those books I had found what I wanted to do. I never thought about writing as Clive does, but I saw the incredible value in fiction. How when done well, the reader is swept along with the story. How emotionally invested the reader becomes with the characters and the plot.

What is the hardest part of writing for you? The hardest part of writing for me is without a doubt the lack of formal training in English. Growing up I failed to see the importance of the subject, and always wondered why a farm kid needed to know what an adverb or pronoun was. That said, finding a story to tell is a close second. My goal with every story is to entertain the reader of course, but I also want more. I want the reader to walk away with something in their heart that they retained for a very long time. I want my stories to have value and true meaning for the reader.

What does your editor remind you to do most often?Being an indie writer, I don’t have the traditional editor. I do, however, follow reader reviews and as such, I am always reminded to proof, proof, proof. Even then, typos still get through.

What is the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?I have gotten a few calls from the Grand Master himself, Clive Cussler, and he is always encouraging and offering words of wisdom. I respect him for his good heart and the way he fosters other writers.

The most important encouragement has been in notes and letters I have received from readers. How a story touched their hearts so deeply. How the troubles besetting a character were familiar to them, and the way in which the character thought and acted mirrored their own.

We have all experienced rejection. How have you learned to write past it? The rudest rejection I ever had came from Oprah Winfrey’s organization. I had submitted a book for review and a little more than a week later got a package in the mail from Harpo Productions. In the package was the package I sent them, unopened. A letter accompanied it that asked if I didn’t know who I was dealing with, and if they wanted anything from me, they would ask for it. Ending with “don’t send us anything again.”

What surprised you the most in writing/publishing? I suppose what surprised me the most, being an old-school book lover, was the explosion of eBooks. I resisted that avenue as long as I could. Then during a conversation with an older reader, they told me that eBooks were all they liked to read anymore. I was taken by surprise and asked the reason why. They asked me how many of my novels were printed in a large text? When I said none, they said that was the trouble with many printed books they wanted to read. With an ebook, they touch a button and they instantly have large text format.

I was also pleasantly surprised that when I did go with publishing books in printed and eBook formats, the eBook format outsold printed books 100 to 1, and my books sales suddenly went up around the world.

What frustrated you the most? The most frustrating thing about being a new writer is wading through all the scam artists claiming to be agents or publishers.

What do you know now about writing that you wish you had known sooner? That succeeding as a writer isn’t about the money you make or getting on the New York Times list. Most writers have to work a regular job to be able to write, I did as well. At first, even Clive Cussler did. Success is measured by the pleasure you get from doing it, and from the pleasure, your readers get from your work.

What is the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give? Again, a piece of Clive’s advice to me. Forget that you’re an author, that doesn’t really mean anything. Think of yourself as an entertainer. You are not only competing against other authors but against the entire entertainment industry. If the price of your book and the price of a movie ticket are the same, be sure to give the reader the best entertainment value you can. Otherwise, the next time that reader may take the movie ticket instead.

Are there any other tips for writing that you would like to add? Write with passion. If you are not passionate about writing, then don’t do it. This holds true for anything you do in life. I also restore old farm tractors and love doing so. The feeling I get is the same when a reader tells me how moved they were by a story as when a 70-year old farmer tears up when he sees his father’s old tractor looking like it did when he was a boy.

Select a group of close friends or family to test your stories out on. If it doesn’t move them, it won’t move the reader either. Also, have them help proof it for you. One drawback to this is that I always used my wife as a sounding board and when I was just about to start writing my novel “The Tractor” I came down from my office and started telling her about my thoughts. 

Her response…”You know, just once I would like to enjoy one of your books from cover to cover. Not get it page by page, or idea by idea.” I turned around and went back to my office and made her a character in the story and killed that character off on the second page.

What’s next? Normally at this time of year, I am working on the new book, but 2018 is going to be a transition year for me. I am terminating my contract with my old publisher and will be re-introducing those 9 books. I changed the way I published books three years ago and found that being my own publisher works far better. Books that I have control over, outsell the ones the old publisher has control over by a huge margin.

So next up is “The Lost Tribe” and here is a short blurb...

Everything goes as planned until they fail to find one passenger, Jake Johnson, an alcoholic sea captain who is hitching a ride back to Europe. To ensure that the plan is successful and that the mysterious cargo doesn’t end up in England, a German fleet submarine is trailing the British ship with orders to sink her if that cargo doesn’t get transferred.

It is all up to Jake Johnson to retake the ship and then fight off both the submarine and the armed raider with nothing more than what can be found in the cargo holds.

That's it for today's interview. If you’d like to learn more about Steven’s writing, here are some links to get you started.

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