Here's a short interview I did with a good friend of mine (RG) the day I received the first paperback editions of Hearing Voices.
RG: You do realize probably nobody's going to read this.
AC: I knew you were the right person for this.
RG: (Shrugs) Trailer looks good, though.
RG: How did you get into writing? Is it that classic story of long-time reader who decides to pick up a pen?
AC: To be honest, I’m a TV man. Always have been. Right from when I was a kid. I’d come home from school and just sit and watch.
RG: Your parents must have loved that.
AC: Ha! Yeah, it wasn’t exactly a great hobby in their eyes—or my homework-hungry teachers for that matter. I frequently got the (wags finger) “Watching TV won’t get you anywhere” speech.
RG: I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of that one. So did you have to sneak in your TV time?
AC: Well, luckily I was a quick kid. So whenever I got the speech, I’d just calmly wait for the list of supporting reasons to come to an end—square eyes, kills brain cells, doctors and lawyers don’t watch TV—and then I’d say, “But what if I want to make TV shows?”
RG: Oooh, good answer. That must’ve driven them crazy!
AC: Yeah, you bet. But then again, I never got more than a derisory headshake. So I was pretty confident I was on to something.
RG: (Nodding whilst holding a copy of Hearing Voices) Seems you were.
AC: (Smirks) Well, all right, it was a little more than that. I mean, you have to understand, I wouldn’t just be sitting there. It wasn’t a passive activity for me. It was a whole experience. I’d really see myself in the show. As one of the characters.
RG: Any TV shows in particular?
AC: Not really. I watched pretty much everything. Anime, sit-coms, superheroes—I loved them all. Even stuff I was a little too young to understand. Like for example Seinfeld or Married with Children, when I was only five or six.
RG: OK, so it was through copious watching that you subconsciously picked up the fundamentals of story production?
AC: Yeah. Without knowing it, I was absorbing the dialogue, learning about story arcs, understanding how to pace your plot—all of it.
RG: I think Ben Stiller had a similar theory for himself. He wasn’t just watching TV, he was studying it. Were movies a big thing for you?
AC: Not really. But only because we (the family) never went.
RG: OK, let’s turn back to the written word. You’re an avid reader, so when did your love of books take flame?
AC: When I was about 16.
RG: 16? That's late.
AC: Like I said, I'm a TV man. But then I really got into reading. Biographies and how-to books, mostly. My mum was always into bios and she encouraged me to read all the time. Eventually I gave it a try, and—surprise, surprise—I found I quite liked it.
RG: Which biographies?
AC: I read a lot of entrepreneurs—Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs. I remember reading Arnold Schwarzenegger’s in university. That was a definitely a game changer for me. If you need a kick up the ass to get going, read that. It's called Total Recall.
RG: What about fiction? When did that start?
AC: When I picked up my first Lee Child.
RG: Which one?
AC: Number one. Killing floor. I was in a bookstore, leafing through the selection, and I found this orange book (the UK version) and I read, I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch… I didn’t put the book down. (Note: Axel can quote the first chapter by heart. He’s read it that many times.)
RG: Who are your favorite authors?
AC: (Blows air out of cheeks) Where to start? I mean, obviously, you’ve got the big guns: Child, Chandler, King, Cole...(coughs) Cruise...Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Karin Slaughter; and then you’ve got the lesser known, but equally incredible: Alan Glynn, Chuck Palahniuk, and whoever wrote that creepypasta about the Russian sleep experiment—damn thing gave me nightmares for weeks!
RG: Are there any self-published authors you particularly look up to?
AC: All of them. Seriously. Because we’re all cut from the same cloth. We’ve been rejected, beat down, told "no". Doors slammed shut, dreams taken away. But. We didn’t stay down. We got up. Grabbed on to what we want and we’re not going to let go. I’m extremely proud to be part of the self-published community.
RG: What do you look for in a book, and how do you try to create it in your own? Is a good plot as critical as most writers suggest?
AC: (Shakes head) Look. Plot’s important, yeah. But really, I just want to see cool characters doing cool shit.
RG: How long did it take you to write Hearing Voices?
AC: About three years—(Buries head in hands) A rejection-filled three years.
RG: It was that bad?
AC: In a word: Yeah.
RG: What makes Hearing Voices different?
AC: Isaac Blaze.
RG: The main character.
AC: (Nods) Yeah, see, it’s not so much Hearing Voices, i.e. the book itself, as it is the protagonist, Isaac Blaze. He's the difference. I mean, sure, I’ve got my own unique writing style, but that’s really just an extension of the character. It’s the concept that’s the real differentiator. And the concept is a quick-witted assassin with two voices in his head.
RG: Yeah those voices are something else. I love them. Unhelpful, helpful, annoying, hilarious. How did you come up with that?
AC: Well, initially, when I started writing Hearing Voices, I had no idea of the plot or the character. And naturally I fell into the trap of making Isaac everything—super strong, super smart, super everything. He had synesthesia, a perfect memory, an incredible physique, voices in his head, even unique physiology. And you know what? It was total crap. I was right to be rejected. Who want to read about a guy who can do everything, solve any puzzle in less than a minute, and probably never be hurt by anything. I mean, where’s the suspense going to be? So yeah, Isaac’s first incarnation was total crap. But then I started chipping away at the excess. Get rid of that “power”, don’t need this “ability”. Ultimately, I knew I wanted a antihero with a quick mouth. And I could have left it at that. But I wanted a niche too. Something special. And since a quick mouth would necessitate a lot of dialogue—and I like dialogue—I came up with the idea of a character who had these two voices in his head. Each of which are separate entities and full characters in their own right. That way, no matter what was going on, there would always be an opportunity for dialogue. I mean, if you think about it, I could write a story with no characters in it except for Isaac, and still have dialogue throughout. So the voices became the something special, and my niche..
RG: Which would help with character identification. Both in the reader’s mind, and in the marketplace.
AC: Exactly. Now if someone says, ‘Hey, you read that new Isaac Blaze book?’, the response can be, ‘Hmmm. That’s the guy who hears voices, right?’
RG: Ah, so that was actually some serious long range thinking, then?
AC: Sure. And it has to be for all authors. As much as we’re trying to create great characters, we’ve also got to make them commercial successes.
RG: No money, no next book.
AC: (Sighs, but with a slight smile) No money, no food.
RG: And just for your more intrusive reader's, you don't hear voices, do you?
AC: Oh, so now there are people reading this?
AC: No. I don't hear voices. But I was surprised to find out it was a real condition. It's called Voice Hearing. Naturally I slightly embellished the condition for Isaac's sake, but there are in fact people out there who hear voices more or less like he does.
RG: Who would Isaac Blaze appeal to most?
AC: The feedback I get most often, is that Isaac is ‘kind of like a realistic version of Deadpool’. I think that’s a pretty good comparison—and one I’m honestly flattered by, seeing as Deadpool is probably my favorite superhero. You’ve got the action, the thrills, and then the comic overtones—the fast comebacks, the one-liners. So if you’re into that particular cocktail of madness, you’ll probably like how I serve it too.
RG: Do you have a writing schedule? What does a typical writing day look like?
AC: Day! I wish! I'm up at six and back at seven-thirty. So my writing "day" is the hour I try and squeeze in once I'm back from work. As for the specifics, I don't really have any. Just sit down and write. Do that more days than you don’t. A minimum 500 words per session.
RG: 500? That's quite low by the usual advice, no?
AC: Yeah, most authors recommend at least a thousand. And I think Stephen King has it at two (thousand). I can do that on the weekend when I can write for longer, but since I always start a writing session by re-reading and editing what I wrote the day before, the one hour sessions in the week are a little short for a thousand-word minimum.
RG: Thoughts on writer’s block?
AC: Myth. First sentence can be tricky, but it’s really downhill from there.
RG: OK, now some quick fire questions to finish off:
RG: Is it true you’ve never been on Facebook?
AC: Yes. 100%. I never had any social media until I released Hearing Voices.
...And then Isaac made me take it down.
RG: So no social media at all?
AC: (Laughs) Not enough friends.
RG: OK, how about this one: Is it true you’ve never seen Star Wars?
AC: (Holds hands up) Got me again. Never seen any of them. But let’s be clear, it’s not because I don’t want to. I just never got around to watching them. Like I said, I was always a TV flower growing up. Having said that, I do remember watching Star Trek the TV show. The one with Patrick Stewart.
RG: So maybe you're actually the ultimate treky?
AC: (Shrugs) Maybe.
RG: Books you’re reading now?
AC: Black Box Thinking, The Checklist Manifesto, Night School.
RG: Any tips or books you’d recommend to aspiring self-publishers?
AC: For the business side: Total Recall, anything by Tim Ferriss, and a firm understanding that you've got to become an expert marketer. In fact, I think you've got to be a better marketer than writer. Just take a look at the top self-pub guys. They all seem to read more non-fiction than fiction. Without question, they are all incredible writers, but they are also some of the keenest marketing minds out there.
For the writing side: Anything and everything in your genre. It really is that simple. You've just got to read everything. And then, of course, you've got to write. Not every day, but more days than you don't.
RG: Where can people reach you?
AC: You can find Isaac and me at my website: www.axelcruise.com
RG: When’s the second book out?
AC: Isaac and the voices will be back at the end of the year.
RG: This has been GREAT! Thanks, Axel!
AC: Thank you.