Neo-pro Interview: Lon Prater
Who are you?
Lon: I’m Lon Prater. I retired not long back from the Navy and now hang my hat in Pensacola, Florida.
What’s your genre/history/etc?
Lon: Mostly dark. Horror (Lovecraftian and otherwise), Weird Crime and History. Occasionally science fiction. I suppose the lightest story I tend to write would be classified as a “cautionary tale.” The mood of much of my work falls somewhere between noir and tragedy. Despite this, I am a pretty happy person who finds a lot of joy and laughter in the real world.
What’s your Race score? (1 pt for every short story out to market, 3 points for every novel query (1 per novel only), 8 points for every full (once per novel only also) )
Lon: Thanks for reminding me–not just of the Race scoring system, but that I’m supposed to send my stuff out. As I write this, I’ve just finished my bi-or tri-monthly push to get my stories out there pounding the pavement, looking for work. So my score at the moment is 20. Soon to plummet, no doubt.
And I don’t dare mention what the score was 12 hours ago. Did you know it really is possible to die of shame?
When did you “get serious” about being a writer?
Lon: Heh. Which time? Family members claim I declared my intention to be a writer when I was about 6 years old. I made several flawed attempts between then and 2003, when finally something I threw out into the world landed in the much beloved Borderlands series, volume 5. Not long after, I entered Writers of the Future and ended up a Published Finalist in 2005. Since then, I’ve only gotten serious about being a writer five or six times. Somehow, though, I tend to get more things published when I’m just having fun with being a writer. So it’s all good.
What are your goals with your writing?
Lon: Sometimes, I want to write stories that challenge my abilities and what I think I can do with the form. This would be epistoleries such as “Never the Twain” [Daily Science Fiction”] and weird second person thingies like “You Do Not Know What Slipstream Is” which appeared in the much-missed Lone Star Stories.
Sometimes, I want to write stories that capture some theme or insight that is bugging the crap out of my brain and will continue to do so until I get the darn thing written and out there into the world. Most recently, this would be the experimental novels I indie published this summer: The American in His Season and The Island of Jayne Grind.
And yet other times, I just want to have so much fun writing my stories that strangers who read them send random emails telling me how much they enjoyed them (which sometimes means “how much they were disturbed by them”). I’m thinking here of “This Is My Corporation, Eat” which was published in IGMS at the beginning of this summer, and “Kids Cost More” about a magic-wielding Mafiosi out for revenge.
Where do you see your career in 5 years?
Lon: I plan to still be writing, and trying to get my stories inside the heads of more readers. I’d like to have landed a traditional publishing contract at some point, but that’s only one leg of the tripod. I’ll always adore the risk-taking small press and like to support worthy ventures and bold visions. Self/Indie Publishing is the final leg of the tripod. I’m fairly new to the joys of Kindle, Createspace, etc. but I like to think I’m catching on fast.
I don’t look at the career end as very “career” to be frank. This is something I do because I enjoy it. I like to write stories and create whole worlds in other people’s heads who come back for more. It’s great when I can get a happy meal or a car payment out of it, but I don’t foresee a day when all I do for a living is write. For one thing, where would all the good material come from? The idea of becoming some bestseller who always writes about writers because that’s all I know anymore kind of terrifies me. Good thing most of my writing is so niche-oriented that I hardly have to worry about that nightmare coming to pass, eh?
Do you have a particular story or idea you are dying to write? Or, if you could write a tie-in to any established universe/franchise, what would it be?
Lon: I finished my average 60K words early this year (plus a bonus short story!) and have been focusing on converting some older published work to ebook, revising a few originals for the same end, and–more to your question–plotting a fun and somewhat spicy arc for a series character that I want to begin writing before the year is out.
Till now, I’ve never felt like I wanted to work in series fiction. But I’ve always found ways to push my own limits, and with this character and idea, I think I have enough traction to make a go of it.
If I was to get a chance to write in other people’s worlds, I think I’d get a kick out of writing a Calvin & Hobbes novel. Yes, I know this one will never, ever happen for anybody, but that just makes me want to do it even more.
What are your hobbies outside writing?
Lon: I am a devoted Texas Hold’em nut, but I really like playing card and board games of all descriptions. We have been playing a lot of a Canasta style game called “Hand and Foot” lately. When the winds are good I tend to take my stunt kites out to the beach and tear holes in the sky with them.
What’s your writing process like?
Lon: It’s changed a lot over time. At first, the trend was toward writing gradually longer stories as my “writing muscles” developed. In time, I discovered my natural novel length is at the 50K end of the spectrum. (I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, though. The timing and pace stinks for how I usually work.)
Then I began to really understand story structure, and it colored my process quite a bit. For a long time I thought in terms of four act structure, and found that I tended to work very similarly to the first few steps of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Theory. I still use a model much like that when plotting a story (or editing one.) But now there’s the new wrinkle, adapted from Dan Wells’ 7 Point Structure, of considering the changes in status from beginning to middle to end.
I’m always looking for new craftsmanship ideas to try on, creatively. Some I use for one story, some I keep for years until I outgrow them.
What’s been toughest about your journey so far as a writer? How do you keep yourself going?
Lon: I think it’s probably been distraction and guilt.
It’s easy for me to get distracted by the shiny stuff on my laptop screen and make no progress even when I am dedicating time for nothing but forward progress on a project. The best workaround on this for me has been the Alphasmart Neo. All you can do with it is write. I’ve put over 700 pages on mine so far, and I’m still on the first set of betteries. Only downfall, IMHO, is that it is just smidge too simplified of a word processor. I’d kill for the ability to do italics and underlines when composing on the Neo.
Regarding guilt, there’s two parts. First, I’d go read writers blogs about the daily progress meter and how “writers write” and if you aren’t writing every day, you must not be a writer. That kind of thing used to get me really down. Because I don’t write every day. I do keep track of my writing, with a simple date, # pages in Standard Manuscript Format. This helps. I write somewhere north of 60K a year, usually over about 30 well-scattered calendar days. And I submit the stuff I write to editors who actually pay me for the right to publish it! Realizing that I must be a writer even though I don’t apply butt to writing chair every day was a huge relief.
The other part of the guilt is that when I am focused on writing I feel guilty about all the things I am not doing with or for my family. I am grateful to have their support, but there’s an uneasy, whispering voice that’s always there, telling me if I really cared about my wife or my kids, I’d stop writing right this instant and go spend time with them. Finding a balance and feeling like it’s okay to do this writing thing for is a tricky hill to climb, and one I always feel like I’m falling down the wrong side of.
Any tips or tricks you’ve figured out for improving your writing?
Lon: The best piece of advice I can offer anyone–and this is what I feel has done to most to improve my stories and craft–is to aim for some new goal with every story you write, and to keep that goal in mind every time you sit down to write. Also, pick some particular aspect of your technique that you are going to be mindful of with every session–whether writing or revising.
I never thought I’d write a time travel story, until I challenged myself to figure out what a Lon Prater time travel story would look like. Beyond Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, I’ve never had much use for writing in the second person, but I’m still proud of accomplishing what I set out to in “You Do Not Know What Slipstream Is”. When I edited one story in particular, I gave myself the goal of paying extra attention to sensory elements beyond sight and sound. Another time, I focused on bringing out the theme and mood by finding better verbs all the way through.
The key is: Consciously challenge yourself in some deliberate way, every time you write or revise what you have written. And after, make sure you know what you learned from the process.
And finally, got anything you want to pimp?
Lon: There are free previews available for my two indie pubbed novels, The American In His Season and The Island of Jayne Grind at my site. I’d be delighted if readers of your blog were interested enough to go there and take a look.