Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Indie Spotlight: Owen Thomas

Today, we find Owen Thomas standing in our Indie Spotlight. Author of three novels, it was the hefty, two part story The Lion Trees , all 1600 pages of it, that caught our attention.

In the essay below, Owen discusses the relationship between his two halves - fiction writer and book marketer - and the war that erupts between the two.

I have a feeling that this topic will touch many of us, as we find more and more often that for any one author to find their audience, the hardest part of their job isn't landing a publisher. It's in the promotional work that comes after!

Doing it all: Independent Writers Leaving the Shire

As an independent writer, I am actually two people: fiction writer and book marketer. Accommodating two people in one head is hard enough. But the double identity is all the more inconvenient for the fact that those two personae really do not like each other very much. The writer fancies himself as an artist and has more than just a little disdain for the soulless marketer. The marketer considers the writer a feckless romantic willing to die in obscurity. I suppose that there is nothing particularly new here; the battle between art and commerce within the same head has been raging since some Neanderthal began taking a cover charge for his First Friday Cave Art exhibits. You can bet he lost sleep after every show wondering if he had sold out his artistic vision just to pander to a bunch of knuckle-dragging… well, Neanderthals. But as old as that artistic dilemma may be, it is not exactly the internal schism that is on my mind, which is less about art versus commerce and more introvert versus extrovert.

As a writer, I am a classic introvert. I tend to like humanity a whole lot more than I like actual people. It’s not that I generally dislike other people. I have plenty of friends and a great marriage. I exchange kindnesses with strangers. I have generally been treated very well by my fellows. So misanthropy is not the point. The point, rather, is that personal interaction – particularly in groups of people – requires an enormous amount of energy. Compulsory meet-and-greets, even with wine and food, so thoroughly drain my battery that it takes me the entire next day to recover. Small talk and superficial connection dampens my creative spark to a dull ebb, making it next to impossible to write so much as a birthday greeting, let alone a new chapter in whatever novel I’m working on. Left to my druthers, I’m a one-on-one guy. Or even a one-on-zero guy. It is in that dearth of company that the writer in me thrives. As my real-world interaction with other humans diminishes, my imagination seizes the controls and my internal landscapes bloom, taking on color and texture. This is how I write books. And I know I am not the only one; this is how most writers create. We live in our heads.

All of which is terrific until the book is written and it finally exists as a real thing in the real world. Suddenly the solitary writer finds himself at the gates of the marketplace. Launch parties. Book fairs. Signings. Readings. Book clubs. Interviews. Humans everywhere. The introverted writer finds himself invoking Obi-Wan Kenobi’s warning to young Luke Skywalker as they take in the chaotic spectacle of Mos Eisley: “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” I know this is a ridiculous and unfair over-reaction; these are wonderful, talented, necessary people. As a writer I couldn’t live without them. But that is what it feels like to emerge from the inner sanctum. Frodo, having left the Shire’s bucolic perfection, stares in disbelieving horror at an army of advancing Orcs. Seriously… flesh-eating mud demons. Book marketing is the introvert’s nightmare.

The independent writer must, to succeed, become a marketer. He must sell. He must advocate and haggle. He must trust and risk and spend and weigh his options. He must forge effective relationships with promoters, publicists, reviewers, web designers, bloggers and booksellers. He must navigate the byzantine channels of Internet commerce through a dozen different portals. Two or three dozen if he is really serious. He must explain himself and politely disagree and consent to critical examination. He must give himself over to a state of extroversion or, more accurately, to the appearance of extroversion, for none of this comes naturally or without great effort and forbearance. The longing for quiet and relative isolation is like the door at the end of the nightmarishly lengthening hallway. Every step the marketer takes only seems to make the hallway that much longer and the door to the quiet refuge of introverted writers that much further out of reach.

And yet, somewhere amidst the chaos of the marketplace is something priceless waiting for the introverted writer who has ventured out into the madness. Somewhere in all of that is an encounter – a quiet, personal encounter – with a reader. Not a purchaser. A reader. Someone enthralled by the power of language harnessed within a story. A person with fidelity to character and theme. A person who has absorbed all of the words, your words, from the title to the back-cover blurb and who confesses to having been transported, and in some small way transformed, by the experience. It does not get any better than that. Ever. That drug never lets go.

So what’s an introvert to do? Writers and marketers make for strange brain-fellows. Independent writers face a discomfiting reality: going it alone means doing it all. And so you must. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing. Even if it rubs all of the fur the wrong way. Even if it stretches you well out of your comfort zone.

But hear me, my introverted comrades in letters: it’s well worth the stretch, just for that one magic encounter. Your pens glow blue. Over the hill and into the fray.


Owen Thomas, a life-long Alaskan with an abiding love of original fiction, is a product of the Anchorage School District and a graduate of Duke University and Duke Law School. While managing an employment litigation practice in Alaska, Owen has written three novels:  Lying Under Comets: A Love Story of Passion, Murder, Snacks and Graffiti; The Lion Trees, winner of thirteen international book awards; and a novel of interconnected short fiction entitled Signs of Passing, winner of the Pacific Book Awards for Short Fiction. Owen maintains an active fiction and photography blog on his author website at You can find Owen on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram. Owen has come to understand that there is a strange disquiet in referring to oneself in the third person. Owen is seriously afraid he will not be able to stop.

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