Where did the week go? I swear time goes faster the more I age. Anyways, yes, it’s another Thursday. I hope you all have been enjoying my indie writer interview series. Today I have Cora Buhlert, writer of pulp fiction. See all the links at the bottom of this post for more about Cora.
1. What first made you want to write?
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. So it was only natural that I started writing them down.
2. I see that you recently released Book 6 of your “Silencer” series. Tell me more about that.
I’ve long admired the pulp writers of the 1930s and 1940s and their amazing work ethic. For example, Walter B. Gibson, who created the Shadow wrote two short novels every month for a several years. Until the rise of indie publishing, few writers were that prolific.
The Silencer series is my homage to the pulp heroes of the 1930s and the authors who created them. It’s the story of Richard Blakemore, a pulp writer in Depression era New York City, who pens a series about a masked crimefighter known as the Silencer. However, Richard takes the advice to put yourself in the shoes of your characters one step further and actually dresses up as the Silencer to fight crime. There are four Silencer novelettes and two short stories to date with more forthcoming. All Silencer stories revolve around the same cast of characters – Richard, his fiancee Constance Allen, his good friend Captain Justin O’Grady of the NYPD (who is not a friend of the Silencer for obvious reasons), pulp publisher Jake Levonsky, etc… – but are otherwise self-contained and may be read in any order.
3. You seem to like writing shorter fiction. Why is that?
I get bored easily and like to skip around between different characters, settings, stories and even genres. Writing short fiction allows me to tell wildly different stories and actually finish them before I feel the urge to jump to something else. I actually do have a finished novel manuscript, a Steampunk Regency called The Mystery of Colfrith. However, it’s a couple of years old and probably needs a lot of work before it’s ready for publication.
4. What are you working on next?
Next up are two installments in my other series, the Shattered Empire space opera series, a short story called Seedlings and a novella called Debts To Pay, which will be released back to back in September. I’m also working on a Christmas crime short. Working title: A Bullet for Father Christmas.
5. Who is your favorite writer and why?
Do I have to settle for one? Because I’ve had so many favourite writers over the years and all of them have influenced my writing. An incomplete list would include Thomas Pynchon, Jane Austen, Isaac Asimov, Lois McMaster Bujold, Magda Trott (German YA writer), Leigh Brackett, Rob Thurman, Simon R. Green and many, many more.
6. What has worked or not worked for you in promoting your books?
I do very little traditional promotion along the lines of paid ads and the like. However, what has worked for me is making my books available in as many stores as possible and translating some of my stories into German (in my day job, I’m a professional translator, so I could do this myself) to find a whole new audience. What hasn’t worked? Having blogposts go viral is very nice (or not, if a lot of people vehemently disagree with what you have to say), but it doesn’t sell books. Twitter is great for socialising and for news, but it sells very few books. Pinterest is great for inspiration and for finding recipes, but again not so much for book sales. I’m also apparently the only indie who doesn’t have much luck with e-mail newsletters. I’m maintaining my new release newsletter, because it’s not a lot of work, but overall I sell more books via my blog or Twitter than via my mailing list.
7. What kind of research do you do for your writing?
It really depends on the genre and story. In my experience, historical and period fiction requires the most research. You’d expect that science fiction would require a lot of research as well because of the science and technological content. But my science fiction is more character than technology driven, so it’s not as research intensive as the historical fiction. Though I love plundering world history for historical events to use in my space opera series. And not just the same events and period that everybody else always borrows from either. For example, the fictional history of the Fifth Human Empire from the Shattered Empire series draws almost entirely on the history of post-WWII West Germany.
The internet makes a good start point for any sort of research. For a piece of historical fiction set in a period or country I’m not very familiar with, I usually start with Wikipedia to get a rough overview of the country in question during the time in question and then go on to more specific websites. Google Books is also very useful, since it has an extensive collection of academic books on every subject imaginable. I also like reading fiction or diaries from the period in question to get a feel for everyday life during the period. Project Gutenberg is very good for this sort of thing and if all else fails, there’s always the university library. If I’m writing about a time where they already had film, I also like watching movies from the period. For example, I watched a lot of 1930s Hollywood movies as research for the Silencer series.
For a story set in a real place I’m not intimately familiar with (for many historicals, I make up villages and towns to avoid pitfalls), Google Streetview is invaluable. However, it only shows you what a given place looks like today, not what it looked like fifty or hundred or five hundred years ago. That’s where historical maps, illustrations and photos come in very handy.
For example, the Silencer stories are set in Depression era New York, but New York no longer looks like it did in the 1930s. Luckily, there are plenty of vintage postcards, historical photos and local history blogs available online. Sometimes, these even yield intriguing information that breeds plot bunnies, e.g. learning about the dance halls in the Times Square area, where lonely men could pay so-called taxi girls to dance with them, planted to seed for an upcoming Silencer adventure where Constance goes undercover at such a dance hall to help the Silencer bust a drug ring.
In general, I find the Silencer stories more difficult to research than e.g. historical romances set hundreds of years before. Because the 1930s are still close enough to our time that it’s easy to make assumptions. Hence, I often find myself wondering whether e.g. police cars in the 1930s already had sirens (they did) or whether radar already existed in the 1930s (no) or what precisely stage blood in the 1930s was made of (animal blood, it turns out — ugh) and how difficult it would be to tell the difference between stage and real blood without modern analysis techniques.
8. What are your hopes for the next one to five years in your writing?
Getting more stories and books out there, gaining more readers and earning more money, seeing my series catching on and winning readers. I’d also like to earn enough to be able to afford custom covers for the Silencer and Shattered Empire series. I’m actually quite happy with the current CGI stock art covers, but I’d still like something that matches my stories and my vision of the characters a bit more closely. I also hope that five years from now the lingering self-publishing stigma will have completely evaporated. Now as far as readers are concerned, that stigma is already gone. But in many genres, self-publishers still have a hard time getting considered for awards and the literary scene in my hometown, where I did a lot of volunteer work as a student such as organising bookstalls and readings, is downright hostile to indie authors. So five years from now, I hope I’ll be offered the same book launch readings that trad published authors get, no matter how small or obscure their publisher.
My Bio: Cora Buhlert was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today — after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing, since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher.
Visit her on the web at www.corabuhlert.com or follow her on Twitter under @CoraBuhlert.