What do Hugh Howey and Matthew Mather have in common? Yes, they are all in the top 10 Amazon authors, but they have something, actually somebody else in common: the uber talented Jason Gurley designed their book covers. But wait, Jason is not just a designer: he's also a successful writer, with four published novels and a fifth about to be released next month. Jason has designed book covers for Amazon Publishing, Subterranean Press, Prime Books and many independent authors, among them bestsellers Hugh Howey, Matthew Mather, Russell Blake, Michael Bunker, Ernie Lindsey and others. And by book covers I mean stunning artwork, just check out Jason's gallery for a sample. I love how with "just" an amazing texture and a beautiful font, Jason can make a stunning cover.
Jason has been publishing his novels for a little over a year now, and his next novel, Eleanor, is due for release on June 27, but you can preorder it now and get the digital copy for free via Kindle MatchBook. Wait, it gets better: you'll get a free ARC copy if you sign up for Jason's newsletter before June 16!
There's a reason why Jason is so generous with his readers -- when asked why he chose to self-publish rather than going through the traditional path, his reply touched my heart:
"Self-publishing‚ or indie publishing, however you want to refer to it, actually leads to publication. For most authors, including me, the traditional route has only led to dead ends and rejection and heartache. Self-publishing, on the other hand, leads to readers, which are all I have ever wanted. And I have fabulous readers. Very few people know who I am, or what I write, and that's okay, because the little group of those who do are wonderful and supportive and just the nicest people. I love them. And I'd never have met them if I hadn't decided to go this on my own."(You can find the full interview by Lesley Smith here.)
Beautifully said, Jason! The one thing us writers want the most is readers. Indie publishing has allowed us to find readers. Readers make our stories come alive and they give back their wonderful feedback. This is truly the most rewarding thing a writer can ask for.
I'm digressing. What I really should be saying at this point is how honored I am to have Jason as a guest today on CHIMERAS!
EEG: Tell us a bit about yourself: you are a design artist, a writer, a husband, a father ... what's your background? Did you come to visual art and writing from different routes?
JG: As I recall, I stumbled into design by way of writing. Though as a kid I always imagined I'd work for Disney or something, I never really pursued a career in the visual arts. Writing was my first and strongest love. The design career came from that. I took a job copy editing on websites, and one day the designer I worked with called in sick. There was a minor design emergency, so I opened Photoshop, learned enough to fix the problem. . . and I haven't closed Photoshop in 15 years.
EEG: You just released the short story collection Deep Breath Hold Tight, your fifth novel, Eleanor will be released next month, and your first novel, published a little over a year ago, The Greatfall is an Amazon bestseller! What's the secret for being so successful and prolific at the same time?
JG: Well, 'successful' is relative, isn't it? I've given away far more books than I've sold, by a rather large margin. For now I don't worry all that much about sales, though. I don't rely on my books to pay the bills. I have a very fulfilling design career, and I write because I just enjoy telling stories, and having people read them.
As for popular -- I'd debate that one with you! I'm fortunate to have a passionate group of readers who seem to enjoy the work I've published -- though I would never take for granted that I've 'earned' them. Every book is an opportunity to disillusion a reader, or capture the heart of a new one. I take that seriously.
I define success a little differently, I suppose you could say. For me, it's all about knowing people are reading and enjoying the stories I tell, no matter how they come by the books. Eighteen months ago, that number was zero. Now, if you count every person who has bought a book and every person who has gotten one for free, there are probably close to a hundred thousand people who have my books close at hand, whether on a shelf or beside their bed or hanging out on their e-readers, waiting for a spare moment.
Of course, that doesn't mean a hundred thousand people have read my books. Not by a long shot. I download books like a fiend on my iPhone, and sometimes they sit there for a year before I work my way down the list to them. But I like that thought as well. Someone who downloaded The Man Who Ended the World today might not read it until 2015. There's no more shelf-life. Books are rapidly becoming forever.
EEG: You started writing Eleanor 13 years ago, and I know it's been a labor of love: tell us about the book and the inspiration behind it.
JG: A labor of love, most definitely. An exercise in frustration? That, too. It's hard not to both love and despise a book when you've spent that much time on it. You love it for what it means to you; you resent it for taking over your life. I'm both thrilled and enormously relieved to finish it.
I've alluded here and there to the backstory of this book and how it came to be. The book emerged during a time of personal reflection. I was twenty-three years old. I'd written three novels that weren't great -- weren't awful (well, maybe one of them was), but weren't going to light anybody up. I wasn't hopeful about my writing career panning out. Things were different then. Self-publishing was expensive and there was a greater stigma attached to it than there is now, so my option was the traditional publishing path, and that's a thorny gauntlet.
Personal reflection, though: I should mention here that my father is a Pentecostal minister. His brother is, too. I went to a Bible college, where they tried to turn me into a preacher. I lasted a single semester. My family history was thoroughly steeped in the Pentecostal church. A man named A.D. Gurley was involved in the founding of the Pentecostal church and its early doctrines. As I understand it, we're related somewhere in the branches of my family tree. A much more distant relative, Phineas Gurley, was the chaplain of the U.S. Senate in the 1800s, and also Abraham Lincoln's pastor and eulogist.
That's a lot of history to consider when your own belief system seems to have faltered. At twenty-three I started asking questions that I'd always wondered about but never vocalized. I wasn't sure if I believed in a god, and that was a problem. It contributed to the end of my first marriage. It resulted in the loss of friends. But it also birthed Eleanor.
In the beginning Eleanor was a very different book. In retrospect, it was clearly a vehicle for some big questions I was asking, and some challenging decisions I was making in my own life. For several years, it was a story about a girl who met God while she was comatose, and after waking from her coma, spent her life trying to replicate the experience. The book was literally asking whether or not a god existed, and I was going to use it to try to answer that question for myself.
I'm thirty-five now, and this is Eleanor's thirteenth year, and it's long since abandoned those early questions. I've answered a lot of those for myself, and they're not gnawing at me the way they were when I was younger. That's really released the book from the burden of what it was trying to do, and allowed Eleanor to find her own story.
And her own story is really marvelous. Eleanor is about mothers and daughters, not gods or belief. It's about family tragedy, and finding a way to set right the kinds of wrongs that echo for decades. It's about time, and leaps of faith, and worlds that crash into each other in a very real and literal sense. I've been floored by a few readers and other authors who have compared the book to Neil Gaiman's wonderful The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. Floored. Those books are perfect examples of fantasy and reality blurring the lines of a young person's life, and it's really moving to hear people suggest that my book belongs in the same breath as those masterpieces.
EEG: That's really intriguing, I can't wait to read Eleanor! On a side note, I finished my first novel after I decided the God I'd been raised with wasn't really "my" God. I've often thought about that and I don't think it was a coincidence. But I'm digressing, again. Will Eleanor be part of a series?
JG: Eleanor is that all-time classic — the stand-alone novel. It’s always been that, except for a brief foray into graphic novel-dom (still visible here, though the novel is vastly, vastly different). I toyed with the idea of turning it into a serial novel last fall, and quickly shot that down when beta readers pointed out that there were no logical break-points in the story that wouldn’t infuriate readers. So: It’s a novel, and one that’s grown a little bigger with editing, and it would be nice to write one or two books like this one every year.
EEG: What other books are on your burner, then?
JG: Well, Eleanor is the big one — it’s the culmination of many, many years’ worth of starts and stops, writing vacations, all-night outlining marathons, massive overhauls and redesigns, and now with it on the verge of release… Let’s see. Next up is The Travelers, the final book in a sci-fi trilogy that I began last year. That should be a lot of fun, and a much faster affair than Eleanor, by far. I’m also quite privileged to have been invited to contribute short stories to a few anthologies — Synchronic, a time-travel anthology edited by David Gatewood, has just come out, and in July I’ll be in John Joseph Adams’s Help Fund My Robot Army!!! You’ll know my story because it’s the one not written by someone famous. (Though I did design its cover, and it’s quite nice.)
EEG: Whaddya know, you'll be famous by then! ;-) Your book covers are stunning: when did you start making book covers, and is it something you enjoy just as much as writing, or is it a diversion, rather?
JG: You know, it's both. I really love making book covers ‚Äî but I also love writing my own stories. And when you're a husband and a father and you have a full-time career that you enjoy, there's only so much you can give your free moments to. So I'm learning how to give all of my limited creative time to the thing I love most -- writing books -- and slowly diminishing my cover work. I'll probably still produce the odd book cover here and there, but if I'm successful you'll hear my name less in reference to design, and hopefully more in reference to good stories.
And to answer your first question, I started making them with my own first book, The Man Who Ended the World. After a few really lovely covers of my own, I started doing them as favors for some author friends. And then Hugh Howey came along, and gave me a chance to design some beautiful wraps for his own terrific stories, and that changed everything!
EEG: Oh no, then I have to hurry up to order my next book cover! ;-)
Do you find science inspiring for your work?
JG: I love science. I really, truly do. But I love the wonder of science more. I love the feeling that I get when my family and I drive to my parents' house -- they live in the Washington woods -- and as everyone goes inside, I stand outside under the stars and just stare. It's so utterly black out there, and the stars are just crisp. I watch them for awhile before I remember to unpack our bags from the Jeep.
That sense of wonder is important to me, and it's more important to me than hard science, at least when it comes to writing. I'm sure many of the things that happen in my books can be refuted or corrected by someone who knows more about science than me. My friend and fellow novelist Peter Cawdron often educates me about this, pointing out how the things I write about would really work. I don't worry so much about those kinds of details, and they don't bubble up to the surface in my work all that often, because I try very hard to tell stories about humans, about emotions. As one of my readers would explain, there's not always a lot of pew-pew in my stories, but there are plenty of feels.
I love movies like this, too. There are some really wonderful character-driven stories that taken place against a backdrop of science fiction, rather than pushing science to the foreground. Her is a good recent example. Another Earth is one of my favorites. You could consider Moon or Upstream Color or even Safety Not Guaranteed to be examples of this, too. There's no real term for this kind of story, unless I've missed it. I call it 'quiet' science fiction, for lack of a better word -- stories in which the technical aspects of the story only occupy the foreground when it's necessary, leaving plenty of room for the emotional weight of the characters and their journey to fill the space.
EEG: "Feels" is what makes a great story. I know I've read a great book when I keep thinking about the emotions the story stirred as I read through.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us today, Jason! You can find out more about Jason's books and book covers on his website, Facebook, and twitter. Go preorder your copy of Eleanor and don't forget to sign up for Jason's newsletter, you'll get books for free!