Welcome to the two hundred and sixty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Merlin Fraser. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Merlin. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Merlin: Now a semi-retired world-wide wanderer I am based in the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire not ten miles from where I spent most of my childhood. It is a beautiful part of the country and the thing I love about it is the fact that I came find solitude within a few miles of my home or if I choose I can be in the centre of London in just over an hour.
Writing is my third career, my first being service in the Royal Navy and then nearly thirty years in the Oil industry. I have always had a vivid imagination and like many people a desire to entertain with my stories, I guess I just went that extra step and picked up my pen.
Morgen: It sounds like you might write adventure stories, what genre do you generally write?
Merlin: I am considered a cross genre writer by the establishment. This is their polite way of telling me I wander and blur boundaries that they consider shouldn’t be blurred. I think what they truly mean is I won’t be pigeonholed. My first attempt at serious writing was suitably blurred as a ‘Romantic / Magical / Fantasy’ aimed at a young female adult target. Problem was my 3 biggest fans for that story were all over 50. It still has to be published but maybe one day I’ll go back to it.
My main genre and the one which so far has brought me my greatest success is Murder Mysteries, but even here I wander into the Paranormal genre, hopefully it’s what makes me a little bit different and helps me stand out.
More recently I have started writing a series of stories for children however on more than one occasion I have been told to stick to one genre. You can guess my answer!
Morgen: Same as mine. What have you had published to-date? Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Merlin: So far my published work consists on my Murder Mystery series ‘INNER SPACE’. This is a trilogy of stories following an underlying paranormal theme. They are centred around police Detective Inspector Nick Burton who is yanked out of his mid-life crisis to find out why his police boss, and best friend, would suddenly commit a murder. Burton is not a religious man but the answers he finds challenge what little belief he had. What’s worse things he thought as utter rubbish may be true after all.
My favourite book, so far, has to be the last one of the Inner Space trilogy, ‘The All Seeing Eye’ because it ties up all the loose ends and catches everybody out. My favourite character has to be Jill, the green eyed girl, in the story Nick Burton gets the girl… in life I wasn’t so lucky!
Morgen: Oh dear (I’m single too)… just as well you have a good imagination. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Merlin: I wasn’t accepted in the true sense of the word, especially if you mean by one of the ‘Big Six’ mainstream publishing houses. I tried, along with thousands of others and hit the same brick wall. I have long since realised how unrealistic it is to be accepted following that route, better odds on winning the lottery. Opps! Haven’t won that either.
I am what they call an ‘Independent’ author, self published. So true acceptance for me comes from my readers, if they like what I write and come back for more, then yes that is indeed a thrill.
Morgen: I’m an indie too, and it’s wonderful having a direct contact with readers. So you’ve had rejections, how do you deal with them?
Merlin: In the old naive days when I thought it was a competition on a level playing field I did take it hard when the rejection slips rolled in. In those days it was paper submissions with a self-addressed envelope for the returns they used to thump on the floor like a nail in a coffin. Then you realise they were only going through the motions, half the time you could see the pages hadn’t been touched.
Now a day’s you can submit on line, fastest and last rejection for me was four hours.
Morgen: Four hours… wow!
Merlin: How did I deal with them? I stopped play the game by their rules, I joined author web sites and talked with people in the same boat and slowly we took our ball away and started to play in our own backyard.
Morgen: Isn’t that great. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? Do you have any plan to write any eBook-only stories? And do you read eBooks?
Merlin: Yes all the Inner Space books are available as E Books on Amazon and Lulu and the process was fairly straightforward for me. I had help who found it was easier to do it for me than to teach me how to do it for myself. However, I don’t think the process is that difficult but I would urge anybody who does it as an Independent, ‘Check, Check and Check again. The digital process can and does screw up spacing’s and layout and you will have many fun hours putting it right, and even when you’re happy some smart ass will E Mail you with the ones you missed.
I don’t think I have any plans about doing an E book only story, true I sell ten times more E books than their printed colleagues but I like to give my readers the choice.
Of course, having said that, my children’s stories may well end up as E Books but not just yet. The speed of technological advancements within E Readers I can foresee a Kindle that can handle both pictures and real speech as well as text and therefore I will predict a junior Kindle that will be a book and possibly a bedtime story with pictures.
Morgen: I’ve gone the Smashwords route so far (done first because of their daunting-because-it’s-so-big-but-it’s-only-big-because-it’s-so-thorough guide) so good to hear than Amazon’s simple too. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Merlin: As an Independent we have to wear many hats and that includes a Marketing hat. I do most of the promotional work myself and yes it is extremely hard work. No one is going to do it for us least ways not without charge and you can trust me when I say you can’t afford that.
Morgen: Most authors, certainly those starting out, can’t… myself included. I’d rather give the money to a good editor because if the books are rubbish no-one’s going to buy them anyway.
Merlin: I have my website which is crucial but just like the books it has to be promoted. Facebook, Twitter and Blog sites are all part of the plan. Many people know me from web sites like Hub Pages and Linkedin where I am like a wandering mouth on a stick. You cannot just jump into the middle of an ongoing forum and shout ‘Buy Me’. Well you can and many do and then wonder why they get ignored. Any brand or product takes time to build up and you have to go gently, many of the group forums I belong to are part self-help groups. We swap stories and ideas but the biggest and most discussed subject is how to market ourselves and our work. There is no easy way.
Morgen: That’s a shame. I’ve put a poll on my new Facebook author page yesterday but have had no votes yet – I think people are still thinking. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Merlin: Yes I do. I love the name Merlin Fraser, but I confess it’s not my given name, I can’t write under my own name because it is already in use by someone else a little more famous than me. I would say who he is but he doesn’t need the publicity.
Morgen: OK, so that rules out JK Rowling. Got to be James or Dan then. If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Merlin: What a great question. Thank you.
Morgen: I’d love to see my books on the big screen or even the little screen, I’m not proud. I’m not sure who could play Nick Burton though. All my favourite British actors are too old for the part. Once they have read the books I’d love to hear suggestions from the readers who they think Nick looks like.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Merlin: The titles were all mine. Of course when I wrote story one I just called it Inner Space. I was unaware it would turn into a trilogy. There was always going to be a second book (number three in the series) I stuck one in the middle later, then I had to re jig the titles a bit. So Inner Space became a Banner for all three, Book two was sub titled ‘The Reluctant Nemesis’ and Book three was sub titled ‘The All Seeing Eye’. As book one was already in print the best I could do was call it ‘Book One’.
My covers are based upon my own thoughts but designed by professional artists.
As for how important they are I would say they are vital. As with everything in life first impressions count; the cover is there to catch the eye, the title to intrigue the reader to pick the book up and read the blurb, then you pray what’s inside lives up to the wrapper.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next? Do you manage to write every day?
Merlin: Actually I have a few projects on the go, another mystery novel to keep the fans happy, perhaps a little darker than the Inner Space trio with a slight connection but more political than detective. I’m also working on the children’s book with one or two people who are helping me with editing and also moving it towards a potential market.
Yes I suppose I do write every day, it is my new profession and even although I work for myself I have to be disciplined about it. Not necessarily on the novel though, as I said earlier I am a self published Independent author and as such I have to market myself and this is a daily chore just to stay in the public’s line of sight. As an Independent I also act as a mentor for a few other authors helping others is a very important part of the ‘Indie’ world.
Morgen: That’s what I love about writing; we’re all so willing to help each other. I’m sure there’s no other profession like it… ooh maybe I could have that as another poll. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Merlin: Yuk! I’m afraid it happens to us all, even if it’s only the shopping list we are writing out. I’ve had my share but there are ways to deal with it and the first is not to worry about it. Easy to say but difficult to do I know, but worrying will only make it worse, trust me. So will trying to force the issue, it’s one of the reasons I have four or five projects on the go at the same time nigh on impossible to be blocked on all fronts. If you find that you are then it’s not writers block but a subconscious desire to quit for the day and go for a walk.
Another thing I do is read the last chapter or the whole thing, if it’s not too long, before going to bed. Many times you will awake in the middle of the night inspired to continue writing. Welcome to my world.
Morgen: And mine, although it’s often the middle of the night before I get to bed. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Merlin: It usually starts with the germ of an idea or maybe a half decent title and of course how much I know about the subject. My fourth novel is a thriller with political overtones, originally I wanted scenes inside the House of Commons and was writing away until I realised I had no idea what I was talking about. The House of Commons has its own set of rules as to how members address one another and much more. Time to research and watch Parliamentary TV, exciting or what?
Morgen: You mentioned Nick Burton earlier, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Merlin: All my characters are based loosely upon people I know or have met, or bits of them. To make them believable it is important that you take time to build them up in the reader’s eyes. Names are less important keep them simple if you want the reader to remember them. Readers quickly loose the plot if they have to keep going back to find out who ‘so and so’ was. Equally don’t choose names that are difficult to pronounce, unless you have another character who is going to mess it up and get corrected phonetically.
I hope I make my character believable in the eyes of the reader by making them react and behave in the way the reader expects them to react. We all know our family and friends think of a situation, an accident, where there might be blood or a physical confrontation. Now think of you family and friends individually, I would guess you also know how each will react in any given situation. There’s nothing worse in a story than where a character suddenly reacts or behaves complete out of character.
Morgen: Absolutely… or has no character. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Merlin: I hate editing my own work…
Morgen: Oh me too. After a couple of run-throughs it goes off to my editor, Rachel, who I know will hack it anyway then I do one more edit when it comes back (usually agreeing with most of her suggestions) and then I think it’s cooked.
Merlin: …two reasons I always think it’s perfect as it is and the other reason is because I’m lousy at it. There comes a point in any story when you hit your stride and everything flows along. When I’m there I don’t stop for anything, if I make a mistake or there’s a typo I ignore it and go on. Sooner or later you will run out of steam or the desire for the toilet or a cup of tea is overwhelming and you stop. Save your work and switch the machine off. Leave it at least until tomorrow or even the day after then go back and tidy up.
Morgen: When you’ll read it and think… “ooh I don’t remember doing that” and hopefully love it. You just mentioned research, do you have to do much?
Merlin: Oh Yes! Doesn’t matter how much you think you know chances are your readers no more on any given subject than you do and they love to tell you so. However with Google close at hand quick research is a doddle these days.
Morgen: Isn’t that great. I love being a writer in this era. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Merlin: Again depends what I’m working on, not sure I could ever work in a public place I do like to concentrate on what I’m doing. Some time tasks like online research, answering Emails and the like I will have Classic FM playing in the background. But for serious writing I prefer silence, it’s one of the reasons I get up early, no noise.
Morgen: I’m a morning person too… and a Classic FM fan. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Merlin: Only one, the first story I ever wrote. My ex-wife thinks it’s the best thing I have ever written, she and one or two others think it is a lovely story. A sort of Harriet Potter meets the Archers romantic magical fantasy!
According to the experts it falls between two stools, and is overly long and requires serious editing. I like it the way it is, yes it needs editing, all work does, and I’m sure after all this time I could improve it a lot.
May be if the financial pressure of being a struggling author were to go away I would go back to it. It is a beautiful story full of nice people being nice for a change… I loved writing it.
Morgen: Then there’s definite hope for it. Maybe when you sell the film rights to Nick and get your favourite actor (fabulously talented so everyone wants to go and see him) playing him you can revisit the HP/A rmf. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Merlin: That would depend on the mood I’m in and how the book world is treating me that day. Sometimes I think if I had known back then what I know now I doubt if I’d have bothered picking up a pen.
Morgen: But you would have done because you love it so much.
Merlin: It is a tough world that’s for damn sure and we have to resign ourselves to the fact that most of us are not going to make it to the big time.
Of course having said that the greatest feeling in the world is hold a book with your own name on the cover followed by the first sale to someone you’re not related to.
You have to believe in yourself and grow a thick skin because the knock backs are far from gentle and there will nobody behind to pick you up. Trouble is if they are like me they aren’t listening and will go for it anyway. If they do come seek me out on the Internet, I’m not hard to find… If I can help I will, and I promise I won’t say, “I told you So!”
Morgen: What do you like to read?
Merlin: All sorts, I have just finished ‘The land of the Pained Caves’ by Jean Auel, last in her Earth Children series. I read the other five so I just had to know how it ended. I like my murder mysteries, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle, Ruth Rendell, Collin Dexter and many others. I also have a silly sense of humour so naturally P.G. Wodehouse is on the list as is Douglas Adams and Bill Bryson. Occasionally I will get caught up in something I’m researching and read about that.
Morgen: My genres then: crime and humour. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook.
Merlin: Do they all have to come at once? Being selfish I would want them all to myself, they could bring a partner if they like but that’s it. First it would have to be Sir David Attenborough, what a gentle man he is, I have been a fan of his I guess most of my life and what a lot I have learnt from him over that time. I would lay before him a meal of his choice I can’t remember if I know what he eats. Given his career and the places he has been probably anything that doesn’t eat him first.
Then it would be Mozart to thank him for the beauty, inspiration and sheer joy his music not to mention the continuing pleasure it brings into my life.
Finally, as I enjoy the company of woman so much it would have to be someone of great beauty but with a brain to match, probably someone like Carol Vorderman, she could dazzle me with her brilliance while I drool!
What would I cook? Well I do enjoy cooking and experimenting, I have been told I do a Fisherman’s Pie to die for but I usually end up with a slap when they find out the calorie count, I have a habit of using full fat butter and double cream. My favourite starter is a mix of cold and hot smoked fish, cold smoked salmon lining a ramekin then filled with a pate of either hot smoked salmon or trout seasoned and blended with cream. Main course would be something en croute, fillet beef or chicken, served with baby new potatoes fresh seasonal vegetables. Then I’d screw it all up with one of my ‘Death by Chocolate’ desserts. If I do it properly I can usually get up to ten different chocolate flavours and textures in there. It really is a wicked thing to do to the ladies in my life knowing their natural weakness for all things chocolate. But I do offer a cheese board and coffee as a substitute. (Any takers?)
Morgen: Me! Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Merlin: Not sure about books, of course it depends on what type of book you mean, if you mean something like “How to Become a Writer,” or “How to write your first Novel,” then I would have to say no. To be brutally honest I think the only people who benefit from such books are those who make money from them. Yes they will rattle out the basic principals but those we already know, like a good essay, it has to have a beginning, a middle bit and an ending! (Duh! That’ll be £12.99 Thank you.)
Morgen: One of the ‘short stories’ I judged for the 2010 H.E. Bates Short Story competition only had a middle. The rest (about 50, and the same amount in 2011) did have beginnings / endings too so I guess it’s not that hard.
Merlin: Of course it also matters a great deal what you are writing about, a cookery book doesn’t require too much of a plot. If it’s nonfiction learn how not to put your readers to sleep before you get to the point you’re trying to make. And if it’s fiction, make the plot and your characters believable and give the reader a desire to keep turning to the next page. This is a new group just starting up which I have great hopes for http://www.indiependents.org.
Morgen: Ooh great. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Merlin: Lots! It’s a great way for people to get to know you who you are and what you do. Again DON’T just go on there to flog your own book. If they are writer’s forums everybody there already knows why you’re there, same reason as they are. However, they are fantastic places to meet people, other writers and readers to swap stories, ideas and moans. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there and if you want to learn without breaking the bank get onto places like Linkedin and seek out the Writers Groups and forums.
To anybody who may be thinking about starting a book, or has one to publish go there FIRST. Do Not, and unashamedly I repeat, Do Not spent one brass farthing until you have talked to at least a dozen authors on there and surfed you little heart out through the old advice. Trust me if there is a way to screw a ‘Wannabe Author’ out of his money you will meet someone in Linkedin who has been there ahead of you and is willing to show you how to bypass the sharks.
Morgen: And quote Preditors & Editors regularly. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Merlin: I think the future is quite bright, of course the whole publishing world is up in the air at the moment and the mainstream publishing methods of old are under threat as never before. That said, the future writer now has more ways to get his work to market. If you like banging your head against brick walls stick to the tried, test and sadly old fashioned route of finding a literary agent willing to take you on. They will hopefully help you to make your work as good as it can be with editing and polishing before submitting it to their pet publisher, who may but more likely may not sign you up in which case you slide down the big snake back to the beginning and you start again.
Alternatively, choose the route of the Independent, see previous answer and head for Linkedin and start what is a very steep but fun learning curve.
Finally, and this NOT a recommendation the third route is the Vanity Publishing route. Stay away, this is for the very sad, lazy, desperate or very, very rich who will become poorer by the day until they finally work out they’ve been had Big time!
If you learn nothing else from reading this information learn this; “Anyone who tells you how wonderful your work is and offers to bring your work to market and asks you for money upfront is NOT your Friend.” These companies are in business to make money From you Not for You!
Morgen: I know! There was someone on LinkedIn only yesterday who said she’d been published and was asked for $4,000 for her ‘share’ (or it might have been ‘portion’) and my response was “An author paying a publisher? Shouldn’t it be the other way round?” Where can we find out about you and your work?
Merlin: You can start with my website: www.merlin-fraser.com.
I have written a few articles in www.Hubpages.com including posting the first chapters of all three books for anyone who needs a free sample. Amazon of course, where you can see the Inner Space books and buy them in print or E Book format. Search Merlin Fraser in Youtube for a video trailer of the books. How am I doing?
Morgen: Sounds good to me. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Merlin: I think I’d like to close by thanking you for such a great opportunity to talk about my favourite subject, ‘Me!’
Morgen: You’re so welcome. Always a pleasure, never a chore (now which film was that from? clue: spoken by Hugh Laurie). Thank you for letting me grill you.
Merlin: And hopefully pass on some pointers to all new writers out there, it’s a long journey you are about to take but take heart you no longer need to do it alone.
Morgen: Absolutely. There’s nothing quite like it. If you want to write, nothing will stop you, even if it’s just for yourself. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Merlin: When did you get so smart?
<laughs> It’s a thinly-disguised veil but lots of writing courses over the past six years and practice, including four NaNoWriMos, certainly helped. Thank you Merlin.
I then invited Merlin to include a sample of his writing and this is a short extract from ‘Inner Space Book One’.
Detective Inspector Nick Burton confronts Jill (the green eyed Doctor).
“I thought I told you to drop the act, it’s over. Plod has finally worked it out, or at least most of it. You were supposed to be a diversion, find out what I knew – give me all the cooperation in the world and tell me nothing. I don’t know if sex was any part of the plan? I just hope it was as good for you as it was for me. Was that it? Poor old soul – over the hill hasn’t had a bit in a while – feel sorry for me, did you?”
Tears were streaming down her face and her whole body was shaking. He wanted to go to her, take her up in his arms, kiss away the tears and tell her how much he loved her. But she had used him, tried to fool him and divert his attention away from the truth.
“It wasn’t like that! Yes, I was supposed to get close to you and find out what you knew, but that was all. I liked Dan, we all did but what we are doing is far too important to be jeopardised by personal issues.”
“Is that what I am, a personal issue?”
“Yes!… No!… Hell, I don’t know. I didn’t intend to fall in love with you…”
“What did you say?” Now his confidence was waning.
“That’s what I wanted to say to you yesterday but I couldn’t.”
Scottish born Merlin Fraser, displaced from a smoky traffic filled city to a green and rural setting at a very young age thinks he may have invented culture shock way back in the 1950’s.
Escaping back into the real world at the first opportunity he joined the Navy and spent the next nine years throwing up on his way to and fro from the exotic parts of the world.
Career two was much more to his liking and he spent the next thirty years wandering the world only this time in the Oil Industry.
Third career, author of the exciting trilogy of Murder Mystery Inner Space novels where he instantly hit upon a wonderful cross genre blend of the paranormal, science and murder. A heady mix for his hero detective who isn’t the sharpest pencil in the box!
Now semi retired back in the rural setting he once escaped!
Thank you so much Merlin. You can also read Merlin’s spotlight.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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