"Cluck: Murder Most Fowl" is a story about an undead chicken. I'm tempted to just say that says it all and leave it at that...but could you please elaborate on the novel for us?
Cluck is a story about undead chickens, that's true, but more importantly it's a story of growth and perseverance. The story covers the life of our hero from his early childhood. As happens to most people at some point in their lives, he finds himself in an unpredicted situation and he has to deal with it. Part of any character's growth involves the revelation that there are both positive and negative aspects to any circumstance, and learning how to deal with that. In this case, that circumstance just happen to involve undead chickens, and a secret organization of chicken exorcists, and -- as the title suggests -- a murder.
So yes, you can certainly summarize Cluck as a story about undead chickens, and I often do. As a reader, if that thought sounds funny or intriguing in any way, you'll probably like Cluck, and so maybe that's enough information. For those looking for something deeper, Cluck is also about dealing with those uncontrollable influences in your life, coming to terms with them, and finding peace. My primary goal when writing Cluck was to make it fun, so rather than preach that message, I show it through a logical parallel: the conflict between a French chicken exorcist and a giant zombie rooster. It certainly made it a lot more fun to write, and the end result is a story that straddles between humor and horror and fantasy, and yet somehow manages to taste like literary fiction.
What prompted you to create "Cluck?"
There were a few motivating factors behind Cluck.
I earn my living predominantly by writing technical papers and marketing materials, so when I write fiction I tend to aim more towards the other half of my brain: diving deep into the fantastic, and trying to create characters and environments that no one has read about before. That's why my fiction writing tends to be "excessively creative," as one critic put it (I chose to take that as a compliment, by the way). But believe it or not, "Cluck" originally started with a dream. Seriously. Stay up really late watching horror movies, go to sleep to the sound of a rooster crowing at a full moon, and you'll understand. I had a dream, woke up, scrambled for my laptop, and wrote it down as quickly as possible. It was crazy, and silly, and I asked myself "could this ever be a real story?"
The answer was obviously "yes," although the dream itself only defined the initial premise. It was a great start, though: the concept of shambling undead chickens, at once frightening and ridiculous ... it's just so vivid. A pivotal element of Cluck's premise is that everything has a soul, which certainly explains the existence of undead chickens. Take that a step further, though, and you have a world where anyone who is in tune with the spirit world is also in tune with just about everything around them. That means that a house or a car can have a personality and even interact with the "real world" to a certain degree. The end result is a setting that's fun to write in, and hopefully enjoyable to read about.
Another shaping influence is my own love of the "horror comedy" genre. I'm a firm believer that horror and comedy belong together, because when we feel uncomfortable about something, we instinctively look to laughter as a defense. That's why I often classify Cluck as "Horror Comedy" rather than "Fantasy" … because I'm such a fan of that psychological synergy. Cluck is really tame for a "horror" book, though. After all, undead chickens aren't particularly menacing. Sure, they haunt and hunt, but they do it from the perspective of one of the lowest creatures on the food chain.
P.S. Yes, I'm a huge fan of Bruce Campbell's Evil Dead trilogy, and still hope that some day he'll play the lead in "Cluck: the Movie".
"Cluck" seems to have been pretty well received critically. I see that it was a Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award, and got a bronze medal at the Independent Publisher Book Award. Can you tell us a little bit more about these competitions?
Cluck has been very well received. Despite my own lack of business savvy and a practically non-existent promotional effort, Cluck has done well and has been getting great reviews, and I've even developed a small but growing fan base of cluck-ites. To me, personally, that's even more important than winning awards. As a struggling author, however, I can't ignore the validation of winning a contest. Cluck's awards raised me from being a self published author (read: a hack) to being an award winning self published author (read: a hack with some talent). I joke about it, but being self published carries a stigma. Despite the fact that many skilled writers have very good reasons for self publishing, many people self publish because they think that being "a writer" means having both a) fingers, and b) a word processor. So, if you self-publish and you want to be taken at least somewhat seriously in the book business, validation is important.
In terms of ForeWord and the Independent Publishers Book Award (or "IPPY"), both contests were professionally run and fair, and both attract a huge number of contestants. There's an entry fee, which weeds out the less serious--some people see that as a negative, but I see it as adding credibility to the contest, and therefore the award should you receive it. In my case, I was a finalist in both contests, and so I flew off to Book Expo America (which was in LA that year) to sit through the award ceremonies. Although I won the IPPY and lost the ForeWord award, both were amazing experiences. Interestingly, losing the ForeWord award made me feel more like a "real writer" … I had raised my hopes and they'd been dashed against the rocks, but it didn't really bother me. I'd finally grown the proverbial "thick skin" that authors are supposed to need in order to survive, and it hadn't even required surgery.
The experience of winning the bronze IPPY was absolutely surreal. There was a big ceremony, and as they announced your name, you walked up and had a medal placed around your neck. It felt like I was in the final scene of Star Wars: A New Hope, when Princess Leia places the medal around Luke Skywalker's neck. Like I said: surreal. I mean, Luke got a medal for saving thousands of lives and defeating Darth Vadar, and I got a medal just like his for writing a book--and I didn't even have to kiss my sister to get mine.
Are there any more award competitions you can recommend people send their novels to?
There are a lot of competitions, and you'll only win them if you a) enter, and b) you write a top-notch book. To that end, write a good book, and then enter every contest that your book qualifies for (after spending some time researching each to make sure they're credible, of course).
What effect has sending your novel off to these competitions had on your sales/visibility?
Not much visibility in terms of immediate sales, although as I mentioned the validation of an award does help break through the stigma of being self published.
I'm not sure if it was the awards, or the growing word of mouth around Cluck, but for me the validation has paid off ... I've won the attention of a 'real' publisher for "Cluck: Murder Most Fowl" and hopefully for the upcoming sequel, "Quack: Murder Most Waterfowl". Actually, I bet a strong Amazon sales rank could help my chances ... quick! Stop reading this and go buy ten copies of Cluck. Please?
Do you do any book signings, etc.? What are your methods of promotion and how effective have they been?
I've done a few signings, and they are helpful. They can also be fun: it's almost a guarantee that people looking for signed copies of a book about dead chickens are going to be interesting. If you do a book signing, make sure the local papers (in whatever area the signing is going to be) know about it. For one thing, it will help drive attendance so you won't have to sit around bored for a few hours, and for another, people who will never step inside a physical bookstore might take note and order your book online.
What is BookSurge Publishing and how effective would you say it was for you?
BookSurge was an Amazon company for POD-based self-publishing, which has since been absorbed into CreateSpace. At the time, I chose BookSurge because they allowed me to do my own design and layout, giving me 100% control over how the book would look. To that end it was very effective: the book looks great (in my own humble opinion). However, any POD self publishing company is going to only get you to the point that you'll have a book that can be sold online. Any company that asks you to pay to publish a book falls into this category, and you shouldn't expect them to provide any real services for you beyond that. The hard work (writing, editing, marketing, etc) is going to be up to you.
Approximately how many copies of "Cluck" have you managed to move?
I honestly don't keep close track, but I'd say somewhere shy of a thousand copies over a period of a couple of years. I don't do a lot of active promotions, though.
Your other novel "Out of Place Out of Time" was selected for a special publishing program with iUniverse. What was the name of that program? How effective was it?
Out of Place Out of Time (which I refer to as OOPOOT, because the title is just too long) was selected for iUniverse's "Editor's Choice" program, which supposedly puts your books in physical Barnes & Nobel stores if it sells more than so many copies. I have no visibility into what actually happens behind the scenes at iUniverse to support that, if anything. Self publishing options change almost daily, though, so my advice is to do your research in any case. These companies compete with each other, so there are always new services and programs being offered. I'll say this as well: don't discount traditional publishing just because it's hard work to get published that way. There are many good reasons to self publish, and I'm a huge fan of independent publishing in general, but it's only one of several options, and you should consider them all.
What prompted the switch to BookSurge?
The two books were published far enough apart that I completely reassessed all of the available options. I was trying to the raise the bar of self publishing with Cluck, and BookSurge was the only option at the time that allowed for me to create my own interior and exterior layout ... at least that I was aware of. Cluck is illustrated, too ... and most self publishing companies charge extra per illustration. By producing my own book block, I avoided all that.
What other projects do you have on the horizon?
I'm currently working on a few projects, including the above-mentioned sequel to Cluck. Some other stories that are rattling around in my head include a cyberpunk thriller about high-tech information espionage, which I'm looking forward to putting on paper.
Is there anything else about you we should know?
Not many people know this about me, but I'm actually not as crazy as I seem. Almost, but not quite.
Be sure to check out Eric's web page here!