Welcome back to Journeys and Life! This is the next installment of a series of interviews I will be doing with Michigan authors. We have a very interesting and diverse bunch of writers in this state who represent a wide swath of genre’s. For the last interview this month I would like to introduce you to Peter Welmerink who is a fantastic science fiction writer whose stories are often set in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. – Michael Melville
“Peter this is the first time you have been on the Journeys and Life Blog. First off I want to thank you so much for doing this. It’s an exciting time to be an author right now. Before I start with the interview I’d like to give you a moment to introduce yourself to my readers and tell them a little bit about yourself.”
PJW: “Thanks, Mike. My name is Peter Welmerink. I am a Quality Engineer by day, family man by night, and writer in the early morning hours before having to leap back into the day job. I’d say I’ve been creating fiction since being able to hold a pencil or crayon. You think about it, we all have in a sense. Some of us just take it above and beyond.
I grew up on the west side of Grand Rapids. Middle-class family. A stone’s throw away from John Ball Park and the boonies southwest of there. Had the big city a few miles away, and the wilds a few miles in the opposite direction. Urban and rural adventure to be found.
I’d say I have always been an avid reader as well as desiring to write. In my early years, I liked reading comic books: Sgt. Rock, Batman, GI Combat, Captain America. Later, I got into reading Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Karl E Wagner, Michael Moorcock. All had fantastic thrills for me, fantastic adventure.”
It is what I enjoy writing, and still reading, today.”
MM: Peter what is the first story you can remember writing.
PJW: “ In 2nd grade, at the parochial school I attended, while the loving, peaceful nuns stood over you with yardsticks slapping you in the palm, I wrote a little ditty (assignment) on WHAT I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP. In 2nd grade–BOOM!–you are asked what you want to be when you grow up. Hell, I just wanted to know when recess was and survive another game of dodgeball (called Bombardo in my day).
On a few pieces of those jumbo-lined writing pages, I wrote that I wanted to be a farmer. I wanted to raise goats, cows, chickens, horses, ostriches, lions, tigers, otters and platypi. I wanted to grow corn, potatoes, beans, avocados, pineapples, oranges, bananas, kiwi fruit. You know, all stuff that can be easily growable and attainable in Michigan.
I guess actual fictional tales, not assigned for school projects or the threat of knuckle-annihilation from the sweet Sisters, went into single subject school notebooks. They were mostly stories about girls, or my strange dreams that were vivid enough to remember and make some sort of story from, or fighting in a starship (Influence: 1977 Star Wars) or being a lone dude in a post-Apoc world (Influence: the original Mad Max), or hacking through foes with a sword (Influence: Howard, ERB, Wagner, Ah-Nold-As-Conan Movie).”
MM: Looking around your blog and perhaps stalking you a bit on Facebook (I call it research) family is a huge part of your life. So, how do you balance your life as an author and your family life?
PJW: *pulls shower curtain closed* Quit stalking me, dude!
“At a recent book signing gig, someone asked that same question to us insane author peoples. My answer: I work. I get home and focus on wife and kids. I sleep. I get up early, and after a shower in coffee, I get my CREATE ON. I do this 7 days a week: get up early and try to write a little. I am a huge procrastinator, my own worst enemy when really trying to focus on writing, but I getter done somehow, someway. If you want to do, you can do it. Discipline. Focus. A coffee shower in the morning.
Book gigs. Conventions. Local travel to support the books. That is harder to schedule around and with family, not to mention if the costs are so high we may be eating Ramen noodles the next few weeks. (My wife will not let me get away with that, and my kids would not appreciate that so…)”
MM: Where and how do you come up with the concepts for your covers? I think they are incredibly unique and really eye catching. I am super involved with my covers from start to finish so how does this work for you.
PJW: “I got very lucky. If we’re talking current TRANSPORT (Seventh Star Press) material, the tri-panel (triptych) cover art was done by super-talented Jason Conley as assigned to me by my publisher. I basically had an idea of what I wanted to see on the cover from day one, had some sketchy chicken-scratchings (ie, stick figures and crudely drawn vehicles and landscape) and reference photos from all manner of sources, told Jason what I was visualizing, and let him run with it. It took me a week and lots of Xanax to mellow back out after he finished the whole thing and sent me the action-oh-licious cover spread.
Again, for my little Scifi yarn, RETURN TO STRANGE HOME (Peninsulam Publishing), I had an idea of what I wanted to see on the cover, and worked with the also super-talented Tim Holtrop.
Basically, both publishers let me work very, very one-on-one with the illustrators to (hopefully) come up with something that POPPED.”
MM: According to Amazon your first published book was a book you co-wrote with Steven L. Shrewsbury in 2011 and your first solo novel was published in 2014 but you also wrote a novella called Obliteration of the Blind in 2013. How long have you been writing in an effort to publish prior to 2011?
PJW: “I had done some self-pubbed work with friend Russ Colter on a local comic book venture, PETRUS COMICS, in the early 90’s while starting to submit Fantasy short stories and poems to different publications (anthologies, small press magazines and ezines). My first published short story, A PARTING AT SUNSET, was pubbed in the Dan Rivers Anthology in 1998. After that, it was hit-and-miss, some acceptances, many rejections, with submitting short stories to various anthologies and ezines.
But if you got the CREATING bug, you are going to keep creating and pushing onward.”
MM: We writers all have flaws, mistakes when it comes to our work or quality that we make time and time again, vow to change and they continue to occasionally pop up. What is yours?
PJW: Passive Voice. Being too purple-prosey. Those have been common point-outs by editors.
I also used to sit down and write, and then sit down and write later, re-reading and editing what I wrote prior…which would eat into my current writing time. It was counterproductive. It took some discipline, but now I try to just SIT DOWN AND WRITE IT OUT. I sit down and just continue on with the story, not going back and correcting myself, checking myself. I know the first draft is gonna be rough, is gonna suck. The main point is to get the tale out and done. Vomit forth the story, then clean it up later.
I read a really good book by Chuck Wendig, THE BLUE BLAZES. I had heard it was a great story, and great to read as a writer. All the words POP. Like WHAM WHAM WHAM, and you get wrapped up and dragged along and down with the characters and events. I try to write like that. That book was very influential. (I wrote TRANSPORT Book One, read THE BLUE BLAZES, and then wrote TRANSPORT: HUNT FOR THE FALLEN. You can tell I changed things up between the two.)
I am always learning and trying to improve my craft. Always. I doubt I will ever reach ultimate perfection, but will keep trying…and hope I have a good editor to continue to show my foibles and help me grow.
MM: Peter up to this point I have spent so much time building up my online presence as an author (the extent and quality of that is up in the air) that it’s only recently where I’ve begun trying to build a local (West Michigan) presence and I feel like I have no idea where to start or what I am doing right/wrong or what to do next. I imagine other authors in our area and other areas feel the same way. What is/was the hardest part about getting people in West Michigan interested in your books and getting your name out there. How has social media helped that? Any tips?
PJW: “How to start to build a local presence. Simple. (And I am not being flippant here.) Start going to local shops, local vendors. Small bookstores. (Schuler Books is a big support of local authors, and even a few B&N’s in the West Michigan area.) Libraries. Libraries are your friends also. Look for local events, even the small ones. The name of the game is to get your name, your face, your work, out there.
I once talked to a USED BOOKSTORE owner about selling my books at his store. He said, “But I don’t deal in new books, and I usually don’t stock new books.” I said I’d bring my own table and gear, set up just outside his front door (there was no room inside), and besides letting me do a mini-book gig there, I’d split any book sales 60/40 (60% to me, 40% to him). He agreed and said he’d even post the event on his extensive FB page, etc. (I didn’t do it yet as we ran out of good weather to do an outside event.)
Get some promotional postcards and business cards made up. If you see stores or restaurants or whatever places that will have promotional literature near their front door, ask if you can leave a few of your own promo cards and biz cards there. There is no hard part in getting people in WM interested in your work, you just have to get yourself out there. Talk to people. People know people, who know people, who may have promotional avenues for you to pursue through other people. Comic book stores. Coffee shops. Museum gift shops. Stores that support Michigan-Made products.
Any of those outlets though you are going to have to arrange a deal, sweeten the pot for them and not just dump your stuff there.
SOCIAL MEDIA. If you go on Facebook and search for Michigan Authors, Written in the Mitten, etc., you will find groups of like-minded Michigan and West Michigan creatives. Also, there are other author groups, reader groups, genre groups, that you can find on FB to try and make a PRESENCE.
On using Social Media, I think the name of the game is CONSISTENCY. Putting information out there about your material, about events you will be attending. On FB. On Twitter. And on a blog or personal website. But you need to keep at it. I am not saying just keep posting MY BOOK ON AMAZON. I dislike always seeing the same old book blurb and cover. I mean, it’s okay to do, but I think if you change it up with a little artwork snippet or related picture–SOMETHING other than the same old book blurb and rant–people will pay you a bit more attention.
How has Social Media helped me? I can definitely say, especially with FB, that I have been able to make contact with interested peoples and parties, and got them to look at my work and how weird I am. LOL
MM: What made you choose our hometown, Grand Rapids Michigan for the location of your TRANSPORT Series or all your stories for that matter?
PJW: “I love Grand Rapids. I grew up on the WEST SIDE. I drive through the Grand Rapids and the WS (West Side) every day. I take my kids to my old WS haunts. GR and the WS was where I grew up, had adventures, sat up in the woods near John Ball and imagined fantastic tales.
West Michigan is an awesome place. You have the big city life. You have rural farm communities. Concrete jungles and miles of forested wilderness. Man-made things and nature. The Big Lake. Man, it’s all here, so why not stories of adventure and intrigue and craziness in Grand Rapids, Michigan?
Why should Chicago, New York, LA and Atlanta GA have all the action? LOL
Note: BEDLAM UNLEASHED and OBLITERATION OF THE BLIND do not take place in GR.”
MM: How long does it typically take you as an author to write your novels/novellas? Sum up the process?
PJW: I usually have a few projects cooking, but typically work on one at a time. Maybe two if I am really excited about things and the story is flowing for me.
TRANSPORT (the first book at least) took about a year and a half to write and then go through multiple editing stages, re-writing, polishing, more editing. It’s only about 40k words but, mind you, I had always been a short story writer. So, really, if you think about it, writing a 40,000-word yarn in a year and a half probably sounds pretty pathetic. (Mind you, I was working on other stuff though main focus was on TRANSPORT..and playing Minecraft. LOL)
I guess to really gauge things. TRANSPORT (Book One) came out in May 2014. I started on TRANSPORT (Book Two) HUNT FOR THE FALLEN probably January 2014. Book Two then came out in December 2014. Book Two was 46k-ish word count. I started writing TRANSPORT (Book Three) UNCIVIL WAR in October 2014 and it, officially, came out in September 2015. That book is my biggest solo writing piece to date at nearly 70,000-words.
I guess looking at it now…HOLEY TYPING MADNESS, BATMAN…I was a writing machine when it came to getting the series done. (And it “reads” pretty well from what I’ve happily and very thankfully have heard via reviews.) The process? It seems all a blur now, even with current novella-length stuff I feel is flowing out of me. I think if you got the real bug and the stories to tell, the stuff just flows out. You just keep working on it. You keep coming back and working on it until it’s done. Process is to keep going. Stay focused. Stay positive. Stay excited, and keep going.
MM: As a reader who do you enjoy reading the most? What authors or novels inspire you as an author?
PJW: “I am reading a lot of David Drake material right now since I got my MILITARY ON. For Fantasy, currently, anything GOTREK & FELIX (Warhammer Universe) and/or WARHAMMER 40K. Dark, gritty, hard-hitting stuff.
The aforementioned THE BLUE BLAZES by Chuck Wendig is a fave. Steven Shrewsbury’s BORN OF SWORDS is one of the last really good hardcore Epic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery novels I have read.The inspiration is I see these folks, these books, on the shelves of either new or used book outlets, and I aspire to be there too. I want to tell tales. I want to leave a piece of me out there for people to hopefully enjoy. I have some old favorites stashed away that I pull out to be refreshed and inspired also. The aforementioned Howard, Wagner, Burroughs, Lieber.”
MM: Writers sometimes have a favorite setting or even season where they feel most productive and inspired as an author. Mine is late at night or in the fall? So Peter, what is yours?
PJW: I sometimes write at night. Sometimes. But I have kind of trained myself to write in the morning before everyone gets up when my mind is refreshed and the coffee is hot. If I can squeeze in a little writing during the kids’ basketball practice, I do some there also.
I don’t believe I have a preferred season to write or a season where I feel more inspired. I do like having a window cracked to let in the fresh air and hear the outside sounds. Not so much in the winter, so maybe Spring, Summer, and Fall are my months. 🙂
MM: Is there a genre that as an author and reader just doesn’t interest you in writing in or reading?
PJW: Though there may be a little romance in my books, maybe, I probably couldn’t sit down and write a Romance. Probably anything else is fair game. I like Steampunk, Dystopian/Apocalyptic, Epic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery and Military Thrillers most, so that is probably what I will stick with.
MM: Think back when you were a little kid. What did you want to be when you grew up?
PJW: I wanted to be a farmer. Then I wanted to be a zookeeper.
MM: Years ago you could be an author and just write, send our manuscripts and maybe get published (more didn’t get published then did). There wasn’t as much personal involvement expected for an author (even successful ones) outside of books tours and speaking engagements. Back then writers were allowed a certain amount of privacy and anonymity in their lives. In modern publishing, however, the expectations to be on social media connecting with readers, other authors and people in the publishing business, blogging, talking about writing and being more “out there” are bigger than ever. This almost forces some writers to be more open publically than they are often comfortable with, sharing things about themselves and about their personal lives with readers (or potential ones) that they normally would not. I know some older authors have a very hard time with grasping social media and being on it. (NO I’m not calling you old lol) Where is the line for you, Peter? Have these new expectations helped or hindered you as a modern writer and where is the line for you when it comes to over-sharing. (Sorry for that long winded questions)
PJW: I think, now more than ever, it is our job as CREATIVES to be in charge of our creations. My work is my baby, and even if it gets picked up by a large or small press traditional publisher, or if it is self-pubbed–doesn’t matter–I want to be somehow, someway, in control of it.
As far as privacy and anonymity, um, well, if you subscribe to any form of Social Media, that is pretty much gone out the window. If I was some big leaguer like JK Rowlings or Stephen King, yeah, I might want some form of small barrier to keep from being overhounded. (I think I made a new word there.) But folks like you and me aren’t at that stage yet. WE WANT TO BE SEEN at this stage in the game. Social Media helps. (Though can be a huge time suck. Focus, Grasshopper. Discipline, Grasshopper.)
I used to have a FB page just for my AUTHOR SIDE. It was such a pain in the ass to keep it updated between my website (pwelmerink.wordpress.com), two blogs (darkheroicfantasy.blogspot.com and grandrapidsaltered.blogspot.com) and two FB pages, and Twitter…and…and…and… And really all the people I interacted with regarding writing and my books were on my main FB page (www.facebook.com/pwelmerink).
So I snuffed out the Author FB page and kept everything on one. Writing updates. Family updates. Therapist updates. LOL
When people are beating down my door because they just gotta have my latest written work, then I may reconsider privacy and anonymity. 🙂
Peter, is there anything else you want to throw out there and tell people?
PJW: Stay positive. Keep moving forward. The world is a crazy place, yup. It’s always been that way. (Read some ancient history books or world history books. Humankind has always been trying to cave in its own skull.) It is up to us to keep pushing forward.
And if you are a CREATIVE. Create! Just do it. Do it mainly for yourself. Have fun with it. What is cool with that is if you enjoy it, and it gets out into public hands, usually they enjoy it too…no matter if it’s Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Zompocalypse.
The main thing is to CREATE.
I’m Oscar Mike. (Military term for On The Move.)
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