The world of Malachi Stone is an experience. Not just the books, of course. His personas. The Facebook army he's created. Roughly 48% of my friends on Facebook are Malachi Stone. Recently, he took time out of his busy schedule of creating personalities and writing novels to chat with me.
Steve Weddle: When I try to explain your writing style to people, I say it has a certain gravitas implied, as well as a complete disregard for normalcy. I say it’s like Theodore Dreiser meets Kurt Vonnegut in the middle of a Sunday sermon. Does that seem accurate? Am I missing an important element?
Malachi Stone: Wow! Thank you so much, Steve! May I lift a quote from that and use it as a blurb? Actually, I have a passion for originality. If, after I've written something, I detect the faintest hint of imitation, I delete it and start over. My worst nightmare is publishing a novel and then discovering there's unconscious plagiarism lurking somewhere.
SW: What sort of element – plot, character, setting – do you start with when writing a novel?
MS: Not to be flippant, but I just start writing and before long the characters write themselves. I do tend to favor dark characters with strange and powerful obsessions, who inhabit convoluted plots and exotic locales like Belleville IL, which, as you may know, is the sister city of Paderborn Germany.
SW: Through the years, you’ve been active in Smashwords, Authonomy, and the Amazon direct publishing, as well as other online sites. Is it helpful to go the agent route or is direct publishing a solid plan? Aside from “Write a good book,” do you have any strong feelings on the state of publishing from an author’s point of view?
MS: Like so many others, I fell back on DIY only because I was shut out of traditional publishing. Once upon a time I had been represented by a capable literary agent/editor who threw her best efforts into it but after more than three years couldn't "find a home" for any of my novels, as the saying goes. I'm far from bitter about it; she worked hard and never made a dime off me.
Maybe I'm too personally invested in my novels to be able to bear seeing them homeless. Whatever the reason, I don't take rejection well. My wife says she remembers me staying up all night after the breakup with my agent. Writing, I've always believed, is a form of performance art. When one editor after another rejects my books, it's like I'm center stage in an old vaudeville theater, giving them a righteous buck and wing, while out in the audience all these assholes are lobbing overripe tomatoes at me—tomatoes like, "people don't want to read about negative protagonists," or "too much explicit sex." So, unwilling to give up on writing, I started looking around, and self publishing seemed to be the only option.
Amazon is the big dog on the block, of course, but I also publish on Nook Press (Barnes & Noble) and on the two aggregators Draft2Digital and Smashwords. Smashwords is not only an aggregator but also publishes ebooks on its own site. Draft2Digital offers user-friendly formatting but charges you ten per cent off the top for that service. Nook Press is a no-brainer. You just slap your .docx manuscript up on their site and you're published, Dude. The others require a bit more effort, but anyone can do it with a little practice. I taught myself to format my novels for Kindle, Smashwords and, more recently, CreateSpace for POD paperback editions of all ten.
Self publishing is a daunting and yet exhilarating experience for an author. You're putting yourself on the line balls-out, with no copy editor, no story editor, no legal department, no publicity department and no sales team. (Notice how I eliminated the Oxford comma in that last sentence? Why? Because I wanted to, that's why.)
As to formatting, you're better off doing it yourself rather than ponying up money to somebody else to do it for you. I've found out that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, especially when that old dog has an aversion to paying other people to format books that, if they sell at all, will net me less than two bucks a throw. CreateSpace took me nearly a week, off and on, to master, but I'd rather do it that way than pay CreateSpace's people $399 and up to do it for me. Now that I know how, although I'm by no means an expert—my knowledge is limited to Word 7, for instance—I'd be happy to help anyone who wants to go the do-it-yourself route. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send you a flowchart I developed specifically for CreateSpace formatting. It may not be perfect but it worked for me.
Smashwords is another challenge to master, but they do offer you a free ebook style guide that tells you everything you need to know about formatting your book for epublication on their site. Here's the link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52. It's 27,600 words of mind-numbing boredom (just kidding) but if you follow it step by step you will wind up with a manuscript that will pass perfectly through Smashwords' meatgrinder software.
As to the state of publishing from an author's point of view, the Internet has radically changed the game. To be blunt, now any dumb ass can write a book and see it in a digital format that looks just like it was professionally published. In fact, in ebooks published by the Big Five one can often spot glaring errors of formatting, grammar and composition, even spelling, despite the fact that we live in the spell check age.
The single most daunting problem confronting any self-published author is this: PROMOTION. I can furnish no useful advice about promoting one's novel, online or otherwise, even though promotion is the key to success. I do know a few things that have not worked for me. For instance, despite the fact that at last count I have 1130 FB friends (three of whom are me), 600+ Twitter followers and 266 people who like my FB author page, I've found Facebook and Twitter to be utterly useless for book promotion. Likewise, I have failed to create an audible blogging buzz. More of a popcorn fart, really. Pimping for reviews has proven a total waste of time. So what does that leave? Door-to-door sales? Cold calling? Infomercials featuring ShamWow's Vince? You tell me.
SW: How did the creation “Malachi Stone” come about?
MS: Malachi was derived from Malachi Chapter Three, where God promises His people that if they bring their offerings into the storehouse He will open the windows of heaven and pour down for them more blessings and more bounty than they can hold. Stone connotes enduring strength. Stone is the one thing that lasts. For all we know the ancient Egyptians may have had iPads, but only the hieroglyphics they carved in stone remain.
SW: Is it not possible to publish these novels under your own name?
MS: No. In my conservative profession and conservative church it might cause my family and me some grief. Not that I think there's a thing wrong with any of my novels—I've moved beyond my initial ambivalence in that regard—but why tempt fate?
SW: I imagine the nom de plume has helped in some ways, but has the “Malachi Stone” persona limited you in a way?
MS: He's overborne my real personality in a Jekyll and Hyde takeover bid. (Or is it Heckle and Jeckle?) While I don't think I'm anything like my pseudonymous alter ego, I find him wasting more and more of my time on Facebook spreading his own peculiar and toxic brand of misanthropic and transgressive humor. One of his most popular FB features is Perverts on Parade, also Not This Guy Again, The Fake Cop News, and Belleville IL: Honey, Let's Stay Here Forever. He's become like a guy with ten followers and his own nightly webcast who thinks he's the next Howard Stern. Talk about performance art!
SW: With a dozen books out there already, where do you suggest a new start? Do you think some of the novels are more "accessible" for a new reader? Do you see of them as more plot-driven? More of a character piece?
MS: Currently I'm around 16,000 words into writing a legal thriller with the working title WANTON AND WILLFUL, about a lawyer whose ambition to be a judge hooks him up with a powerful political boss known as The Junkman, a wheelchair-bound scrap metal dealer. The Junkman views our hero's headstrong wife as a career liability. Later that night, hero catches his wife at home with a young stud, and accidentally dials 911. The police show up, cast him as the bad guy and order him to leave the house for the night. Hours later, after doing a little drinking, he comes back home anyway where he discovers his wife's car still in the garage and something banging away off-balance in the washer. He lifts up the lid and, guess what? [Cue Bernard Herrmann PSYCHO score] Inside is his headstrong wife's severed head.
That's all I have so far. I don't know what I'll do with my latest novel once it's finished. I hate to throw it down the dumper of self publishing because it may be one of the best things I've ever written. On the other hand, I balk at the idea of sending out a couple thousand email queries and getting stiffed again. But I'm damned if I'll let this indecision keep me from finishing, even if I have to write the rest for the sheer pluperfect subjunctive hell of it. Had I finished...?
As to accessibility, all of my novels score in the high seventies to low eighties on the Flesch Reading Ease scale (That's easier to read than the Reader's Digest) and land around the fourth or fifth grade level on Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level test. Other than content, all my novels would qualify as YA fiction. Since something like 80% of YA fiction is read by adults (a depressing statistic in and of itself) my novels should pose no problem as far as reading difficulty is concerned.
Other than that, my personal favorites among my novels are CONJURER'S OATH and DEVIL'S TOLL, both for the magical realism, the humor and the characters. Let's face it, character is everything. If you enjoy legal thrillers and watch Nancy Grace, try HARD BREAK. Prefer scary shit but burned out on Stephen King? Read OZARK BANSHEE. (One older gentleman came up and told me after I'd performed a reading of OZARK at Subterranean Books, a St. Louis indie bookstore, that the passage I'd read was so scary it would surely give him insomnia. I still treasure that compliment. And don't call me Shirley.)
PRIVATE SHOWINGS and WICKED KING DICK are two novels I wrote years ago, and are the most traditional in terms of writing style. Both are more plot-driven than my later works. ST. AGNES' EVE is the first novel I ever wrote. It has undergone extensive editing by professionals. HEARTBALM is a sequel to ST. AGNES' EVE but stands alone. Personally I prefer the sequel, again for the humor and characters. (There's a horny woman of a certain age with ridiculously overdeveloped breasts and a spastic neck condition, a seven-foot biker street-named Snuggle, and a hottie secretary who shifts without warning into the persona and patois of a forties film noir gun moll.)
Rounding out the field of ten are DEAD MAN'S ACT and SHARP FORCE TRAUMA, my Bosco Hoël series. Bosco Hoël is a small-town attorney who encounters more than his share of grisly murders. Both books have elements of magical realism. In DEAD MAN'S ACT, Bosco is targeted by a bloodthirsty Odinistic cult wreaking havoc in a Midwestern farming community. In SHARP FORCE TRAUMA, a novella, I was going for a Nick and Nora Charles flavor in the dialogue between Bosco and his attorney-wife Brenda. Read it and see whether I succeeded. And don't miss the goofy nut in SHARP FORCE TRAUMA who cross-dresses as a nun, haunts the corridors and the chapel of a Chicago hospital, and engages Bosco in abstruse theological discussions peppered with dirty jokes and sudden violence. Or is he/she merely a hallucination brought on by Bosco's sleep disturbances? SHARP FORCE TRAUMA is my latest completed work and I'm kinda proud of it, as you can probably tell.
All my novels are available to sample or purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/Malachi-Stone/e/B0069696AE. Amazon refused to publish RUDE SCRAWLS, my short story collection. Never fear. You can order RUDE SCRAWLS from Barnes & Noble's site and from many other fine retailers. RUDE SCRAWLS is not for bluenoses, as the plain-brown-wrapper book ads in men's magazines used to say when I was a kid. It's "a compendium of short stories featuring adults misbehaving in various and sundry ways. None of the characters in this anthology of modern day morality tales are any better than they have to be, and some are quite a bit worse than they ought to be," quoting the book description. In RUDE SCRAWLS I'm going for the kind of stories you might get if John O'Hara were living today and wrote for Hustler. Enjoy.
Thanks to Malachi Stone, wherever and whoever he is.