By Stephen J. Pytak
You can chalk it up to my love for escapism. But there’s more to it than that.
You can ask anyone I’ve commissioned, the artists who drew the characters, the actresses who did impressions of them as I snapped photos and made short films, the musicians who played their theme songs. They’ll probably say I was “driven” to some degree. Maybe they understood why. Maybe not. But they’ve put up with me as I worked and worked and pushed and pushed to build a marketing campaign to promote a series of novels about a low-rent mercenary called The .40 Caliber Mouse.
And it’s a pretty darn good mix of visuals and tunes if I do say so myself.
I believe in what I do. All artists should. If you decide to write a book or a song or make a film you need to have a certain kind of confidence, not a chip on your shoulder but sincerity in your step, something true to yourself, a spirit which knows trial and error, good days and bad, what works and what’s just O.K.
Characters like “Corinn Michaels” and “Eden Jones,” “Stacia Rose” and “The Carrion Crow” helped me develop that.
And that’s why I believe in them.
I think Lon Tutko understands. Not sure. Haven’t asked him recently. But he knew me when I was growing up and can tell you how I talked and talked about creating characters, writing books and making movies. By the way, I came up with the “Mazz” character in 1986. He was there for that.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write and produce books, films or both.
Maybe it was because I was pretty much a loner. I read a lot. I watched films a lot. I drew a lot. I wrote a lot. And I wanted to do more of that, a lot more, hoping to get better and better at it.
I started out writing screenplays. And I wrote a bunch. I tried to get an agent once. It didn’t work out, but one I contacted was fascinated by a story I came up with about mercenaries who sold their services cheap. That was around 1997. I kept working on that one, and it got a lot better over time (obviously, right?).
I didn’t come up with something that I really believed in until I turned 30. That was in the year 2000. And that year my wife, Becki White, told me I should try writing in a different medium.
“I bet you’ll sell more novels than screenplays,” she said.
She was right, ultimately.
At the time, I wasn’t sure. But I felt I had nothing to lose.
The most important thing to me was I had to write a story I believed in. The material had to somehow be close to my heart.
And there had to be something about it that made it stand out from everything else. The characters had to have their own spark, their own steam. And they had to move.
I like action.
I like drama and emotion.
I didn’t want to just write books just to write books.
I wanted to imbue my characters with the fabric of my heart.
I wanted to do something original, something that would stand on its own.
When I developed the character of “Corinn Michaels” I started to believe I could really do this. Unlike some of the characters I started out with, who were by design, she was something out of left field.
When we meet her in my first book, she’s 26, single and very bitter about her past. A convicted computer hacker, she’s working at a T-shirt design and embroidery shop in Georgetown. She’s angry, self destructive and having trouble moving on with her life. She wants to settle old scores, but isn’t sure how. Then one day, she’s given a curious opportunity, a chance to help a low-rent mercenary reach clients via the Internet. She takes the chance. Succeeds. Then, Corinn tries to fix all the problems in her life, with the help of The .40 Caliber Mouse.
That’s the gist.
Not bad, huh.
Well, I like it.
Anyway, I worked and worked to give her a storyline and a journey that was different yet something people could relate to (some more than others I’m sure). And to me, the world I developed for “Corinn” and company is the greatest place on earth, an amusement park version of the world where mice and men seek out their destinies with daring and a taste for outlaw justice.
At the end of the day, the stories had to mean something to me.
And they do.
Does it matter if you have a following?
Sure, it helps.
Everyone wants fans, right?
We all want someone to see what we see, believe in the worlds we built and listen to the theme songs that follow our characters like trusty shadows.
Of all the things you can plug into your marketing campaign, a built-in fan base isn’t something you can count on, unless you’re Stephenie Meyer.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to establish one.
Even Stephenie Meyer will tell you that.
Dunno. Never had that conversation with her. Maybe someday.
So, if you’re a novelist, you darn well better hand out flyers and showcase whatever promotional materials you’ve got to tell the world about yourself.
I love making those hand outs, setting up tables at conventions and libraries, showing off the pictures I took of Victoria Vaughn as “Corinn” and Lindsay Marissa as “Stacia” and screening the short films I’ve made. I think With Love (2011) is the one that gets people there the fastest. I mean, as soon as it starts you’re in the middle of the action.
But even if people aren’t lining up to ask you about your first book, your second…or your fourth…keep on keeping on.
Be for real.
Keep your heart beating.
Write, and keep writing.
Film, and film again.
Draw, and keep drawing. And if you draw as well as I do…then maybe you should hire someone to do it better.
But whatever you do, do it the best you can.
Be true to yourself.
And believe in The .40 Caliber Mouse.
Book five is on the way.
Stephen Pytak, author/independent publisher