Please welcome Drew Chial to the Z-Axis. I’ve admired Drew’s work for a long time, notably for his incredibly in-depth and passionate blog posts exhorting writers to originality and creativity. Drew is an author, graphic artist, aspiring voice actor, and a musician living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He writes short stories that he bills as Twilight Zone fan fiction. His self-published horror novella Terms and Conditions is available for free on his website as an e-reader file and an audiobook.
Drew, you write ‘stories for storytellers and the perilous world they live in.’ I love your tagline, but I’ve always been curious: Why stories for storytellers, and not for readers?
Writers have a few universal characteristics. We’re contemplative. If not introverted by nature, we’re temporarily introverted by our work. We have a habit of spacing out. People tell us that we think too much. I wanted to write stories that my audience could relate to. This made sense when I thought about how to “brand” myself. It felt like there were more writers on Twitter than genre fiction readers. Fine by me, most writers read. I reached out to the aspiring writers first. They’re my niche audience. Why not make them the protagonists of my stories?
Just recently, I started sharing things with a broader appeal: scary stories, pop culture criticism, personal anecdotes, and advice that spits in the face of pop psychology.
What’s so perilous about being a storyteller?
You’re hyper-aware of the world around you. Very little slips past your heightened senses. Recognizing patterns in people’s behavior, you find it harder to lie to yourself about their intentions.
The act of writing can be a lonely experience too. The world exhorts the published author, and scorns the blogging masses. You have to fantasize about your future just to get by. Writers crave validation and fear criticism. The decision to get into this game can be perilous. You find yourself asking, “Am I a hobbyist or am I in this for real?”
Your posts are all multimedia, involving plenty of photos in-costume and sometimes even audio accompaniments. Can you walk us through the creative process behind your blog posts? How do you go about building the original idea into a finished product, and what role does multimedia play in bringing your stories to life?
I’ve worn many hats in my day. I have a background in music production, film, illustration, and design. The internet is a multimedia medium, so I do everything within my ability to bring that to my posts. Conventional wisdom tells bloggers to write throwaway lists, to stop at 500 words, to have a great headline, and an effortless post. Those things don’t attract me as a reader. There are so many blog options out there, I need something special. That’s why I try to post the type of content I’d be attracted to.
I post Photoshopped pictures of myself in embarrassing costumes, because I think it looks better than using the same stock photos that everyone else uses. If you want your blog to stand out, you have to give people something that is uniquely you. Fitting in feels safe, but your end goal shouldn’t be to get lost in the crowd.
It’s not enough to have a great manuscript and hope that the marketplace of ideas will elevate it to the top. So your story is brilliant, your message is profound, and everyone who reads it is reduced to tears before your very eyes, that’s no guarantee that it’s going to go viral. You have to convince people that a story by you, with your unique voice, is worthy of their time.
This doesn’t mean you need to market yourself. Anyone can carpet bomb a Twitter feed with Amazon links that say, “Like this? Then buy this.” Five words and a url, do not a sale make. Stop marketing and start sharing. This means, you should ask questions when you post a link. Invite others into the discussion. Mix up the log line behind your title, every time you repost an article. You’re not selling, you’re inviting. Always be welcoming. If your goal is to sell a book, then give yourself away first. On social media, I want to interact with people not products. Yes, I know we all have stuff for sale, but I’d rather come to you and ask for it, than for you to bring to me.
I use music as draw. It gives my audio recordings some pizzaz. I don’t think people need a musical accompaniment to enjoy my readings, I just love adding them in. That’s the thing. Don’t add multimedia to your blog, because you think it’s obligatory. Do it because you love doing it. If it feels like a chore to create, it will feel like a chore to experience.
Your blog posts are all incredibly heartfelt and some of them are very personal. I speak for myself when I say one of the reasons I’m drawn to your blog is because it feels like you hold nothing back. But at the same time, you’re a self-described introvert, and one of your most powerful blog posts was a reading of Henry Rollins’ poem “I Know You”, a poem that spoke to you very deeply and personally, about declining self-esteem and loneliness. I’d love to learn more about this dichotomy: How do you share so much of yourself, so completely, while being such an introverted person?
As an introvert, I don’t believe introversion inhibits me from sharing myself. It compels me to. Introverts have a skill for composing our thoughts, often saying what we mean long after the fact. It’s that spirit of the staircase, when you think of the right comeback when it’s too late. Don’t cast that phrase off, write it down, give it to your fiction. I love quick witted detective characters, because they show us who the author could be if they had the power to freeze time to think.
My favorite art gives me something to relate to. My favorite stories give me a place to see myself. Breaking rules, I switch between first and second person to invite my reader into the story. Sometimes I’m off base, and what I think is a universal experience is actually just a weird quirk of mine, but sometimes I hit the nail on the head. When I talk about seasonal depression, romantic rejection, or even physical trauma, not only do I want people to know that they’re not alone, I want to feel less alone myself.
Your visual art, too, is very engaging and occasionally somewhat disturbing. You deal with cartoonish styles, dark imagery, and the distorted human form. What draws you to these demented, devilish figures and illustrations?
I’ve always liked spooky things. I like to insert my heroes into renaissance paintings with nightmares and demons. We measure your heroes by the quality of the villains, so I love creating spectacularly disturbing ones. The ancient Egyptians believed that the guardians of the underworld weighed our souls in the afterlife. That’s the job of a good villain, to weigh your hero’s soul to see if it’s up to the challenge. This is a literal theme in my forthcoming novel The Dark Parliament.
Tell us more about this novel. I’m curious especially about the weighing of the souls, as that’s a myth from Egyptian lore I’ve always loved.
In my book The Dark Parliament The Phantom of Lies dips his fingers in Vincent’s blood. They look like long leather gloves to the untrained eye, but Vincent knows the truth.
Smearing the blood across his chrome mouth, the Phantom’s tongue spills through his lips like mercury. “The trick to damning anyone is to make them instrumental in their own damnation. Convince them they’re moving forward and they won’t notice the downward spiral.”
Even now, on the rare occasion of this partial truth, Vincent doesn’t get it. Convinced of the Phantom’s authority, he doesn’t realize that he could just get up and walk away.
Will Vincent discover that he’s the victim of a longer con, that the beings putting him through the ringer aren’t agents of hell at all? They merely immersed themselves in spiritual lore to make their sale, to manipulate Vincent to their own ends. What’s a few more sins to someone who’s been convinced that he’s a terminal sinner? Can Vincent break the spell? If not to save his soul, then perhaps his life.
This is a reoccurring theme in my stories. In Terms and Conditions a self-declared minion of Satan convinces a photographer that he’s stolen his inspiration. In The Book of Mirrors The Phantom of Lies convinces a priest to commission a cautionary memoir that acts as a curse.
What are you working on when you’re not crafting elaborate blog posts for all the rest of us ‘storytellers’?
I have two novels and two novellas that are looking for homes. I’m thinking of self publishing one of my novellas The Book of Mirrors, a horror story, on Amazon then releasing the audiobook on Bandcamp.
When I’m not writing I’m doing contract web development. I used to be a script reader, and I’ve done some time behind a Genius Bar.
What’s your greatest ambition as a writer? New York Times bestseller list? Screenplays adapted into major motion pictures? Short stories accepted into The New Yorker? When will you finally sit back and say “I’ve made it now?”
My, “I’ve made it now” moment won’t come with fame, box office success, or accolades. It will come when I’m self-sustaining. Once I can pay my rent doing what I love, then I’ll feel like I’ve made it. Everything else is just gravy.
And finally, I typically ask authors what’s the worst advice they’d give to aspiring writers, but I have a funny feeling your good advice will be equally interesting. What’s the best advice you’d give to any aspiring writer?
The worst advice I could give aspiring writers is: horde everything. Don’t share a premise online for fear of it being adapted by someone else. Don’t share your true feelings for fear that trolls will judge you, or your employers will start looking at you cock-eyed. Just let your closet fill with notebooks until you realize that your ambition has become a hobby. Try to have the normal life your parents wanted you to have. Then when your kids accidentally discover a poem buried in your things, you can stare off into the middle distance and say, “Oh that, you see I was a writer in a past life.”
The best advice I can give is this: fail and fail often. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing it wrong. Draw a map of the dead ends and carve a new path. You have to make mistakes in order to learn from them. The only way to keep the fear of failure from defeating your self esteem, is to become an expert in its result. Keep putting yourself out there. Keep reminding yourself that Stephen King kept a stack of rejection letters. You’ve got to get yourself a thick skin. This means getting hurt. It means humbling yourself in the face of trolls. It means admitting your mistakes, and inviting people to laugh at them.
Everyone always says that luck got them where they are. It plays a role, but you can’t count on it. Let’s pretend that luck is not on your side, that fate forgot about you, you’re off karma’s radar and you’re alone in the universe. Let’s assume you don’t have an in, that it’s up to you to pull yourself up by your own boot straps. You’re going to have to forge your own luck. Con your audience into believing that you’re already where you want to be. Grift publishers into thinking that you’re the genuine article. Act like an author and you’ll get treated like one.
Hope will freeload, while discipline works toward results. Inspiration will lead you on, while perspiration will get you there. Sure your talent will get all the credit, but it’s your tenacity that does the real work. That’s my longwinded way of saying, “Keep writing.”
Thanks so much to Drew Chial for providing such fantastic and in-depth answers to all of my questions. If you have any follow-up questions for him, you can leave comments here on this page or you can click over to his blog and talk to him directly.
This is a great interview. Thanks, Drew!