Who is Natalie Binder? Tell us your story!
I’m 26 years old. I live in rural Florida where I work as a public librarian. It’s a great job in a great community, but I’m not from here. I travel a lot. I went to Bard College at Simon’s Rock when I was 16. After I got my A.A. I went to work with AmeriCorps, which gave the opportunity to travel all over the country and meet all different kinds of people. I worked with a lot of different charities and government agencies, which is what inspired me to go into public service. In 2007, I went to Indonesia as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. It was an amazing experience that still affects me every day—especially through my writing. I recently graduated with my Master’s in information science. I now get to be a librarian during the day and a writer and book reviewer by night.
How long have you been writing and what first inspired you to express yourself in this way?
I wrote my first play when I was eight. It was about dogs. I was a really quiet and isolated kid, so creative writing was a way to express myself and connect with people. I wrote all through my childhood. But I didn’t finish many stories, and I didn’t publish any. It took me a long time to work up the confidence to show my writing to other people. I’ve just started writing real, complete stories and trying to get published. It’s been an incredible learning experience.
Tell us about your book, “New Year's Day”, Redshift Vol. 1 – what's it all about?
Redshift is a time travel story about a twenty-first century man, J.D. Mitchell, who is suddenly and unexpectedly transported into the distant future. He falls in with a group of prison escapees and ends up as a pirate, traveling across the galaxy in search of a way home.
“New Year’s Day” starts at the end of Mitchell’s story, when he’s been captured by the military and forced to confess to everything that he’s done. Eventually we’ll learn how Mitchell came to be a pirate and why he was “kidnapped” by the future.
There were two real scientific “gimmicks” that inspired the Redshift storyline. The first was that in 2011, when I was working on an early draft of “New Year’s Day,” scientists discovered how to hide events in time. The second is that we are beginning to learn how to record people’s dreams and thoughts. I love that conflict between secrets and exposure. I’m planning to really dig into guts of that with Redshift, while also writing what I hope is a fun space adventure story.
The book is the first in a series of novellas – why did you choose this particular format?
I believe in a relationship between form and function. It was a hard decision. People love novel-length stories. The biggest complaint I’ve gotten about “New Year’s Day” is that it’s not long enough—it ends before people expect it to end. It only takes Mitchell through his first set of obstacles. But for very important structural reason Redshift can only hold together the way I’m writing it. I think that will become clearer when I publish “Surprise, Surprise” and “Deal of the Century” this year. The whole thing is built like a Mobius strip. It’s going to turn back in on itself at the midpoint.
I do think that shorter forms, like story collections and novlets, are a great fit for e-readers. The only problem is that I can’t do a Redshift story every week or even every month. Each one takes a lot of time and effort.
Why did you choose to self-publish, and why did you use Smashwords in particular?
Redshift is kind of a mad concept. I believe that it can compete on quality, but it’s not something a publishing company would or could ever gamble on. And that’s OK. The world is big enough for all kinds of writing and publishing now and many different levels of success.
As a librarian and a student of books, I wanted to self-publish to prove that I could do it. A lot of this has been an experiment for me—OK, how do I make an .epub version; OK, how do I get on a bestseller list; OK, how do I get into this or that category. I spent a lot of time in graduate school making web pages and gaming search engines. Now I get to do it as a hobby. A publishing company would never let me do that.
I chose Smashwords because of their extended delivery service. They put “New Year’s Day” on iPads and Nooks. You can even download it plaintext onto your computer. The ebook market is huge. I didn’t see any reason (and still don’t) to limit my distribution to a particular format. I did format my own Kindle version of “New Year’s Day.” Kindle is a very important platform for self-pubbers. I wanted to be personally involved in that process.
How do you make use of social media (facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc) to promote your book?
I am a huge fan of Twitter. It’s my preferred social network. I’ve also used my Facebook to page to document the writing process and share news. I blog about the books sometimes on http://nvbinder.com/blog/. Generally, though, I’ve found social media a pretty tough nut to crack. I think it’s easy for writers get caught up in the marketing side of self-publishing when they should be focused on craft.
In the months since I published “New Year’s Day” I’ve cut way down on self-promotion and used Twitter to get to know other people, ask questions, and talk about things I like. I’ve also started a blog, http://launchscifi.com to help promote other writers. I still tweet about my new books and blogs and things as they’re released, but I try not to do that too much.
How do you balance spending time writing and all the other pressures and responsibilities of life?
It’s not easy. I’m so lucky to have a full-time job that I love, and that has to be my priority. I’m also involved in the community. And there’s a lot of pressure to tweet and blog and read and on and on during my free time. I have to take my writing time in big chunks on the weekends and very late at night. 10 p.m.-2 a.m. is my usual writing time.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the creative process?
Which books/films/television shows inspire you the most?
I’ve taken inspiration from so many different shows and books that it would be difficult to say for sure. Anyone who reads Redshift, and especially “New Year’s Day,” will see Firefly and Farscape in its lineage. I can’t help that. I love those shows. I’m a very straight-laced person in real life, but my other car is a smuggler’s spaceship.
But take Farscape—the person who created that, Rockne O’Bannon, took his inspiration from Flash Gordon. So when I was writing “New Year’s Day,” I had to go back and read Flash Gordon. OK, well, Flash Gordon was created in the 1930s to compete with Buck Rogers. And without H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, you could never have had Buck Rogers. So Redshift’s great-grandparent is really Wells’ The Time Machine. That doesn’t mean I’ve rewritten “The Time Machine,” or Buck Rogers, or Flash Gordon, or Farscape—or that I’m claiming to be as good as them. I can’t make that judgement. But Redshift fits within a cultural milieu which is all around us and has a long history of literary influences.
You can trace anything back the same way. Star Trek and Firefly have a similar family tree to Redshift. You look at something like House—which is a huge mainstream hit—and it’s just Sherlock Holmes with a different name. At the same time they’re releasing modern versions of Sherlock Holmes that are clearly influenced by Hugh Laurie’s performance as House. That’s been going on since the first time Holmes was adapted for the stage. It’s very circular. So who’s to say who had the first idea? Or what will come out of it next?
What would you say to someone who wants to write and publish a book?
You should do it. If you really have that urge to write, you won’t be able to stop yourself. But I have these pieces of advice: 1) Don’t do it alone. Every successful creative work is a group venture. Get help from other writers. Get help from published writers. Let 40 people read it before you put it out in public. 2) Learn to accept criticism. If you have to explain why a character did such-and-such, or why such-and-such happened, you either need to rewrite that part, or accept that not everybody will get it and move on. You can’t convince people to like the book after the fact. 3) Study craft, not marketing. If you want to sell your story, you need to tug at people’s hearts, not at their wallets. 4) Don’t expect financial success or fame. The average book sells less than 100 copies. That’s not per month. That’s ever. Success is magic, and it’s made by audiences, not writers or publishers. 5) Be willing to spend some of your own money. At the very least you need to hire a smart editor and a talented cover designer. Rock bottom, you’re looking at an investment of at least $600-1000 per book—not counting your time.
I say these things not to discourage people, or to be negative, but to make sure they come into this with their eyes open. Some indie writers seem to take it really hard if their book isn’t a bestseller. Your book is doing OK if you’re selling just a few copies a month. Writing didn’t suddenly get easier because publishing did.
That said, there are huge opportunities and rewards out there for people who are willing to make the leap. No matter what, it’s an amazing life and learning experience. I am so proud of what I did with “New Year’s Day,” and I’m looking forward to publishing “Surprise, Surprise,” very soon.