Expert of the Week: Dean Chalmers

Dean Chalmers


What is your professional background?

I actually have a degree in creative writing, believe it or not. (Somewhat embarrassed to admit it…) It’s an undergraduate degree. I wouldn’t recommend it to others though unless you really want to write literary fiction. The best thing I got out of college was through literature courses and exposures to various writers. Other than that, I have worked various day jobs to pay the bills.

What sparked your interest in writing?

I always wanted to tell stories. I had an incredibly active imagination as a child, and I guess I figured I was meant to share the characters and worlds I came up with. I’ve quit writing before—sometimes for years at a time—but I never stopped wanting to tell stories. Sometimes I feel like it’s a disease I’ll never be rid of… All of my life people would ask, “Are you still doing that?” in an exasperated way.  It’d be nice to become super-successful someday to prove to my extended family that it’s not just some odd obsession of mine. But they wouldn’t be impressed until I had a TV show or movie based on my work, I think.  

How do you, “get in the zone,” when you are writing?

I dictate my first drafts on a digital recorder. Ideally, I try to get some privacy for this. This is hard with a 3 ½ year old offspring at home who likes to follow daddy around. Sometimes she likes to repeat my dictation because she knows I’m in serious writing mode, and she thinks it’s funny! When all else fails, I sometimes go for a drive and hide in my car in a shopping center parking lot somewhere, dictating.

What do you like most about being a full-time author?

I wish I was a full-time author! I am most certainly part-time at the moment. Right now my writing at least brings in a supplementary income; but like most writers, I have a day job. It’s a challenge juggling work and commuting and family and writing. For me the hardest part isn’t finding time, so much as finding the energy. Fortunately, I now have an earlier work schedule where I can sometimes I can take a nap for an hour when I get home before dinner, and then have energy to write in the evening. I’d love to do this full-time, but first I have to get more books out faster to build my audience and income, and then there are worries about the stability of the income, about how I’d get health insurance for my family… I guess, like everyone else, I still dream of having a massive bestseller and becoming self-sufficient overnight!


What is the most common mistake you have seen others make when it comes to communicating in the written form?

I’m an indie author, and when it comes to indies sometimes it seems the old rules get thrown out the window. So I’m wary of telling people not to do anything. For example, telling a story mainly through dialogue, especially in fantasy or SF… I never thought that would work, but there’s a couple people doing it who are mega-successful now. The one thing I would warn against is typos. Proofreading your own work is hard, and getting someone else to do it is expensive; but not doing a good job will upset readers. If you have a family member or friend who is a good proofreader and will do it for free, you have an amazing resource and you need to treat them very well.

What books would you recommend for improving one’s writing skills?

This may sound strange, but the books that have helped me aren’t writing books so much as books that analyze storytelling in TV shows or movies. I find that kind of criticism to be really instructive. Anything that goes “behind the scenes” from a writer’s perspective is wonderful. It gets me thinking about some of my favorite stories, and why they work (and also why some of the bad ones don’t). Some of my favorites are the “These Are The Voyages” books by Marc Cushman (On Star Trek: TOS), “The Fifty-Year Mission” books by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman (covering all of Star Trek), and the “TARDIS Eruditorum” books by Philips Sandifer (on Doctor Who).


What else have you found to be useful for your art?

Gel pens in various colors and graph papers notebooks, vital for brainstorming… Just because I like how they look and feel. I’ve started to collect some old tabletop role-playing supplements to spark my imagination. Reminds me of my nerdy youth in the 80’s and the ideas that sparked my writing in the first place. I also listen to symphonic epic metal music, in moderation.


How are you leveraging social media to promote your books?

I use paid Facebook ads a lot, and I have a mailing list. I post on Facebook and my blog, but not much. I’m not someone who’s naturally entertaining on social media, nor am I famous enough for people to care about what I’m doing every day. I don’t know that social media can help a struggling fiction writer much, unless you already have some audience or platform independent of your novels. There’s just so much noise out there nowadays, people endlessly spamming ads for their books. I think paid ads can help if you fine-tune your audience, but just shouting “buy my book!” on your regular Facebook or Twitter feed is pretty useless for most people.


What advice would you give to someone looking to become a writer?

There’s been trillions of words written on this, so anything I could say in this small space would be just opening one can of worms or another. You have the internet, go do searches, research… Listen to old pros, but remember that the writing world has changed dramatically in the last ten years, so read about indie successes as well and what they did. And remember that the most important thing is to have a story people want to read. Most of the gatekeepers are gone, if you have a great story you CAN get it to the readers yourself with a little work and preparation.


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