Last year, I was a judge for the World’s Best Story competition. My mission, since I chose to accept it, was to review a slew of early drafts from aspiring writers, and assign weighted scores to various aspects of their writing. It was a tough gig, to be sure — who the hell am I to say whether a scribe’s theme, plot, characters, style, or ‘multi-platform potential’ is a 4 or a 7?
It’s all pretty damn subjective.
That said, one of the perks was an in-depth interview with the contest’s creator, Vincent Salera. The chat has since been updated — maybe there’s a nugget of value in there for fellow scribes.
WORLD’S BEST STORY Q&A w/ BROOKE BURGESS
You’ve had success with transmedia projects in the past, and gone the traditional distribution/publishing route. Why self-publish your first novel?
I’ll be blunt – traditional publishers are simply offering too little for too little.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘dinosaur thinking’ in the industry, and how the powerhouse ‘Big 5’ in NY and London are tightening their belts and raising the gates. Debut authors (particularly in challenging genres like children’s fiction) are being offered meagre advances with draconian contracts, requiring them to surrender all IP control to faceless legal and marketing departments. The days of Rowling-like success for new writers are over. And the more research I did, particularly surrounding fantasy/mystery/horror stories for young readers? The more I realized that an unorthodox approach was necessary.
In the summer of 2013, I harnessed a double-pronged crowd-funding campaign – a personal call for patrons on social media, and a literary ‘kickstarter’ on now-defunct Pubslush.com – that raised nearly $10K in just under 8 weeks. After that, I worked with Wattpad.com (the Canadian-built juggernaut social network for readers and writers) to feature the book as a free serial; The Cat’s Maw has garnered 330K+ chapter reads from fantasy, mystery, and horror fans since that feature, which ain’t a bad piece of free promotion to a target demo.
What do you see as the ingredients for a classic children’s story?
The collision of the mundane and the Magical. A tangible sense of place, purpose, and urgent emotion. A believable growth and transformative arc for the protagonist, supporting characters, and even the antagonist(s). And an underlying sense of extremely high (dare I say spiritual?) stakes.
That’s why, when people ask, I mention the same books/series over and over as influences: Narnia, The Hobbit, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, and The Little Prince.
What story has influenced your life?
Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits.
I know I should say a book — and trust me, tomes like the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of The Rings, The Little Prince, and The Alchemist certainly had a lasting effect on me – but that film came at the right time, with the right message, just when my young mind was porous enough and my heart was fertile enough to receive it. A young only-child with materialistic parents facing the astounding absurdity of Life! Whimsical archetypes of Good and Evil! The inherently flawed nature of existence itself! Time travelling dwarven theives and Python humour!
Gimme that Kool-Aid, son.
What writer would you consider a mentor?
Some of these come straight from the journals of ‘duh’, but there’s a reason these names comes up again and again — great writing, no matter the narrative medium. Hence my mentor list: Tolkien, Philip K. Dick, Stephen King, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and Kahlil Gibran — to name but a few!
What story(s) do you enjoy reading over and over again?
Valis. The Prophet. The Sandman Anthology. Watchmen. The Hobbit. The Tao of Pooh.
Do you have any advice to aspiring writers?
Outline, outline, outline!
I liken the preparation that goes into writing a story to the essential time investment made in mastering a martial art, or learning a musical instrument. Outlining your character objectives, scenes, beats, and major arcs in detail is akin to learning all the nuances of punches, kicks, and blocks in karate, or combinations of notes and subtle bowing techniques on a violin.
So then — when you finally sit down, clear your mind, and prepare to channel the Muse? It’s just like stepping into the ring for your big fight, or preparing for the conductor to wave the baton at a live concert. You’ve done all that you can to prepare, and that dramatically increases your chances of a worthy and memorable performance/writing session.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was less interested in the mechanics of ‘writing’ as much as I was an early and ardent fan of good storytelling – it just seemed obvious to me at a very young age that a few special stories worked, while most others didn’t.
Whether I was watching The Wonderful World of Disney or Star Wars, playing point-and-click adventure games or Advanced D&D, or reading oversized Marvel holiday comics? I wanted to understand why a story worked. This led to experimenting with the hows of whats of writing, which inevitably resulted in my English teachers nudging me to stop messing around, and find the brass to write my own stories.
How would you increase literacy?
Easy – gamification.
Games are associated with ‘fun’, while reading has traditionally been link with ‘work’. But the thing is, both require similar levels of focus — they just hold inherently different sets of rewards.
I’ve been a proponent of enhanced eBooks for quite some time, which have stories conceived and designed to take advantage of effective gaming mechanics to deepen the reading experience, improve comprehension, and offer more immediate ‘rewards’ for the accomplishment of finishing a scene, chapter, or book.
From theme-based puzzles that assist with world and mythology building, to mini- games that reward readers with superior comprehension, recall, and vocabulary, to built-in character creation tools and short embedded animations/motion comics/audio easter eggs — I believe this is the future of writing and ‘reading’. Which really makes it the future of story.
Any exciting news/hints about your projects? (UPDATED)
My children’s mystery/fantasy/horror debut – The Cat’s Maw – now has a mind-meltingly cool audiobook edition, narrated by the great DAVID KAYE (Pixar’s UP, Transformers series, Last Week Tonight w/ John Oliver) and featuring original music by TOBIAS TINKER (Broken Saints, Stillness3). I was blessed to harness their incredibly talents on several projects over the years, most notably in the Sundance Audience Award-winning motion comic epic Broken Saints.
I’m currently waist-deep in promotion for it whilst diving into a draft of Book 2 in The Shadowland Saga…due next spring! Meanwhile, I’m also pimping the heck out of the worldwide release of OZ: Broken Kingdom — a massive free-to-play mobile RPG from NEXON that I pulled narrative duties on. Really proud of that one.
Off the deep end now — if Heaven exists, what is the first thing you would like to hear from the Almighty when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Nice try, kiddo! You really gave it your all down there, didn’t ya’? Some of that shit you wrote didn’t suck!”
“Now, when these big curtains open and you’re hit with the supernova spotlight and get a standing ovation from every soul you ever met on Earth? Try to act surprised.”
“Oh…and there’s a bottomless chocolate buffet and lots of friendly cats waiting for you in the Green Room, and Radiohead is doing a teatime performance. Break a Leg!”
If you could relive one of the happiest days of your life, what would it be?
The day I brought my cat Quinn home from the West Vancouver SPCA.
BONUS QUESTIONS: What ice cream flavor would you invent?
Maple-coffee-butter-toffee-ripple, son. BAM!