Today I have a special treat for all of you…Please help me welcome my dear friend, Matt Kruze, author of The Coming of The Storm, part one of the Storm Trilogy now available on Amazon.
You might think that the concept of casting for characters in a book is more literary than literal. A metaphor, right? Or something about casting through the channels of the mind perhaps. Because who, actually, would bother recruiting an actor for a work of fiction? And come on, why?
The great freedom of the novel is that the author gets to mold the characters, shape them in his or her imagination before committing them to print. Heroes, villains, cameos, you name it: the author has the power to dictate their every mannerism, every action, what they say and do, assign friends and enemies, lovers, opponents.
With such an inviting blank canvass and an infinite palette, what sane reason does an author have to import a ready-made personality?
‘Well it just came about because the protagonist in my story has a friend who is an actress,’ explains Matt Kruze, independent author, who has recently released his third book to Kindle, The Coming of The Storm. ‘It’s a fictional work, so of course she could have had a fictional friend. But I thought, what if her friend could be a real life movie personality? What if I could have an actress feature in my story, even if just as a ‘mention’? I began to realise, the more I thought about it, that this isn’t a new concept. It’s new to fiction as far as I’m aware, but if you look at movies, they’ve been doing it for years.’
Well yes, obviously.
‘No, not like that. Sure, they cast for actors to play parts, but they will also, from time to time, feature a real life personality who’s known outside of the film industry. Take OJ Simpson. Nowadays he’s known for the most famous police chase of all time, not to mention the subsequent trial. But in his day he was a world record holder in NFL. In 1970s America, if you were a Buffalo Bills supporter, or even just a football fan, you knew OJ Simpson. He was the first to rush 2000 yards and still holds the per-game and per-season record to this day. When he retired, he wanted to get into films, but make no mistake: the films wanted him too. He was cast in The Towering Inferno in 1974 and frankly, why wouldn’t you? All those millions of football fans across the country suddenly have a reason to go and watch the movie.’
So you take one living legend, a sports personality for example, stick them up on the big screen in your forthcoming blockbuster, and hey presto: box office smash. How does that translate to literature though?
‘Ah but it’s not so different,’ explains Matt. ‘Your typical independent author has to be very creative when it comes to attracting readers. For us there’s no A1 poster in the window of Borders, no book signings, no lucrative agreements between publishers and book stores. We have to peddle our wares at grass roots level. For the most part that means Facebook, Twitter, maybe a blog and a mailing list too. But almost all successful independent authors have a marketing hook: that little something extra. Maybe they have formed an on-line magazine, or a review club. Perhaps they’ve tapped into some new way to exploit social media that no one else has thought of. Whatever, they have to be imaginative if they want to succeed. But no matter what the conduit, it all comes down to interaction. And having a real-life personality feature in your book is a form of that. Who knows, it might even catch on as a trend! Think about it: throughout literary history there has been a succession of fashions and trends. From the middle of the 16th Century when the Italian writers explored the subject of love, to the ridicule of that same subject a hundred years later. Tragedies, comedies, rants – they’ve all had their place, they’ve all been initiated and then imitated over the years. Movies too: we’ve had the age of the thriller, the disaster, the action adventure, the horror – all of them have had their turn at one time or another. It’s the same in the art world. At one time it was fashionable to have your product – or your visage – painted by Andy Warhol. It was very much in vogue. I’m just hoping to identify another trend, albeit on a smaller scale.’
So Matt is the literary Andy Warhol, metaphorically painting Marilyn Monroe into his prose?
‘Stop it. I said on a smaller scale – alright a much smaller scale.’
But this interaction, surely, is the very nature of marketing/advertising. There’s nothing new there.
‘True, but we independents have to think outside the box. That’s how I came up with casting. If I can put a known personality into my book, it spreads the word to their fans as well as mine. It’s all about branching out. They don’t have to be an actor: a sports personality, a politician, even another writer would do. It’s just that books and films share so many traits – I’m talking about showing concepts, character development, atmospherics, not just the obvious story telling – that it seemed natural to feature an actor. That’s where Mary came in.’
Enter Mary Alexandra Stiefvater, who has featured in a host of TV and film features from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, to The Mentalist, several episodes of The Late Show with David Letterman, and a range of independent films including Supergator, Bear, Loveless in Los Angeles and Driving by Braille.
‘I noticed among my followers/followees on Twitter that while most were like-minded writers, quite a few hailed from different backgrounds. I saw that Mary was an actor, as well as a writer and producer, and I’d been mulling over the idea for a while about featuring someone from films in my book. So I contacted her and she liked the idea. Which surprised me, because new concepts can be very hard to pitch. People tend to assume, if they don’t fully understand what you’re trying to do, that you want something from them. Perhaps because Mary does some writing herself, she’s a bit more open-minded. Twitter is great though for this kind of thing. It can make introductions that would otherwise not be open to you.’
For the uninitiated, Twitter is one of the independent author’s most potent marketing weapons.
‘Oh yes,’ Matt enthuses. ‘It’s an amazing tool. I’ve not been on Twitter very long so my two thousand followers is nothing to brag about. I know independent authors who have twenty to thirty thousand, and even a couple with a hundred thousand. But we’re a sociable, reciprocal bunch. We help each other for the sake of it and for the sake of spreading the word. That’s the nature of social media isn’t it? You communicate a whole plethora of information just because you can. Because it’s there. So I’ll send out a quick tweet about one of my books to my two thousand followers, but it will get picked up and retweeted. And in the space of an hour, that tweet has gone out to over fifty thousand people. Now, featuring Mary, I have another division of potential readers. Her fans, people who have never heard of me before, suddenly have a reason to download my book. Because maybe they’d like to ‘see’ her in it, the same way they will go and see her in a film. These are people I wouldn’t normally have reached. Likewise, I’ll make sure my readers are aware of Mary and her work. Not least anything she has on the burner right now. It goes both ways you see. And yet there’s no contract, no agreement. I haven’t once said to her, ‘If I put you in my book will you shout about it to everyone you know please?’ That’s not what it’s all about. Social marketing is talking, not selling. It’s very passive like that. As soon as you abuse it, people turn away. Of course, I send out information and links to where you can download my books, but equally I try to engage in conversation about writing, or life in general sometimes. And it’s important to be honest. I once received a one star review for one of my earlier books, Pursuit, because the reader felt it was too cluttered with big words. I was accused of being an English language professor trying to educate his readers. (If you know me you are laughing right now). Instead of shying away from it or wishing the review would vanish from the page (they don’t, and yes it’s still there) I wrote a blog post about it. It inspired quite a bit of input and sure enough, I was able to edit the book appropriately so that it reads much more succinctly now. This all comes from talking. From interacting. The more people you bounce off, the bigger footprint you’ll leave. Casting for a real-life personality in The Coming of The Storm was, for me, just an extension of that.’
So what makes a good personality for a book?
‘Good question! And a tricky one to answer because this is the first time I’ve done it. For me though, I just needed someone who understood the point of it. Also, Mary is an interesting person in real life, so there can depth to her part if it’s needed. She has not only featured in a lot of TV shows and films, she is also trained in a variety of weapons and unarmed combat. She’s a writer and a producer, and in addition, she’s very much into skiing, which is something I love to do with my family as much as possible. I noticed that she has an upcoming film about Squaw Valley, the resort that bid for – and won – the hosting of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and I love the Olympics. I genuinely want to see that film and I genuinely want to tell everyone I can about it. So from a reciprocal point of view, that makes it simpler, more natural. Plus all of her personality traits are layers that I don’t have to invent! I did look at another option to feature alongside Mary. The Coming of The Storm also makes mention of an adult movie star, albeit that’s not what the book is about, and I thought it would be good to have a real life actress feature in that role too. I approached one of the bigger names in the industry who was initially all for it, but then got a bit cautious. I’m not sure why – perhaps in that world people are used to being exploited and assume nothing is what it seems, but in any case she hasn’t entirely ruled it out in future, so I won’t mention her name here! Whatever the case, I’m really hoping the first part of the Storm trilogy works out with Mary and she’ll be back for more.’
The Coming of The Storm, part one of the Storm Trilogy by Matt Kruze is available on Amazon Kindle:
Mary Alexandra Stiefvater can be found at http://maryalexandra.com She is currently involved in an upcoming film covering the successful 1960 winter Olympic bid of the previously unheard of Squaw Valley resort, details at www.squawthemovie.com
Matt, thanks so much for stopping by today for this interesting chat! Best wishes for your continued success and please do come again…it’s always a pleasure visiting with you. 🙂
ABOUT DANICA CORNELL
Danica Cornell is the author of the forthcoming DARK STAR Sci-fi/Fantasy Series, soon to be published by Cool Geek Books. To learn more about Danica’s work, her love of dogs, and her support of UNICEF, please visit her website at www.danicacornell.com.
Danica Cornell is a proud member of RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB.