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An interview with Byron Merritt


Byron Merritt lives in Pacific Grove, California, and works as a full time emergency room nurse and part time writer. He's won prizes in local writing competitions and has posted numerous science fiction stores and articles on the Internet. He claims to derive much of his writing ability from his genes; his grandfather was international best-selling author Frank Herbert, of "Dune" fame. Byron is spokesperson for Fiction Writers of the Monterey Peninsula (FWOMP), the group behind the short story collection, "Monterey Shorts".  [Byron is standing, far right, in the above photograph.]

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Deborah Fisher was able to interview Byron without actually meeting him face to face!


Deborah: Perhaps it's what we in the UK call "sour grapes", but my instinctive feeling is that it might be a little easier for a budding author to get published if they have the right connections. You're the grandson of the great Frank Herbert.

Byron: You'd think it would be easier (laugh!). Getting an agent or publisher in today's literary climate is tough, regardless of who your grandfather is, I think. I don't have an agent or a publisher and I've been writing for three years now, gotten published in minor magazines, e-zines, and a pretty impressive self publish venture. But I HAVE utilized the Herbert legacy to open some doors. Most notably, to get reviews/blurbs for Monterey Shorts [the self-publishing venture mentioned above], got my uncle to write the foreword for the book, and have met some incredible fans of the Dune universe (whom I place my book in front of every chance I get!). have to do what you have to do.

Deborah: Was that why you decided to form a cooperative and self-publish?

Byron: Self-publishing used to have this stigma attached to it. You heard things like, "Oh! So you self-published. I guess you weren't good enough to get a publisher and/or agent." But looking back at my grandfather's work, one can see why I chose to go this route. The first manuscript for Dune went to 23 different publishers before it was picked up by Chilton Books --- and this was back in 1965! Self-publishing has come a loooong way. Monterey Shorts is as professional a book as you'll find out there. This was because myself and the other nine contributors had complete control over graphics, layout, cover art, story editing, etc. We got the book WE wanted out to the public. And look at us! We've gotten rave reviews, been on the local best seller list (#2), and had large turnouts at every book-signing. At our first book-signing we had over 80 people show up! That's impressive, even for a 'professionally' published book.

Deborah: Where did the idea of Monterey Shorts come from?

Byron: When Fiction Writers Of the Monterey Peninsula (FWOMP) first formed, our goal was to improve our fiction writing skills through mutual, hard-nosed critique. We did NOT come together to write Monterey Shorts. The process of a book evolved out of the critiquing group. We knew that our abilities were improving, and we wanted to prove ourselves and others. So, we set out to write a group of stories. But we didn't want to have someone write in a genre that they weren't comfortable in (I mean, I couldn't write a good romance!). And we also realized that we needed a unifying theme. You always hear that you should 'write what you know,' and we knew Monterey. So it was decided that we'd all base our stories in and around the Monterey Peninsula. Since this area has such a rich historical past (John Steinbeck, Fort Ord, The AT&T golf tournament, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, etc.), it wasn't very difficult.

Deborah: Is there anything unique about the Monterey peninsula, or could almost any location provide similar inspiration?

Byron: Well that's tough to answer. I do think that you can find out unique things about your area and write about them, but you'd have to make it interesting enough to engage a larger audience than just your hometown. For instance, one of the stories in Monterey Shorts is about Stilwell Hall (the first soldiers club in the nation). Most people have probably never heard of it. But most know about General 'Vinegar Joe' Stilwell and his involvement in WWII. So making connections like that are important.

Deborah: What lessons have you learned from the experience?

Byron: I don't think you have enough space for me to answer that question! Let's see if I can streamline this. I've learned to: work with individuals and groups, edit my own and others' writings, how to make contacts in the literary world, and how to have fun! That last one is the most important. Trust me! If you can't have fun doing this, you'll lose part of yourself in the process. I enjoy working with all of these writers and I look forward to a long writing relationship with them.

Deborah: Several members of the FWOMP group are women. Do male and female writers have a lot to learn from one another?

Byron: Absolutely. Men tend to be more macho. We like guns, spaceflight, and fights. Women tend to like characters. So in some (and many) aspects, I think that the women are ahead of us guys. But I think that we've instilled a good distribution into one another's work. The women are stabbing their characters and the men are making theirs cry. Now these are generalizations, so don't shoot me! Of course there are other dynamics that'd take me YEARS to cover (Mars and Venus type stuff).

Deborah: What are your long-term plans for your own writing career?

Byron: To become a millionaire and retire to the island of Hawaii where I'll lounge all day and suck down daiquiris while beautiful women fan me with large palm fronds as I watch my royalty checks roll in from my internationally best selling novel. But seriously, I have a fantasy novel that I've been working on for four years (creating my own world, languages, etc.) and I'm hoping that some agent/publisher will take pity on this little story and publish it so that I can get by working two jobs instead of three. I do really like the story, so that's a big plus. Again: HAVE FUN!

Deborah: I'll look forward to reading that. To change the subject slightly, do you see any major differences between the USA and other countries in terms of the publishing culture?

Byron: Good question. The U.S. publishing companies seem to be melding into this giant conglomeration, making it harder and harder for new writers to break into the business. I think that other countries (UK, Australia, Denmark, Germany) are more receptive to new talent, though.

Deborah: What about the e-book? How do you see its future?

Byron: I personally don't like e-books in their present format. When I read, I like to have something of substance in my hands. A good thick book with the glorious aroma of paper wafting up to my nose. I think that e-books MIGHT have a future, if they can appear to look more like a book and act like a book. Even then it'll take some getting used to, I think. Most readers of books are pretty low tech. That's why they read books. It's an easy escape. They don't need computer games, X-Boxes, Playstations. They've got all that in their heads while they're reading. They don't want (or need) a computer screen in their face in order to enjoy the written word. But who knows what the future holds. If we keep clear cutting forests at our present rate, paper books might be a thing of the past, whether we like it or not.

Deborah: I would probably never have heard of Monterey Shorts if it hadn't been sent to me for review (and that would have been a great loss). But are book reviews of any real value?

Byron: Abso-friggin-lutely! Whatever lights you can shine on your work, you should pursue. And reviews are cheap (in fact, they're free except for the cost of shipping the book and the book itself). Many readers take to heart what their favourite reviewers say. So in this aspect, reviewers are INVALUABLE. And if you want to find a distributorship for your book, many won't talk to you unless you have some impressive reviews (from at least ONE reputable reviewer anyway).

Deborah: What would be your message to aspiring writers?

Byron:. If you believe in a story, write it. And don't give up! I've gotten so many rejection letters from so many different sources that I could wallpaper my home ten times over. But I've also gotten published on the internet, in the U.S. and now in Australia (at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine). It's taken a long time for me to accomplish this. But I never, ever, gave up. Perseverance is your best friend as a writer and marketer of your own work.

See the FWOMP website for more information

This is be the first in a series of special features adding variety to the site.  Book reviews will continue to be our main focus.