Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with independently published authors. Taylor Oceans is the author of Playing Your Hand Right. You can visit his website here or purchase his book here.
Three months ago, Taylor Oceans released his first book, a hilarious – if sobering – ride through his wild years of rampant drug use and dangerous living. When he decided to clean up his life a couple years ago, he put aside the lucrative drug trade for the life of a poor starving artist – or writer, in this case. Before becoming a writer, the 28-year-old had a diverse work history, including everything from, of course, drug dealing to building houses to being the engineer for a hotel to working behind the scenes in local theater. Now, he’s quit working to write full-time. In his free time he enjoys old movies, computer games, BBQing, and sex. There’s still lots of sex in his life, just like in the book.
1. What prompted you to write your book?
I think when I had lip cancer. Facing your death in such an uncontrollable way puts it in perspective. Also, just before that I had almost been thrown in a wood chipper in death wish. It’s not till you have lost everything that you’re free to do anything. I guess both moments reinforce each other. I wanted something better for myself than, “Went crazy when his dad died and got himself killed,” or, “Died of cancer.” I realized you can’t pick when you die, only your obituary and I want a good one. The book is only the beginning. I don’t see writing as my lifestyle I only see my book as the beginning.
2. What was your goal in writing this book?
Well, to let people know that they can always change for the better. It seems like America comes with an instruction manual these days and everyone is just running around with a bar code stamped on their heads simply going through the motions till they die. I try to use my life as a parallel. You don’t have to accept yourself the way you are you can always change for the better. I was a coke head and I quit. Fat people can lose weight, the shy can be a politician. Whatever the challenge we can change it and babying America isn’t going to change anything. Enough of the, “It’s hard and scary so don’t try” crap. Or, “You are fine the way you are.” What a cop out, “You’re fine the way you are.” No one is fine the way we are. We all can be better educated and moral. Not to mention fit. Pull up your boots and wade through some shit. It’s better on the other side.
3. How would you describe your writing style? I just ordered the book and think it’s hilarious, but I’m curious how you see your style.
4. Writers famously have vastly different and sometimes bizarre writing processes, like Kerouac’s manically fast creation of On the Road on a series of lengthy scrolls. What was your writing process like?
Don’t really have one. I write all over the place and scribble notes, and ideas to myself all over my house. I will say rum and Marlboro reds is a good place to start. … Never realized till now, though, that I do like to write after sex.
5. In a somewhat related question, where were you doing your writing? You describe some pretty wild living situations in this book, so I’m curious about the living situation you were in when you actually did the writing.
I live in a 550 sq ft downtown apartment on the first floor. It’s set up like a loft with a bar and kitchen on one end, two rooms and a hallway to my bedroom which has the bathroom. It’s small, old, kind of dank, and has no insulation in the floor, so I wear my bathrobe over my clothes whenever home. I learned in boarding school that a comfortable, colorful, well-lit habitat is very good for creativity. The room I write in is blue with a white ceiling and the adjoining room is orange (technically pumpkin for the queer eye guys) that frames out a wall size mural of a Hawaiian sunset. That room has my poker table and Buddha shrine. The blue room has a desk I build into the wall using my background in carpentry out of a recycled long piece of wood I used to build a friend a dark room. I have a comp with two monitors to help with my ADD. I watch old movies or documentaries as I work or listen to jazz. Really the closest comparison would be [the main character from] V for Vendetta’s house. All the windows are covered since I live on the first floor and on the alley side so 500 people walk past my windows every day yet my house is very warm feeling, bright, and covered in art of all kinds just about every inch of the walls. I have everything from 200-year-old oil paintings, Phish posters, Marlboro signs, to postcards from Italy. Black and white photography and poetry are all over my walls. Even my bathroom has Mickey Mouse flicking you off with one of my favorite poems: “When things go wrong as they usually/ will and your daily road seems all up hill/ when funds are low, and debts are high/ and you try to smile but can only cry/ and you just feel like you want to quit don’t come to me, I don’t give a shit.” He gives me my pep talk every morning.
6. Like the writing processes, the time span necessary for book creation also varies greatly from one author to the next. How long did each step of the writing and editing process take you?
That’s a hard question to answer because the book I published isn’t the first I started. Four years ago I was thinking about writing philosophy about why people do what they do? I interviewed drug dealers, strippers, teachers, deliveryman, bartenders, and bakers – people from all walks of life. But, while talking to them they said my story was more entertaining than theirs. Then three years ago I started to write my tales. I finished it in a year after writing 300,000 words and only keeping 40,000. That was the first version of my book which was completed a year ago. I started the blog to test it and wrote more and more new stuff. In the end I threw away over half of the first copy, wrote another, threw away half of that and three months ago finished the third version of my book. I figure I have written a total of 500,000 words typed and hand written in three notebooks to get the 41,000 words I ended with.
7. Did you initially look into traditional publishing outlets? What made you decide to go with self-publishing?
I did, however that was the second version of the book. Since no one knew me and I had never written, no one gave me a chance and [instead] recommended blogging. Then during my first online interview like this Createspace was recommended to me.
8. I think many people who haven’t self-published are curious about the monetary aspect of self-publishing. How much did each step of the process cost? How much do you get on each book you sell?
That is hard to answer. Total money spent so far around 500 dollars. I found my editor on Craig’s List after firing 17 or 18 others and simply posted: “Want to be a break out editor? I want to break out as an author, let’s team up.” However the hours and hours spent writing and not working have cost me tens of thousands of dollars. Probably millions if I was still dealing. Really the most expensive part is how it affects your work. A few months ago I quit my job to write full time and finish this damn book, however I will have to pick up some part time work to fill the void till I sell more books. And the royalties is so complicated through Kindle I don’t even begin to understand them. However I’m about to get my first 100 dollar check so the short answer would be a buck or two a book. Also I move the price for sales so some books I make none off. I still have bought the most books and have a box next to me to send out. I’ve bet all my savings and even maxed my credit cards to pay for this but I would rather fail then half ass it or not try. Like it was said in Fight Club – god knows how to pronounce or spell Chuck’s last name – “It’s not till you have lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” I have lost everything. My family, my farm, everything. I have no connections, responsibilities, or plans. So I figure bet it all what have I got to lose? Change your life and become a writer or bankrupt yourself trying. Who the hell wants to give a retired drug dealer a job anyway? Swing for the fences while I’m still young. Yeah I’m great at smuggling, evading surveillance cars, counting money, knowing if someone is armed or skilled in fighting, spotting narcs, knowing the exits in a room and surviving in some of the most deadly situations in America. Can I work here at Wal-Mart? I will say I suck at customer service, and don’t play well with others. However I did just finish a great job as technical director of a theatre where I designed and supervised the build of an incredibly innovative set. Short answer you make shit and use up all your time, so have 10,000 dollars saved up at least. If you can live off a grand a month. I’ve canceled my insurance, dropped my cell phone, all those perks are gone so this way of life is not for those with kids. I eat Ramen.
9. The traditional agent/publisher route includes significantly more help with the marketing aspect of things; what have you done to market this?
The normal things: Facebook, using the blog, and I have started mailing out books to book stores and such to spread the word.
10. Some books — like the Fifty Shades trilogy — begin as indie published books and then get picked up by mainstream publishers. Do you have any plans to do this or have you been contacting mainstream agents or publishers with queries at all?
Hell yeah just started sending them books to. Normally takes two months to get a no. Only been selling hard for three months so it takes time.
11. Are there any other writing endeavors you’re involved in — writing for local newspapers, doing magazine features, writing short stories?
Nope, creative writing minor in college but got thrown out and later dropped out again before finishing.
12. Now that you’re no longer a career criminal and professional drug dealer, what are you doing to support yourself?
Whatever I can. I had a background in theatre in college so I’m a skilled carpenter and electrician so I pick up odd and ends here and there. Really I cut the budget hard. Dropped the cell phone, never go bar hopping anymore, and will be selling my car soon because who needs one in the city when you quit your job. I did have some money saved away but most of it is gone now in the “process.” There is a little inheritance left from my dad’s death, but in a nutshell I’m poor. Real poor. My apartment is small and my car rarely works.
13. Do you have plans to write another book?
Best of luck to you Taylor, and, again, for any interested readers here is the link to purchase Playing Your Hand Right.