When Author Aaron Joy was 11 years old, he picked up a book of Shakespeare. He thought it was a foreign language mixed with English, but he was so enthralled with the rhythm and sound of the words that he decided right there he would be a writer. He immediately started writing little stories and plays. His first play was a re-write of Julius Caesar, of course full of garbled English, and his first story featured the detective Sam Spade. Though, he’d never seen the movie, so he doesn’t know how he knew him. Since then, he literally has not gone for more than a few weeks without writing something or multiple things. He is now 44.
In high school he fell in love with poetry via Jim Morrison of the Doors, Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Jack is still a huge influence on his writing and life. When Lawrence Ferlinghetti died in February 2021, he was saddened, as he totally copied his poetry formatting and even wrote sequels to some of his poems. In college, Aaron Joy started writing regional history of Washington State, which set him on a direction of non-fiction that would migrate into music history.
Now, in 2021, he has self-published over seventy books, written history and social columns for three newspapers, published in numerous small press periodicals, blogged on music extensively, worked in the newsroom of a daily Gannett newspaper and for a book publisher in Japan selling childrens’ English books throughout Asia, and owned his own small press and promotion business. Writing is as much who he is and how he express himself as it is a hobby and second income. When he moved in with his girlfriend over a year ago, he warned her that he spends a lot of time hunkered over his computer typing, but not to take it personally.
Currently, he is branching out into doing writing coaching via a new video series called “The Existential Writing Crisis” coming winter 2021 to odysee, bitchute, youtube and anchor podcasts. It’s time to share his years of experience to help other on their writing and self-publishing learning curve. He is also working on a music themed novel, and this winter will debut a new series of detective short stories. No borrowing from Humphrey Bogart this time, though. Instead, he is borrowing from Gene Simmons for two of them!
When he is not working on his writing or the business around it, he is a legal assistant of a small law firm in Portland, Maine. Though, he actually mull over his writing on the walk to work, so there is never a wasted minute. Not surprisingly, he lead a very modest homebody life with his girlfriend – who is also dedicated to an all-consuming hobby as a marathon runner – and their two cats. They are committed to their hobbies of sleeping.
Tell me more about your latest book
My most recent book was released March 2021, “In The Shadow Of The Gods: The Memoir Of A Led Zeppelin Tribute Band Singer”. Its available on kindle and soft cover from Amazon, most online book distributors and perhaps your local bookstore.
This is the story of singer Jean Violet whose career in 90’s New York City was full of modest highs, such as opening for Quiet Riot and Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy, and horrible lows like going on tour where half the venues had not been told there was a band playing. Nearly calling it a day, he formed a Zeppelin tribute band to play some gigs at Madison Square Garden with guitarist Jimi K. Bones, who played with Blondie, Kix and did the music for The View. For now twenty plus years Jean has fronted Kashmir playing only Zeppelin to sold out venues. The band has grown from clubs to festivals to theatres. They have also performed for a private birthday party thrown by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, as Chris heard they were the best Zeppelin tribute band, and were mentioned by “Rolling Stone” magazine. The band membership includes Felix Hanemann of the 70’s band Zebra, then called the next Zeppelin, and a drummer who toured with the Bob Hope Show.
It came about my accident. I was working on a music biography on a famous ’80’s singer and reached out to Jean for an interview. A band he was in for some months in Japan I mention in this book. We spoke for an hour on the phone about his career, when he then proposed I write his memoir. I got off the phone and took a shower. By the time I got done showering I had the entire outline for the book finished in my head, and knew how I wanted to approach it prose-wise. I sent him a proposal a few days later. The other book still isn’t finished, cause its ironic how things pan out.
In late 2020 we talked weekly where I would ask him questions and jot down the answers, then spend the week writing and creating a batch of new questions. I worked his answers into a cohesive narrative and created a voice for him for the page. It was really important to create a story with a beginning, middle and end. I read countless music biographies. Far too often the flow is really awkward with no real direction, like a story without a plot or ending that leaves the reader hanging. While too many read like vignette after vignette of cliched rock star stories, which serve very little purpose other than to impress by describing endless debauchery and irresponsibility. Personally, reading yet another musician talk about their sex life or getting really drunk and acting stupid has become the opposite of impressive for me. I’m bored to death. I like to tell people the most interesting story in rock is Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. He’s been married to the same woman since 1964, pre-Stones, and never had an affair and slept around. Now that’s an interesting rock star story!
Alongside Jean’s life there is also a few chapters giving light to the behind the scenes world of a tribute band. Anyone who sees Kashmir can now know something about the show. Who are the guys on stage and backstage? Is there Zeppelin songs you won’t or can’t sing on stage? Have you met the band or famous musicians? How do you practice, etc? If you don’t know the music world we wanted to paint a realistic view inside the struggle of a working musician thirty years in the scene. If you are in a tribute band than this can be a bit of a guide. We deliberately aimed for something entertaining and educational.
We’ve had a great response from musicians, and strangers who have seen the band. Personally, this is one of the best things I’ve ever written, while working with Jean was one of the few collaborations that worked the way I thought was nearly impossible given human nature. One proud moment is he did a book signing at the music store he hung out at as a boy. So, everything came full circle. Though, here’s the irony … we’ve yet to meet in person! He lives in Maryland and I’m in Maine. We did it over the phone and e-mail. One of these days I hope to see Kashmir in concert, as I sorta feel like part of the extended family.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Getting the flow right. Bad flow can kill a book for the reader. Bad flow is like when a mystery writer sloppily gives away the ending only pages in.
I had two bits of advice almost religiously guiding my writing. First, I copied Ian Fleming’s 007 books. I’ve read all of those books. They are actually rather simple, but Ian is famous for his flow that makes them incredibly exciting. You never know where the next chapter will go. Sorta cliff hangers meets taking an unexpected turn. He also tends to keep scenes and events exclusively to one chapter, not drawing things out too much, so they read more like movies than a stage play. In Jean’s memoir I ended every chapter on a note where you couldn’t predict what was coming next and couldn’t wait to find out, just like Ian.
Too many music biographies are sadly a slog through disconnected vignettes, feeling more like someone rambling drunk at a bar than a cohesive book. They not just are directionless, but you really don’t care what comes next, or its very predictable. The worst are also horribly repetitive. How many chapters need to talk about wild parties to tell the reader that this is a musician who likes wild parties? If it was a novel you’d trim all that down and move on to something that moves the story forward.
Some people think a music memoir needs wild stories, which is why so many musicians fill their books with them. Owning about 100 music biographies/autobiographies I’d like to argue that its not the stories themselves, but how you tell the story, and where it takes the reader. A book is a journey. A wild story told poorly with no real point is not interesting, whereas Donny Osmond leads a very non-wild life but his autobiography reads like an epic adventure story due to the writing.
This ties into the second thing that guided my writing. I kept in mind constantly a borrowed a mantra from Leonard Nimoy, aka Mr. Spock. As a director, writer, and acting teacher pre-Star Trek his motto was ‘always tell a story.’ Always. This is something I don’t see in but a minority of music biographies. Jean’s memoir I designed day one as a story. It would have characters, highs, lows, adventure, and a cohesive plot line, plus a beginning, middle and end.
To help with this I determined the mood for every chapter early on. A happy chapter would have nothing negative, as to have that negativity would kill the emotional high. The next chapter might be the fall from grace chapter, with the emotions starting bad and quickly get worse. Then there might be the recovery chapter of self discovery, full of contemplation not mentioned earlier. If a story he told me didn’t fit in a chapter chronologically as it had the wrong mood, I’d find a way to fit it in a different place or only give part of the story that did fit the mood and then return to it later.
I also decided we would stick to the story and include only things relevant to the story. We didn’t talk about his marriage or family, nor every bit of his life, except if things were relevant to the music. That also helped with the mood as it kept distractions and tangents to a minimum.
I remember giving Jean the different drafts. I wouldn’t exactly say what wasn’t finished, but just to trust me and let me know how things were shaping up. That’s something we talk about in the book: trust those you work with who know what they are doing, and have your back. Yet, at times I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to achieve my goal and give him the book we both wanted. Was my vision flawed and had Mr. Spock given illogical advice? Sometimes I knew what was needed, but other times it was just a feeling of incompleteness.
I remember near the end I said it would take another week or so of edits. I honestly didn’t know what the book needed, nor did I have any more questions for him, but it didn’t feel right according to my gut. He thought it was really good, but trusted me. I went back to page one and started reading and re-editing. I moved sentences, re-arranged paragraphs, changed chapter endings and beginnings, even disassembled one whole chapter, and completely changed the flow. I found that I mentioned things too early, didn’t always build up to scenes right and accidentally wandered off topic. The story didn’t carry the reader in the journey the way I thought it did. Then one night I said to my girlfriend ‘its done.’ My gut was satisfied.
I gave it to Jean and said I’d dramatically altered the flow. He came back saying how it was good, but now was great. He could just feel it, even if he didn’t know exactly what I’d done. After we published the book I heard from many people how it really kept your interest. I won’t ever write another book that doesn’t flow like a story. I tell that to every writer now, as its become my mantra, too. But, it was quite a challenge and I really needed listened to my instincts and be critical of my own work.
What is your normal procedure to get your books published?
I’ve been self-publishing through lulu.com since 2007, though my first book was in 1999 with a local printer.
My first few books were super niche and had a very limited audience. My first book was a few hundred page history of the parks of the little town of Bellingham, Washington, where I grew up. Essentially known for being the childhood homes of Hillary Swank and Glenn Beck and where the ferry leaves for Alaska, I couldn’t figure many people outside its borders wanted to know about its parks. I really didn’t think any size publisher would be interested, as it wouldn’t be much of a profitable endeavour. I wasn’t going to even try shopping it around, given if it took more than a year to publish than it would be slightly out of date when it came to current events. I printed up and sold 200 copies. It went on the credit card, which my parents paid off.
After college I spent some years working in Europe and Asia. When I came back to the States in 2007 technology had radically changed in the self-publishing world. Print-on-demand was slowly becoming popular, replacing the old model of laying down a lot of money to buy 1000 books that end up unsold in your garage. I had been writing a lot of spiritually minded prose inspired by Japanese Buddhism and I wanted to share. Lulu.com was one of the first to do inexpensive print-on-demand and perfect for someone like me with no reputation and a niche audience, not to mention not a lot of money to invest.
By 2010 my writings had become a bit less niche, and that was the first year I sold books every month. Previously I saw my work as resume fodder, as sales were every few months and nothing was breaking even. Every year since 2010 my sales have steadily increased, to now I have a profit making hobby with sales across the English speaking landscape. Due to the continued success I’ve kept to self-publishing, though I now have books a big publisher might be interested in. Self-publishing also doesn’t have the stigma it did when I did my first book.
Though, for those looking to venture into it, self-publishing is an endless learning curve. I thought I knew it, then kindle was created. Don’t hesitate to call upon friends to help you out or share their advice. That’s better than putting out your book and realizing there’s huge mistakes in it or it looks unprofessional, which in turn hurt sales and your reputation … not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, no of course not, nothing to see here.
Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
A lot of my writing has spiritual themes running through it, either as the focus or subtly laced into the writing. Today I follow a guru in Nevada named Sri Dharma Pravartaka Archaya of Sanatana Dharma (aka Hinduism) (dharmacentral.com). Its no coincidence he’s a revolutionary spiritual writer. Writing for me is a way to be creative, connect with others, share ideas, and dig into my psyche, while at times moving the spotlight to a particular spiritual tradition that is important to me. My first poetry book came out of practising Zen for a summer at the San Francisco Zen Center. A very proud moment was having my 2020 poetry book “Into Da Bright”, poems inspired by the guru Adi Da Samraj, found by a guy in Britain who asked to read all of it on his youtube page. I was a little shocked to get that request, but there was nothing more cool than hearing a stranger read my work in a soothing and elegant British accent.
I often feel that if I write the perfect novel some personal revelation or completeness will happen. I’m a huge fan of Lou Reed. He once declared he was always looking for the perfect chord or combination of notes out of his guitar. If he found that, the sound would go out and change himself and everyone who heard it, and likely he wouldn’t need to play ever again. It would be like a movie where a magician cast a spell over a group of people who fall to the ground stunned. I pretty much feel the same could happen with words if I found the perfect combination. Having just stated that, I realize its pure coincidence I follow a religion that believes certain words have actual power.
How many books have you written so far?
I have too many books to list individually. I have a tendency to write when life isn’t going well, and that’s been a lot of time. All my books can be found on my website www.aaronjoyauthor.weebly.com.
My books still in print include the music biography of the ’80’s band Danger Danger, released 2019. As part of my editing and publishing work for others I did the autobiography of late Latin jazz pianist Irving Fields, “The Pianos I Have Known” as told to Huffington Post columnist Tony Sachs. He was the first to fuse klezmer and Latin music in 1959. I’ve also co-edited the biography of the stage manager of the original Dark Shadows TV show and Captain Kangaroo. I’m also a blogger of weekly music reviews (romanmidnightmusic.blogspot.com), written numerous dramas, have a spiritual themed novel and many poetry books, and some non-fiction related to spirituality and politics.
My biggest project is an on-going series of crossword puzzle books that primarily focus on music. These are very unique as each book focuses on a particular scene, like surf music or progressive rock, or a band like the Smiths. Each puzzle then focuses on something within that scene, like the solo efforts of each member of the Smiths. I started these accidentally. I had just lost my job when the store closed due to rising Manhattan rents. I was frustrated and didn’t have much money to do anything. Sitting at home I couldn’t really write, but had to do something to ground myself. Loving history and music I started creating puzzles. I did them professionally, but never thought they would sell. That was 2010. I’ve always said I’d stop making them when the sales go down. In a few months I’ll be putting out book number 50. They are fairly inexpensive and make great birthday gifts and stocking stuffers. Hint hint.
What’s the best way to market your books?
I think video platform sites like YouTube, bitchute and others are super important and need to be utilized to find readers. Its a way to promote and to connect, and readers love to connect with authors they like. I use Youtube just like Google or any search engine, sometimes even more so. If your stuff is not there I’m likely missing you.
I talk to authors who are struggling with sales and they also have almost written off Youtube, as they get very little action on their channels. Take the time to learn how to do it right. How to make titles, write proper descriptions, make good videos, look professional, post regularly, etc.
I say all this from experience. I once blew off Youtube. I had a couple non-writing channels that were failing. I considered anything more than ten views a day successful. It was that bad and I was that delusional, and believing my own hype. Before deleting everything I decided to give it six months, as I don’t like giving up on anything. In that time I would study and rebrand. Essentially, learn the ropes and do everything I could to save it, cause I honestly knew ten views a day for a hundred videos was a failure. I can remember the day about a month into the rebuilding of my channels from the ground floor that I got four hundred views in one day. That’s not much compared to what Lady Gaga gets in an hour, but going from ten it is something. I also was gaining subscribers. I’ve never had ten view days since and am starting a third channel.
Here’s the important thing. I notice that as my views increased, so did my book sales. I had my best year of sales. Now, when I have a new book it gets a video and I say you can support my channel by buying my books. For the sceptics, books that do not yet have videos are selling less than older books. I thus have a lot of faith in online video platforms as a way to promote, not to mention making videos is actually kinda fun once you start seriously getting into it.
How hard or easy is it to establish and maintain a career in writing?
It’s not easy, but if it was then most people would do it, I think.
Most writers I’ve known do not make enough money from their books to live comfortably. What money they make from writing is also not remotely steady, not to mention it doesn’t provide benefits, health insurance, paid holidays and a 401K.
I believe most writers have numerous sources of income, including non-writing day jobs. There’s even very famous writers who will whisper to you that they have other ways they bring in money or have investments, not to mention relying on working spouses. I think the majority of beginning authors, or those with just a book or two, have said to me money doesn’t matter in the least. In confessional moments they have also said they aren’t breaking even, sales are bad and have given up on the possibility of making money. Or, they worked with a publisher who paid a small stipend, but after a year there is declining sales with the royalties getting smaller and smaller. I know this sounds very negative, but it is possible to make money writing, but it takes time, patience, a lot of work, experimenting, luck and some hustling.
I also think there’s no stigma in having a day job not related to writing. It doesn’t mean you have failed. I work in a law firm doing estate planning. I have a steady income which means I spend my time writing with no worries. At times when I was out of work for months I remember getting so depressed I couldn’t write, while what I was writing was not my best. My writing is always better when I know I can pay rent and eat more than two meals a day. Work is also a good distraction. I could easily write for most of my day, but going to work gets me out of that bubble.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Just write. Kinda like the Nike slogan. I know many wannabe writers who talk about having something in their head for years. It doesn’t do anything up there, and it really needs to be on paper to be fully developed. You no more can be a writer thinking and never doing, than you can become a great classical solo pianist without ever touching a piano, or becoming the next Bob Ross simply by watching his show. What are you waiting for? I know so many writers who said they were nervous and started late, then complained about losing all those years.
And, read. They go together. Reading is homework and you have to do your homework to improve. I write music biographies and likely own 100. Going back to what I said earlier, I fear had I not read other books I might have written something that would be more embarrassing and bland than not. I did my homework. My next project is a series of detective short stories revolving around music that will come out this winter. I ordered thirty Ellery Queen magazines on eBay. Every night I do my homework by reading a mystery short story. It’s also a great way to get ideas. So, read and do the Nike thing.
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