Interview With Author Joseph Carrabis

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

Howdy. Joseph Carrabis here. My books – Empty Sky (available at, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires (, the separate Tales as ebooks ( My next book, The Augmented Man, is due out 25 July 2019. You can pre-order a signed copy at and read my first review at http:/ I have several other projects in the works. Readers can get a sample at Some samples require becoming a sponsor, some are free.

I’m currently rewriting Empty Sky because I’ve learned so much craft since I first published it. I’ll be releasing the rewritten chapters starting 15 April 2019 and will make them available to sponsoring blog members.

What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?

Hmm…everything I write is autobiographical in one way or another. I mention this in

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Ah. My sister, Sandra, was the original source. I write about this in

What inspires me now? Anything and Everything. Seriously. I walked over to my stereo to change the CD and came up with beautiful story title. No idea what triggered it and I stopped questioning such things long ago. Many, many years ago I was at a conference, heard a phrase and just wrote it down. That phrase led to a novel that’s through first draft and I hope to send to publishers after another edit or two.

How do you deal with creative block?

Ha. This I discuss in The challenge isn’t writer’s/creative block, per se, it’s recognizing it for what it is when it occurs.

Did the tank simply run dry? My best advice is honor that. Lots of authors talk about things to do when they run dry; read a book, go for a walk, ride a bike, do something physical, play some music (if you play an instrument), go to a movie, go for a drive, take a nap, et cetera, and they all come down to stop draining a dry tank. Unless you’re writing on stone tablets with a hammer and chisel, the act of writing is cerebrally exhausting. Do something that replenishes the tank. Some of my best solutions come when I’m on the stairs at the gym, headphones on, reading a book.

Do you know there’s more coming and it won’t come out? Something’s stopping you from producing. You can craft but you can’t tell. Your writing may be beautiful but it doesn’t do anything story-wise.

My experience is that this occurs when you and/or your ego and/or your message and/or your own bullshit get in the way of the story. Your non-conscious is trying to save you from producing trash and stops you from writing more. Pay attention.

Some writers suggest finding the last part of the writing that worked. Go back 2-3 pages from that. Start at that point and write again, this time keeping all your own crap/ego/identity/bullshit out of the way. The moment you decide what’s suppose to come next, forget it. Just write. It doesn’t have to make sense. You’re clearing your writing much like a singer clears their throat before they sing. This method usually works for me. I have to go back to the last place the writing worked and start a little before that point. Sometimes removing myself from my work is difficult. I ask myself, “What’s going on with me that I can’t let the characters do what they want? How come I have to control the story at this point?” Writing can be therapeutic if you let it.

Sometimes you stop writing because some deep piece of you knows you’re not ready for the story, the subject, can’t or won’t do it justice, et cetera. This is a variant of the above and again, pay attention. You may not be ready to write the real story yet. Give yourself time. If it’s a really good story, it’ll be there when you’re ready.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

In writing anything, writing poorly, knowing you’ve written poorly and still putting it out there where others will see it. This is particularly true of people who self-publish. People who traditionally or indie – remember when we called them “small” – publish still have someone else fitting the bill, hence making a decision that your work is marketable. There is a reason the publishing industry had GateKeepers before self and indie publishing caught on.

I’ve had experience with both traditional and small/indie publishers and have interviewed self, indie and traditionally published authors. There was a time when you could tell a traditionally published book from a self/indie published book and the gap is getting narrower and narrower, not because self/indie publishing is strengthening – although it is in some cases – but because traditional publishing standards are weakening. I’ve read books by brand name authors and wondered how they got through production, copyediting, proofing, et cetera.

Also, some indie/small publishers are in the game simply because they want to call themselves publishers, not because they are good at picking out worthy books. Others run “publishing houses” to legitimize publishing their own crap (and usually it is) by creating a stable of writers and claiming themselves as part of that stable. Caveat Scrivener, that.

Many writers – self-published and not – haven’t developed the self-awareness necessary to recognize when their own work sucks. More importantly, they haven’t developed the ability to recognize how to fix what sucks, either in their work or others. They may know something needs fixing but not how to fix it. The end result is they dabble dabble dabble until the original piece really sucks but sucks differently so they figure “Okay, it’s good! I fixed it!”

So the biggest mistake is knowing something sucks and still putting it out on Amazon, Smashwords, whatever.

The caveat, of course, is when you put something out on your blog or other venue for the purpose of getting feedback, as in “I know this can be better but not how to make it better. Help?” Knock yourself out in those cases.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

First and foremost, go with your gut. It’s probably where your stories came from originally and it’s right between your heart and your balls, so why not go back to the source for a title and cover?

That noted, second and almost foremost, be open to suggestions. Stay flexible. The only time something is unchangeable is when it’s on a shelf with a pricetag on it. Even ebooks can change. Definitely anything self-published can change.

Be honest with yourself when people come to you with suggestions. Is what they suggest better? Answering just yes or no doesn’t work. Can you explain why and how it’s better or not? That’s the important part.

And if you think something’s better and can’t explain it? Test it. People with marketing backgrounds know about A/B and MultiVariate testing. Do a reasonable mockup of what you think works, do a reasonable mockup of what others are suggesting, do a side-by-side and get responses, ie, let the market decide before the market gets to really decide. Which is better?

What do you do if the data indicates someone else’s idea is better? You go with it. You don’t want to go with the data? Then it’s on your head when it flops or succeeds.

Let me give you an example. I’ve had someone tell me some bookstores won’t carry Empty Sky or Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires because the covers aren’t professional.

To which I asked, “What about them isn’t professional?”

To which I was answered, “Well, you know, they’re just not professional.”

“Can you give me an example.”

“Look at other book covers. That’s what I mean.”

At that point I shrug and walk away. Remember this: Criticism without suggestion is worthless. Remember also: Criticism without specific suggestions is close to worthless. Finally, be sure to remember: Criticism without specific suggestions previously proven through analysis of volumes of data is opinion. I’ve seen bookcovers that leave me wondering what the designer’s intent is because it’s certainly not to sell books. The bookcovers are so generic as to be interchangeable. That’s the problem when you buy/design covers on line; no uniqueness, no individuality, no “you and your story”ness to them.

That lack of “you and your story”ness is fine if your book is so much like every other one in the genre that your audience doesn’t care about you or your writing, they just want another xyz book and yours is the next one they read. I suppose that’s one way to build an audience and if it works for you, go for it. I see it as a problem with lots of self-pubbed people; their books are copies of something they liked. Remember, good writers borrow, the best writers steal. Feel free to copy something you enjoyed and copy for two reasons; 1) see if you can write it as well as it’s written, 2) take the basic premise and write your own, better story.

I see bookcovers on Twitter and want to comment but don’t because, regardless of my thoughts on the covers, somebody put time and effort and probably money into them. Most importantly, they didn’t ask my opinion. Almost as importantly, there’s a great quote (can’t remember who said it. It’s from NPR years ago) “I don’t judge a book by its cover, I judge a cover by the cover and the book by what’s inside.” People may pick up a book based on the cover but if the backcover copy and a random read of pages doesn’t keep the reader engaged, big deal. Nice cover, no sale.

Somebody out there, reading the above, will quickly state “Yeah, but if they didn’t pick up the book based on the cover they wouldn’t even get to read the backcover copy nyah neenyah neenyah nyah.”

That point is valid. But also remember that the cover isn’t just the image. It’s the title, the quotes on the cover, the author’s name (known author? Unknown author?), typography, coloring, … So much is involved that the image itself may play a small – not insignificant but still small – role in the consumer’s desire to pick up a book and read a sample. Want to sell to teenage boys? Put a scantily clad female on the cover. Frazetta made a career of selling covers to teenage boys into their fifties with such images. The book could be about auto mechanics and who cared?

The goal with a title and cover is to brand yourself, your writing, and your books so the reader knows what they’re getting, looks forward to getting it and enjoys being got. To that end, there are three basic rules for covers:

1) Hit the consumer with a pie and say something smart.

2) Brand yourself – what does your brand deliver to the reader/consumer?

3) Create a tag line that gets attention and makes a promise.

That last item directly applies to cover art. If you make a promise with your cover art and that promise isn’t delivered by your writing, you’re going to lose a reader and might get a bad review (something Frazetta and the authors he worked with never worried about, at least not as we think of “review” today)..

By the way, everything I’ve written here applies to video trailers, too, and what I’ve written here barely looks at the surface of producing good video trailers.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Define “bad” and “negative”. The first question is “Who’s providing the review and feedback?” Is this someone whose opinions you value and trust? If yes, they’re not going to attack you or your work, they’re going to help you make it better. Remember, criticism without suggestion is worthless.

There was a guy I knew years ago, Lenny, whom I mention about 3m40s into He didn’t critique your work, he let everybody know how smart he was. His critiques had nothing to do with what you wrote, only in pointing out where you made technical errors. Not even compositional, grammatical or craft errors, only that he was smarter than you about the technology in your work.

Of course, Lenny never submitted anything for review/critique. He was, in essence, a ballless wonder. Criticism without suggestion is worthless. Now learn the Lennyism: Critics who never offer anything for critiquing tend to offer worthless suggestions.

So a bad review or negative feedback? First, are they suggesting how to make it better? Then it’s neither bad nor negative, it’s helpful and get your ego out of the way. I was recently at a reading/critiquing session before a live audience and it was fascinating to watch how people responded to critiques/analysis of their work. My critiquing method is documented at and it can be intense, but that’s the kind of critiquing I expect when I’m putting my work through such a venue. I talked with some of the audience members after the session and the response amused me; the other writers “were there for approval, not criticism.” I was there to make my work better. The others wanted their egos stroked, I wanted my work improved.

Second, are the comments attacking you or the work? If the negativity is about you, directly or indirectly, ignore it. Leave that shit on the playground and back in highschool where it belongs. If the negativity is about the work, pay attention. It may hurt, and pay attention.

Are the negative comments really about what the person says they’re about? Let me give you an example from that same reading/critiquing session mentioned above.

The person setting this all up contacted me and said several things were wrong with the piece (Gable Smiled (work in progress)

Hmm…lots of people read it and loved it. Of all the things this person indicated were wrong, the last thing offered was “I couldn’t get into it.”

I’d heard that a few times before from people who weren’t familiar with my writing. Rather than rewrite the piece, I added a 200 word preface, basically backcover copy, to be read to the audience before the piece itself. That backcover copy set up the audience for what was to come. Basic marketing, really. You can read more about this at

How has your creation process improved over time?

“Creation process”? Not sure what that means. How have my idea generating mechanisms improved over time? I’m more open to what’s being given to me. How has my writing process improved over time? Ditto the above and I’m constantly working to improve my craft.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

Best – liberating myself to write the story’s truth regardless of what resulted.

Worst – recognizing my limits as a writer. There are some stories I desperately want to share and I’m not evolved enough in my craft to do them justice.

Most Surprising – giving my stories their head and going where they take me. Always exciting.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

As far as I know, I always go towards personal satisfaction because, if I’m not satisfied with a story, no one else will be. I’ve read lots of stories written specifically for an audience, to serve some audience, and most are weak. I’ll offer that all are weak, some so weak you want to euthanize them.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

As much a role as everything else.

Do you have any creativity tricks?


What are your plans for future books?

I have several projects in various stages of development. Readers can get a taste of the variety by becoming sponsoring members of my blog

I’m working on a novel, Ritchie&Phyl – A Celebration of Life, and I’m told it’s ChickLit – . That amuses me. I always tell people I write autobiography and it sells where it sells. I write what interests me, what intrigues me, what I want to know more about. If what you write relies so heavily on technology that the story can’t exist without the technology, you’re writing science-fiction of some kind or another. I don’t write that. If what you write relies so heavily on the fantastic that the story can’t exist without the fantastic, you’re writing fantasy of some kind or another. I don’t write that, either. I write what I write. Hopefully enough people repeatedly like it that I can make a living out of it.

Examples: The Goatmen of Aguirra and Mani He and respectively – can be told without the fantastic and have the protagonist go through the same self-realizations and growth. The Settlement – is about a dysfunctional family. It doesn’t need to take place over Mars. Those Wings Which Tire, They Have Upheld Me – is about a child who believes he’s a monster because he’s so different and how a loving elder helps him appreciate his differences and use them to better himself. The Doore Girls – is about two people in love who can’t show it because society won’t allow it.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

Not much to tell. I’m boring and dull. Quirky facts. Hmm…Quirky. I bathe myself in sound. I have to have the proper pasta with the proper sauce. I like to support local businesses, meaning if I can drive to them and back in a day, I’ll do business with them rather than online. I was taught how to drink Scotch by a Celtic StoryTeller –


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