Howard Hopkins writes horror and Westerns. I first encountered his work with “The Ballad of Jesse Barnett,” which appeared in Matthew P. Mayo’s excellent anthology, Where Legends Ride: New Tales from the Old West. The surface action of the story is relatively static–a woman sits in a chair waiting for her abusive husband to return home. But Hopkins (writing as Lance Howard) presents more than a simple revenge story–he explores the nature of domestic abuse, the complex web of self-loathing and guilt, the painful search for the moment a life went horribly wrong.
Hopkins will be back around later this month to talk about writing the West. Below, he talks about the discipline it takes to dodge the distractions and to stay in the saddle as a freelance writer.
How long have you been working as a full-time freelancer and what sort of work do you do?
Howard Hopkins: I’ve been at it since about 1987, writing horror novels (The Chloe Files series, standalones), kids’ horror novels (The Nightmare Club series), Westerns (under the name Lance Howard, and a vampire western under my own), pulp, comic books (The Spider, The Golden Amazon, The Veil) and graphic novels, as well as editing short story anthologies for Moonstone Books, such as Sherlock Holmes: The Crossovers Casebook and three volumes of The Avenger Chronicles. Those interested in my work can check out my webpage.
What is a typical day like for you? How is it different than a traditional “day job”?
Howard Hopkins: It depends really on what stage of writing I am in. If I am just starting a new novel or story, I usually start out checking email, then go straight to writing. I work quite a bit on social networking/promotion, as well. I work most of the day, then again until late into the night. Lately I have spent some time handwriting books, for a change of pace.
A lot of it is about disciplining yourself, keeping to a schedule of some sort, and not letting all the daily distractions pull you off course. Writing is such an emotional and mental endeavor, it’s tough to keep to it sometimes.
Since most freelancers tend to work at home and are accessible to friends and neighbors during the day, it’s easy to get interrupted. It’s a good idea to treat it as you would a 9-5, i.e., don’t accept phone calls unless it is an emergency, make sure others know you have to be working, not doing their errands!
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you took the plunge into freelancing?
Howard Hopkins: I can’t really say there was anything I wish I had known, though I did not expect just how difficult it can be. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and puts a huge drain on emotional and creative energy. You are basically working without the safety net of a weekly expected paycheck or work provided health insurance and other benefits, the security that comes with a 9 to 5 job.
What are some of the frustrations of freelancing and how do you handle them?
Howard Hopkins: Mostly, what I have stated above. A lot of people think because you work at home, it’s easy for you to just stop what you are doing and help out, or whatever. But it doesn’t work that way. When the muse is galloping you have to stay in the saddle. A lot of folks don’t take your job seriously. I’ve actually had a neighbor say, “Oh, you’re just typing, so you can help me.” Lock the doors, shut off the phone! Then there are, of course, the financial headaches. That regular paycheck isn’t coming in every week like clockwork in a 9-5 job. Some publishers pay on publication, which can take months or ever years, and the publishing world is always in flex. You basically have to write something, then just move on to the next project (or finding the next project) and not sit around waiting for word on the first project.
What’s the best part? The joys?
Howard Hopkins: It’s just a huge thrill holding a finished book in your hands, but that would be the second joy. The first is having somebody read and like your work enough to comment on it. To be able to take (at least in the case of fiction writing) somebody away from their problems for a few hours. Writers write, but not for themselves. They write to entertain or enlighten others. No bigger thrill than touching somebody’s life.
Is there a project that you simply couldn’t have pulled off if you’d been working at a full-time day job?
Howard Hopkins: Most of them, where novels are concerned. The expenditure of emotional/mental energy is huge, and it takes a toll. Novels are a tremendous amount of work and if I have to divide that energy between another endeavor I spend eight hours doing, then the enthusiasm is going to suffer and it will show in the book. Writing short stories while working an 8-5 was tough for me; writing a novel would be murder.
Any parting words? Words of encouragement or caution?
Howard Hopkins: Believe in yourself. If you are driven to be a writer, then write. Don’t let others dictate or discourage what you want to do–need to do. There are far too many negatives around–don’t fall into the trap pessimists set. Their goal is to have company being miserable, yours is to create. Don’t give up. Write everyday, even a little bit. Keep learning and trying to improve and never ever think you are so good you don’t have to listen to an editor or another writer when they give advice. By the same token weigh that advice carefully and don’t just take every piece you hear. Most of all, enjoy it. Have fun doing what you love. It will show in your work and in your attitude.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.