There are some people, in any given industry, that have what it takes to lead. Not just thrive. Not just innovate. But to actually move the chains of what is possible, and drag the rest of us along with it.
When Joe Konrath talks, you're listening to one of those people.
On the great football field of independent publishing, Joe is a starting quarterback, calling the shots, making the big plays. He's got championship rings in the form of million dollar paydays and exclusive deals with Amazon. He's got widely celebrated contests with opponents that are filmed and studied and voted on by the public at large.
Me, I'm just a second string receiver. A utility player. I wasn't drafted high, there wasn't any fanfare. Nobody is screaming my name when I run out on the field.
They're doing what many of you are doing now. Scratching your heads going, Schaffer? Never heard of him. But I've got a little scrap in me. A little fight. If you give me a chance, I'll go all out trying to prove I deserve to be on the field.
When a major player like Joe Konrath says he's got an idea for something new, I stop what I'm doing, and I pay attention. And when he says he will give you a chance to ride his coattails and play in his sandbox, well, you'd be foolish not to at least try.
It was scary, to be honest.
When Joe first put the call out for submittals to the Jack Daniels universe, I had two immediate thoughts. One, I want to work with that guy and learn whatever I can from him. Two, it would seriously suck to be rejected.
Every artist must believe in themselves before they expect others to do so, though, so I sucked it up and got to work. I quickly banged out a 12k story that would later be called Cheese Wrestling and shipped it off. Fingers crossed. Impatiently checking my email for a response. I was proud of it, sure, but what really surprised me was that I felt good inside the Jack Daniels world. Pretty damn comfortable actually.
When I got the acceptance email from Joe, it came with a challenge. He told me the short story was good, but novels sold better. Why didn't I step up to the plate and take a swing?
Now that was an animal of an altogether different sort.
Short stories get banged out. Sure, they're well-crafted and worthy, and sure some are literature, but the point is they can get done quickly. You aren't devoting a huge amount of resources and time to them, which is why they sell fairly cheaply.
But a novel is art. A novel is a statement of an author that speaks to where they are in their writing career and life. It is a landmark event, a personal statement, and if you're a writer worth a damn, a decent chunk of blood, sweat, and tears.
Obviously not everybody feels the same way. You can find thousands of novels, or novel-sized ramblings, that are as devoid of life as a reality starlet. But not from someone who actually lives this life.
Joe Konrath lives it. I live it too. I think that's why he and I get along. Oh, and also, because he's certifiably batshit crazy. But more on that in a moment.
The first thing I knew I needed for a proper Jack Daniels novel was a good drink name. All her books are named after mixed drinks, and I knew I needed a good one. Something interesting. Eye-catching. Unique. Turns out, that's easier said than done.
I scoured the Internet for interesting drinks and all the good ones had been taken. But I kept digging. I needed something nasty. Something muscular. Something dangerous.
Snake Wine is an actual drink, enjoyed mainly in Southeast Asia. Those crazy bastards take a cobra and let it ferment inside a bottle of alcohol, garnishing it with charming accouterments like scorpions and other snakes. Then, they drink it.
With that title in hand, I got to work straight away. I wrote Snake Wine in three weeks. It just came pouring out of me. I already knew Jack's character from Cheese Wrestling, and by God, if Joe Konrath wanted to throw me a touchdown pass, I was going to break every bone in my body trying to catch it.
When I finished the book I knew that it was a damned good story. No, scratch that. It was a damned good novel. I also knew that if Joe didn't accept it, I would burn the manuscript and never use it for anything else.
Snake Wine is, before anything else, a Jack Daniels book. It's infused with her heart and soul and I'd rather destroy it than slap a different name on the character and try to pass it off as my own.
Joe sounded a little surprised when I called him just a few weeks later and said I had taken him up on his challenge, and the novel was ready. I told him I'd found the perfect title, and no matter what else we changed about the book, it had to stay. It was completely unique, and nobody, but nobody, had ever even heard of Snake Wine.
And here's where Joe proved to me what a maniac he really is.
He listened to me describing the bottling process, how they stuff a cobra into the flask, and ferment it, and he stops me in mid-sentence and says, "I know."
"You know? What do you mean you know. Nobody knows about this."
"I do. I've got a bottle of it on my shelf and I'm looking right at it."
Well, as it turns out, ladies and gentlemen, it was not bullshit. Joe texted me a picture of his personal bottle of Snake Wine, and that is the photo we wound up using for the cover.
See what I'm taking about? That's why he's the top dog. You think you've got him finally one-upped, and the man just dunks on you.
One final thing before I go. Cheese Wrestling was a collaborative effort between both of us. I sent Joe the original story, and he Konrath'd it up, and it's a much stronger piece as a result.
However, he actually wrote two different versions of his edit that read like completely different stories. We are packaging all three in a "Directors's Cut" special edition for Kindle Worlds, which might interest fellow authors out there who want to see what the collaboration process looks like.
Snake Wine is all mine, with one secret, thrillingly awesome fact, that I hope Joe doesn't mind me sharing with you.
He edited the book.
In the midst of high-profile debates, major publishing deals, family duties, writing, and the responsibilities of running the massive Konrath empire, he took the time to edit my book.
So, while Snake Wine is my vision of Jack Daniels and her world, it does have traces of her creator, and direct lineage. I'm sure if people like it, it's a world I'll be returning to in the future.
Also, for the record, Joe not only owns a bottle of snake wine. He's also tried it. What does fermented cobra soaked in grain alcohol taste like, you wonder?
"Death," Joe told me, very matter-of-factly. "Snake wine tastes like death."
Which, given the nature of my book, is very fitting, indeed.
Joe sez: You can buy the novel SNAKE WINE on Amazon for just $3.99. It goes down a lot smoother than actual snake wine, which is the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth. Everyone who tries it agrees. No one can do a full shot. Ten drops is the most anyone can handle. Remember being a kid and walking through a field and turning over a piece of cardboard and seeing a dead mouse or rat or snake or frog? Remember that smell? Well, liquefy it and drink it, and that's what snake wine tastes like.
The book is a lot better.
CHEESE WRESTLING is also available for $1.99, and was a lot of fun for me to work on. Three versions of the same story for one cheap price. Check it out if you haven't, and also check out Schaffer's work. Start with SUPERBIA.
Schaffer forgot to mention that he's a cop, so it has been interesting for me, who writes about cops, to talk to one and see how he fictionalizes the truths he lives every day. If you're looking for truth in your thriller fiction, look no further.
Check him out, and check out other Jack Daniels and Associates Kindle Worlds stories, 45 and counting. Think you can write better stories than some of these? Prove it by doing it. Looking for new authors to read? If you like my writing, give these a try.
Summer is here. Read. Now.