Today we have a special guest and good friend of mine, author C. M. B. Bell!
Hailing from northern Illinois, C. M. B. Bell is a graduate from Judson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications (Media Studies). This ambitious self-published author has recently released several works including Hollandus Landing, a cell phone novel; Kyvariz, a Sci-Fi/Comedy/Drama novel; Transparent Sabbath, a Dark Fantasy/Horror/Action novelette; and Piteraq Dusk, an Arctic Punk/Adventure novelette.
Today, I asked C. M. B. to share a little bit about his self-publishing experience, especially with his first officially-released work, Hollandus Landing, and the journey he’s taken to get to this point.
Hey, C. M. B.! This has been a long time in coming. Thanks for sitting down with me today.
Hey, Jeannette! It’s great to talk to you! Thanks for having me.
So you’re currently working two part time jobs in addition to a third seasonal job coming up this summer. Any other jobs I’m forgetting?
You mean currently? No, those are the only ones I have now.
You know. Other than all the writing that you’ve been doing. (Laughs)
Oh yeah, definitely.
It was very gratifying. Granted, these aren’t the first books I’ve ever written: Kyvariz was technically the second book I’d ever written, and it was my first NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month] project I did back in 2014 when I started that contest… and obviously Hollandus Landing, which I serialized last year through my blog. There’s also Transparent Sabbath and Piteraq Dust, both of which I’d done as Camp NaNoWriMo projects. So it just felt amazing that I’ve been writing books for four years, yet I’m finally releasing them out to the world. I kind of forced myself to do that after not showing them to the public for this long.
That’s awesome. It definitely takes a lot of courage.
I think a lot of people who don’t do writing have no idea how much work it really takes: not just to write the project, but then to get it out there. For instance, I know that Hollandus Landing took a lot of work for you too, even after you were done writing it, due to some problems you were having with the actual self-publishing process.
Oh, yeah. With Hollandus Landing, first I pretty much had to copy and paste everything from my blog (all 810 chapters). I mean, sure, they may be 70-200-word chapters, but that’s still a lot of content, and the fact that it added up to over 94,000 words—
Yeah. I think it ended up being hundreds of pages long.
I want to say it’s about 900 pages on the version that I have.
But the thing is, from a word count perspective, there are traditional novels that are shorter than this cell phone novel.
That’s absolutely insane.
Right, and the fact that I did this for six months straight like clockwork every Monday through Saturday, five chapters each—it definitely took a lot out of me, especially doing this with two jobs and then doing this with Camp NaNoWriMo and with NaNoWriMo… Yeah, it was certainly an experience, writing this story with 40 different narrators, trying to have all their stories interconnect.
Yeah, it’s really a project of amazing scope.
And that wasn’t even my first cell phone novel. But it is the longest one I’ve ever written, and it’s also the first one I’ve ever done the traditional way, publicly, for the whole world to see. But after it was written, next I had to edit everything for publishing: I definitely had to clean up the typos, grammar, fix any borderline inconsistencies that I wasn’t aware of until the editing process. And then I had to try to format everything, because the paragraphs would not be spaced the way I wanted them to… So it took me forever just to straighten up everything.
Sounds like a headache and a half!
Oh, it was.
What gave you the idea to start Hollandus Landing in the first place? What were some of your sources of inspiration?
That’s actually a really good question. I wanted to try something that was completely different, regardless of whether it was a cell phone novel or a traditional novel. I mean, sure, you’ve had books with multiple narrators (I and many others have done it). But how about something with 40 different narrators, where they have their own side of the story, plus mixing up different genres while still trying to feel as natural as possible? You have the slice of life elements: characters going to school or going to work, and then you have this underlying conspiracy going on in this city of Hollandus Landing, Wisconsin (obviously a fictional city).
I’m a sucker for “Something lurks beneath the surface” stories.
Some other things that have inspired me, especially with the multiple narrators, would be Rashomon, the movie by Akira Kurosawa, and how he uses multiple characters to tell their side of the story about a murder. It’s a classic Japanese film.
Another lesser (and kind of surprising) influence was Spoon River Anthology.
Oh? Very interesting!
Yeah, my first exposure to that was Judson’s production of the play and how it had all these different characters talking. Now, there’s a big difference because these are the voices of the dead of this fictional Illinois town; that’s not the case in Hollandus Landing, obviously. But you do have this fictional Wisconsin town—where all these characters who happen to be part of this city get to tell their side of the story. You have this interconnection, because I wanted to make sure that every character gets mentioned more than once besides in their own chapter.
No one gets forgotten.
Yep. Another big inspiration involves some characters that I remember from my past, so I just kind of referenced them in subtle ways. And interestingly enough, I forgot if it was in Estonian or Latvian, but hollandus means “nostalgia” in one of those languages. So the title literally means “Nostalgia Landing.”
“Nostalgia Landing.” I love it. Certainly a good title for it.
So how long had you been writing before you even started working on Hollandus Landing?
Well, as far as writing books and fiction, it would’ve been three years prior to Hollandus Landing, but I’ve been writing on and off for years before then. Like, I tried writing fiction even back when I was a kid, but it never seemed to work out. I felt I never had any good plots or concepts, and I was kind of spoiled by watching a bunch of cartoons (and eventually anime during my teenage years), or reading some comic books, reading some manga and lots of other books. I felt like I was consuming more storytelling media than I had been creating, even back then.
You’ve definitely been creating more than consuming nowadays! (Laughs)
Oh, yes. Easily. I wouldn’t disagree with that at all. (Laughs)
Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? What does a day in the life of C. M. B. look like, balancing all those jobs, trying to squeeze some writing in? Do you write certain days of the week or do you try to write every day?
I try to write at least a little something every day, whether it’s an outline, or maybe doing some flash fiction on TaleHunt. I haven’t written any stories in a while since I’m still focused on editing my own bibliography and getting that out there. But most of my writing currently has either been reviews on Iridium Eye or possibly working on my outlines and character concepts, because I’ve been working a lot with the spin-offs I have in mind for Hollandus Landing—and, of course, some of my other fiction projects, too.
A spin-off of Hollandus Landing, you say? Can you tell us a little about that?
I don’t know if I should say this given how far you are in the book, because I don’t want to give too much away…
Yeah, we want to keep this spoiler-free!
I will not spoil anything, but the ending does play a huge role in all the spin-off stuff. It involves some characters meeting up in different ways and giving them different experiences than could ever be presented in the Hollandus Landing city and the aesthetics of that particular place.
And it’s gonna be all cell phone novels.
Very interesting… So for those of you who really enjoy cell phone novels, you’ve got a lot of good stuff coming up.
(Laughs) Yes, definitely expect more stuff in the Hollandus-cosm.
“Hollandus-cosm.” I like it.
Can you tell us about any other projects you have in the works, or are those kind of hush-hush right now?
I do have some other novelettes, novellas, and novels I’ve written but haven’t published yet. I can’t give you an exact timetable of when I’ll release them, but I can definitely talk about some of them.
There’s Runa the Silencer. That one was a Camp NaNoWriMo project from the past couple of years. It’s going to be more of a dark fantasy story about this female demon-slayer named Runa. She quiets her targets, so that’s how she gets the nickname “The Silencer.”
As for the plot, it’s definitely more of a mature fantasy series. It’ll deal with some adult themes, which I don’t want to say because it’ll spoil huge plot-twists.
There’s also Sylvain, Serpent King—
—Which I believe is the first Camp NaNoWriMo project and the first novella I’ve ever written.
That’s crazy to think about. But I’m really looking forward to that one.
Yeah. So if you’re not familiar with that, it’s an adaptation of a fairy-tale that came out in the 16-1700’s called “The Green Serpent.” I found the fairy-tale on accident years ago. Now, granted, I’m not really into fairy-tales, but I thought the concept was so fascinating: you have this ugly princess, and then you have this serpent who was really a prince who was cursed years ago—but obviously they can’t see each other. And I thought, “This would be really cool,” because you have so many fairy-tales (and not even just with the whole “Disneyfication” of fairy-tales) with the concept of “Beauty Equals Goodness,” which has always rubbed me the wrong way. So I thought the fact that this story had ugly protagonists was incredibly fascinating.
I wanted to see things more from the serpent’s perspective, so Sylvain, Serpent King does kind of act as a prequel and a mid-quel to that story, if you will. So, obviously I gave the name of the prince, Sylvain. You find out what he was like before he became the serpent; you find out what happened leading up to it very, very early on.
Ooh, very interesting.
So you have him and the princess Laidronette as duel narrators in this particular story. But I did want to tone down some of the things with the mythical creatures so I had more of a human cast, and I wanted to add some other elements like some action, a bit of dark fantasy, too; so this particular iteration doesn’t really feel as much like a fairy-tale despite its fairy-tale origins from Madame d’Aulnoy.
Ahhh. Very nice. Thank you for those sneak-peeks!
Yeah, sure thing!
Well, we’ve already talked a lot about writing, but do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Very good question. I would say definitely be creative in what you write about. Don’t give up on it and find some time to write, even if you have to work multiple jobs or if you’re still in school—I mean, hey, I was there at one point, y’know! (Laughs) And try to write some stories and character concepts that you’ve never seen before in books, TV, movies, or any kind of storytelling media. Definitely be original. That’s a huge thing for me.
Yeah, you can see the passion you have for creativity in your works.
Well, thank you so much, C. M. B.! I know you’re not a big fan of social media, so what’s the best way to connect with you?
The best way to connect with me would be through my writing blog at C. M. B. Bell’s Writing Universe, where I post some of my fiction stories and news. If you want to follow me on TaleHunt (which is a free app, by the way), you can follow me at @Tocsinchronicle, where I post microfiction. I also have a Noisetrade account where you can get Hollandus Landing for free (or for your own price, your call—I will not judge). You can type in “Hollandus Landing” or my name, C. M. B. Bell, on Noisetrade.com to find that.
Make sure to check him out, everybody! Thanks again for your time, C. M. B.
[Note: C. M. B. was kind enough to bring to my attention that I misspelled “Sylvain.” It has since been corrected. Thanks, C. M. B. and apologies, dear readers!]
Interested in more of C. M. B. Bell’s work?