Writer’s Roundtable: Q&A with author G. Michael Hopf
By Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz
A Camp Pendleton-based Marine who served overseas during Operation Desert Storm, local novelist G. Michael Hopf later went on to serve as a bodyguard to many notables, among them the Saudi royal family. Now settled with his family in North County, two years ago Hopf turned his hand to writing. The result is a post-apocalyptic New World series, currently including The End and The Long Road. First self-published, the books were brought out this January by a major New York publisher – every writer’s dream.
1. It would seem to be a huge jump from military to fiction writer. When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and was there a catalyst that made you transition into actually writing?
That is a great question. I always enjoyed writing. In high school I dabbled, I even wrote short stories while I was a Marine. While in the late ‘90s, I pretty much stopped writing, the dream was still there. Sometime in 2011 I came up with an idea for a children’s book. I found an illustrator and it went from there and published it in late 2011. Completing, releasing and actively promoting the children’s book gave me confidence to go for a novel. In early 2012 I took the plunge by committing myself to complete a novel.
2. You self-published your first two novels as e-books? What made you choose this road to publication?
The road to self-publishing is a great one for those who have the words and just need an outlet to deliver them to the world. I originally looked at doing it that way myself but along the way I had the pleasure of getting represented by a literary agent. She gave me some pointers and educated me on the industry, but in the end that relationship didn’t work out. With a completed manuscript in my hand I didn’t want to go back to finding an agent so I took that brave step and released my book myself in e-book and print versions.
3. To what would you attribute your huge success with The End and The Long Road?
This has to be the golden question for all writers. ‘How can I make my book a success?’ My honest answer to this question is simple, “I don’t know.” I know that is not the answer people want to hear, but I can’t find one specific thing I did that attributed. I did everything that is recommended. I created a website, I connected with blogs, I started social media, I have an engaging cover. I can’t say if that actually was the reason, because I’ve seen many other writers out there that had better covers, better sites, and better outreach and haven’t seen it translate into commercial success. I really don’t know what it was that caused my first book, The End, to just take off and hit #1 on Amazon or for the sequel to become an Amazon bestseller while in pre-sales and then to hit #1 itself later.
For some reason, my books were noticed, a majority of people who read them, liked them, and it went from there. I wish I could just tell everyone there’s a formula, do A, then B and you’ll have a blockbuster book. I don’t have that formula, but I always tell everyone who has a desire to write to not stress over that. Write, edit, rewrite, edit, rewrite, then publish the book you want.
4. When a major publishing house came along and wanted your books, what made you transition to them?
My first dream when I wrote was to have my books under a large publishing house, but that journey didn’t work out. It doesn’t have to be said because everyone knows. It is like winning the lottery for an unknown writer to get a large publishing deal. But with my agent and my patience gone, I went the self-publishing route.
Even though the publishing world is transitioning with many indie writers at the top of many charts, there is still this lack of respect for them. I think it’s an unfair criticism to say most indie writers are not as good as main stream, but regardless of whether it’s deserved, it exists. When I self-published The End, it took off and sold incredibly well, I thought, “Why do I need a large publishing house?” I figured what could they do for me. The reality is, a lot. The major publishers know the landscape is changing and they’re adapting as quickly as they can. When they reached out to me and offered a deal, I was in disbelief. I felt that it truly validated what I had done as a self-published writer. After the euphoria dissipated, it came down to the numbers and terms. What they could do for my first two books and others not yet written was substantial and was impossible for me to do by myself. With the knowledge that they could take the exposure of my books to another level, add credibility and greatly expand distribution, I struck a deal.
5. What are the two major differences between being self-published and having a publisher?
The tremendous distribution my books have. They are literally everywhere. Whether it’s major market brick and mortar retail book stores or online, they distribution is incredible. Second, the editorial staff I have supporting the books is top notch and very professional. It’s not that an indie can’t hire their own, but a writer can be more of a writer in some degree. My publisher provides a lot of support and takes care of the things I used to. This frees me up to write more.
6. Your series sets up an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. How realistic is your scenario?
The scenarios in my books are based more upon science fact than fiction. An EMP (electromagnetic pulse) is a real threat to our way of life and if one were unleashed would without a doubt cause massive and catastrophic effects.
7. Your main character, Gordon Van Zandt, is former military. On whom is he based?
Many people assume, because Gordon Van Zandt is a former Marine, the character is based on me. I can tell you he is not. While I use some of my own thoughts in the character, he is not a carbon copy of me. He is an expression of many Marines I’ve had the pleasure of knowing throughout my life.
8. Gordon and his family live in North County San Diego. Why did you choose San Diego as a setting?
One, I’m here and I know this area intimately. It’s easier for a writer to write about a place or scene in their books if they know it.
The second reason I use San Diego as the setting is I wanted readers to see a major city collapse. So often the story will take place in a small town, I thought, what would be more exciting for the reader than to see a city fall apart.
9. Why a post-apocalyptic novel?
I have rarely seen post-apocalyptic stories take the reader through the actual event that brings upon the collapse. You will open the many books and they start, months or years after the event. I feel this is done for a variety of reasons, but none the less, I have always wanted to know what happened as things were falling apart. It was my own desire to know this that I wrote it this way. I wanted to take the readers to the Day 1 and slowly walk them through each day as society falls apart.
10. What would you like readers to take away from your books?
Before I began writing The End, I studied EMPs and their effects. I became frightened at how unprepared we are for something like that. So, when I sat down to write, I wanted to show the reader just how unprepared we are as a population if this type of event took place. I wanted to scare people to action. If just one person takes the time to prepare for any type of emergency because of my books and it saves their lives, then I’ve done my job. So many people are not ready for emergency events and this complete lack of preparedness could define who lives or dies. Could an EMP happen? Yes. But what faces many people each month are earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, etc. People need to have the gear, food, water, and knowledge to take care of themselves or their families if something happens because the larger the scale event, the weaker the governmental response.
11. What is the best piece of advice you got as an aspiring author?
I love this question because I arrogantly love my answer. A long time ago, I read an interview that Ernest Hemingway gave. He was asked what advice he had for aspiring authors — his answer was perfect, “Just write.” It’s really that simple. So often writers will talk themselves out of ever writing two words because they ‘think’ they have to do x, y or z first. I didn’t do that. I could hear Hemingway over and over again. So, I did what he advised and just wrote.
12. What is the most important advice you would give to aspiring authors?
I would of course tell them what they’ve probably read 100 times. Just write. But I have several other bits of advice too.
•Do something every day that involves your book, whether it be writing, marketing, editing, etc. Work on your book every day.
•Do not edit as you write! I have seen writers just stop in their tracks by going back and forth editing. My experience is that it stops the creative process. I have my story, I write the entire thing first. I don’t edit one word. Then I began the editing process, for me, it’s a different mindset.
•Look for advice from writers who are successful. I sought out and listened to writers that had published and whose works had done well. Reach out to those writers. You’ll be surprised how accommodating they will be.
For more information, visit www.gmichaelhopf.com. Hopf’s books are available at amazon. com, Barnes & Noble (www.barnes&noble.com) and more.
Antoinette Kuritz and Jared Kuritz are the team behind both STRATEGIES Public Relations and the La Jolla Writer’s Conference (www.lajollawritersconference.com).
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