Veterans in Creative Careers: Wayne Stinnett, Marine Author

Wayne

Wayne Stinnett is an American novelist and Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Between those careers, he’s worked as a deckhand, commercial fisherman, Divemaster, taxi driver, construction manager, and over the road truck driver. He lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Travelers Rest, SC with his wife and youngest daughter. They also have three other grown children, four grand children, two dogs and a whole flock of parakeets. He grew up in Melbourne, FL and has also lived in Marathon, FL, the Bahamas, Dominica, and Cozumel, Mexico. His next dream is to one day visit and dive Cuba.

 

Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to share your experience with us, Wayne. I love seeing other Marines making it in the fiction world. For my readers who are not familiar with you, can you give us a pitch about your work, and more specifically about your next novel? 

Wayne Stinnett: Thanks for inviting me, Justin. I enjoyed reading the other Vet’s interviews. I grew up in Florida and spent a lot of time on the water as a kid. My dad took me, a friend of his and his son to the Keys once when I was a young teen and I loved it. After the Marine Corps, I traveled down there quite often, moving there for a short time after my second divorce. I lived on a 42’ Alden sloop built in 1926, moored in Boot Key Harbor in Marathon. That place is mentioned many times throughout my books, or sea stories as I like to call them. My sea stories are about a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant who starts a new life in the Florida Keys, but always seems to find trouble. In February I’ll be releasing the 6th book in the series, Fallen King. This sea story revolves around a Haitian gang out of Miami that is using explosives to fish the reefs in the back country, the many uninhabited islands on the Gulf side of the Keys. I’m about 80% complete writing it, so I don’t yet know how it ends.

JS: My wife and I actually spent part of our honeymoon in the Florida Keys, so I’m glad to see some of your writing takes place there. Having lived there and, according to your website, the Bahamas, Dominica, and Cozumel, Mexico, must have really influenced you as a person and writer. Can you elaborate on place and how your experiences impact your creative side?

WS: I love scuba diving and became certified before I joined the Corps. I continued taking classes, simply because I love to learn more about anything I’m passionate about. Currently, I hold a divemaster/assistant instructor certification and more than enough specialty certifications to apply for a master scuba diver rating. The divemaster card can get a young man a job just about anywhere in the tropics. In the Keys, I worked days as a divemaster and weeknights as a taxi driver. I worked as a divemaster in Cozumel and Dominica, as well. On Andros Island, I worked in the HVAC field, installing and maintaining air conditioning and chiller equipment for AUTEC, the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center. They conduct tests on guidance and location systems for the Navy in the TOTO, or Tongue of the Ocean. My main character operates a fishing and dive charter business based out of Marathon and visits many of the dive sites I’ve been on numerous times.

JS: You have had a variety of careers. What was your transition like from the military and what did you do when you were in?

WS: Yeah, I’ve never seemed to be able to find my true calling in life. My website only lists a few careers, I’m guessing writing is now my 7thor 8th career change. That’s okay, though. Life shouldn’t be about working the same job from 9 to 5 and getting a gold watch after 40 years. I’ve managed to turn things I was interested in into my job. That’s what it should be about. Do what you love, the money will come along sooner or later. In the Corps, I was a heavy vehicle operator and had an explosives license. When I left the Corps, I drove a dump truck for a while, then moved into the HVAC field, where my brother worked. Most recently, I worked for 12 years as an over the road truck driver, having come full circle.

JS: Where do you write now? Do you prefer seclusion? A coffee shop?

WS: I’m a full time writer and though she doesn’t have to, my wife still works as a teacher. Three of our four kids are grown and gone, but the youngest is still in school. I have the house to myself most of the day and converted the spare bedroom into an office, though I usually write while kicked back in my recliner in the den. The walls and ceiling of our den is tongue and groove heart of pine and we have a wood burning fireplace there. The wood creates good acoustics and I’ll put on some Caribbean music, or Radio Margaritaville on the XM and go back to the islands in my mind.

JS: That sounds like an optimal writing situation. Do you feel that being a Marine made you a better writer (craft and process)?

WS: I think having served, regardless of branch, gives a person a lot more self-discipline and motivation. I learned early in the Corps how to break any problem down into smaller elements and work out each one until a resolution is reached. That’s carried over into both my writing and marketing.

JS: What led to your decision to become an author?

WS: I’d had a few friends tell me I should write a book about my experiences, but I always thought that’d be just way to boring for any prospective readers. In the eighties I wrote a bunch of short stories with a main character who was a former Marine living in the Keys. I still have the 37 rejection letters from publishers. One day, my wife found a hand written manuscript from way back then and read it. She encouraged me to try again and after digging up the floppy disc the stories were saved on, I updated the character, made him a little older, and independently wealthy, due to an inheritance. My goal was to make enough money from my sea stories to set up a wood working shop and build boats. That would get me off the road, home with my family and allow me to do something I enjoyed. I still plan to do that starting this summer.

JS: At what point were you able to write full-time? Is it the dream we imagine it to be?

WS: Absolutely it is! I really can’t explain why my sea stories have been so successful, but after publishing the second one, Fallen Hunter, I realized I might be able to replace the income from my driving job, if I wrote a couple more. Seven months after releasing my first book, and then having three books out that I’d written during my down time in the truck, I told my boss I wasn’t going to be available for long hauls anymore and wanted to be a local driver, to get home more. He and I never got along well and though I’d been with the company for five years, he told me I’d have to drive one of the older trucks. I’d only received my first new truck a few months earlier. I explained that I was planning to quit in a couple of weeks anyway and rather than move all my gear out of a truck twice, I’d prefer to only do it once and I gave him my two weeks’ notice. He still insisted I move into the older truck, so I told him to consider it two hours’ notice and I cleaned the truck out and went home. The great thing about writing is that I know what my income will be for the next two months and knew if we tightened our belts, we’d make it. I had another book that would be released within a few weeks and just took the plunge. It was the best move I ever made. When the fourth book, Fallen Out, was released, my income from sales quickly passed my old income as a driver. Fallen Out was written as a prequel to the series and I keep it priced lower than the others so readers can get an inexpensive sample of my writing.

JS: That is inspiring! What resources have you found to be most useful as a writer? Have you taken writing classes? Do you have favorite books on writing?

WS: Another writer sent me an email after reading my first book, Fallen Palm. I’d just read his first book, On the Road to Key West and loved it. We quickly found we had a lot in common and became good friends. He’s been my mentor for over a year now and sent me a copy of his Fledgling Authors’ Handbook, which I devoured. We noticed a lot of similarities in both our writings, almost like we were looking over each other’s shoulder. Recently, I’ve been able to help him out with some marketing ideas, also. But, by far the greatest resource I’ve found yet is the Writers’ Café on KBoards.com. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of other indie authors that frequent the site daily, sharing tips on everything from formatting to marketing. The wealth of knowledge and the willingness to share that knowledge has been worth more than any writing class.

JS: Who are some other writers out there that you recommend we read? Marine authors?

WS: I like to read books set in places I’ve been, places I know and love. By far, most of the authors I’ve read write stories set in south Florida and the Caribbean. I guess I’ve been mostly influenced by John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. Although written in the sixties and seventies, a lot of MacDonald’s insights can be applied today. I have all 23 of those books and have read the entire series from end to end at least a half dozen times. I also like to read James W. Hall, Randy Wayne White, Carl Hiaasen, and Elmore Leonard. Recently, I’ve finished reading every book my mentor Michael Reisig has written, along with a few other indies, like Jinx Schwartz, Steven Becker and John Cunningham, all of which I now call friends. Great writers, every one.

JS: What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional publishing?

WS: Self-publishing has opened up a whole new world for readers. In the past, we had to wait months, up to a year for our favorite writers to pen a new novel. Today, I can read a novel a week and never leave the south Florida setting. For writers, it’s enabled many to live a dream. No, we’re not selling the millions of copies that James Patterson sells, but because we’re able to cut out the publisher’s take of the royalty, we can keep our prices much lower and many of us are selling enough to live comfortably. And that’s what it’s all about. Doing something you love to do and being compensated for it. I still don’t have any idea how my career as a writer has taken off so fast, but I’m happy for it. People are actually willing to part with their money to read my sea stories. What a great age we live in.

JS: What would you advise to someone just starting off as a writer, especially veterans who may want to become full-time writers?

WS: Get into the habit of writing at least a thousand words a day. Make it such a habit that you feel guilty if you take a day off. A thousand words a day will create a 100,000 word novel in four months, factoring in editing and cover creation time. Invest in your career. Having a good story to tell is one thing, but most of us need professional editing and cover designers. Even if your first editor is your 8th grade Creative Writing teacher, you need another set of eyes on your story. The more the better, but make sure they can give you honest feedback and you can accept it, without being hurt. Gradually, you can improve on the quality of editing, until your writing produces enough income to hire a professional editing company. The same applies to marketing. There are hundreds of small book advertisers that will promote your book for anywhere between $5 and $100. Don’t be discouraged when the money invested in advertising doesn’t come back to you in sales. Getting your book into more hands is what’s important. Create a newsletter mailing list, using something like Mailchimp and put a signup form everywhere you have a web presence. At the front and back of each book, on your website, your blog, your Facebook page – everywhere. A strong mailing list of 300 to 400 subscribers, waiting patiently for your next book is better than any advertising. Let them be the first to know the new book has been released and price it as low as possible, just for them. They’ll show their appreciation by buying enough in the first day of release to put your book into the top 1000 on Amazon. That exposure will then sell more books.

JS: Thank you again, Wayne. Before signing off, do you have a last piece of advice to leave us with?

WS: Yes. Two things Michael Reisig told me early on. A career as a fiction writer is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. Ignore the nay-sayers and follow your dream. Just don’t expect overnight success. It’ll come in one fashion or another over time. Second, there are no original thoughts. Every literary idea has been written and your work will reflect the style and writing of those you enjoyed reading. That’s okay. Write what you love and put everything you can into it.

 

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