When he’s sitting behind cows or feeding silage, Korie Massey is thinking up ideas for his next novel.
The Dannevirke dairy farmer wants to make a big impact on the world of fantasy fiction with his Forsaken World Series and hopes writing could be his ticket to farm ownership.
It’s not your conventional pathway to farm ownership, but Korie, 29, is passionate about both milking cows and writing epic fantasy fiction novels – so why not combine both?
His first novel, Berserker, was published late last year and he has already sold 700 copies. The second in the planned 12-book series, Necromancer, is nearly ready to head to the printer. Growing up in town, farming happened by accident.
“I was living in a house just up the road, going to UCOL and doing a mechanic’s pre-apprenticeship. My tutor one day asked me ‘can you milk cows, because you’re a shit mechanic’.”
The tutor’s son happened to be contract milking on the farm Korie now works on.
“I showed up, he gave me a job and I’ve been doing it ever since. I didn’t choose farming, it chose me.”
And Korie threw himself into dairying, as he could see the career pathway.
“That’s what got me. Then the manager left and I stepped up, suddenly I was running the show. My boss had gone from being a worker, to sharemilking, to farm owner and I could see that pathway.”
He made top six in the Dairy Industry Awards trainee of the year for the Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa region twice and in 2015 was awarded most-promising farm manager. His real passion is animal health, “the lame cow master,” he jokes.
Korie and his partner, Christel, have two young children, Riley, 4, and Chloe, 2, and he realised maybe there was more to life than dairy farming.
“For years I was managing and then contract milking, and just the stress – I didn’t see my young family.”
Contract milking wasn’t working out for him and he decided to come back to the farm where he started out. With the low payout, his old boss was looking for a part-timer and Korie offered the perfect solution – he didn’t need any training, he knew the farm, and was happy to be flexible on the hours. It was a win-win for both parties.
“Not many farm bosses would let me pursue this on the side. My boss was one of the first to buy my book.”
When asked what his job title is, he shrugs. “I’m a floater – technically I’m the farm hand, with the freedom of a manager. I don’t stress about grades or production and get time for writing, but I can step in and relief milk or run the farm if needed. The farm went to once-a-day milking last year, and I thought that was the time to start writing.
“I have the most experience on the farm, but I took a back-step. I have quality of life, still get to do what I love as well as pursue the interests and social side that I let go by the wayside while I was hardcore dairy farming.”
He cranked out his first book in record time, committing to writing a chapter a day, and sent the material to his publisher by spring, when it gets busy on the farm. He got to hold a finished copy of his first book on November 13 last year.
Technically, Korie has self-published. He went with Australian company, Xlibris, which offered a selection of packages, in return for a portion of the royalties.
“I self-published because I was new to the game… I chose a package that had the editing and proof reading included.”
In an ideal world, Korie would love to get contracted to a big publishing house to write books. For now, he’s flat out promoting Berserker, getting his name out there, and crowd-funding to finance his second book.
“Book-buying season is just before Christmas and I took all my holidays over summer to do the marketing, so the writing has never affected work.”
First novel – Berserker
Berserker is the story of Leon, who is found on the beach as a child, after his father’s failed raiding attempt.
He is sold into slavery and trained as a gladiator, eventually becoming the champion of the city of Navio.
With dreams of freedom and living a peaceful life with his lover, he finds himself in the deadliest fight of his life. His forbidden love has not gone unnoticed and will trigger a series of events that throw the kingdom into chaos.
Leon’s people are descended from the ‘God Slayer’ and his invincible berserkers, who massacred the gods 3000 years ago. Leon has to fight an internal struggle, as his ancestors’ magic flows through his veins.
Korie initially had 50 copies printed, which came with the package from the publisher. He soon found his books were on the shelves of libraries and demand meant he needed to print more copies. His deal with Xlibris, which operates a print-on-demand model, means the publisher takes about $5 a book for printing and distribution.
“I have found direct sales are the best way (to sell books), every person I talk to seems to buy one. I go for a walk downtown in my lunch break and sell books. The hardest thing is breaking into the international market.”
He has sold about 700 copies so far, not counting libraries, and received his first royalty cheque at the end of February.
While he hasn’t made enough money to give up his day job just yet, Korie sees the book business as a long game – very similar to farming – and views the writing as his retirement plan. In the meantime, he will keep dairy farming while he is young and fit.
“I’m still young and I love farming, but I hope to eventually get to the point where I am just relief milking and can enjoying travelling, writing and spending time with my family. I hope to one day buy my own farm and this will set me up, if I can write two books a year for the next 10 years. Volume is the plan.
“By the time I’m 40 I might have 10 books up my sleeve, and the experience. That’s when I see it paying off.
“I’d like to own a 400-cow dairy farm with a 50-bail rotary, all the bells and whistles, do it properly. If you’re going to dream, dream big. I see too many people waiting for Lotto.”
Korie thinks of the writing as a diversification, not putting all his eggs in one basket. “I have responsibilities and it was hard, getting the money together to do the book… but I want my spare moments to be worth something, if I have a long lunch break or the kids are at school – I write.”
The writing was the easy part – it was the publishing and marketing process that presented the steepest learning curve.
Being a bearded, tattooed dairy farmer wasn’t the norm among writing circles either, he discovered. “Being a writer in the dairy industry is pretty unfathomable to other farmers, and being a bearded, tattooed dairy farmer is pretty unfathomable among writers. I break the mould of what most authors look like, sound like. Most authors are tertiary-qualified, they don’t drop out of school and go milk cows.”
His message to other young people in agriculture? “Hold on to your hobbies and goals, you can still work and pursue your dreams, you just have to make it work for you. Not everyone is as fortunate as me, but I took advantage of a situation, and so did my boss.
“Even if I had never sold a copy, I knew I would have my book, with my name on it, in my library and I could say to my kids I had a crack.”
The world of fantasy fiction
Korie hopes the hard work will pay off and has 12 books planned for the Forsaken World Series.
Asked to explain the series he says, “it’s like Vikings meets Romans – like Spartacus – with some magic and romance and a shit-load of violence thrown in.”
He says the genre is epic fantasy fiction with gothic undertones. It has also been categorised as romance, as it is a love story. “It’s pretty funny a dairy farmer writing a romance novel. I would say it’s historical, but really I butcher history and take all my favourite parts and mash them together with mythology.”
Korie has always written stories, but never shared them with others, not even his partner. He decided it was time to take the plunge.
“Once I started reading I started writing. My next-door neighbour was my English teacher and he spent a lot of time with me. I learned to structure my stories properly. Even when I was hardcore dairy farming I still wrote once or twice a week. I’ve got heaps of stories, I just thought this one would be a good debut.”
Inspiration can strike at any time.
“I sit behind the cows and I take my little black notebook with me. I’ve always read stories, mythology and fantasy fiction novels and draw inspiration from my favourites. But the stories, they just come to me, sometimes when I’m trying to fall asleep.”