Wednesday, May 28, 2008

[Interview] Charles Derber

Charles Derber is a professor of Sociology at Boston College, a private university in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, in the United States.

So far, he has written and published 12 books, among them, The Wilding of America (Worth Publishers, 2006); Hidden Power (Berrett-Koehler, 2005); People Before Profit (Picador, 2003) and Corporate Nation (St. Martin's Griffin, 2000).

In this interview, Charles Derber talks about the factors which compel him to write.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I was trying to get tenure at a major university. That required a book. I also found writing something like a meditation. It calmed me and centered me. I also found it a way to think and communicate about issues that I was passionate about.

My first book took five years and I started in the early 1970s. It’s called The Pursuit of Attention and it’s about who talks and who listens in ordinary conversation -- and focuses on how people subtly shift the topic of conversation to themselves. It became a classic and Oxford published a 20th commemorative edition a few years ago, selling more than 70,000 copies.

How would you describe your writing?

I write idea-driven non-fiction books focused on politics, culture and social justice. I try to write simply and clearly about issues that matter. I think of myself as a public intellectual, a relatively small breed of writers who move out of their technical specialties and influence the public.

My target audience is the literate general public, especially those interested in the link between personal life and politics.

I want my writing to help shape the public conversation about moral values, economic justice, and how to change the world. My audience includes social movements for justice and the activists in these movements who are trying to understand how change happens, as well as Democratic Party activists and thinkers who are trying to make the Democratic Party more of a serious change agent.

Who influenced you most?

Originally, America’s most famous 20th century sociologist, named C. Wright Mills. He defined sociology as the study of the relation between private troubles and public issues. Since then, I would say writers like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn have had major impacts on me. I would say movements as well as individuals influence me: the peace and environment movements, the women’s movement, the labor, civil rights and participatory democratic movements.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I’ve been writing for thirty years and I’ve always written about values and issues that affect me personally.

My experience as an activist in the sixties was a formative event, as I developed a critique of American capitalism and hope about how to change it. My experience in the South as a civil rights activist thirty years ago, and then an anti-war activist, had a major influence.

My relation with two groups -- students and social justice activists outside university -- keep me alive and informed. Students ask the right questions and activists are often the smartest, most knowledgeable critics.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

As already noted, I want to write about serious issues in a simple and electric way that engages the general public. It’s a challenge to straddle popular and serious non-fiction writing. It’s a special niche that a profit-driven publishing industry does not encourage as it looks only for the celebrity or how-to dumbed down book.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

It’s to keep up hope in a period of war and depression, of mass corruption and propaganda. And that means sustaining my own hope and optimism as well as nurturing those feelings in my readers.

Do you write everyday?

If I’m working on a book, I usually work everyday. I used to write on the morning; now my academic schedule makes it easier for me to write later in the day. The main thing is to have a few hours of uninterrupted time to draft a few pages each day.

What is your latest book about?

The latest is The New Feminized Majority: How Democrats Can Change America With Women’s Values. Paradigm Publishers released the book in February, 2008; it’s very time right now for the elections. Katherine Adam, formerly one of my undergraduates at Boston College, is the first author, and the book evolved from her senior honors thesis. This is very rare and a great accomplishment for her.

The book offers a serious treatment of the relation between women’s values and political change, as well as a strategy for how Democrats can win and change the country. It is a dramatic shift from the focus on Evangelical Christians as the only “values voters” in America.

Paradigm was a great choice because it could get the book out to the general public very quickly as both a trade book, and also as a book for students in college courses. The publisher and founder of the press, Dean Birkenkamp, is an intellectual who understands ideas and authors -- and is willing to devote a great deal of time to the books he publishes.

It is a small press, so it doesn’t have the clout and finances of the biggest [New York] N.Y. houses with which I have also worked. But what Paradigm lacks in those departments, it more than compensates in the close, collaborative and long-term strategy it develops to get its books out to the world. I haven’t felt any disappointments and recommend them enthusiastically.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Writing itself is always demanding. Working with Katherine made it a lot of fun. The difficulty was mainly timing -- getting the book out quickly enough to ride the wave of this year’s amazing election. And then the hard work of publicizing the book with the publisher is very time consuming, although also very rewarding.

Which aspects did you enjoy most?

In this case, it was writing with Katherine, who has accomplished something as an undergraduate that rarely happens in America. It’s also the fact that the book has such a provocative and important argument.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

The unusual collaboration with Kathernine I’ve already described. Also the intense focus on gender as a major source of morality and change in politics.

In what way is it similar?

Like all my work, it is directed to issues of political and social justice; it is popularly written; it is timely; it has important historical elements; it can help transform the public debate about where America and the Democratic Party and social movements can go.

What will your next book be about?

I think it might have a new focus on the relation between the environmental crisis, the progressive movements and the new existential crisis facing the world as a whole. But I haven’t decided for sure -- I have many topics rattling around my brain each time I think about starting a new project and it takes a while to sort them out.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I’d say it’s the entire corpus of my work that moves the conversation on social justice a bit further in the U.S. Each book adds a different piece of the picture and I feel a great sense of satisfaction about each of them.

How did you get there?

Obsession, hard work, polishing the craft of good writing, and the misfortune of living in a troubled world that is in desperate need of healing through creative new thinking and action.

Monday, May 26, 2008

[Interview] Beth Fehlbaum

Beth Fehlbaum is a teacher and an author.

Her debut novel, Courage in Patience tells the story of a teenage girl's first foray into recovery from sexual abuse.

In this interview, Fehlbaum talks about the factors which compelled her to start writing.

How would you describe your writing?

All of the writing I do has truth as its foundation. I don't buy into sugarcoating. I won't do it.

Currently I'm working on the sequel to Courage in Patience. It's called Hope in Patience, and it continues Ashley's story.

I want to explore where Ashley goes from the realization she has at the end of Courage in Patience and how she continues her road to recovery. I also want to deal with the fall-out from the censorship controversy that takes place in Courage in Patience, and continue to address the problem of homophobia. Hope in Patience will have an openly gay character.

When did you start writing?

I have always written, ever since I can remember. But in terms of serious-writing-of-a-novel, I started about a year or so ago.

I was working through some personal stuff, and writing a lot about how it felt. I shared it with a good friend of mine, and he suggested that I write a novel.

Initially, I was writing it just to see if I could do it. After I finished writing my book, I realized that I had a message of hope for victims of abuse -- something that there was a need for, that I wanted to share.

I started finding out how to be published by reading everything I could get my hands on, including columns and blogs online, as well as books on the publishing process like those big thick directories with agents' names, etc. I wrote a query letter, researched the types of agents looking for [Young Adult] YA fiction, and submitted at least a hundred queries. I landed an agent a few months later and sold Courage in Patience about six months later.

Who is your target audience?

Ashley, the protagonist of Courage in Patience, is around fifteen years old, but the book is written for anyone who wants to read a story of hope.

I was motivated to write this story because I wanted to see how it would turn out. I know that sounds funny, but it's true. I had this idea in mind of a young woman who has been basically tortured by her stepfather for the first half of her life. What would happen if she escaped that existence and had to start over from scratch with a father she never knew? Could she ever learn to trust him? Would she be able to pull herself out of the closet she had been hiding in, both mentally and literally?

Then when Ashley made friends in Patience, she discovered that everybody is challenged by something, whether it's having been sexually abused or being the target of a racist bully or having a physical deformity. As Dr. Matt, Ashley's therapist in Courage in Patience says, "Life's messy."

Who influenced you most?

In terms of being able to write a story like Courage in Patience, a person I will call A Very Wise Person has helped me overcome a lot of challenges. He has influenced me more than anybody else in my entire life, including my parents. He's really made me the person I am today.

In terms of writing style and a commitment to writing the truth, whether it's scary or hopeful, Chris Crutcher has been a mentor to me, whether he knows it or not.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I've been a teacher for about ten years, and I channel a lot of what I know about the education world into my writing. I have worked with adolescents for a long time, and because of that, I'm able to capture the way they act and talk in an honest way.

You know, all writers start with their own lives as the foundation of their stories. It's just a natural thing to do. I have made the point again and again in interviews that Courage in Patience is everyone's story. The problems the characters deal with are universal, as are the emotions they feel and the victories they experience. Not everyone may have been sexually abused; not everyone may have experienced racism; not everyone may have had a book they love censored by people who are afraid of their kids growing up -- but everybody knows somebody who has faced those situations, or knows of someone, any way.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I want to tell the truth in as authentic a way as possible. I want to capture the voice of each character in a way that is realistic. Sometimes, that means the characters use language that might make people uncomfortable. But I stand by my commitment to truth, and truth's not always a comfortable thing to deal with.

Do you write everyday?

I don't work on my current book every day as far as typing, but I am constantly thinking about how I want to take the plot. I jot down notes or zap myself an e-mail if I have an epiphany but I'm not able to sit down and write at the time. I tend to write in spurts; the story just flows from my mind through my fingertips.

In writing Courage in Patience, I learned that I am very much a middle-of-the-night writer; I will wake up with an idea and just have to get it out right then. I plan to work on Hope in Patience extensively this summer, when I'm out of school.

How long did it take you to write Courage in Patience?

It took me a little over a year to write, if you consider the time starting with the idea germinating in my mind through to the final edits of the manuscript.

I chose Kunati Books because they like controversial, provocative books, and Courage in Patiencewill definitely provoke discussion. Kunati was unafraid of the subject matter of sexual abuse.

In terms of the business-side, I like the way they don't backlist books; in other words, my book will never end up in the bargain bin. They list their books indefinitely and continue to promote them heavily. And that's another reason I like Kunati: it was founded by the three principals of Persona Corp, an advertising/marketing agency in Canada who worked for such giants as IBM and Nestle. Kunati has been called "What a publishing house would look like if it was run by the marketing department." I like that about them.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on Courage in Patience?

Writing the scenes where Ashley is attacked by her stepfather was a challenge. I dealt with it by going very slowly and making sure that none of the violence or details were unnecessarily graphic or sensationalized.

I enjoy creating scenes that readers tell me they feel pulled into. I like that because it means I've done my job well.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

Courage in Patience is the only novel I've written. I've always written poetry and short stories -- just for me or people close to me, though. I've published a short story I wrote called "The Closet" on my blog. Occasionally I write opinion pieces about such topics as immigration, politics, teaching and child advocacy.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Courage in Patience becoming a reality, as in, a published book that I can hold in my hands.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

[Interview] Tony Robles

Tony Robles is a U.S. Navy submarine veteran, a retired federal agent and an author.

His debut children's book Joey Gonzalez, Great American challenges racism and prejudice.

In this interview, Tony Robles speaks about what motivated him to write the book.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been scribbling all my life but nothing serious or with such passion as I have in my children’s book, Joey Gonzalez, Great American.

What happened to me was one of those success stories you read or hear about once in a while. I had no plan to be a published writer or even to do any serious writing. Then I discovered World Ahead Publishing and their line of conservative children’s books. I realized I had a story inside me that could make a whopper of a conservative children’s book, on an issue so controversial that getting it published would be the longest of long shots. But here was a publishing house that I thought would have the courage and the vision to publish such a story. I wrote it in one draft with no revisions, submitted it and crossed my fingers. I went from having no idea I was going to write a story to being published -- in one easy step.

How would you describe your writing?

Joey Gonzalez is a sweet little children’s story with lovable characters that kids can identify with. It’s a story about ethnic pride, self reliance and courage, with a positive and affirmative message. But it is also a political commentary about one of the most controversial issues of our time: affirmative action.

It’s a story intended to provoke serious thought and hopefully encourage the notion of self-help, a conservative value and one that is quintessentially American. (I borrowed some of those words from Barack Obama, who described the notion of self-help as “quintessentially American -- and yes, conservative”).

Who is your target audience?

I wrote the story especially for American children who are descended from Spaniards and African Slaves (or both), but it’s a good story for any kid. For the black and Hispanic kids, it teaches that their ancestry is not a weakness but a source of strength, that there was greatness in their ancestors and that greatness has been passed on. It encourages reading, education and self reliance while discouraging dependence on special preferences.

For the rest of the kids it shows that black and Hispanic children are not different, that they have the same hopes and dreams and, most importantly, that they are not weak or inferior.

I have seen the affirmative action mentality take an ugly turn. It has become politically correct to be prejudiced against multitudes of people simply because of their ancestry. It is now perfectly acceptable to believe that all blacks and Hispanics are inferior and need special preferences in order to compete. That poison is being fed to our children.

I wrote the story to give kids a positive and truly affirmative alternative to that negative stereotyping.

Who would has influenced you most?

My late mother was the true inspiration for this story. She didn’t raise me to be a victim. She never let me believe that ancestry or poverty could hold me back as long as I had the will to succeed. I put her dream and her teachings into Joey Gonzalez, Great American.

My whole life has been preparation to write Joey Gonzalez, Great American. I was already a young man when the government decided that blacks and Hispanics were so inferior that they needed special preferences and quotas to compete.

No one had ever told me that my ancestry or my poverty would hold me back or make it hard for me to learn and compete. Yet, by today’s standards I was doomed to fail; all the cards were stacked against me: poor, Hispanic, segregated, drug and gang infested neighborhood, no father, and a segregated high school. And there was no affirmative action to help me along. Yet, I did fine.

I have lived the American dream just as my mother promised, through education and hard work. As little Joey Gonzalez does in the story, I reject the affirmative racism lie because I know better. My life has been the proof.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Right now my main concern is getting the message out to as many kids as possible. That means selling a lot of books.

I’m dealing with this by doing everything I can personally to promote the book: reading/book signing events, seeking publicity wherever I can find it, and doing whatever the publisher asks me to do. I’m currently doing a lot of radio interviews on talk shows, etc, and, of course, I’m doing this virtual book tour which includes this stop at OhmyNews International.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

I just picked a fight with one of the biggest, toughest bullies on the block.

I know my book may cause some hard feelings because there is a whole generation out there that has been convinced affirmative action preferences are good and necessary to level the playing field. My strategy will be to get the book out to as many people as possible and let Joey do the talking. He does a good job and has already changed a few minds and got some others at least thinking.

Do you write everyday?

I don’t write every day. I only write when I have something to say. I wrote Joey Gonzalez in one draft in one sitting. I think it took me about four hours.

Before I wrote the first word, I knew exactly what I wanted Joey to do and say. All I had to do was introduce the characters and set up the confrontation in the classroom. At that point Joey and his classmates came alive and the story told itself.

It took the artist, my good friend, Jimmy Pryor several months to paint the watercolor illustrations and the book was published in March 2008 by World Ahead Media in Torrance, CA.

I believe World Ahead Media was the only conservative book publisher with a line of children’s books. That was unique and I was intrigued and inspired by the idea of teaching conservative values through children’s literature.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Getting the artwork right was a challenge.

Jimmy Pryor, the illustrator made color pencil drawings as prototypes for a layout. The drawings looked so good that the publisher decided to use them instead of the watercolor paintings they had originally requested. But, after Jimmy had made a full set of illustrations, we found that the pencil colors weren’t intense enough. Jimmy had to retool and redo all the illustrations in watercolor. Jimmy has always used acrylics and oils. He had never painted with watercolor, so he had to work by trial and error. Understandably, that took a long time.

Then the publisher gave us a deadline.

Jimmy worked five days without sleep in order to finish the artwork on time.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

I enjoyed working with Jimmy Pryor. The book turned out to be a true collaboration.

When I first visited Jimmy to show him the manuscript, he had a large canvas hanging on his wall depicting Buffalo Soldiers coming two by two up a steep hillside. The landscape in the background looks endless and barren, making the column of soldiers seem small and lonely and exposed. Yet in their carriage there is a clear depiction of strength and confidence and military discipline. It is a beautiful and powerful painting.

I said I wished we could put something like that into the book. Jimmy said that, if I added some text about the Buffalo Soldiers, he would be happy to make an illustration to go with it. I added the text and, as promised, Jimmy painted a beautiful portrait.

Jimmy is a great guy, a talented artist and a true professional. We have developed a strong friendship and we hope to work together on future projects.

What sets the book apart from the other things you've written?

The only published piece I’ve ever had other than Joey Gonzalez is the essay published in the National Submarine Review, “The Last Voyage of the USS Sunfish”. What sets Joey Gonzalez apart from the Sunfish essay is, obviously, the magnitude of the project, a book versus a simple essay.

There are similarities.

The day I read the Sunfish essay for the first time at a crew reunion, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Someone told me later that I wrote with courage. When I wrote Joey Gonzalez I realized courage is essential. And not only courage, but honesty and passion as well. I believe that’s what these two very different stories have in common: honesty, passion and courage.

How did the Sunfish essay come about?

I wrote a personal essay, “The Last Voyage of the USS Sunfish” which was published in the National Submarine Review (I believe in 1997). It is posted on the USS Sunfish website (there’s a link on my website, joeygonzalez.us). I rode along as a civilian on the submarine’s last voyage, from San Diego to Bremerton, Washington where she was scrapped. As I had been on the commissioning crew and sailed on her maiden voyage, it was a very emotional experience. The crew has adopted the essay and it has become a tradition for someone to read it at every reunion.

What will your next book be about?

I’m sure it will be another conservative children’s book.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

[Interview] Emilio Corsetti

Emilio Corsetti is a professional pilot and an author. He lives with his wife in Lake St. Louis, Missouri.

His work has appeared in publications that include the Chicago Tribune, Multimedia Producer and Professional Pilot magazine.

In this interview, Emilio Corsetti talks about his writing.

What is your latest book about?

35 Miles From Shore tells the true story of a 1970 airliner that ditched in the Caribbean Sea and the efforts to rescue those who survived. I spent a year-and-a-half researching the book and another year-and-a-half writing. I spent an additional year or so rewriting.

The book was independently published by Odyssey Publishing and was released April 2008.

I had an offer from a European publisher, but I ultimately felt that they were asking for too much and offering too little. Had I gone with this publisher, the title would have received almost no promotion and would have been relegated to the backlist almost from the first day.

The route I chose of publishing under my own imprint and retaining all rights is a costly one. My risks have been somewhat lessened by having signed with a major distributor. I have also benefited from a great deal of free publicity in the Caribbean where the accident took place.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Without question the most difficult aspect of writing this book was finding the right balance of background information in the story. If I had too much background information, I would lose the reader in a sea of detail. If I had too little, then I risked confusing the reader. I think I found the right balance, but only after reading a lot of other nonfiction books to see how other authors handled it.

I had readers give me feedback on early drafts. My early drafts had too much background. Subsequent drafts had too little. Through all of this I continued to read other author’s work. I learned that the most important thing in providing background information is that you should only include things that help describe a character or event. If it doesn’t help define a character, then it doesn’t belong.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

Writing a book is hard work. The actual writing and rewriting is tedious and demanding.

I did enjoy the research and interviewing the actual participants.

The most satisfying moment in the whole process was the completion of the first draft. For a brief period of a few months, I was the only person in the world who knew this story. Even though there were hundreds of people involved in what took place, no one had ever pieced it all together into one complete story. All that existed prior were story fragments.

One of the most frequent comments I receive from the people whom I interviewed is that they had no idea the extent of all that took place.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

All of my previous writing has been short articles. Writing a book length manuscript that holds the reader’s interest from start to finish is a challenge. I think I’ve succeeded.

In what way is it similar?

I published an article on the twentieth anniversary of the Apollo 13 space flight. This was several years before the movie and book by Jim Lovell.

I also have written an unpublished novel that took me five years to write. While that book will never be published, even by me, the experience I gained was invaluable.

When did you start writing?

I don’t have the typical background of most writers.

I had never read a book for enjoyment until I was twenty-three. I was among the many people who looked upon reading as a chore that was to be avoided at all costs.

It wasn’t until my wife, who is an avid reader, gave me the book The Shining by Steven King to read. I read it and liked it. So I decided to go to the bookstore and see if I could find something that would interest me.

The book I picked out was 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. It was the first time I had ever been transported to another place and time by a story. From that moment on I became an avid reader.

Over the years my tastes have drifted towards nonfiction narratives, though I still enjoy reading fiction now and then.

I didn’t try writing something myself until I was 30.

How and when did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

I independently published my book. I made the decision to go this route after the book was accepted into the small press program at Independent Publishers Group.

Being selected by IPG meant that the book would receive worldwide distribution. Still, I was hesitant to mention to people that I published the book myself for fear that it would be dismissed as not good enough.

What I found is that non-writers and most readers make no distinction between an independently published book and one that was published by a major publisher. It’s no different than an independent filmmaker producing his own film or a musician releasing a CD on his or her own label. The end user is only interested in the final product. If it meets the standards that have been set forth by the industry, you can compete equally.

How would you describe your writing?

I don’t have to rely on writing to provide my income, so I choose to spend my time on projects that interest me.

My favorite books to read are true stories. Over the past several years I have read numerous true stories that have surpassed anything that I have read in fiction, yet for some reason very few of these books make best seller lists. I am completely baffled by this.

The target audience for my book 35 Miles From Shore is readers who enjoy stories of ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances.

Who influenced you most?

I don’t have any favorite authors. I do have some favorite books.

Three of my favorite fiction books are: Angela’s Ashes, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and To Kill A Mocking Bird.

Some of my favorite nonfiction books are: In the Heart of the Sea, Ghost Soldiers, The White Cascade, Seabiscuit, Magellan, The Perfect Storm, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and Manhunt.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My main goal is to tell an interesting story.

In nonfiction, I am very careful to be factual. I may write a scene that might have been elaborated in order to enhance the readability, but the underlying facts will be true.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I think I have a good feel for selecting topics that make good stories.

A while back, before the movie Apollo 13, I pitched the idea of a film on the Apollo 13 space flight to a studio executive with Touchstone Pictures. He told me that people didn’t want to go see movies where they know the ending. This same executive greenlit the movie Encino Man. I haven’t heard his name since.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

In the book 35 Miles From Shore there were several major challenges.

For one it was a complex story. The accident involved two different airlines, there were problems before the flight began, and the story involved numerous individuals: the flight crew, the passengers, the rescuers, the investigators, and numerous airline officials. Each individual saw the story from a slightly different perspective. In some cases, there were multiple perspectives of the same event.

Another problem was how to balance the background information. There are three ways to handle this. The most popular method is to begin with the heart of the story, then introduce the background material in the middle section before resuming the main story. The second option is to intersperse the background information throughout the story as characters are introduced.

Neither of these two options was suitable for this story. For this reason, I decided to split the book into three parts. The first part would set up the ditching by providing the necessary background information. The second part would describe the ditching and rescue uninterrupted. The last part described the events after the accident.

Do you write everyday?

I don’t quote other people very often, but I have two quotes from Mark Twain on this subject. Here is the first one (paraphrased in case I don’t have it exactly right): Writers who write every day write tired and they tire the public who has to read them. The second one is my favorite: Whenever I get the urge to write, I lie down and it usually passes.

When you do write, how does each session start? How do you proceed?

I’m usually good for about one to two hours of writing, depending on how late I start. I start by reviewing pages that have already been written. I’ll rewrite these and then start new pages. If I get stuck, I’ll sleep on it and come up with a solution over the next few days.

What will your next book be about?

Getting this book published has been such a frustrating experience that I would have to think very hard before I would tackle another book. It would have to be a heck of a story and one that hadn’t been told before.

I have written another screenplay, which I’m excited about.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Starting and completing this book, despite the many obstacles, is a significant achievement. Having the book be as well received as it has been is vindication of my effort.

How did you get there?

I have had no second thoughts of shelving the novel that I wrote. But I couldn’t see me doing the same thing with this book. The story is too good to not do everything I can to get it out there. I won’t have to look back and wonder what if? I can now look forward and wonder what’s next?

Monday, May 19, 2008

[Interview] Mick Drake

Mick Drake was born in the West Midlands and grew up in Sutton Coldfield.

After leaving school he followed a career in retailing before gaining a degree in fine art. Finding it impossible to make a living as a budding artist, he returned to retailing, managing supermarkets for several years before leaving to set up a conservation scheme in Wolverhampton and joining local government.

After he gained a degree in management studies, he and his family moved to Lincolnshire where he works in Economic Regeneration encouraging the development of businesses in the county.

Currently, he is working on a sequel to his first published novel, All`s Well At Wellwithoute (Authorhouse, 2006).

In this interview, Mick Drake talks about his writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first novel when I was in my twenties whilst I was unemployed for a year. I was unable to get it published but writing has been at the back of my mind since then.

An illness five years ago gave me the opportunity to start writing again -- the bug has never gone away -- I would love to be able to write full time.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

I want the reader to enjoy sharing their imagination with me -- reading is a creative activity that completes the process of writing -- that`s why it was important for me to get published. I want the reader to go away pleased by their experience -- enthralled by the twists in the narrative -- amused by the characters and situations -- to have had a good time!

How would you describe your writing?

My writing is in the tradition of English comic writing.

I read widely, but I enjoy comic writing best - when it`s well done it can lift your spirits and still have something to say about the human condition and perhaps you remember that something the more because it isn`t cloaked in tragedy or high drama.

My target audience is anyone who enjoys well crafted comic writing -- particularly people who enjoy humorouswriting without the excessive use of swear words and graphic sex scenes.

Who would has influenced you most?

Anyone who aspires to writing in the comic genre has to acknowledge the profound and lasting influence of P. G. Wodehouse whose comic timing and superb skills as a writer have never been surpassed.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I enjoy life -- like everyone I`ve had my share of tragedies and disappointments, but I see no need to dwell on them or the darker side of living on this teeming planet.

For me, humour and satire are the most effective means of deflating the pompous, the prejudiced, the greedy, the vain, casting a light which is perhaps harder to dismiss than other forms of drama or criticism. I use and exaggerate personal experiences to comic effect -- I also make stuff up!

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

To get my book sufficiently well known, so it has the opportunity to become widely read.

I deal with these challenges by taking opportunities such as this to promote my book - last year on May 19, I was at the Lincoln Book Festival -- my book is also available on Amazon and I talk about my book on the Meet the Author website. I`m always on the lookout for promotional opportunities.

Do you write everyday?

Recently, I`ve been busy getting my book ready for publication and promoting it -- I hope to get back to regular writing soon.

How many books have you written so far?

Just this one -- All`s Well at Wellwithoute published in November 2006 by Authorhouse.

Wellwithoute, the ancestral home of the Dangwell family is surrounded by creditors: Lord Dangwell is in dispair -- his only hope is to persuade his son Harold to marry Veronica, the poetic daughter of Lord Entwislethe richest and rudest man in the county. Veronica`s poetry is driving Lord Entwisle to distraction so he will pay handsomely to see her wed.

After numerous twists of fate Harold is drawn into his father`s web of intrigue -- will he escape before it`s too late?

The book took me two years to write and a further three years refining the text and finally getting it published.

I`m currently writing a sequel which will feature the Dangwell family in further adventures.

What did you find most difficult when you were working on All`s Well at Wellwithoute?

I enjoyed writing the book, so I wouldn`t say it was difficult -- perhaps the most challenging thing with comic writing is to introduce comic situations and twists of plot whilst maintaining a level of plausibility in situations and characters.

I also enjoyed creating the house and characters of the Dangwell family and creating the house in visual form on the cover of my book.

What sets the book apart from other things you have written?

My unpublished novel was a serious study of adolescent angst -- it did have some funny moments, but these were mostly unintentional!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

To date it has to be getting an agent and getting pubished -- an incredibly hard thing to do -- my agent says he has 450 unsolicited manuscripts a month -- he only picks 12 new writers a year.

How did you get there?

By persistence and determination and ignoring numerous rejections by agents and publishers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

[Interview] David S. Grant

David S. Grant lives and works in New York City.

His books include Corporate Porn, written in 2005, and published by Silverthought Press in 2006. His double novel Bleach/Blackout will be published through Offense Mechanisms, and imprint of Silverthought Press in 2008.

Two more books are also due to be published in 2008 through Brown Paper Publishing. These are the novel, The Last Breakfast, and short story collection Emotionless Souls.

In this interview, David Grant talks about his writing.

When did you start writing?

To some degree I’ve been writing since I was in elementary school, short stories, and essays for the most part.

I started taking fiction seriously in the late nineties when I was in my twenties. This is when I wrote my first novella Suicide Squeeze, my novel Bleach followed shortly after that.

Corporate Porn was published in 2005 by Silverthought Press. My current book, a collection of short stories titled Emotionless Souls was just published by Brown Paper Publishing.

How did you make the transition from writing to becoming a published author?

I never set out to be a published writer, instead focused on the writing, not worried whether or not my work would ever be read. Eventually it’s natural to want to have your work published.

For Corporate Porn, I queried a combination of agents and publishers; this went on for over a year. During this time I also wrote short stories and had them published at various online and literary journals. One of the short stories, "Tease Inc", (part of my new book Emotionless Souls) detailed an ex-stripper at a job interview. This story led to Silverthought Press publishing my novel Corporate Porn.

How would you describe your writing?

Satirical with lots of humor.

Also, a lot of people will associate the genre “Transgressive Fiction” to my work as I do often touch on taboo areas in my writing. In the story "Lucy’s Place" (from Emotionless Souls) a morally corrupt man overdoses on heroin and wakes up in Idaho, where he must figure out whether he is in Heaven or Hell.

Being fair and truthful to my characters is very important to me. If someone deserves to be hit or told to fuck off, then this is the story told.

Who is your target audience?

Hung over college students, bored mothers, and death row prisoners who enjoy Quentin Tarantino movies.

I’ve never wrote for a particular audience. I enjoy reading dark and funny stories so this is what I write.

Who would you say has influenced you most?

A combination of many writers. Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk's books are two favorites of mine and my writing style, embracing minimalism. Both BEE and CP have taken chances with their writing, not creating the same book over and over. Both genius satirical writers of our time, they are great authors to study the balance of shock and black comedy with light scenes and humorous dialogue.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Many of my characters are composites of people I know, have met, or heard stories about. Mood of my fiction is directly related to what is happening in my life. If things are good, there is definitely a lighter tone, if not, the anger comes through my pen onto the paper. Bleach/Blackout, a double novel to be published in 2008 is good example of this. The tagline for Bleach is “Life at its most jaded” and for Blackout, “This is a story about living”. Not one story is more dark or angry than the other; it’s just the way you look at a scene, or a situation. You can find yourself in either a challenging place, or complete shit storm, a lot of that is really up to you.

Do you write everyday?

I do not write every day. Sometimes I may not write for weeks, then binge, barely taking breaks, finishing initial drafts in weeks.

On a daily basis I do take notes and work on outlines for my new novels.

Taking time away from writing a novel to focus on a short story or two is a good way for me to step back when I’m stuck or am not happy with where the story is leading.

What is your latest book about?

Emotionless Souls is a collection of short stories published through Brown Paper Publishing.

Both Emotionless Souls and my novella The Last Breakfast were published through BPP in March 2008. Brown Paper Publishing had published a short story titled "The Dublin Trip" (in Emotionless Souls) in their literary journal, Predicate. From there they approached me about some of my other work and agreed to work together on these projects.

Brown Paper Publishing has been fantastic to work with.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Given my book is a collection of short stories, it was challenging to find the right stories to compliment each other. If one story tells the tale of a stripper murdered by a financial analyst, the next probably shouldn’t be a story about a murdered stripper, unless of course the book is a collection of dead stripper stories. Something I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while.

Which did you enjoy most?

The writing of the initial stories. Regardless of whether any of my work had ever made it to print I will always be writing. I entertain myself with my stories, which I do realize sounds selfish, but that’s not the point, writing is very therapeutic for me.

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

I’ve published three novels, this is my first short story collection.

Given the length of the tales, there is a more definitive edge to the writing as I get right to the point. “White Christmas” is a story of a man who believes a co-worker has stolen his cocaine and the piece details his walk across the room to confront the accused. Because this was a short the story needs to keep the focus of what is happening despite the distractions that are incurred as he makes it across the room. Similar to “White Christmas”, the story “Boardroom Romance” answers the age old question of what happens when you mistake Ecstasy for Aspirin and it hits you while in a boardroom meeting.

In what way is it similar?

In a twisted way, my characters are similar in that they’re typically down, then get lower (and sometimes even lower), eventually finding redemption, in the oddest of ways, in the end. In the story “Money Shot” redemption is in the form of shock, the main character committing suicide in order to preserve his space in the adult movie industry. For “Open Mic” where a comic gets laughs in a non-conventional way by adding hallucinogen mushrooms to the food the crowd is eating. My characters from both my novels and short stories always seem to follow this arc in my stories.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is my drug and rock fueled double novel Bleach/Blackout through Offense Mechanism, an imprint of Silverthought press.

Bleach opens during the last sixty seconds of 2003 in a bathroom where Jeremy, our jaded navigator through the endless repulsiveness of the world, watches a girl lay dying. Before diving into an explanation of what the hell is going on, Jeremy doubles back eight days. The entire story builds up to the climax of Sharon Winkler’s infamous annual New Year’s Eve party, where all the men are dressed as prostitutes, all the women look like pimps, decadence and debauchery dictate the rules, and the next guy through the door is sure to have a gun.

Written in a cynical voice that rings true with today’s young business class, Bleach is a story that encompasses the sentiments of a generation while examining the meaning of life in a world driven by greed.

Blackout begins in Las Vegas, where Stoner and friends celebrate his bachelor party in a blur of strippers, crack cocaine, a little Thai, and Nic Cage. The next morning in Los Angeles brings an unwelcome surprise when Stoner’s friends Chip and Jeremy wake to find police officers and a dead body for which they are allegedly responsible. Chip is charged with murder and his trial is being fast-tracked... What would Steven Tyler do?

Beneath the stories of hangovers and death, this is a story about living for the moment and having a story to tell. Blackout is a fast-paced ride that will leave you wanting more—and maybe a cold beer.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Anytime a writer completes the first draft of a manuscript I think this is a major achievement.

For me, finishing my first novel was significant for me. The ability to put down my ideas through characters and have a story completed from start to finish was very fulfilling to me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

[Interview] Susan Alvis

Susan Alvis is a Tennessee native.

She has several books out with various publishers. Writing under her own name as well as two pen names, she is an author covering several genres with numerous titles in fiction and non-fiction.

Her books include the novel, Friends Unlikely (Amira Press, 2007) and the non-fiction titles, How to Buy Real Estate Without a Down Payment in Any Market (Atlantic Publishing, 2006); The Complete Guide to Purchasing a Condo, Townhouse or Apartment (Atlantic Publishing, 2007); How to Become a Million Dollar Real Estate Agent in Your First Year (Atlantic Publishing, 2007) and How to Creatively Finance Your Real Estate Investments and Build Your Personal Fortune (Atlantic Publishing, 2007).

In this interview, Susan Alvis talks about her writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

All of my life, I’ve heard, “You can’t change who you are.” So to answer your question, I didn’t decide. Somewhere along the way, it was already decided. As a child, I wanted to be a writer but as an adult, I worked against it for whatever reason.

Life moves so fast and mine really took a totally different loop than what I had initially planned. I tried to fit into the role everyone thought I should pursue determined to fall in line with the dreams that others had for me. When I realized that it wouldn’t make me happy, I did a lot of soul-searching and writing seemed to be right in front of me.

As a child, I sent off some short stories to Crown Publishing and some other publishers for consideration. In fact, my daughter and I have been going through some old things from my childhood home trying to find them so I can post them on my website. It’s safe to say that I’ve been a writer all my life. Even as an adult pursuing other career interests, I still wrote short stories and articles (some of which are being published now).

How would you describe your writing?

That’s tough.

I write primarily in three genres now. Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery and Adult Romance. However, I still have several non-fiction titles slated for release in 2007 and 2008 so I can’t say I’m working in one genre more than another.

Who is your target audience?

Considering the variety… everyone!

What motivated you to start writing?

For non-fiction, it was feast or famine and I’m not kidding. Since I had children approaching the teenage years, I wanted to be home more and since I had an outside sales job, it was increasingly difficult to be available when I needed to be available. Still, I had to work. I didn’t marry into wealth and my husband expects me to carry my own weight and help provide for our family. So, I found a few online writers’ forums, and a few freelance jobs. From there, I went into a lot of ghost writing branching out into other freelance opportunities. While I still have a booked calendar with ghost writes in 2007, I primarily write my own books and short stories now.

Who has influenced you most?

I would have to say my family either directly or indirectly.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I have a book coming out that will probably answer this much better. My own life experiences have influenced a lot of what I write. I’ve been a troubled soul at times with very real life catastrophes, just like many other people. However, when a family is hit with the same problems and crisis, it often leaves each member feeling powerless. I didn’t have anywhere to turn except to my writing and it has been a great source of empowerment because it has allowed me to cope with traumatic events and devastating situations. Plus, by writing about some more sensitive issues, I was forced to research. The knowledge I gained is something I will take with me into various projects.

My personal experiences are evident in my non-fiction titles specifically. Even the upcoming work about Tunica, Mississippi casinos is directly related to my life because I’ve spent a great deal of time in Mississippi and the casinos!

What are your main concerns as a writer?

There are a lot of concerns for writers. However, I don’t focus on them too much. I just write what I want to write and submit it. I often forget about it until I hear back one way or the other. I have an agent working with me on a project that’s very close to my heart so I guess the biggest concern I have right now is finishing it so he can see if he has a market for it or not!

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

It’s hard to get used to bad reviews. While I can accept a bad review or rating and most authors can, I think we all have to be sure the reviews are coming from people within the industry or from those who are really trying to critique the written word.

I had a recent review that was very pointed and obviously written with the intent to personally attack so we had to have it removed because it was more or less slanderous and didn’t necessarily pertain to the book in question. Still, I’ve received a mountain of outstanding reviews both in fiction and non-fiction. I have to keep it all in perspective regardless if they are bad, good or even outstanding. The reviews (in most cases) are nothing more than one person’s opinion. In many cases, a reviewer will review books as a hobby and most of the time, they are presented with the right objective but not always.

I believe all writers have to have thick skin which I developed long before entering this business. Still, when you’ve worked 18-hour days to try and develop a story that you’re passionate about, you want someone to look at it and critique it with professionalism. The biggest challenge many writers face is coping with the fact their work is under constant scrutiny by reviewers.

How do you deal with these challenges?

I just keep in mind, it’s one person’s opinion.

How many books have you written so far?

Total short stories and books combined, including upcoming anthologies, I’m not even sure and the reason is because I’m writing under three names and have several projects going as ghost writes. I’m writing and someone else is managing what I write for the time being.

In non-fiction, I think it’s seven total now and in fiction, I have a lot. The books under my name are found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other store fronts such as Wal-Mart and Target. Online, one of the pen names I use lists my titles on Fictionwise.

Current titles on Amazon include: How to Buy Real Estate Without a Down Payment in Any Market; The Complete Guide to Purchasing a Condo, Townhouse or Apartment; How to Become a Million Dollar Real Estate Agent in Your First Year and How to Creatively Finance Your Real Estate Investments and Build Your Personal Fortune. All of these are published by Atlantic Publishing.

Coming soon titles include: Murder Games; Growing Up On Sunday; Holding Hands with Oxy and Meth and Tunica Mississippi: The Choice Gaming Destination of the South as well as others.

Do you write everyday?

Yes, I write seven days a week!

I hope to cut down on writing time. Right now, I write far more than I should. I’m waiting on writer’s block to hit me with a vengeance! I’d like to cut back to eight or ten hour days but I have too many deadlines to meet right now for that!

How long did it take you to write Friends Unlikely?

Friends Unlikely has taken about two months to complete. I consistently work on three or four titles simultaneously but sometimes, I’ll have one or two short stories and only one novel working so it makes it a bit easier.

I would say, it takes about two months for me to completely finish a manuscript. Then, there’s editing and promotional work to plan which I still have my hand in (to an extent).

Amira Press is publishing Friends Unlikely. I am thrilled they accepted it. I pitched it to Yvette Lynn at Amira first in hopes she would accept it and when she did, I nearly fell over. I wanted to keep it with a smaller publisher who would share the same or similar vision I had for the book.

Since the “shelf life” of a novel isn’t always as long as writers would like, I wanted Friends Unlikely to be in the hands of a smaller publisher who will allow me to use my vision for the project.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Friends Unlikely is fiction but it touches on some very real issues. Poverty, wealth, HIV, drug addiction… it’s all there and there are some aspects of the book that will disturb the reader.

Since my target audience will be young adults, they will probably read the book and have questions. One of the characters in the story is a drug addict. When he’s in the throes of his addiction, he’s violent, mean and unmanageable. He hears and sees things that are non-existent but it portrays the true reality of his particular addiction. It was hard to write some of the scenes because I knew when I wrote it that many people were going through the very things I described.

Which did you enjoy most?

There are some light-hearted scenes in the book and I enjoyed writing them.

What sets the book apart from other things you have written?

It’s my first book specifically targeted for a young adult audience.

In what way is it similar?

I’ve written some articles on HIV and I have a book coming soon about drug addiction. Both topics are included in Friends Unlikely.

What will your next book be about?

(smiles) Which one? Murder Games has been pitched to one of my publishers but I haven’t written much on it yet. I’ve been working on two non-fiction titles for well over a year but I haven’t turned those “out” for consideration. One publisher knows I have one of them and has asked to see a partial but I can’t let it go as it is -- at least not yet.

Several romance titles are coming soon as well.

What has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

My first non-fiction title found its way to the top 1-2% in Amazon sales and has stayed there consistently since its release which is exciting. In fiction, one of my short stories for adult suspense/romance made one of the prestigious Preditors and Editors 2006 Readers Poll Nominations. It didn’t win but it finished high nonetheless.

However, beyond any review or nomination or even high rankings, I would say the most significant achievement is just being able to do what I love to do.

How did you get there?

A lot of late nights and a lot of determination.

This article has also been featured on Associated Content.