Wednesday, November 27, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer has been reading and campaigning for her favorite queries since 2004. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she went east for Sarah Lawrence College and stayed for the opportunity to read soon-to-be books for a living. Now an Associate Agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, she’s developed a reputation for fighting office members to see incoming manuscripts first – and for drinking far too much tea.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.
And now Jessica Sinsheimer faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?
Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. I hate questions like this, because the idea of having to choose among books (there are so many wonderful ones out there!) feels like having to choose one food to eat for the rest of your life—in other words: why in the world would you do that to yourself?

So, instead, I’m going to duck the question and tell you the books I’m reading now and really enjoying: 

1) Devil in the White City. I love this period of history—it’s such an interesting intersection of travel (I love trains), beautiful clothing, architecture, innovation (electric light!), and a population suddenly realizing just what technology can do for them. I love it. 

2) Writing on the Wall—Social Media: The First 2,000 Years, which is so amazing and mind-blowing and yet so perfectly logical. Did you know that people used to, instead of Yelp reviews, make little graffiti marks on pubs to say things like “Great beer” or “Try this dish” or “You’re better off going down the road”? Me either! It makes so much sense: humans are inherently social creatures, and we’re creative—I’m fascinated by our ingenuity throughout the ages. 

3) Longbourn by Jo Baker—it’s Pride and Prejudice, but from the perspective of the servants. It’s beautiful and grotesque at once—the language is lovely, the descriptions vivid, and the concept a strong one. It doesn’t moralize (so far, at least), which is great—it just observes, and in wonderful detail.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Right now? 

1) Scandal. Olivia Pope is a genius, and I would like to be her when I grow up. 

2) It’s no longer on television, which is a shame, but I loved Pushing Daisies. It’s beautiful, smart, thoughtful—what a wonderful project. Really sad that it died so soon. And that I can’t bring it back from the dead by touching my television. 

3) Not gonna lie—I’m a huge fan of Pretty Little Liars.

Now, there are also a lot of guilty pleasure shows for me, too. I love the Food Network. (Master Chef Junior is rocking my world—I love the moment when adorable little Sarah gave another kid a gummi bear and went, to the cameras, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”) I love Million Dollar Listing, because it’s amazing how their problems are, in fact, very close to ours. (Case in point: in one episode, a seller insists that his house—with exposed two-by-fours, windows without glass, and electric cables everywhere is ready to go, and if the agent can’t sell it, it’s the agent’s problem. I’ve never had a client act this way, thankfully, but I’ve definitely heard stories in the “But my work is perfect send it now!” vein.) I also enjoy your basic sitcom. Sometimes television is just for unwinding, and that’s fine.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Hardworking, creative, and interested in a lot of aspects of human life. I need someone willing to put in the time (I’m very hands-on, and want to go through multiple drafts—I insist on getting a work to the best place it can be before sending it out) and, for this to be possible, we have to communicate well. I love to get on the phone and brainstorm with my clients—but this only works with some people. We have to have a creative rapport. I also like clients who have a number of interests outside of publishing. I want to work with complete, reasonably healthy humans—and not book machines.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

This is a tough one. I almost always want more foodie stuff (still, so few food memoirs in my inbox!), strong female characters (who doesn’t, these days?), contemporary YA (ditto), and some nice popular science, psychology, history, and/or parenting.

I’m going through an evolutionary psychology phase—I just read a fantastic piece about how depression may actually be adaptive. I’m really intrigued.

I’d also really love anything that falls under the women’s fiction umbrella—romance, erotica, upmarket women’s fiction—I like all of it. The most important thing is that the idea behind the story be original—unless your writing is insanely good, I’m going to have a hard time loving a piece about, say, a woman moving back home after a failed relationship and happening to fall in love with the guy she liked in high school.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I love the collaboration of it, the fact that I’m always learning new things—and that, technically, any information that can go into a book—any kind of book—is relevant to my work. It’s a job that requires me to read constantly—not just manuscripts, but published books, news articles—and I like that it requires me to be, well, very aware of what’s going on in the world. I wouldn’t say that I miss school—I hated having so many deadlines for writing my own work—but learning is very important to me.

My least favorite thing? Writing rejections. I hate it. HATE it. You never know if someone is going to read your rejection and stop writing forever—or worse. You know that there’s a good chance they’ll cry, and feel discouraged—and a 99 percent chance that it will not. Feel. Good. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. If there were a way for me to only say, "Yes," well, sign me up!

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

The most important thing is to remember that agents are humans. We vary. There are agents of so many different types, and it’s worth trying to get to know as much as possible about each person you submit to. Follow them on Twitter. (If you follow me, and chat with me about cheese, or chocolate, or caffeine, or cats, we’ll get along.) Learn what they tend to like, and not like. Look up some of the books they’ve represented.

So many writers threaten their chances by having no idea who I am, other than the fact that I have “agent” on my business card—I can’t tell you how many “Dear Sirs” emails I receive, or queries with my name misspelled (I know it’s a lot of syllables, but copy-paste if you’re unsure!), or emails that could really benefit from spell check.

If you show in the first line of your query that you’ve done your research, it automatically puts you in the top third of my pile—maybe even top fourth.

Also, please check in—at three weeks for a query (and then every three weeks), and at three months for a manuscript, and then once a month.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Dorothy Parker—though it wouldn’t be lunch. We’d go out for drinks first, and then I’d take her out on the town for her commentary on what’s changed. I think she’d have some very amusing things to say about Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn (hipster capitals), for example. She’d probably be pleased that her round table at the Algonquin is still here. And wouldn’t it be fun to ride around in a car with a sunroof? (I was far too well-behaved in high school to consider this, though I hear it’s de rigueur now for proms.) I love the idea of her scowling at hipsters and Times Square and the kids with way too many safety pins in their hoodies in the Village. Yes, I think we’d have a wonderful time.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

7 Questions For: Author Rhys A. Jones

Rhys A Jones was born in 1955 and grew up in a mining village in South Wales with his nose in a book and his head in the clouds. He managed to subdue his imagination long enough to carve out a career in medicine, writing whenever the chance arose.

In 1994, writing as Dylan Jones, he published his first scary book for adults, a thriller, which was subsequently made into a two-part film by the BBC. Other scary books followed.

A growing desire to move away from adult thrillers and write for children is what currently preoccupies him. The Obsidian Pebble is the first in a quintet featuring eleven-year-old Oz Chambers whose family inherits a ‘haunted’ house. His mother wants to leave, but Oz wants to unlock the house’s mysteries and uncovers a secret that will change his life forever.

Rhys A Jones has three grownup children who have emerged remarkably unscathed into adulthood. When not writing, he practices medicine and lives in darkest West Wales with his understanding (very) wife and two dogs.

Oh, and the Rhys is pronounced Reece–as in Rhys Ifans of Harry Potter (Mr Lovegood) and The Amazing Spider-man (Lizard) fame. Or perhaps it’s easier if you just think of Reece Witheespoon, though she is a lady.

Click here to read my review of The Obsidian Pebble.

And now Rhys A. Jones faces the 7 Questions: 

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

1/ The Man With Absolute Motion, by SilasWaters. A SF adventure which had a huge influence on the teen me. 
2/ Moon of the Red Ponies, James Lee Burke. Brilliant
3/ Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ray Bradbury. Amazing, dark, poetic.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading? 

Time writing. 30 hours at least.  When day job allows. Reading. 5  limited by onset of sleep.  

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?
Path to publication. Hmmmm.

I started writing when I finally passed all the exams I needed to practice as a surgeon. It was a huge release. I wrote what I was reading at the time and published 4 adult, psychological thrillers as Dylan Jones. 2 were made into films by the BBC.  

Then we had 3 kids. The genre and my life did not chime. I wrote some stories for the kids and found out that I could remember what it was like to be 11. I wrote the Obsidian Pebble and self published. People seemed to like it. Now Spencer Hill Press have it. I'm not arguing.  

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you? 

I think you have to have a certain type of mind to write. I suspect that had to do with genes. The curse of the imagination. That's not enough. Because the technique has to be taught/ learned.  But the one is no use without the other.  There, a diplomatic answer.  

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?
Favourite thing about writing:  Getting the first draft done. I like the polishing.  
Worst thing?  The first draft.  I'm a planner.  So I always know what's coming. It's like starting off in a very long hike. Exciting, but daunting. 

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Write for yourself. What you would want to read. Forget zeitgeist and trends.  Be true to yourself.

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?
Neil Gaiman. Seems like a nice bloke.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book of the Week: THE OBSIDIAN PEBBLE by Rhys A. Jones

First Paragraph(s): Oz Chambers sat in his bedroom, desperately trying to concentrate on his algebra homework and ignore the tempting bottle of blood on his desk. He dragged his eyes away from the crimson phial and struggled with two maths questions, before trying to get to grips with the essay on “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” he’d been dabbling with all week. He liked English, and especially reading, but that didn’t make the essay any easier. 
Oz sighed heavily. It was no good. Today was proving to be a particularly hopeless homework day because he just couldn’t settle. He was simply too excited by the prospect of what was in store that evening.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader! Happy Thanksgiving! The Obsidian Pebble is to be my last Book of the Week of 2013 and it's a great one to go out on. 

The Obsidian Pebble is a hard book to sum up. It's a haunted house story, a superhero-ish story, a story about a boy dealing with the death of his father, and above all, an extremely English story:) It's vaguely reminiscent of the best parts of Harry Potter, but The Obsidian Pebble is it's own wonderful concoction.

It all begins with teen Oz Chambers, who's inherited his very own mansion:

“I wish I had a long-lost uncle who would leave me something in his will. Wouldn’t it be great if it’s your sixteenth birthday and a crusty old lawyer bloke turns up with a crinkly yellow envelope full of stocks and bonds and stuff worth zillions?” Ruff was looking at the ceiling, but his eyes were seeing something else altogether. 
Oz didn’t really know what stocks and bonds were and neither, he suspected, did Ruff. But they sounded really impressive. 
“As if that would ever happen to anyone,” Ellie tutted. 
Ruff threw her a baleful, sulky look. “It sort of happened to Oz, didn’t it? His dad, anyway.” 
“Yeah, well, getting something like this dropped in your lap isn’t exactly like winning the lottery, you know,” Oz said, not wanting to let Ruff and Ellie argue. “It costs loads to run and takes ages to clean. And even the draughts have draughts.”

The bad news is the mansion is haunted:

“And anyway, the place is a legend. It was even in Hidden Haunted Houses of Great Britain.” 
“I didn’t know that,” Oz said. 
“Ye-ah, it was in the reference section in Waterstone’s the other day. It said something like… ‘an old orphanage on Magnus Street in Seabourne now occupies the site of the Bunthorpe Encounter. One of the most famous supernatural occurrences in the country.’” 
“Cool,” Oz said, pleased. “I’ll Google it later.” 
“Looks more real in a book, though, somehow, don’t you think?” Ellie said. 
Oz knew what she meant. He made a mental note to look it up next time he was in the bookshop.

Incidentally, I have to chuckle at that last sentiment. I'm sure there are some children in the world who prefer reference books to Google, but not many. I made a crack in my last post about printed books being horse-drawn buggies in comparison to ebooks, which are like automobiles. Rhys A. Jones commented in favor of print books, and though I agree they're lovely, hoping future readers will put up with them when they have ebooks is akin to hoping children will rely on printed references when they have Google. It's a nice thought, but not likely:)

The real fun begins when Oz finds a package addressed to him, posted the day before his father's death. Obviously, a package like that must contain something of importance, and this one contains the obsidian pebble. I won't spoil the secrets this tale holds, but the pebble has powers most curious which lead Oz into a wonderful adventure you're going to enjoy.  

My what a lot of dead parents there are in middle grade fiction:) Last review, we discussed the death of the protagonist's mother in Killer Species #1. In The Obsidian Pebble, it's dad's turn, and Jones does a nice job of showing us Oz's emotions and allowing us to feel his loss. But what I really liked was the way dad's death impacts Oz's relationship with his mother. I felt like mom's reaction to the death of her husband was realistic and adds another layer to Oz's grief:

Depression. Reactive unipolar. 
The second bit didn’t sound too bad when he read it back. In fact, it didn’t sound like an illness at all. Unipolar sounded more like something you might use to repair a broken radio. But there was nothing easily fixable about the way his mother wouldn’t eat, or didn’t want to be hugged, or didn’t shower, or slouched about in a dressing gown for days at a time. There was nothing he could buy from an electrical shop to stop her crying for hours on end.

In fact, I liked all of the adult characters in The Obsidian Pebble, particularly Oz's instructor, Boggs. I wish this speech was mandatory reading for children everywhere and it may be my favorite passage from the book: 

Boggs turned in disgust and marched to the front of the class. When he reached the blackboard he pivoted to face the whole of 1C, wearing a sour-faced scowl. 
“I’ve seen it all before. Cocky little first years who think they know it all, so sure that you’re all going to change the world.” Boggs shook his head and his face sneered into a nasty imitation of a smile. “Well, let me tell you something, my naïve little friends. The real world isn’t about talent shows and people making idiots of themselves on TV for thirty seconds of fame. None of you are going to wake up with magical powers that will get you all the things you want. Life is not a fantasy film. The truth is that, from now on, it’s a hard slog because bills don’t pay themselves. In just a few short years, you, like everyone else, will have to sell your souls to the banks to borrow money to get a mortgage to buy a house. And that means getting up early and going to work every day even when the weather’s perfect and all you really want to do is go to the beach or toboggan on Marsden Hill.”
Boggs’ face had gone blotchy purple, and little flecks of spit had begun to froth at the corners of his mouth, but he wasn’t finished yet. “I’ve got two years left of my thirty years of commitment to this profession. Murderers get less than I have served here. So, I have no interest whatsoever in soft-soaping you lot, and that means that I will not put up with any nonsense from any of you.” 

Not to worry, Esteemed Reader. I have more favorite passages for you. And as we've reached the end of the review, it's a good time to break them out. If you're looking for an enjoyable fantasy with heart, don't miss The Obsidian Pebble.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from The Obsidian Pebble:

They crossed a passageway to another door, which opened out into a large, shabby-looking entrance hall with a massive double staircase leading up to the floor above. The place smelled musty and unused and their voices echoed into the chilly emptiness when they spoke.

There was no sound at all in the atrium as midnight approached, but outside the wind moaned as it gusted around the stone walls and beams creaked as the old place resisted the elements. Oz finished adjusting his watch and reached down to pick up the bottle when a noise made him start. Footsteps. Oz looked up suddenly. Maybe Ellie wanted something else from the kitchen. More likely it would be Ruff. But there was no one there. He started to climb the stairs again. Must have been his imag… Oz stopped and stood stock-still. Soft and deliberate and sounding very near, the footsteps came again.

She was a small, thin girl with elfin features, short dark hair and a constantly intense expression. Her clothes were shapeless and fashionably drab and she’d gone for “backwards through a hedge” as a hairstyle, with great success. 

Whoever had thought up algebra should have been hung in a gibbet, like they did to people in Sir Gawain’s time.
Oz was always struck at how devoid of colour Boggs was. It was as if he’d decided to live his life in monochrome. His moustache was grey-flecked, his hair (what little he had of it) was silvering, and he even had a constant smattering of grey-cigarette ash on the lapels of his charcoal herringbone jacket. His eyebrows were the only feature in an otherwise sour-looking face that gave any hint of original colouring in that they were dark and bushy 

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.  


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NINJA STUFF: Winding Down for the Holidays

As you can see, Mrs. Ninja and I are shining a signal in the sky and waiting for our little crime-fighter to be born. We had the nerdiest and best baby shower ever last weekend. The theme was children's books (naturally) and the cake was a replica of the cover from James and the Giant Peach. My poor child is already a book nerd whether he wants to be or not.

Behind my son's many Bat suits (we've since received two more and multiple Batman socks and even a blanket) are the pieces of a crib I still need to put together. Little Ninja is set to arrive sometime in December and as we get closer, I have less time to write. I have no idea how much writing time I'll manage to scrounge once he's actually here, but I'm hard at work on The And Then Story 2: And Then-er, set to be released in 2015 (more on that later). As always, if I have to choose between blogging and writing, I choose writing.

I've got two more interviews in store for you and a book review. After that, I'm taking a sabbatical. I'll still drop in from time to time and you can always find me on Facebook (and occasionally twitter). I'm also continuing to write guest posts and give interviews for All Together Now: A Zombie Story. If you're missing me, you might check my promotion page to see where I am. Or you could always read my book:)

It's now in print! Opening the box containing my story in paperback was absolutely exhilarating, even if being excited about a print book is like being excited to get a horse and buggy when you've already got a car.

Honestly, I don't know what this blog will look like next year. I don't know what my life is going to look like. Fatherhood is something I'm learning as I go.

But if you still want to read this blog, Esteemed Reader, I'll still want to write it. So after Thanksgiving, the blog will be quiet for a while. You can always check the archives of past book reviews and interviews with authors, literary agents, and editors, or even my posts about writing.

And you know I'll be back. Next year I'm publishing my first middle grade book, The And Then Story (actual title to be revealed soon). But for now, that's a release that comes second. I've got something more important to focus on:)

And check out this awesome cake:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Katie Reed

Katie Reed can’t resist a good story. One of her greatest joys is opening a book and being held captive by it till the last page, often staying up all night because the riveting plot and brilliant characters won’t let her put it down. Katie obtained her Bachelor’s in English from California State University, Sacramento, but the most enlightening part of her college career was her internship with Andrea Hurst Literary Management. There she discovered her passion for being part of the process that connects compelling stories with book-hungry readers. 

Katie has worked as a freelance editor and enjoys helping writers develop their novels in preparation for pitching and publication. She understands how challenging the writing process can be and strives to help her clients through it. Katie resides in the small town of Durham, California with her incredible husband, her joyful son, and Snoodles, her loyal cat. Besides her addiction to reading, she is also a diehard Miami Heat fan and obsessed with all things Disney. 

Katie is looking for stories that demand to be read, having characters that transcend the page and remain in her thoughts long after the book has been closed. She represents all areas of young adult and adult fiction and nonfiction, with a special interest in YA and fantasy.

Make sure you check her out on Facebook. 

And now Katie Reed faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is a highly unfair question! How to list just three? The Harry Potter books will always be at the top of the list for me. The Hunger Games trilogy is a close second, and I recently read The Fault in Our Stars and fell in love with that one too. 

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

 My current TV show addictions include The Walking Dead, The Voice, and (my favorite of the favorites) Once Upon a Time (regular and Wonderland). Favorite movies depend on what I'm in the mood for, but three classics that come to mind are Tombstone, Beauty and the Beast, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (no matter how many times I watch it, I always laugh). 

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

I love clients who are passionate about their project and aren't afraid to make changes in order to strengthen their book. I also think that being enjoyable to work with is as important as the project itself. A writer with a good sense of marketing is always a huge plus. 

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

I am itching to get my hands on a good YA fantasy right now. I've always been drawn to anything magical, and I love the fresh, youthful voices of characters in the YA area. I want something that I can't stop reading and has me jumping out of my skin to sign the author by the time I'm done. 

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I. Love. My. Job. 

It is the perfect job for me, and one of my favorite things about it is the opportunity to find great stories that deserve to be out there in the hands of readers. I love that my job involves being a part of that process. 

My least favorite thing is rejection. I really don't like having to tell people no, especially when I know that it's their sweat, blood and tears on the page. There are so many good projects out there, and it makes me sad that I can't take them all!

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Don't rush the process. Unless it is something time sensitive, agents will be there when the book is finished. Also, I can't stress enough the benefits of having peers review your work. 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Again, there are so many! I would probably have to pick C.S. Lewis because I am a huge fan of both his fiction and non-fiction. We could talk about everything from the magic of Narnia to the complex nature of the human condition. It would make for a very interesting lunch!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

7 Questions For: Author Michael P. Spradlin

Michael P. Spradlin is the author of more than a dozen books for children, some of which have actually been published. He grew up in a small town in Michigan not far from the Indiana border, which may explain his irrational fear of Hoosiers (Both the inhabitants of the state of Indiana and the movie starring Gene Hackman, but not the Ninja).

Surrounded by books in his formative years, he grew up loving to read, imagining himself the hero of numerous epic battles and indulging in his favorite pastime, which was smuggling fireworks across the Ohio border so that he could blow up his collection of Plastic Green Army Men and Matchbox Cars.

Michael is the author The Youngest Templar trilogy, The Spy Goddess series, and several picture books including the award winning Daniel Boone's Great Escape. He's also the author of such Ninja favorites as Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime and It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies!

When not writing, he enjoys reading, traveling, spending time with his family and worrying over the fact that he really should be writing instead of doing other stuff. He lives in Michigan with his wife Kelly, son Michael, daughter Rachel and two dogs Willow and Apollo.

Click here to read my review of Killer Species #1: Menace From the Deep.

And now Michael Spradlin faces the 7 Questions: 

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

My very favorite book is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It surprises people when I say that because most consider his best work to have been done in the thirties. Or as my friend Christopher Moore says “In school they make you read all his books where everyone dies” like The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. Then, when you read Cannery Row, and you’re completely surprised by how funny and delightful it is. I like writers who love humanity, despite all of its flaws, and that to me is Steinbeck in a nutshell. He had a genuinely optimistic view of people that I find many of his peers at the time did not share.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is my ‘book I would take to a deserted island.’ It’s such an epic story and it contains some of the best dialogue ever written.

And I also love The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Mainly because I wish I could write a novel with an ending as perfect as he does it in that book. 

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

Writing happens all the time. I don’t know if I could put an hour figure on it, but it’s a lot. My computer is always on except when I’m sleeping and sometimes I sit down in the middle of a chore or something and write a just a couple of sentences. Or a line of dialogue that pops into my head. But the answer is mostly a lot.

Reading time varies and is really driven by my writing schedule. When I don’t have a deadline, I get to do more pleasure reading. When I’m writing or getting ready to work on a book, my reading is usually limited to something for research. But I still try to read for pleasure as much as I can. It’s a great stress reducer.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

It was a circuitous one. Growing up, I was surrounded by books. My mother was a voracious reader and, luckily for me, understood and appreciated the value of reading just for the sheer joy of it. I grew up in a small town so there wasn’t a lot to do, but luckily we had a great little library. After college, I worked as a bookseller and sales rep for a publishing company for a while and got a sense of what the marketplace was like. But I always wanted to write. One day I just said ‘It’s time.’ Started writing and submitting and got published. 

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

Both. I think some writers just have a gift. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to craft a sentence a well as Fitzgerald or McMurtry or Steinbeck or write dialogue that crackles the way Elmore Leonard did. But I also believe (and tell students during school visits) that writing is a craft like any other and you get better at it by practice. I try to make sure my writing improves with each book. Like anything, the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

I love being ‘in the zone’ when you have the characters voices nailed down and the plot is spinning. The words are coming so fast and furious you can barely type fast enough. It’s an adrenaline rush almost. That’s my favorite part.

My least favorite part is turning the book in. I’m always rereading my books after they’re published and nit-picking myself. “I wish I had written this instead of that.” Or “I wish the character had done this, instead of that.” There is that old quote that ‘no book is ever finished it is only abandoned.’ Finally giving it up to your editor is hard. 

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

1. Read. A lot. It helps you develop your voice.

2. Read outside your comfort zone. Try new authors and different styles and genres.

3. Write. I’m not a ‘you must write every day’ guy. No one has any kind of job that they never take a break from. When it gets hard and frustrating step away. Take a breather. But the important thing is to go back. Keep at it. Keep trying to improve.

4. When you think you’ve finished, go through what you’ve written and revise it. You’ll always find things you can make better. Eliminate excess adverbs and pronouns. Never use three words when one will do. Make your readers feel what your characters are feeling. Do the raindrops feel like pebbles or sand on their skin? Don’t tell them. Avoid lazy words. Like Robin Williams’ character in the movie The Dead Poet’s Society says, “a man is not very tired. He is exhausted.” One of the great things about the English language is the multitude of words we have to express feelings and describe things. Use them. 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Definitely Steinbeck. He lived during and chronicled such an extraordinary period in our country’s history. And I would love to ask him how his experiences and the way he lived and the things he saw influenced his work. Plus I read in his biography that in his last years he used to turn down the volume on the TV show The Wild, Wild West and make up the dialogue. It would have been the perfect after dinner activity.