"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

J. T.Dutton is the author of the novels Freaked and Stranded, both published through HarperTeen. I met Dutton a few years ago when she came as a visiting writer to my MFA alma-mater, the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Dutton’s books are quirky and funny and daring—I highly recommend them. I was excited to get a chance to pick her brain about the process of publishing them through such a major publishing house.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing and revising your first book, Freaked? You began working on it as an MFA student, right?

Yes, I submitted Freaked to my MFA workshop as a short story, then expanded it to a novella, then expanded it again to a draft of a novel for my thesis project. After I left Alaska, I dropped it into a drawer. Certain scenes continued to grow and become more mentally realized in my imagination and when I had time, I worked on them. Five years later, I finally stuffed the whole project into an envelope.

For those of us who have an unpublished novel languishing on our hard drives, landing an agent seems like the impossible dream sometimes. How did you hook up with your agent? How long did it take you to sign with your agent after you had begun shopping the book around?

I sent simultaneous blind queries to agents in A Writer’s Guide. (I did not think of Freaked as a Young Adult novel so I chose agents based on their interest in literary fiction.) Jodie Rhodes was maybe number 32 on the list. She asked to see the full manuscript, signed me a few days later, and sold the book in a matter of hours. I was still getting rejections from other agents even as news of the sale was going public in Publishers Weekly.

The seesaw effect of loving my manuscript one day and hating it the next is what kept me from submitting it sooner. Fear of rejection is what often stops me from taking important leaps of faith.

I’ve read that most agents don’t find many clients through the slush pile, preferring instead to meet clients through referrals. Do you have any advice for writers trying to brave the query letter process? What do you think makes a query letter stand out?

I was invited to teach at the Midwest Writers Workshop last summer alongside four agents who presented a panel on the best methods for pitching work. At the end of the conference, all of the agents had requested several full manuscripts and one stated that she’d had some of the best face to face meetings with authors ever. I walked away impressed by how much a one-on-one meeting with an agent can made a difference for aspiring writers. The road to publication requires a lot of collaboration between agent and writer, editor and writer, agent and editor and it makes sense that agents want a sense of who somebody is before they consider signing them.

The typical agent receives nearly 200 blind manuscript queries a week. In lieu of a face to face meeting, a blind query should probably deliver as much of the writer’s personality as possible. Some agents want writers who are market sensitive, others prefer an author who tells a good joke, others are more brass tacks and down to business. Finding the “one” should probably take a while in order for the match to be a success, and query letters should probably not be formula-written, but instead, come from some deep individual and original place.

I have yet to meet Jodie Rhodes face to face though we have exchanged hundreds of e-mails. She recently published a memoir entitled Confessions which describes why she has dedicated herself to the promotion of new authors. If every agent had a manual, figuring out a “personality match” would be a lot easier. Certainly “getting to know” Jodie has deepened my respect for her as a human being and for the work she does.

Tell us about the process of signing the contract with HarperTeen. They loved Freaked so much, they signed you to a two-book deal, right? How much freedom did you have on your second book, Stranded?

Publishers of YA novels frequently sign new authors for more than one book because the bigger contract allows them to plan releases so that the momentum and marketing of the first sells the second. It’s a good deal for writers because having an advance provides a little financial security while they are working. Having the second contract looming over me though managed to stress me out astronomically. I couldn’t dawdle or wait to feel inspired to write. I also had to show my editor a lot of garbage that I hadn’t yet recognized was garbage. I worried every day that she was going to boot me to the curb. I definitely felt like I was “faking it” a good percentage of the time.

Despite time constraints, I received quite a bit of creative freedom to take my second book in the directions I wanted. One of the things I like best about Freaked and Stranded now that they are out in the world is that they don’t fit into a clear YA mold and that they truly represent my take on the genre.

How hands-on has your agent been with your books? And your editor(s)?

I think we put equal parts love into each project.  Author love is different than agent and editor love. I did the writing, Jodie did the selling, and my editor did a truckload of patient reading and recommending.  One of the things I have learned since being published is writing professionally is very collaborative—a lot of thought goes into the finished product. 

Now that both books are out, what’s the next step? Will you continue publishing through HarperTeen?

I have no new projects with HarperTeen in the works though I would lay down my life to publish another book with them. I learned a mountain of useful information under my editor’s tutelage. I can’t even begin to express how much I grew as a writer. Whether my next book will be something she wants is really more her decision than mine. I get the sense that she would potentially read anything new I finished, but her business is an art too and she has to make very judicious decisions about what is the best use of her time.

What’s your relationship with your agent like now that you’ve published both books in your two-book deal? What role does your agent play as you take the next steps in your career?

I keep Jodie apprised of my projects and I get the sense she hopes to see work from me soon. Hopefully, I will oblige. I am in “creative mode” at the moment, where really it’s a time just to shut the door and write.

What are you working on now? Is a third book already in the works?

I have written two half-novels and a quarter of a third since I finished Stranded which have potential but not the full-on magic that I think is going to make them interesting to a perspective publisher yet. I’m not about to give up on them, though. If I’ve learned anything these last few years, it’s that big ideas pull together in mysterious ways. I just have to keep the words flowing, sit down every day and work, and more than likely, something interesting will come from it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kathryn Nuernberger is the author of the poetry collection Rag & Bone, which was awarded the Elixir Press Antivenom Prize. Her poetry, which is raw and real and exceptionally well crafted, has appeared in numerous literary journals. She teaches full-time now at Central Missouri University and is the Poetry Editor for Pleiades, but when I met Nuernberger, she was finishing up her PhD in Poetry at Ohio University, where she worked as the Assistant Editor of New Ohio Review and, later, the Editor of Quarter After Eight. In spite of her busy schedule as a professor, editor, and mother of an adorable one-and-a-half year old, Nuernberger found the time to answer some questions about her experience winning a book publication contest.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing and revising Rag & Bone? You hold an MFA and a PhD, right? Were any of the poems in this book included in your thesis or dissertation?

I never had the idea that I was writing a book – that task is so monumental I don’t think I could have written a line if that had been the goal. Instead I spent years writing poems, occasionally pausing to spread all of the ones I liked out on the floor and see if they could be grouped in an elegant and meaningful way. Then I’d submit the result to publishers and go back to writing new poems. I repeated this process every six months or so, taking out weaker poems and putting in newer, better ones. I can remember at least six different titles and arrangements, but there were probably more. There are a few poems from the time when I was working on my MFA that made it into Rag & Bone, and many more from my PhD time.

How did you know when the manuscript was ready to begin sending out?

I definitely began sending out the manuscript before it was ready. But I’m not sure how to avoid that. If I found myself thinking older work was as good as it possibly could be, that would be a sign I’d stopped growing as a writer. Alternatively, if I never had those moments of confidence that I had just written something really great, I’d have to give up writing altogether. This is why I love and am grateful for editors – without them I’d be alone in my attic accepting and rejecting myself willy nilly.

How much research was involved in selecting which contests to enter with this book? There are so many poetry manuscript contests out there—how did you learn about the Antivenom Prize?

I used The Writer’s Chronicle and Poets and Writers to keep track of the upcoming contests. If there were presses I wasn’t already familiar with, I’d check out their catalogue to see if they published the kind of books I want to read.  

What made you decide to enter the Antivenom contest in particular? How did you know your book would be a good fit for Elixir Press?

Elixir seemed like a good fit, because many of the poets they published share my interests in quirky history, scientific factoids, and mythic memory.

Can you talk a little about the editorial process for your book? How closely did your editor work with you once the book had been selected as the winner?

Dana Curtis was a very patient and helpful editor. I’d just finished one of those big overhauls of the manuscript about a month before I found out I’d won the prize, so I sent her a manuscript that had a completely different title, a different ordering of poems, and in some cases, some pretty dramatic revisions of the poems themselves. She shared the revisions with Jane Satterfield, who judged the contest, and they accepted these changes. She also had the manuscript carefully copy edited, which was a great help, since there are a million ways to bungle a comma. And she worked with a designer who did four versions of the cover that I was invited to choose from. I’ve heard horror stories about presses that claim artistic control of the manuscript once it’s been accepted for publication, but I was always included in the decision-making process and my requests were always respected… all the way down to my preference for a serif-font.

What has the press done to get the book in the hands of readers? What have you done personally to market the book?

The press sent out many review copies of the book and also has submitted it to some prizes. I’ve scheduled readings in any city where I can find a couch to crash on.

I’ve long been interested in the difference between an MFA and a PhD—both are considered terminal degrees, though more and more programs these days are looking to hire people with PhD’s. As someone who has been through both types of programs, what do you see as the major differences? Would you encourage writers to get one degree over the other?

I thought of getting an MFA as the secular equivalent to spending two years in a monastery or asherim. I was checking out of the work force for a time to focus my attention on poetry because I thought I would be a happier and more fulfilled person at the end of that process. In the back of my mind there was also the thought that I might be able to work in academia someday, which can be a really supportive environment for writers.  

Because those two MFA years were the first time I had devoted myself so completely to the study and practice of writing, the learning curve was shockingly steep. I did not experience that same degree of explosive growth during the time I worked on my PhD. Instead, the four years I spent in a PhD program were a time of steady growth and more methodical revision. It was also a great time to work with accomplished writers and study alongside talented young writers. One great benefit of getting a PhD for me was that I was sheltered during that period from the financial insecurities of the job market – I didn’t have to worry about whether I would be able to find work as an adjunct from one semester to the next, nor did I have to return to my old job as a high school teacher, which can be very time-consuming and emotionally-draining.  

I would advise creative writers to choose programs that emphasize craft over literary theory -- but that balance varies from program to program and the MA/MFA/PhD distinctions aren’t necessarily the key factor. I would also advise writers to pursue these degrees because they find pleasure in the educational process itself. If the MFA or PhD is only a means to a tenure-track end, the risk of squandering 6-7 years of your life in pursuit of uninsured, low-wage adjunct work is very high.

I know you teach full-time now at the University of Central Missouri, where you also work as the Poetry Editor of Pleiades. Do you still find the time to write? What are you working on now?

Because I’m a mom to a young child, I find that this new job actually allows me more time to write. Greater financial security = more child care. I like to joke that I work 9-5 at the poetry factory. I write from 9-11 every morning, then spend the rest of the day on my teaching and editing responsibilities. For me that steady rhythm is good for the creative process. I just finished up a new manuscript earlier this week. It’s a series of poems based on fragments of an Old Kingdom Egyptian cosmology. But if my experience with my first book was any indicator, I’ll be rewriting the whole thing again in six months.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson is one of the most accomplished early-career writers I know. Her memoir, My Life as Laura: How I Searched for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Found Myself, was published by Press 53 last fall. Her work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Gettysburg Review and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Kelly, who’s been extremely busy lately doing interviews and readings to promote My Life as Laura, agreed to answer a few questions for us about the process of publishing her book through a small press. For more details, I recommend you read My Life as Laura—she talks about some of her experiences trying to publish the book at the end.

You talk about it a little bit in your book, but could you describe the process of getting this book published. You were originally being represented by an agent, right?

I was! I had what most writers would call a dream agent, who represented exactly my kind of book (narrative nonfiction), who worked for one of the most established agencies in New York. MFA dream come true!

Then a friend of mine told me about an author who had just signed a book deal with a major NYC publisher about a humorous, narrative nonfiction travelogue where the author planned to retrace the pioneer journey of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

That, by the way, was my book idea.

I tortured myself for a week about whether to tell the agent or not. Part of me wondered how she hadn’t heard about the deal, since my agent was supposed to be the one in the know—not me. In the end I decided to email, which was as much fun as telling your fiancĂ© you had herpes this entire time the night before the wedding. I spent all night tossing and turning and sweating until the phone rang at 9 a.m.

New York city area code.

Her first words were, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

What made you decide to go with a small press rather than seeking representation from another agent?

At the time I believed the agent, that after the NYC publisher had signed Wendy McClure (the “other” author), that no other major publisher would touch my book, because they couldn’t compete with the publicity budget. Probably she was right.

How did you decide which presses to submit to? Did you send out to several, or did you only submit to Press 53? What about Press 53 appealed to you for this project?

I submitted to presses I had heard of: Algonquin, Greywolf, Milkweed, and Press 53.  I owned a book from each of these presses, so I knew they looked professional and represented writers I admire.

I had a personal connection with Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53, in that he was from North Carolina where I lived for twenty years and he was a friend of a friend of mine. I had first heard of him a few years back when I was first starting to write and I was pleased to see he had been so successful.

What was the editorial process like for this book? Did you work closely with an editor to revise the manuscript?

I’d had many chapters workshopped over the years. I’m grateful for all the advice—from content suggestions to line edits.  One advantage of being in a PhD program, or rather mine in particular, is that I had my adviser Dinty W. Moore read my rough draft. He gave me great big picture feedback. I cut the introduction in half and trimmed 100 pages from the book.

My press editor was Robin Muira. She also worked with me closely, helping me fix the ending, working with copy edits, sharpening language choices, etc. She’s an experienced editor who knew how to shape my book into a professional manuscript.

Most of the bottom line choices, though, were my own. That’s the benefit and the nerve-wracking aspect of working with a small press. I was allowed final say on pretty much all decisions, large and small. But I spent hours, weeks and months pouring over sentences, making sure the book was the best it could be.

One of the main reasons (aside from having an in with the major New York publishers) authors talk about the value of having an agent is to have a professional negotiate a fair contract. This was definitely something that made me nervous when I signed my book contract—I didn’t know what was standard, so I didn’t know whether certain things were just part of the game. Did you feel like you could have used help when it came time to decipher and sign your book contract?

My contract was easy to understand, so not really. I suppose I decided that someone in the small press business probably isn’t in the money racket. I do think a NYC contract would have scared me. Kevin and I from the beginning had what would be called in the Old South “a gentlemen’s agreement” (although technically this would be a gentlemen/lady agreement). I hadn’t even finished the book when he promised to publish it based on a few chapters and an outline. But we hadn’t signed anything.

How is the book being promoted? Has the press been able to market the book at all? What steps have you taken to promote the book?

To avoid repeating myself, I will refer to two blog posts I’ve written on how to be your own book publicist. One I wrote a month after publication and another a bit later. 

I returned recently from a little Alabama tour, which reinforces my advice to use your personal contacts. I have family in Tuscaloosa and friends in Mobile (the Mobile friends build on a Montana MFA friend). The tour confirmed for me that it’s best to read in libraries or small colleges or whatever nice venue you can find. The bookstore has been a pretty big bust for me as a small press author. I had one bookstore employee shut the door in my face. You’d have thought I was hawking copies of The Watchtower. I’ll be honest. I cried.

At most, bookstores agree to carry a few copies. At my last library reading I had a woman come up and want a signed copy for each of her grandchildren—seven!  And with the bookstore cut out of the picture, I made more money. (Press 53 will sell me books at cost). That extra money, combined with places to stay with family and friends, helped me actually clear a little  money on the tour. Crazytalk! I’d still love to work with bookstores, but that hasn’t been the way so far.

For the next book, do you think you’ll go directly to a small press, or will you probably try to sign with an agent?

It will depend on the book I write and what sort of audience I seek. If I write a mainstream book, I would still try for the agent and sign with a big press. I want the publicity budget and the connections. I want distribution to Barnes & Noble, the chance to get on National Public Radio, the opportunity to be reviewed in major newspapers, nominated for major book awards, etc.  That being said, I’ve had a positive experience working with a small press, and it’s great to see small presses doing so well. Small presses are receiving more and more attention and winning more awards.  The difference between "small" and "large" presses shortens every year. So, let's see what I write next and what's happening then.

What are you working on now? I know you write fiction as well. Will your next book project be another memoir, or do you think you’ll go a different route?

So far I’ve been working on a book about Jack, as in Jack Squat and Jack Daniels. Finishing the book and promoting the book has drained me. But on my trip to Alabama I began feeling that spark again, writing notes and taking pictures. I might feel another travelogue/memoir coming on. That’s kind of a bummer because I was looking forward to writing fiction again. Perhaps a Young Adult mystery. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ken Brosky is the author of the books The King of Blades, The Unauthorized Biography of Michele Bachman (and other stories), and, most recently, Desolation: Stories, and his work has appeared in multiple literary journals of note. You can get the Kindle version of Michele Bachman on Amazon for 99 cents for the next two weeks, so head on over. I first learned about Brosky and his work through his blog, in which he details the process of self-publishing and promoting his Michele Bachman short story collection. Brosky agreed to let me interview him via email to learn more about his experience as a self-published author.

      The stories in your book have been published separately in literary journals, and “I Can’t Just Turn It Off” was a finalist in a Glimmer Train Contest. I have no doubt that you could have published the collection through a small press. What led you to the decision to self-publish?

I just didn’t want to go through the long, long wait for this project. First, you gotta find an agent. Then, you gotta find the publisher. Please wait 6-8 months before sending the manuscript out to another agent/publisher. Then once you find someone, you wait another year or two for it to come out. I just don’t have that kind of time! It’s bad enough the dog needs to go out twice a day … on top of that I’m sending out so many new short stories to magazines that I’m getting like, a rejection a day.
There was another more serious reason, too: I really, really wanted to publish a Kindle version for an affordable price. I think $2.99 is a good price for 100-or-so pages of short stories, no? I’m not a big fan of buying a 150-page short story collection in hardcover for $20. That’s just too much. It’s not a good business model, and I have no idea why New York publishers are so obsessed with keeping this going in an age where the newest generation of readers are used to getting everything—music, magazine articles, news—for free. And where is the cost coming from? Paper and whatever the heck hard covers are made out of.
So I put this out on my own, with the help of a lot of great people. And I think I’d like to keep it going. I think Brew City Press could help a couple published authors a year and we’d do the exact same thing: put together a collection of published stories or poems. We’d format for the Kindle, design a cover, set up the account, and then let the writer have it. Writing all this down, it sounds expensive. This would definitely be a vanity project.

      Several things about the book strike me as very innovative, the introductory notes about each story and the intermissions, for example. I can’t imagine coming across these elements in a short story collection published by a small press. Do you feel self-publishing gave you more freedom than you would have had if you had published through a small press?

Oh sure. You get to do whatever you want with your book. Neil Gaiman did a little set of introductory notes for one of his short story collections, so I guess there’s some history for it. I really liked it, though. I enjoyed hearing him talk about the stories and give a little behind-the-scenes for each one.
It’s not for everyone, though. Some people don’t like it, and they can skip it. That’s OK. But I’ve always enjoyed getting inside a writer’s head and hearing the story behind the story.  

      Have you come across any drawbacks of self-publishing?

      Well, for starters you’re not taken too seriously. That’s not surprising, though, given how much complete crap ends up being self-published. That isn’t to say it’s all crap, but there’s plenty of it. So I’m trying to earn some respect here. It’s a slow process. I still can’t convince my hometown newspaper—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—to review my book. It’s “tainted” because it’s self-published. But all the stories were previously published, I argue. Sometimes that works. I contacted Madison’s Cap Times on a whim and they were amazing to me. Interview and everything. Great write-up. A lot of fun. Really supportive of the local arts. When I realized the article was in the printed paper, too, I went to the local supermarket and grabbed like, 20 copies or something. I got a few strange looks from shoppers.
Reviews help, for sure.
      Of course, you need to find reviewers. No publicist here. So I’ve been going out and slogging through dozens and dozens of book blogs and Web sites with some success and some failure and then I blog about it for fun. The big reviewers are so inundated that they almost never take review copies anymore unless they come from the publisher. The Book Slut definitely won’t. I more or less begged without success.
The trick is to find reviewers who might actually like to read your kind of book. My book is a collection of short stories. A web site that reviews only Half-Naked-Scottish-Vampire-Man-Beast books probably isn’t a good fit. There’s a lot of those types of books, by the way. If you’re going to search for book reviewers, expect to end up on lots of sites featuring book covers with half-naked men. Depending on your sexual preference, I suppose this could be an enjoyable process.
      Then of course there are the web sites who charge a small fee for a review. It’s a business and sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Kirkus will review self-published books, but for a hefty price. Some other smaller review sites will do it for a much more affordable price, like the Self-Publishing Review.
      What really gets tricky are the sites that are clearly taking advantage of writers. Outskirts Press is a great example. For just $299 (holy crap!) they’ll submit your book to 10 reviewers. Wow! That’s an amazing deal, Outskirts Press! Thank you so much!
      Guess what? I contacted those very same reviewers and sent each one of them a copy of my book. It took two hours. The cost: $20 for printing and shipping.
      So it’s been a lot of work. I’d be lying if I said maintaining the blog and checking the book sales hasn’t been fun, though. I’m learning a lot and I hope others can learn from my mistakes, too.

      After my book was accepted for publication through a small press, I spent the next several months revising according to feedback from the press’s fiction editor. What was the process of preparing your book for publication like? How did you make up for not being able to work with an editor?

      I never would have done this if I hadn’t already received feedback. Since 10 of the 11 short stories are previously published, they were already looked at by editors. Feedback was accepted and implemented.
      Still, it needed a good look-through. So I gave a few copies away to former classmates in my MFA program to see what they could spot. They found a few things, mostly grammar and the such. It passed muster, though.
      But this is one of the downsides of self-publishing. Worst of all, a lot of writers don’t bother getting editing help or, worse, they find an editor and pay way, way too much. I run an editing business on the side and I’m amazed by the number of writers who come to me after having spent 2 or 3 thousand dollars(!) for editing help, only to be greatly disappointed by the service. They’re disappointed enough that they want to spend more money getting more editorial help.
Getting free editing help is one of the cool things about finding an actual publisher. Man, to have an editor who actually likes your work enough to stick with you? That’s the dream right there.
I wouldn’t know. The first book I sold was dropped before it was published by Harbor House Books, so clearly that publisher didn’t believe in me. I don’t even think I had an assigned editor. My blog rants against the Bush administration probably didn’t endear me to the good ol’ boys running the press, though. I remember their editor-in-chief once wrote a book about slaves fighting for the South during the Civil War. That’s how ridiculous he was. That should have been a red flag.
Live and learn, I guess … oh look: they’re out of business. Well, maybe there’s some justice in this world after all.

      You initially put the book out as an e-book, which sells on Amazon for only $2.99. A month later, you put the book out in hard copy form. Was your plan always to make the book available in both formats? How have the sales of the e-book compared to the hard copy?

      I only added a print version because my friend and classmate, Chris Smith, designed such an amazing cover for it. Like, seriously, it’s beautiful. It looks better than most of the stuff you see at Barnes and Noble. The moment I saw it, I said (to the dog, ironically) “This needs to be in a book store.” The dog looked at me curiously, but I think she understood too.
So now the book is in stores. It’s available in two bookstores in Madison and one bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And I’m happy to ship a few copies anywhere else, too. I’ll try and get it in a couple more stores. I might try and leave one in a Barnes and Noble and then try and buy it and then go: “Oh, it doesn’t scan? That’s weird. This guy’s getting pretty popular.” It might make for a good blog entry.
      Sure, the price is a little higher. But, again, that’s just the cost of printing.

      These days, publishers rarely spend very much money marketing their books, so from a marketing perspective, self-publishing isn’t much different from publishing with a press. What have you done to get the word out about your book? Have there been specific things that have worked especially well?

      Besides reviews? I’m up for anything. The blog has gotten pretty popular, which is cool. Maybe I could sell copies of the book at Madison’s farmer’s market. We have a pretty unpopular governor so maybe I could stop by the protests and sell some copies. Cold selling would take a lot of guts. I could barely work up the courage to walk into the local bookstore and ask them to sell my book.
      There are a couple little sites that let you post a blurb. It’s a neat idea that lets interested readers get a feel for the story. Other than that, you just gotta be creative. I’ve found what works best is desperation and a little self-flagellation. Brainstorm an idea, then procrastinate until you’re in a cold sweat. Then stand in front of the mirror and berate yourself until you finally put on your coat, go out and give it a shot.
      There’s always standing on a corner asking people to buy your book.
      I had one other idea that I might try: what if I just sat in a Barnes and Noble all day and tried to sell 50 books? It sounds doable, especially if I brought some kind of snack to lure people in. If it’s a failure, it’ll make for a great blog entry.
      Then again, you could always do nothing. I put my fantasy novel, The King of Blades, on Kindle, too. That was the novel that was going to be published by Harbor House before they changed their minds after two years of foot-dragging. That freaking book is outselling the short story collection by a mile. What the heck? I mean, I like the book and all, but it’s still a little depressing. I’m really, really working my butt off promoting this short story collection. I have an intense desire to see its Amazon ranking climb a bit.

      In the second intermission to the book, you list ten things you learned while writing the book. I couldn’t help but relate to number five: “Nobody wants to publish my atheism-tinged novel.” If I were to make a list of ten things I learned while writing the stories in my book, I would say the same exact thing. Any plans for the atheism-tinged novel? Are you shopping it around? Do you think you might self-publish it?

      I would kill to publish that book. It’s funny. It’s smart. It’s got the most colorful characters I’ve ever come up with. In the first ten pages, an English professor shouts at students legally crossing the street and I can’t stop laughing every time I read it. I’ve sent it out from time to time, but no dice. Isn’t there some kind of anti-press out there? Like, who’s publishing the antithesis of Eat, Pray Love? My whole book is about evolution and the fact that Creationism is idiotic. It’s gold, subjectively speaking. It could be complete crap too, I suppose.
      You get to a point, sometimes, where you just want the story out there, and I think that’s when self-publishing is at its best. Especially if you have a network of writer-friends who can help you with the process. I have another book written that I worked on for my MFA degree. It’s called The Occupation of Emerald City and it’s about three people living in a city that’s being occupied by a foreign country. The entire book is based on research of occupations, especially Iraq. It’s two years old now but I still think it’s pretty special. Couldn’t find a publisher for it, though, so now it just sits on my computer. Every month, I go back to it and I read through part of it and the temptation to just put it out there is just getting stronger and stronger. 

       What are you working on now? Is the next book in the works yet?

I’m writing the second draft of a book that I think is probably one of the best things I’ve written yet. I’m using first-person narration, just the natural voice that I’ve been so successful with in my published short stories. I’ve never tried that in novel form before, and I have no idea why. I’ve always written in third-person even though that’s not my strong suit. It’s like I had a choice between chocolate cake and carrots, and for some reason I kept picking the carrots.
The story’s about a psychologist treating schizophrenics and it’s based on true events. I actually met someone involved in the original project at a local Starbucks and I would pick his brain every time I bumped into him. Lots of research. Lots of good things happening there. Big Pharma’s not gonna like it, so I suspect they’ll probably kill me soon.
Sometimes, a story really sucks. I’ll go back to it after I’ve finished it and I’ll delude myself into thinking it’s OK so I’ll keep working on it and then I’ll send it out and get a bunch of rejections. Then I’ll look at it again, and I’ll fight the urge to vomit on my keyboard. “What are you thinking?” I’ll ask myself. “Seriously? A story about pirates who find unusual gems filled with the souls of other pirates? That doesn’t make a lick of sense!” Delete.
Sometimes, a story just tingles. I had that with “I Can’t Just Turn It Off,” which is in the book. That story … I sent out the first draft to Glimmer Train and it won a Finalist award. Everything came out almost perfect. Except the ending. The ending needed work. I was lucky enough to find an editor, Richard Peabody, who believed in the story and let me re-submit it three times before it was finally accepted. That’s unprecedented in the world of literary journals. It’s the coolest experience I’ve had so far with a publisher.
So yeah, what I’m trying to say is … this new book? This new book has a tingle.