Here I Go Again

My literary agent once said I was my own worst enemy – I had too many interests, wrote on too many topics and in too many genres to build a loyal readership.

It’s hard to argue with that. My first book was a young adult novel followed by three humor books. Then I wrote a marketing book and an investing book. Next up were several novels ranging from satire to chick-lit to paranormal. My newest book, co-authored with Jillian Vorce, grew out of a class I teach at BC and focuses on encouraging personal reflection and increasing self-knowledge.

So what literary path have I chosen to pursue next? Obviously something I’ve never done before: a thriller.

It’s been said that most artists – painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, actors, etc. – possess some sort of character flaw bordering on mental illness. That’s probably an overstatement (I hope) but I do believe there’s truth in the fact (not of the “alternative fact” variety) that we tend to see the world from a slightly different (askew?) perspective.

In my case, I think the “disorder” stems from the fact that I’ve never written simply to make money. I write the kind of stuff I enjoy reading. If that means I’ll never reach the stature or earnings of a John Grisham, I’m okay with it.

As I’m writing this, however, I’m reminded that I once did purposely write to make money. And I succeeded. It was back in the early 1980’s and I was spending a week on the Cape. My YA novel had been published and I was selling articles and essays to a bunch of magazines and newspapers – but not making very much money. So I sat back and asked myself a simple question: “What sells?” The answer was equally simple: “Sex!” So, within a week I had written captions for a cartoon book called How To Tell If It Was Good. The book was published by Ivory Tower Press and sold over 200,000 copies.

The moral of the story? Perhaps, unlike white mice, I don’t learn. Perhaps I can’t truly synthesize life lessons – even those that slap me upside the head. Who knows? Maybe the urge to write something strictly for money will strike again. Until then, await my foray into the thriller market – and wish me luck in battling my obvious disorder.

Interview with “Eccentric Bookaholic”

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 9.40.48 AMWhat first inspired you to write or who inspired you?

I can’t point to any specific event or moment in time. I’ve been an avid reader since early childhood. I remember being sick in bed with the flu when I was in grammar school. My father brought me a stack of books – mostly fiction and biographies – from the library and he couldn’t believe how fast I read them all and asked for another batch. I loved the way reading helped me escape the discomfort of being sick, and somewhere deep in my psyche the seed was probably planted that I would like to offer that same kind of respite and joy to future readers.

At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?

For as long as I can remember. Like many kids I starting writing goofy stories for my own enjoyment and to share with friends. I sold my first article when I was 16. I’ve since sold three novels, two nonfiction books, three books of humor, and dozens of magazine articles (and self-published several other books). I’ve often said my tragic flaw is having too many interests – which is why I’ve written in such a wide variety of genres. Nonetheless, I do think it is curiosity that has driven my writing life.

Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?

I trend to take notes everywhere. Ideas for plots, characters, and dialogue pop up while I’m showering, driving, falling asleep, walking the dogs, etc. When I’m reading or watching movies/TV, I’ll sometimes think about different ways a scene could have been handled. Depending on where I am, I often record my ideas as a voice memo on my iPhone or send myself an email reminder. Because I’m always taking notes I have way more storylines, situations, characters, and plot twists than I could ever use. I can’t point to how or why, but I do believe that inspiration derives from being open to new ideas and keeping my eyes and ears wide open.

Do you have a day job? What do you do?

I guess I’m in that stage of life called semi-retirement – meaning that I no longer have a 9-5 job. I do, however, mix and match four different jobs. Writing is certainly my focus and I write every single day. I’m also an adjunct professor at Boston College and I still do the occasional consulting project. And fourth, I’m a part-time chauffeur for a local car service company where I get to meet a wide variety of people and get inspiration for characters and storylines.

How often do you write?

I’m very disciplined about writing, so I write every single day. When I wrote Going Both Ways I had an objective of at least 500 words a day, 7 days a week. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll wait a long time.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing two novels. I’m finishing a black comedy about the current state of American politics. While I’m certain I could place it with a publisher, I think time is of the essence so I’m going to self-publish it around May 1. As my longer term project, I’m writing a “road-tripper” novel that explores love, loss, and the full range of interpersonal relationships.

The Benefits of Keeping Your Mouth Shut

woman gaggedOne could make a strong argument that the three scariest words to state aloud (particularly in the political realm) are these: I don’t know. That phrase is an explicit admission that we’re less than perfect. Our fear of saying I don’t know is amplified by the worries that we should know it and that everyone else knows it.

There are two alternative approaches to saying I don’t know. The first is to remain silent. You might look away and hide your head, try to change the subject, or excuse yourself to go to the bathroom or refill your coffee. The second, and far more damaging in the long run, is to act like you know. Think about times when you’re asked a question and you’re confident about the answer. Your response will be concise, definitive, and coherent. If you’re anything like the rest of us, there have probably been occasions when you haven’t known the answer to a question but felt compelled to respond nonetheless. In those situations your response was probably lengthy, convoluted, and effectively meaningless. We use far more words to cover up a lack of knowledge than when we actually know what we’re talking about. And because we have no idea what the hell we’re talking about, we’re far more likely to commit a verbal faux pas that could haunt us in the future.

The recent campaigning in the New York GOP primary provides proof positive. The majority of politicians are Christians, but man do they ever love the Jews come election season. They chow down on bagels and gefilte fish, and wax poetic about core Jewish values like education, family, and hard work. But that’s where they stop, and that’s where John Kasich flubbed it. On a Brooklyn sidewalk, Kasich decided it was time to preach to the choir. These were his words regarding Passover: “It’s a wonderful, wonderful holiday for our friends in the Jewish community.” He could have stopped there and demonstrated a modicum of knowledge re the Jewish calendar and the fact that Passover was indeed approaching. But no, he felt compelled to go further and describe “The great link between the blood that was put above the lamp posts…The blood of the lamb, because Jesus Christ is known as the lamb of God. It’s his blood.” That statement is wrong on so many levels, but the key point is that Kasich would have been far better off keeping his mouth shut rather than spouting off gibberish that wasn’t just nonsensical but was actually offensive.

While Kasich was lecturing on Judaism, Donald Trump was nearby declaring, “I love the Jews. I love’em.” Trump probably couldn’t even spell “Passover” or what it means to the Jewish people, but who cares? He loves the Jews. Notwithstanding the cloying pandering inherent in “I love the Jews,” there is nothing controversial or offensive in the statement. That’s partly why Trump wins. He says so little that it’s difficult to assess anything he truly stands for.

The moral of the story? Do not “fake it ‘til you make it.” Either shut up or admit your ignorance. Acknowledging that you are not an all-knowing automaton is a sign of self-confidence. It will demonstrate your integrity, engender respect and, most significantly, encourage others to embrace the same openness. The culture of an organization, community, or family can be positively impacted when people feel comfortable about sharing their shortcomings. Over time you’ll experience a greater sense of teamwork, increased risk-taking, and more innovative thinking when the fear of looking dumb is removed. It’s a win-win by any standard of measure.

Why My Male Characters Tend To Be Misogynist Pigs

stupid-man-punchGoing Both Ways, like my previous novel Still Counting, features a lead character who personifies every boorish male trait I want to protect my daughter from ever encountering. Patrick Morelli is a 27-year-old underachiever who still lives and acts like an adolescent frat boy. He stares at the slightest hint of cleavage and immediately undresses every woman with his eyes regardless of age, shape, race, or political affiliation. Actually none of those traits matter to him. All he’s concerned about is that she possess a complete set of female parts. You could say he’s a simple man with simple needs, but that’s letting him off far too easily. He’s never had a “girl friend” – i.e., a friend who happened to be female. His only interaction with women, other than his mother and sister, has been in their role as current or potential dating partners. As many women as he’s been with, Patrick doesn’t have a clue about what makes women tick. In fact, he’s pretty clueless about most aspects of life.

In Patrick’s defense, he does grow and mature over the course of the story. His every-other-day incarnation as a female (Trish) forces him to see the world from a decidedly different perspective. But in truth, he probably wouldn’t have fully evolved without the guidance and pointed chastisements of his sister Sarah. At the beginning of his alternating male/female embodiment, Patrick seems content to turn Trish into a similarly sex-obsessed “frat girl.” But then Trish has several encounters with Patrick-like boors and the proverbial light bulb goes off in Patrick’s head. He becomes a fully evolved male that both men and women would enjoy hanging around with.

So now, in my own defense, I am not condoning misogynist behavior. Instead I try to use it as a springboard to examine the male-female dichotomy. I use exaggerated boorishness because most of us males are not particularly good with subtlety. Male chauvinism is such a prevalent characteristic that we don’t notice or acknowledge it unless it beats us over the head with a two-by-four. It’s almost like we have to experience the Platonic ideal of misogyny to realize we want nothing to do with it.

But that’s not really the whole story. Patrick becomes a better person because of the women in his life – Trish, Sarah, and Gigi. I’m not certain that he would have matured so quickly (or at all) on his own – and that gets to the core of why my male characters tend to be sexist pigs. In my heart of hearts, I guess I believe women are superior to men in most of the ways that really matter. I see that in my wife, daughter, and nieces – and it’s my hope that more men will appreciate all the ways women make our lives and the world better.

The Scourge of GPS and Outlining Fiction

typewriter & gpsI recently had an epiphany – actually two epiphanies that complement and affirm each other. In addition to writing, teaching, and consulting, I’m a part-time chauffeur for a local car service company. That’s when the first epiphany occurred.

I was driving a client from Logan Airport to a downtown Boston hotel. I knew exactly where the hotel was and how to get there. Nonetheless, we are required to have GPS running on all jobs. I was literally two blocks away from the hotel when the GPS suggested I take a right turn. It was a confusing intersection with three possible right turns. I took the middle one and was forced to get onto the Mass Turnpike heading out of town. I was able to remedy my mistake but only after wasting about ten minutes of my client’s time and my own. I can state unequivocally that I would not have made a wrong turn if I’d been navigating solely on my own. No way.

Epiphany Number Two occurred yesterday. I’m working on a new novel with a much larger array of characters than I normally handle. One of those characters suddenly took over a scene – in a way I had never envisioned but in a way that was totally in sync with his values and personality. That scene prompted a significant swerve in the storyline and is now leading me down a path full of additional creative opportunities. I love when that happens because it tells me the story is working. The characters are taking charge instead of me. So what was the core of the second epiphany? I don’t think the character revelation would have happened if I had been following a detailed outline (ordering me to turn right when I knew I should go left).

There are two types of novelists – outliners and “seat-of-the-pantsers.” I am decidedly a member of the latter camp. It’s not that I have anything against outlines. I can see how they might serve a purpose, but from my perspective they are a time-waster. When I get an idea for a book I want to dive right in, get to know the characters, and let the plot develop over time. My new novel, Going Both Ways, was close to half-written when the lead character made a mistake which turned into a decision which turned the whole book in a new direction.

I guess the bottom line to me as a writer – and a driver – is that I’m okay getting lost occasionally. But I want to get lost and rediscover where I am on my terms – not due to some lame GPS app or exhaustive outline. But that’s just me.

 

Fun Interview with “Pimp that Character”

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.03.09 AMWe’re thrilled to be talking to Patrick/Trish Morelli from Phil Fragasso’s, Going Both Ways. It is a pleasure to have him/her with us today at Pimp That Character!

Thank you for your interview, Patrick and Trish. How old are you and what do you do for a living?

PATRICK: I’m 27. I’m a writer by day and a waiter by night.

TRISH: I’m also 27 like my male chauvinist pig alter ego. I feel compelled to point out that Patrick is a wannabe writer who’s never published a thing in his life and mostly whines about writer’s block.

Can you tell us about one of your most distinguishable features?

PATRICK: Sad to say, but I’m a pretty nondescript dude – mousey brown hair, scruffy beard, bushy eyebrows, and twice-broken nose. On the bright side, blending into the woodwork could come in handy if I ever become a serial killer.

TRISH: The first time Patrick turned into me, he was quite taken with what he referred to as my “rather bodacious ass…a booty that could go cheek-to-cheek with the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.” That’s probably the only truthful thing he’s ever said.

What would I love the most about you?

PATRICK: I can be quite charming – quick with a compliment or quip. I’m definitely fun to be around – especially if you’re hot-to-trot or picking up the check.

TRISH: I’m not Patrick.

What would I hate the most about you?

PATRICK: I hate to admit it but I can be a sexist frat-boy who often reduces women to their physical attributes.

TRISH: You’d probably hate that, even when I’m in Trish’s body, Patrick’s Neanderthal psyche is still messing with my mind.

Where do you go when you are angry?

PATRICK: Drown my anger with Jack Daniels and Doritos.

TRISH: Soak in a hot bath and sip a Chardonnay.

What is in your refrigerator right now?

PATRICK: Two Sam Adams Lights, a six-pack of Smuttynose Brown Dog Ale, half-gallon soured of milk, leftovers from the restaurant, eggs, a half-eaten apple, deli ham, ketchup, mustard, and a jar of dill pickles.

TRISH: All of Patrick’s crap plus fresh arugula, blueberries, tomatoes, baby carrots, roast turkey, brie, cottage cheese, yogurt, butter and diet Coke.

Do you think the author portrayed you accurately?

PATRICK: I’m not nearly as boorish as this two-bit writer portrays me. I mean, sure, I like to size up every woman I see and make comments about her face and figure. And I might occasionally suggest some of the things I’d like to do to with her; but it’s all a compliment, it’s not being rude.

TRISH: Very accurately. I’m far more mature, evolved, respectful, and likeable than Patrick. He’s like my evil twin brother.

If you could change one physical thing about yourself, what would that be?

PATRICK: I’d like to be a few inches taller. I’m 5’11” but think my life would be totally different if I were 6’2”. How could it not?

TRISH: Would it sound bad if I said I’d like to have larger breasts? It seems so stereotypical, but I do have this outstanding butt and I think a little more on top would balance me out. Sorry 🙁

Who is your best friend?

PATRICK: My sister Sarah. She’s younger, smarter and way more successful than me – but she loves me unequivocally and I love her as well.

TRISH: Sarah. I’ve only been around for a few weeks, but I’m sure Sarah likes me way better than Patrick.

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

PATRICK: I would go into Boston’s North End, the Italian area, and eat my way up and down Hanover and Salem Streets. Lots of pizza, seafood, pasta, pastries, wine, and espresso. And maybe try to get lucky with some of the Euro-trash honeys or college co-eds who hang out there.

TRISH: I would spend a girls-only day with my sister, Sarah. We’d shop on Newbury Street, visit the MFA and Gardner Museum, eat down by the waterfront, talk about life, and wonder how it was possible we were related to Patrick.

The Story Behind the Book – “Going Both Ways”

Most ofGoing Both Ways my writing has been centered on interpersonal relationships and the male-female dichotomy. Despite being a heterosexual male, my writing often portrays the male characters as boorish while the women tend to be more likeable and far wiser. It’s been said a million times that men don’t really understand women and vice versa. And it almost has to be that way because we’ve never taken the proverbial walk in the other gender’s shoes. But what if we did? How would that change our perspective?

That was the inspiration behind Going Both Ways. This idea of a body/age/gender switch is a fairly common conceit (think Big and 13 Going on 30) – so I added the unique twist of having the Patrick/Trish character alternate gender every other day. I thought having the same mind in alternating bodies would create optimal opportunity for growth, insight and humor.

I wrote the first third of the book very quickly, but I had no idea where the story was going or how it would be resolved. That’s not unusual for me. I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to have a general idea about the primary characters and storyline – and then start writing. Some writers get freaked out by that approach, but I find it energizing. To me it means the characters have ultimate freedom to take over the story and lead it wherever it needs to go. That’s exactly what happened with Going Both Ways. Patrick/Trish got into a situation that forced them – and the book – to move in a new direction, a direction I’d never envisioned but one that gave it more power, breadth, and resonance (if I say so myself). Once that plot resolution was revealed to me, the writing again came fast and easy.

I write because I love to. I publish because I want my stories to be read. But while I love the writing, the selling and marketing process has always given me fits. I have a literary agent who sold my nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Going Both Ways. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown. I loved the book and had decided to self-publish – but first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

Interview with PUYB Virtual Book Club

GoingBothWays_w10441_300Before you started writing your book, what kind of research did you do to prepare yourself?

As a novelist, most of my research comes about during the course of my daily activities. I like to write about relationships – pulling them apart and (sometimes) putting them back together – so the most effective research comes from watching and listening. I’ve always had a lot of female friends, and in my heart of hearts I do believe women are superior to men in the vast majority of ways. I think that’s why my two most recent novels feature guys who tend towards frat-boy boorishness while the women are far more evolved and mature.

Did you pursue publishers or did you opt to self-pub?

I have a literary agent who sold two of my recent nonfiction books, but he handles very little fiction and declined to represent Going Both Ways. I tried to find another agent who specialized in fiction but couldn’t find any takers. Many of them said how much they liked the writing, but they declined primarily because I was an unknown in fiction. I loved the book and decided to self-publish – but I first tried some small independent publishers. That’s when Wild Rose Press and I discovered each other – and I couldn’t be happier.

If published by a publisher, what was your deciding factor in going with them?

The Wild Rose Press has an excellent reputation among authors. They have a strong corporate culture focused on frequent communications. Their editing and publishing process is very efficient and involves the author at every step of the way. I was impressed with the way they considered my query, requested the complete manuscript, and kept me informed as it moved from editor to outside readers and then up to senior editor for contract.

If published by a publisher, are you happy with the price they chose?

I think the eBook price of $4.99 is excellent. The paperback is a little pricey at $15.99 – but I fully understand that small publishers struggle with printed books and often do it more as a courtesy for the authors than for their own bottom line.

How did you choose your cover?

My publisher has a team of independent designers who design the book covers. Once the book was in the pre-production process, I was given access to samples from all the designers. One designer, Debbie Taylor, jumped out at me as having the kind of style I was looking for. I was able to provide specific input following the first round of design and the final result was dead-on.

Did you write your book, then revise or revise as you went?

I edit as I go and then do two in-depth copy edits before I consider a manuscript “final.” I’m not very good at outlining. I tend to have a general idea about the primary characters and storyline – and then start writing. I very rarely know how the story will resolve itself, and that was indeed the case with Going Both Ways. I loved the idea of a gender-switch that alternated every other day. I wrote almost half the book without knowing how the story would end. Some writers get freaked out by that, but I find it energizing. To me, it means the characters have taken over the story and they will lead it wherever it needs to go. And that’s exactly what happened. The lead character got into a situation that forced the book to move in a new direction – a direction that gave it more power, breadth, and resonance (if I say so myself).

Did you consider making or hiring someone to make a book trailer for your book? If so, what’s the link?

Making video trailers is my favorite part of book marketing. I use Final Cut on my Mac and I edit like crazy to make sure the pace, images, and music all work well together. I became even more disciplined with cutting extraneous material because Twitter only allows 30-second videos. Take a look here and let me know what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3UXGkBVPV0

What’s your opinion on giving your book away to sell other copies of your book?

I think it’s a tactic that’s better suited to self-published books. Publishers make a big investment when they sign an author and hope to receive a return on their commitment of time, resources and money. Having said that, I do believe in raffle-style giveaways of the sort that Goodreads offers and have participated in several for my books. The exception to all this, of course, is books that are part of a series. If the reader likes the free book, they’ll likely buy additional titles in the series.

What are three of the most important things you believe an author should do after their book is released?

First, stay with it. Bringing a book to life is akin to having a baby – and similarly is sometimes accompanied by post-partum depression. On publication day and the weeks immediately after, sales and promotional opportunities are all you can think about. For any author who’s not a household name, initial sales tend to be low – probably lower than expected – and it’s easy to become disheartened. In addition, marketing takes a ton of time – 25% to 50% of your day – and is virtually impossible to measure; so it’s another catalyst for disappointment. You simply have to believe in your work, believe it will find an audience, and stay with it.

Second, write something else. The best way to boost sales and visibility of Book ABC is to publish Book XYZ. In addition to helping sales of the first book, writing another keeps your head in the game. Keeps reminding you that writing is what you do and what you’ll always do.

Third, sit back and enjoy the moment. Writing a book is a big accomplishment. Everyone thinks they have a book in them, but very few make the commitment to go through with it. I’m a believer in celebrating the big and little things in life. Too many people focus solely on the past or the future and miss the opportunity to savor the present.

What kind of pre-promotion did you do before the book came out?

I added the book to my website, Facebook author page, and Twitter account masthead as soon as the cover was finalized. I created a short “teaser” video trailer that I promoted on all three of those platforms. I signed up for this tour with “Pump Up Your Book,” added the book to Readers Alley to encourage reviews, and created a Goodreads giveaway that ended one week after the publication date.

Do you have a long-term plan with your book?

In my mind, this book is destined to be a movie. It has all the characteristics of a big-screen hit – humor, sex, and suspense. So my plan is to keep promoting it as a book, trying to boost sales and visibility, and either write a screenplay myself or pitch it as a film adaptation.

What would you like to say to your readers and fans about your book?

Writers write in order to be read – not to garner fame or riches – but simply to be read. Going Both Ways was a true labor of love for me and I want it to be read by as wide an audience as possible. I believe it’s a book that will make readers laugh out loud while also delivering eye-opening insights. I always encourage fans to spread the word and to contact me via any of the social media platforms to share their thoughts and ask questions.

Monkeys, Shakespeare, Writing, and Me

monkey & shakespeareThere’s an adage that says, “If you put 100 monkeys with typewriters in a room long enough, eventually they’ll write Hamlet.” It requires just a nanosecond of reflection to realize that the monkeys wouldn’t actually be writing. They’d merely be typing. But the idea is they’d be typing fast and furious and eventually create something worth reading.

This is the biggest year I’ve ever experienced as a writer and there are indeed times when I feel like the aforementioned monkeys. I have four books being published in 2016 – one each in January, March, April and May. When I mention the four books in conversation, people often regard me with incredulous shock. How is such a thing possible? Do you write non-stop? Did you write all four books simultaneously? Were you actually just monkey-typing?

Writing is a strange business. Nothing happens for years and then through a confluence of events a bunch of things happen all at once. The January novel was originally a novella completed in June 2013. I tried to find a literary agent to represent it but, despite much positive feedback, was unsuccessful. After hearing from yet another agent about how much she loved the story and characters but felt the book was “too small,” I asked what that meant. Her response was that it is impossible to sell a novella unless the author is a John Grisham or Stephen King. That was valuable information, though not something I could immediately act on. Why? Because in the three months I spent shopping the novella, I had been working on the March novel and didn’t want to interrupt the flow. I completed the March book in February 2014 and began shopping it to agents. I also began rewriting the novella into the full-length January novel, a process I completed in the summer of that year. So by the summer of 2014, I had two completed – but unsold and unpublished – novels (January and March). I began shopping both in earnest to literary agents.

Let’s now rewind back to 2011 when I began writing the nonfiction April book, which is based in part on one of the classes I teach at Boston College. This was a true labor of love – albeit slow-moving and intellectually draining. In 2014 I asked a friend, who often guest-lectured in my classes, to join me as co-author. She agreed and together we re-outlined the book, discussed the concepts, wrote chapters, changed direction, and seemed to start over every few months. But in October 2015 we completed it. We’ve spent the months since then editing and re-editing, building the launch plan, designing a website, and creating marketing materials.

In July 2015, the January novel was accepted by a publisher. In October the same publisher accepted the March novel. So by October 2015 I was an author in search of a new writing project. I’m never at a loss for ideas, but I often start and abandon stories because I can’t find the “voice.” During this period I started four novels in four different genres: chick-lit, thriller, mainstream, and literary. Then the idea for the May novel burst upon the scene and I dove in headfirst.

That is how I came to have four books published in the first five months of the year. I wish I could have planned better and spread out the release dates. The marketing of books is just as demanding as the writing – though not nearly as much fun. But I am not complaining. Like all my fellow writers, I write to be read and I can’t be read unless the material is published. I doubt I’ll ever experience a similar deluge of book releases, but I also know enough to never say never. Somewhere there’s a monkey typing away trying desperately to write my next book before I do, and I can’t let that happen.