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.

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.

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.