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.

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.