Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Interviewed by a Pro: What Did I Learn?

Recently I had the opportunity to be interviewed about my Young Adult novel, Own the Scrawny, on “Connie Martinson Talks Books,” a small but influential author interview program airing on various local stations across (and beyond) California, and on PBS in New York. This is my second appearance on the program. (You can watch it here)

A selfie with Connie
According to her Wikipedia entry, Connie’s program has been on the air since 1979. She’s almost a required stop on most book tours; her program has featured fiction and non-fiction authors including Maya Angelou, Ray Bradbury, Al Gore, Rosa Parks, Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel, and Joyce Carol Oates. A then-unknown Barack Obama appeared on the show in 1995.

Connie also features relatively unknown authors, too—that’s where I come in. I happened to be working at a studio where she taped some of her shows a couple of years ago, and took the opportunity to ask her if she ever featured indie authors. I told her about my first book, My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, and she asked me to send her a review copy. Naturally, I had one on hand and gave it to her right away. A couple of weeks later, she told me she loved the book and invited me on her program. I was ecstatic.

Panel Discussion at the Santa Clarita Public Library
I’ve had the opportunity to make other media appearances since publishing my first book, but “Connie Martinson Talks Books” featured my most in-depth interviews, and a great opportunities to build my audience.

What have I learned from the experience? 

Connie’s interviews aren’t typical media appearances; she reads the book. She knows the book. She knows character names; she knows plot lines. In fact, she even stumped me on a question or two. Connie’s not the sort of person that simply invites authors on her program to fill time—she’s interested and enthusiastic. Though I was much more relaxed the second time around, both interviews left me with one important lesson: prepare. 

Having written the book isn’t always enough. My mind is already working on my next book; I’m not necessarily as familiar with one currently in release. Reviewing the book before an interview; perhaps even creating a cheat sheet with names, events and quotes would be helpful. It's worth considering some behind-the-scenes insights into how the book was conceived, and the sources of inspiration for characters, locations and themes.

Helping interviewers share their enthusiasm is my prime mission during any public or media appearance. Finding champions—people who "get" my books, as Connie does— is both key to building awareness of my work as an indie author, and building my skills as an author-entrepreneur. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Writing, Human Nature and the Art of Knowing Everything

One of the oddest reactions I’ve received as an indie author came from another author at an event to promote local writers. I’d struck up a conversation, sharing the launch of “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain.” When she asked me if I had children, she seemed puzzled by my answer. How was it possible, she wondered, that I could write a young adult book about a thirteen year-old hero if I didn’t have children of my own?

I admit, I was taken aback by her question. The suggestion that an author can only write about direct experience would seem to negate most fiction. Stephen King, as far was we know, isn’t a serial killer. Ray Bradbury never traveled to Mars. Charles Dickens began publishing chapters of Oliver Twist in 1837, the same year his first child was born.

How were these seemingly impossible feats accomplished?

Authors of fiction explore human nature. That’s what creating relatable characters is all about. If the novelist has done her job right, a horror novel can fill you with fear; a romantic novel with longing; and an adventure novel with suspense.

Characters that I create, regardless of age, are based first upon my personal experience as a human being struggling to get by in the world at large, and secondly on my observations and interaction with others. In the case of writing young adult fiction, I draw on resources that range from friendships I had as a boy, to teens I’ve known and/or mentored over the years.

Nearly 2,500 years ago, Socrates complained about “modern” children, in words that adults have repeated through the centuries:  
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” 
Undoubtedly, the children of his age looked upon the older generation with similar suspicion. 

Effective writing bonds us together through time and culture, and allow us to understand those who are different from ourselves. While the toys, clothes and technology may change, human nature never does.

Follow Rich on Twitter @Rickflix