1. Jon, what is your debut novel about? Somebody asked me that very question at a bar the other night and before I could answer one of my drinking buddies blurted out, "It's about mayhem." And I guess on some level that's certainly true. It's a dark and violent romp through a busted little New England mill town. Bobby DuBois, the central character, is the youngest male descendant of Franklin County's most notorious family of badasses. His old man gets locked up and his girlfriend gets knocked up, and so Bobby goes on the run with his uncle, who is determined to teach his nephew how to be a "right DuBois" with all the drinking and fighting and fornicating that that entails. So it's about the lessons Bobby learns, how he's coming to terms (or not) with his station in life. But at its core the book is about a troubled young man trying desperately to save his own soul.
2. What inspired you to write it? The main character has been haunting me for years. I've written a bunch of short stories about Bobby DuBois, although he hasn't always been named that. At some point I recognized that I needed to spend more time with the character and so the idea for the novel basically came from that. From a practical perspective, I was also moved to write a novel because I have been told over and over that there is no market out there for short story collections--especially those coming from new or undiscovered writers. I think that's complete bullshit because I personally buy three or four collections by new writers every year. But hearing that again and again, well, I'd be lying if I said that it didn't motivate me to try a longer piece.
3. You got a book deal in an unconventional way -- how did you do it? A young man named Frank Rossi is one of the bartenders at my favorite watering hole in San Francisco, Gino & Carlo's. Frank has been a fan of my short stories for several years. One night he mentioned to me that David Poindexter was known to stop in the bar from time to time. The name didn't ring a bell with me but I went home and Googled him and of course I did recognize the name of the publishing company he had founded, MacAdam Cage--a real gem of an independent publisher. I was excited about the prospect of working with David and possibly having my debut novel published by MacAdam Cage. So the next time I visited Gino & Carlo's, I left a few of my published short stories with Frank along with an introductory note and cash enough to buy the publisher a drink or two. David called me a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. We handled all of our business at the bar, even the contract signing. The moral of the story: you don't need a literary agent if you have a bartender worth his salt.
4. Two-thirds of the way into writing your book your laptop was stolen. How did you overcome that loss? It was a blessing in disguise. My first attempt at writing a novel was a mess and I needed to start from a clean slate, but of course at the time you couldn't have convinced me of that and I certainly would have stayed with it for too long. So my laptop getting stolen and the fact that I hadn't been sharp enough to back up the manuscript anywhere else, well, in retrospect it was probably a good thing. Years ago I worked in a kitchen for a guy named Jim Gongwer and every Saturday morning before we opened the cafe he'd have me fire up the hood and get the first batch of flapjacks cooking. And without fail the flapjacks in that first batch would be misshapen and cooked unevenly. "Throw them out," Jim would tell me. "Always throw the first ones out. Nobody wants them." It pained me a little to throw them out because I had created them after all ... and they weren't really that bad. But he was right, he knew he couldn't sell fucked-up looking flapjacks. A writer could do worse than to apply Jim's lesson to the first draft of his or her debut novel. Get that first batch out of the way and don't be afraid to discard it, and the second one will be stronger because of it.
5. What do you enjoy most about being a writer? I've always enjoyed reading and writing. The act of writing is cathartic for me and also helps me make sense of the world. The most enjoyable part of writing fiction? When I string the words together just right. And it's a thrill when a reader tells me that he or she has been moved by something I have written, I enjoy moving people in that way, it's rewarding. But let's be honest, what could be more fun than sitting around and making shit up all day?
6. How do you market and promote your writings? Specific to the novel, my publisher, MacAdam Cage, hired a publicist in New York City to bang the drum a bit and to send advance copies to all the reviewers and bloggers out there. In addition, David and my esteemed editor, Sonny Brewer, made the rounds and talked it up with booksellers to try to create some kind of buzz before we went to print. And since the book has hit the shelves I have used email, Facebook and Twitter to share any small victories with my followers--a positive review here, a good reading there, etc. I've done a bunch of readings at bookstores and bars in San Francisco, there are some book club engagements on the horizon, and I'm looking into setting up an East Coast tour for this summer. I also bought a half-page ad in the winter issue of Poets & Writers Magazine and I recently sent two copies of the book to my favorite local radio show in hopes that the hosts will discuss it on air (they sometimes talk about the books they're reading). It almost feels like guerrilla marketing at this point.
7. Why do you write and when did you know you would be a writer? I think I've always known. I remember being a kid, maybe nine years old, wandering around the grounds of the abandoned Chapman Valve factory in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, making up stories in my head about the Maniac Latin Hoods (a local gang that had tagged the old building). Then I'd go home and write the stories down. Today I write because writing is cheaper than therapy. It allows me to exorcise my demons and also lets me explore different parts of my personality similar to what I imagine actors go through. I can go to some dark place and then come back. It's a thrill to be able to do that, when it works the way it's supposed to. The journey can also be scary and exhausting because you can learn things about yourself. But when everything clicks just right, there's nothing better, nothing more exhilarating. And like any other addict I simply have to go back for more.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2013 ©
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