Monday, September 23, 2013

Words With: Robb Grindstaff

One of the joys of starting my own publishing company is working with talented writers and editors. One of my favorites is both. Robb Grindstaff was the copy editor on EBP's first anthology, Spring Fevers. In fact, he came up with its title, which served as the genesis of the Seasonal Anthologies series. One book I wasn't able to publish was his absolutely wonderful debut novel, Hannah's Voice. It's truly one of the most engaging and interesting novels I've read in years and I'm so happy it's found a good home and is helping Robb develop an audience. His next book, Carry Me Away, is due out this any minute now, and I'm looking forward to reading that too. Here's my little Q&A with Robb. Hope you get to enjoy it before you go buy his book!

You have extensive experience both as a writer and an editor of fiction and nonfiction. If you could only choose one, which would you choose?

That’s kind of like asking an artist if he’d rather paint or teach a class at art school. I’d definitely choose writing. Editing is a sideline, and something I use to support my writing habit. I found I was pretty good at it – it combined my lifelong love of fiction and my career in journalism into one area, and I thoroughly enjoy it. I love helping out writers, especially newer writers. But it doesn’t replace writing.

Hannah’s Voice, which I honestly think is one of the best books I’ve read in years, bounced around for a while as you tried to find a publisher. You finally sold it to Evolved Publishing and it was released earlier this year. What do you think held agents and larger publishers back?

Lots of things. Initially, it wasn’t good enough. That drove me to revise and rewrite (several times) and make it better. Then there was the beginning of the whole turmoil that traditional publishing is still going through. With the digital revolution in book publishing and the collapse of the economy in general, publishers and agents were taking on fewer books. As a business, they have to do their best to stick with what they think will sell. Hannah didn’t fit into any of the genres or categories that were selling, and I was an unknown “newbie” writer, which is a huge risk for a major publisher, even though I’d been doing this for thirty-plus years. Hannah isn’t paranormal or romance or YA or any of the genres that were hot in the market. No wizards or vampires or zombies, sorry. Just mainstream contemporary/literary fiction.

That’s one of the reasons I love it. Your second novel, Carry Me Away, is coming out soon, also from Evolved. What is that story about and how different, in your eyes, is it from Hannah stylistically?

In Carry Me Away, when a biracial teenage military brat learns her injuries from an accident will prove fatal before she reaches adulthood, she accelerates life to a manic pace to reach her goals. Eventually she learns happiness isn't found in academic achievements or lovers, but in family, friends, and faith.

It’s actually the first novel I ever wrote, several years ago. I also tried the traditional route for a couple of years, revised and rewrote it several times, and eventually shelved it as my first “practice novel.” After Hannah came out, I pulled Carry off the shelf and looked again. I could now see how much work it needed, but I still loved the character, the voice, and the story. So I reworked it again, having learned a lot about crafting a novel in the past ten years, and submitted it to Evolved as a follow-up to Hannah. They paired me up with a total of three different editors who helped me whip it into shape, and I’m finally excited about how it turned out.

There are a couple of similarities with Hannah. It’s in first person with a young female protagonist (Carrie). That’s about where the similarities end. Hannah doesn’t speak, Carrie doesn’t shut up. Hannah curses once; Carrie curses like a Marine by the age of nine. Hannah lives in a small southern town; Carrie grows up living all over the world in a military family. Hannah is a pretty serious young girl; Carrie can be serious, and she also has a morbid sense of humor. The story progresses into Carrie’s early twenties, and there’s more, shall we say, adult situations. As characters, Hannah and Carrie couldn’t be more different, although I bet they’d like each other if they ever met. I think Carrie captures the fear we all share – life may be over before we’re done with it.

You’ve published your own collection of Arizona short stories and been part of EBP’s anthologies from the beginning. To your mind, what are the pros and cons of self- and independent publishing? Do you prefer one over the other?

That’s definitely a question every writer has to answer for him/herself. I tried the self-publishing route with Sonoran Dreams, my short story collection, as a test. I learned that I’m not cut out for pure self-publishing.

With an independent publisher that provides excellent support and work on my behalf, that makes it the right fit for me.

Personally, I’m best suited for the old-school traditional legacy publishing model that doesn’t exist anymore. I could be Salinger or Hemingway – just put me in a nice apartment in Rome or a beach villa in the Caribbean and let me write novels while my agent, editor, publisher, and publicist handle everything else. I could be a great recluse. If there was an anti-social media site, I’d join, and I’d be darn good at it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Author Q&A: Richard Pieters

One of the unexpected joys of establishing Elephant’s Bookshelf Press was becoming the first publisher for a number of wonderful writers. By my count, EBP has been the initial publisher of at least a dozen fiction writers, including some whose work I believe you’ll be seeing much more of in the future. One of the new writers featured in Summer’s Double Edge is Richard Pieters, whose story “Winter’s Birds” told a tale of a committed couple who struggle with the ever-present reality of serious illness. As anyone who’s ever experienced the horror of watching a loved one suffer knows, the phrase “emotional roller coaster” doesn’t do justice to the challenge. Rick shared a little of his personal story on his writing experiences.

Elephant’s Bookshelf: Perhaps this isn’t a fair question to ask a person who’s worked in advertising, but how long have you written fiction?
RP: I wasn't a copywriter, so the question is fair. I studied creative writing in both high school and college and wrote a lot of short stories for school, but I really put my creative needs to work late in college, songwriting and performing. I was a decent, not great, singer and guitarist, but I was a good storyteller. I had some songs published, but I'm not sure that counts as fiction. Several years performing with a very good improv theater troupe put writing in the backseat, although I do believe the experience helped my think-as-you-go creativity and no doubt encouraged the "pantser" in me. When I moved into the advertising industry, I returned to my first love, read stacks of books on writing, journaled, and wrote short stories -- for my own enjoyment and for the practice. Eventually I decided I needed to quit reading about writing (and working in media sales) and just do it. That was about fifteen years ago. Since then I've written many shorts (often NSFW) and a novel. And, of course, I still study the craft, too.

EB: It’s hard to believe your fiction hadn’t been published before Summer’s Double Edge. What’s taken so long?
RP: I guess I was taken in early by the odds against making a living writing, so I wasn't driven to get published. As I said earlier, I had other creative outlets. I didn't think about it much until I had that novel under my belt and thought I'd see how the querying thing went. At that time, the only avenue that seemed legit was the traditional agent/publisher road. Self-pubbing still had the taint of vanity press. I did think about small, independent publishers, but I guess I thought I needed to try the "old" way first. When I queried, out of about ten sent, I got one request for a full, and when I found myself actually hoping for a rejection, I realized I didn't want to go the agent route. I'm no kid, I can't promise a long, lucrative career, and I didn't want someone asking me, "What do you have for me today?" I never really thought about sending out shorts. I'd say getting involved at AgentQuery Connect and getting to "know" so many cool people, then seeing their work in your earlier anthologies, had me think well, what the hell.

EB: “Winter’s Birds” caught our attention right away. What inspired it?
RP: The truncated version of the newspaper article that starts the story was the actual inspiration. When I read that, one cold January morning in our local paper here in Dayton, Ohio, I grabbed scissors and cut it out. I knew there was a story there. How did it happen? What got them to that point? So many possibilities. So I carried it in my computer case to the office and home for a long time. It begged for the story of who they might have been and how and why they ended up there. (I'm avoiding the spoiler.)

EB: Off the bat, the characters came across as a well-established couple who’ve been through a lot together. Did you know what the ending to this story would be when you first starting writing about them or did it evolve over several revisions?
RP: Since it was based on a news article, I did know how it would end. It was, in fact, the ending that needed the story to get there. With the many directions it could have gone—I didn't want it to be too sentimental, it couldn't be too comedic with that ending, maybe it was a horror thing—I just kept turning it over. Then one day my partner and I were having one of those half-serious-but-let's-joke-to-keep-it-light conversations about which of us would go first. Can't be you, has to be me. Another time, I'd joked that I don't believe, ideally, in suicide, but I could just stop taking all the meds. Voila. There was the story. Once I had that, the only real evolution in the writing of it was deciding, halfway through, that Stanley and Phyllis, for me, needed to be Stanley and Phil.

EB: With your background in advertising, what is your sense on how promoting one’s work is different in this era of social media versus the long-established traditional media approaches?
RP: Well, since my advertising background consisted mostly of media placement and sales, I can say that some of the old tried-and-true aspects of promotion remain the same: Reach and frequency, and cutting through the clutter. The differences, though, are huge. Back in the day, the media were almost exclusively newspaper and magazines. Press releases were usually put together by ad agencies and public relations people. (Television was my business, but books were rarely, if ever, promoted on TV.) So the idea was the larger the "reach" of a venue -- meaning the number of target persons any given medium offered -- the less "frequency" was needed, and the smaller the reach (a community paper or specialty magazine, for example), the more frequency required. One balanced the reach/frequency of various outlets to achieve a desired "number of impressions." Figuring all that out, writing the releases, and getting it out was done primarily for the author by the PR folks. The author mostly just had to show up and be intelligent and charming.

EB: And now we have extremely fractured audiences sharing the same huge media outlets.
RP: My point exactly. And this means cutting through the clutter is infinitely more difficult. Individuals are far more, if not completely, responsible for their own promotion, and that involves not just knowing who represents your target audience, but how to get them to pay attention to you. The individual has much more control but also much more responsibility. The "reach" of most social media is beyond what any of the "traditional" media could offer, but, unlike, say, the New York Times, where its entire readership would see your promotional piece, now only those who choose to, by friending or following, will see those pieces. It's an open world now. Little promotion is done or arranged for you. It's pretty much up to you how effectively and well you present yourself.

EB: Would you say it’s better or worse than it used to be?
RP: I'd say that today's wide open market offers so much more opportunity, with traditional publishing, self-publishing, and indie publishing houses all having validity, and the consumer having greater word-of-mouth influence. And for just that reason, it's a much greater challenge for the individual author to break through the clutter. There are simply so many more players on the field.

RP: What are you working on now?
(Laughs). Not sounding stupid or pedantic while I answer these questions.
I'm working on a new short, and my brain is working on where it wants to settle for another novel. It's suffering a little ADD when it comes to that. Look, a squirrel!

EB: Thanks so much for your time and your insight, Rick. I’ll let you get that squirrel. Oh wow, there’s a bright shiny thing!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Request for Submissions: Winter Anthology

Submissions are now open for the 2013/14 Winter Anthology.
Regrets, I’ve had a few…
To be human is to have regrets, to question decisions, even to doubt our own abilities and capacities. Whether it’s because of a path not taken or a decision made for selfish or –  perhaps worse – unselfish reasons, we all have had moments we regret. We might regret not recognizing an opportunity. Or we regret being too quick to clutch a seemingly easy victory that left us unable to grab the better opportunity behind it. I’ve known folks who have later regretted making the right decision. Of course, like most things in life, the difference between a right decision and a wrong one can be a matter of perspective.
That’s where you writers come in. The theme for the winter anthology is “regret.” We’re looking for stories that, in some sense, convey regret. As always, we’re looking for quality short stories, but this time the theme is a little different. As in the past, stories can be in almost any genre: no erotica.
I suspect we’ll see a few romance stories, and certainly some young adult and maybe some new adult pieces. I could also imagine some middle grade stories. Children can learn about regret in such poignant ways, after all. And of course, I’m a sucker for traditional contemporary and literary fiction as well as science fiction.
With the flood of submissions we received for what became the two summer anthologies, we’ve decided to change things around a little. First, the word limit is now 5,500 words. (I almost trimmed it to 5,000, but sometimes a story is well-served with a couple more pages.) Second, given that we’re launching our first novel, Whispering Minds in October, we’re that much more time-pressed than we’ve been before, so don’t be shocked if it takes several weeks before you get a decision about whether your story has been accepted. I think it may easily be 4-6 weeks before we send you a yes or no. We’ll try to let you know earlier.
We’re looking for one submission per author. And we're unable to pay for stories, though published authors will receive a copy of the anthology. No previously published stories. If it’s appeared on your blog already, let me know, but that is not an automatic kill in my book. Send submissions to anthologies@elephantsbookshelfpress.comThe deadline is October 15.
For ease of formatting and time-saving on the copyediting and final proofing, please adhere to the following format styles:
§  Use Times Roman;
§  12 pt. type;
§  1" margin all around;
§  Double-spaced lines;
§  Do not add extra line between every paragraph;
§  When you want to denote a scene break, please use a single “#”;
§  Paragraphs indented 0.5". Please use the autoformat settings on Microsoft Word for paragraph indentations rather than manually inserting a tab or individual spaces. This feature is found under the ‘Paragraph’ format window;
§  Use a SINGLE SPACE following a period at the end of a sentence, NOT two spaces;
§  Use STRAIGHT QUOTES rather than SMART QUOTES. This is an autoformat/autocorrect feature in Word that, if checked, turns straight quote marks and apostrophes into ‘curly’ quote marks and apostrophes. This can cause formatting issues when the text is converted to a final font and style for publication. Under WORD OPTIONS, click on PROOFING, then on AUTOCORRECT OPTIONS, then make sure the line that says ‘Replace straight quotes with smart quotes’ is UNCHECKED.

Should you choose not to adhere to these guidelines, your story will still be considered. It’s a potential annoyance and challenge for some of the e-publishing formats, but it’s not a deal breaker. We’ll work with the copy. But the more you can do in advance, the faster the editing process will go and the cleaner and more consistent the final published book presentation will be.
Because that’s part of what we’re always looking to create – a clean, consistent book that readers enjoy by authors whose work they want to read again and again. Ideally, you’ll discover that Elephant’s Bookshelf Press produces books and anthologies that entertain the reader and keep them thinking – and when appropriate, laughing too.
And if you're on the fence about whether your story is good enough, do your best not to regret your decision, whatever it may be.
Thanks in advance to everyone!