Saturday, February 25, 2012
My Conversation with Joseph
This week I had a literary conversation with Joseph Montebello at the Gunn Memorial Library in Washington, CT. I was there to talk about Getting Oriented. Montebello was there as someone interested in supporting the library and its programs. The library arranged the evening as a service to patrons.
Montebello is host of "Between the Covers," a radio show of in-depth interviews with authors. He was Vice-President and Creative Director at HarperCollins Publishers, and founded his own imprint Harper Style. He is a contributing editor for Litchfield magazine. We sat in easy chairs in the front of the library meeting room and chatted spontaneously and unrehearsed for about an hour. He had read the book and prepared thoughtful, open-ended questions. For example: "When did you know you were going to be a writer?"
I knew I was going to be a writer when I was 14 years old. I wrote plays, poetry, and fiction in high school; short stories in the Army, two unpublished novels in college, and more fiction and poetry during all the time I was a trade magazine journalist. Getting Oriented is the fourth novel I've written.
"Which was your favorite character and why?" I had not thought about this. One answer, of course, is that this is like asking which is your favorite child. But I blurted out that Sol is my favorite. Although I did not plan to do so, Sol seems almost the mirror to Phil, my protagonist; he is someone who has also lost his way, but unlike Phil is apparently going to remain lost.
"Do you write every day and how does that work?" Yes, I write almost every day. My wife and I are both writers; we share an office in our house. We are usually at the desk shortly after nine in the morning and work until five or later. Not every day is equally productive, but being at the desk is a start.
"Having gone through the process of looking for an agent and a publisher, would you self-publish again?" Probably yes. I told Joseph that I had written query letters to perhaps 150 or more agents and some number, possibly as many as 30, had asked to see the first few chapters of the novel. They all rejected it with essentially the same message: We have decided that your manuscript is not right for our list. I suspect the problem is that the book does not fit neatly into a category—mystery, thriller, romance, whatever—and neither a publisher nor a bookstore would know where to display it.
"How did you come up with characters like The Mad Shopper?" I've led tours in Japan and I've now been on tours elsewhere and shared experiences with guides. The characters in my novel are creations, not people I've known. But there you find certain stereotypical clients on almost every tour, The Mad Shopper, The Picky Eater, The Enthusiastic Drinker among them.
I found the evening wonderfully stimulating and thought-provoking. I only hope that people who sat through the conversation had half as much fun as I had.