Thursday, November 7, 2019

Author Spotlight: Jayne Martin

I haven't highlighted a flash fiction author in a while, so I'm excited to bring you an interview with Jayne Martin, author of the recently released collection Tender Cuts. Described as the love child of Joy Williams and Raymond Carver, Martin's bite-sized tales provide snatches into lives both ordinary and extraordinary. Illustrated by Janice Whitby and Indigo Roth, Tender Cuts is a deceptively quick read that deserves to be savored.

Who: Jayne Martin
Latest Book: Tender Cuts
Follow! @Jayne_Martin

What advice do wish someone had given you when just started out as a writer/author? 

I started my writing career writing movies for television and did that for about 25 years before writing a word of fiction. Back then the advice I received was mostly about how to get an agent. I wish someone had told me not to take myself too seriously, that no one cared whether I wrote or not. The world was not waiting breathlessly for my next script, so I shouldn’t wrap my entire self-esteem up in whether I was “succeeding” or not. Write because it gives you joy to do so. Whatever comes of it is largely out of your control.

Who or what is your spirit animal?

The hummingbird. I have a tattoo of one on my right shoulder. Their combination of energy and stillness as they hover in one place – that intense focus -- is the same combination I need in order to write.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to market or promote your books?

I had bookmarks made with the book cover on them to give away, and at my book launch luncheon there were heart-shaped cookies with “Tender Cuts” written on them. I’m planning on ordering candy hearts with the same for AWP giveaways.

Do you have a secret for handling bad book reviews? And, yes, what is it?

I’ll let you know when I get one. Undoubtedly, it will be coming because a reader’s response to a story is entirely subjective. A writer can’t possibly please everyone, nor should they try. I don’t expect to be devastated by it. I’ve been a professional writer for 40 years. Likely, I will just think whoever wrote it is a moron. Conversely, I will think anyone who gives Tender Cuts a good review is a genius.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

Yes. When I was just starting out in Hollywood it was tough. It seemed that everyone was a “wanna-be” something. The first question would always be, “Oh, what have you done?” Meaning, what have you gotten produced. Well, nothing yet. Or "who’s your agent? I’m looking for one." Nobody wanted to know you. It’s still tough for new writers, and I see a lot on Twitter, for example, calling themselves “aspiring writers.” I always tell them, if you’re writing you’re a writer. You may not yet be making a living at it, but don’t let the world’s insatiable need to assign monetary value to everything define who you are.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Author Spotlight: Benjamin Drevlow

Today, the spotlight is shining on Benjamin Drevlow, author of Bend with the Knees and Other Advice From my Father and the soon-to-be-released Ina-Baby: A Love Story in Reverse. I was lucky enough to score an advance copy of Ina-Baby earlier this year and here's what I had to say:

“Not for the faint-hearted, but for those who champion the lonely hearts club, ‘Ina-Baby: a Love Story in Reverse’ is a gritty, grimy, no-holds-barred testament to a desperate clash of life and love. Drevlow writes with a raw hand and a poet’s tongue, delivering authentic characters and then flaying them alive for the reader. Fans of Charles Bukowski will have found a new favorite author in Benjamin Drevlow.”

Follow! @thedrevlow

How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

Full disclosure, Ina-Baby is a sorta kinda misfit tweener novel in stories, which I’m not sure really counts as short stories or a novel. 

Oh, and just for fun, the “plot” goes in reverse chronological order.

Which is to say: It took me fifteen years. I finished it almost a year to the day that my dog Truman died (spoiler alert: a dog named “Truman” dies in the end of the book, which is actually the beginning of the book, so spoiler-non-spoiler).

I started writing the first couple stories the year I graduated from school, which has made for a lot of fun editing and revision of a collection like this, because it’s not like your perspective on life (and/or writing) really changes much from age twenty-five to age forty, but that’s also why it made sense for me to organize the stories in reverse chronological order. This way there’s a fun “Benjamin Button” evolution/devolution thing going on where a man-baby who is forty years old evolves/devolves into a younger-man-baby.

Note: It may’ve taken me fifteen years, but that’s still better than the novel-novel I’ve been working I’ve been working on for the same fifteen years, but is still unfinished, or rather, it is mostly finished but it’s 1000-pages finished and if you haven’t figure out by now, I’m not exactly David Foster Wallace or Jonathan Franzen, so sure, maybe in another ten years I’ll be able to walk it back to like three hundred pages that someone might maybe want to read and/or publish, but nah, just kidding. I’m nothing if not optimistic for the future.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

I’m going to have to go with option six: play. Not sure that anyone would want to watch a movie, TV show, read a graphic novel, or play a video game where almost all the scenes alternate between a semi-naked fat guy lying on the couch with his dog versus a semi-naked fat guy getting into shouting matches with his wife versus a semi-naked fat guy writing stories about said couch-lying and match-shouting while his dog sits in his lap and whimpers.
But I really think it’d be a hit on Broadway, or let’s be honest here, off-off-offfffffffff… Broadway.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

That first year out of grad school (when I started writing these stories), I flipped eggs at a greasy spoon diner six days a week for minimum wage. Because it was minimum wage you had to get up at 4:30 in the morning six days a week to open, my boss refused to hire college students who tended to flake after like a week. 

Instead he often hired work-release convicts because they had motivation to come to work every morning. One of these convicts turned out to be the self-proclaimed “Meth King of Southern Minnesota,” who it turned out was actually great at cooking things besides meth. And with the Meth King turning out to be such a great hire, my boss then went on to hire at least four other cooks who’d “cooked” for the Meth King.

So yeah, I didn’t really want to broadcast my MFA in fiction to a bunch of “reformed” meth heads who often liked to talk at you while wielding large knives. 

But to my boss’s credit, they were all great cooks, and none of them ever tried to kill me.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Author Spotlight: Janet Somerville

I've never had the joy of meeting Janet Somerville in person and yet I have a picture of her dog, Garp, on my fridge. In case that doesn't tell you all you need to know about how awesome she is, Janet has been writing 'a letter a day' to friends, colleagues, twitter acquaintances and the like since 2014. She's the embodiment of the true literary citizen and steward, uniting readers and writers and championing the written word in all form. I'm honored to be able to shine a little light on someone who, in turn, shines so brightly.

Recently, Somerville- who has been studying and bringing Martha Gellhorn to light for years- published her debut book titled Yours, For Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn's Letters of Love and War 1930-1949 to critical acclaim. She was gracious enough to also pen the piece below, chronicling and celebrating her passion for Gellhorn and the road that led her to write a book. Enjoy, check out Somerville's book (of course) and be sure to say hello to her on twitter!

Who: Janet Somerville
Book: Yours, For Probably Always
Follow! @janetsomerville

Finding my way to Martha Gellhorn and her words began in May 2015 with a visit to Faulkner Books in New Orleans, where the bookseller recommended the correspondence between Eudora Welty and William Maxwell collected in What There Is To Say We Have Said. I’m drawn to letter writing, and continue to hand write a letter every day to send to recipients from Toronto to New York City to Amsterdam to Seattle to Tokyo, some of whom I know, but most of whom I’ve never met.

When I wrote about the extraordinary Welty/Maxwell correspondence on Twitter, a bookish follower in Fife, Scotland, asked if I had ever read
Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, edited by her authorized biographer Caroline Moorehead. I had not. Within a few weeks I had not only read those letters but also Moorehead’s celebrated biography Martha Gellhorn: A Life. And, then I read every book that I could find of Gellhorn’s that remained in print from her early fiction like The Trouble I’ve Seen that emerged out of her Depression-Era work to her essay collections of reportage The Face of War and The View From the Ground published in the 1990s. 

I was planning to write a novel. My first. I had sketched out the narrative arc that began with Gellhorn dropping out of Bryn Mawr after her sophomore year and moving to Paris in the Spring of 1930 with $75 in her pocket, her portable typewriter and the dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. The plot would include cameos from the people who made history of the time like FDR, Mrs. Roosevelt, General Franco, Winston Churchill, and trail Gellhorn through her work as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War and on the Western Front during WWII and finish when her play
Love Goes to Press opened in London’s West End in 1947, to standing ovations, and, dumbfounded by the response, she slipped out into the night delighting in her luck.

However, I shelved the novel when I read in the trades that Paula McLain had just sold a novel about Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway to be called
Love and Ruin. As a debut novelist, I could not compete and no publisher would be willing to bring out a book about Martha Gellhorn that would possibly rival the work of a New York Times bestselling novelist.

In June 2016, I traveled to London to follow in Gellhorn’s footsteps and while there read the only publicly accessible copy of her debut novel What Mad Pursuit (1934) in Rare Books & Music at the British Library. In her lifetime she did not permit it to ever be reprinted, nor did she ever name it, only obliquely referred to it as “the baby novel I deny and never list.” And, when I received access to her restricted papers at the Gotlieb Archives at Boston University, and began to comb through the hundreds of folders through previously unpublished correspondence, I decided to try to shape a book grounded in her letters.

Gellhorn’s letters themselves are beautiful prose. And, they reveal a woman so engaged with her time. I hope readers who find their way to Yours, for Probably Always: Martha Gellhorn’s Letters of Love & War 1930-1949, will use the book as a springboard to explore her other writing. So many of her words are for all time. She remains a wonder to me.

(Had to throw in a new photo of Garp!)

Friday, October 4, 2019

Author Spotlight: Marietta Miles

Sometimes you get lucky. As when I was lucky enough to score an advanced copy of Marietta Miles' latest novel, After the Storm, out this week from Down & Out Books. Here's what I had to say....

“Opening in the aftermath of May’s climatic and life-altering storm, After the Storm continues to give voice to Marietta Miles’ complicated and complex heroine, May Cosby. Atmospheric, yet shot through with tension, Miles’ third novella proves her mastery of the Southern Noir genre, distilled down to its purest essence: dark, harrowing and razor-sharp with unapologetic authenticity.”

And while I think this gives you a glimpse of the teeth and nails in Miles work, it doesn't tell you quite how much of a badass this femme fatale of the written word really is. I'm honored to be able to shine the spotlight on her today and urge you to check out her novels,  novellas and the many collections and anthologies she has to her name. But first, here's Marietta Miles in her own words...

Latest Book: After the Storm
Follow! @mariettamiles9

What is the worst reason to become an author? What is the best?

Money is probably the worst reason to become an author. Publishing can be very fickle and it seems only a few writers are really safe from the ever-changing tastes of readers. Unless you make it really big, Joe Lansdale and Stephen King big, I’m not sure you can rely on the income for a long period of time. Plus, I think the lack of sincerity might be obvious in the work.

I write to remember the places and things I’ve seen. The people I’ve known. Good or bad. In a short-story I wrote years ago, a young husband and wife working opposing shifts would pass each other in the morning giving a kiss and a rolled-up emergency dollar bill. That was something my grandmother and grandfather used to do and they shared that same bill for two years.

I write to exercise the crazy thoughts in my head. For my sanity. To express happiness or grief. Disgust. Concern. A lot of time I write because I’m afraid.

There are so many books I’ve read that have moved me and set an imprint on my life. I write because I would love to do that for someone else. I want to hear that someone has been moved by a story or character I’ve created.

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention?

Well, I have cats. They have no problem letting me know if they need my attention. Lulu, Scarlet, and Steve are quite happy about my time spent writing. Lulu, aka Ninja, curls up next to the warm computer. She also likes to try and catch the cursor. Scarlet reclines on the arm of the chair and Steve lays behind me. They like the whole not getting up for long periods of time thing. Seems so similar to napping.

We have a brand-new gal in the group. Emma Kitty is a little stray that jumped in my arms while I was out. She prefers the outside, but once we know she’s healthy and not a danger to the other members of the Miles pride she’ll be an indoor munchkin soon enough.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

Film. I imagine something in the vein of Swing Blade or The Apostle, both featuring Robert Duvall. He’s the Robert Mitchum of our time. Every great modern noir movie must have a part for Robert Duvall. I liked the strange casting of Dwight Yoakum and John Ritter in Swing Blade. The performances were distinct but subtle, perfect. Don’t get me started on Farrah Fawcett in The Apostle.

Now, I know that both of these are older movies, but they are precisely the movies I pictured while writing the book. Setting. Style. Both could be considered Southern Gothic and I’ve had that term, thankfully, used when describing my writing.

What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to market or promote your books?

With Route 12 I gave away copies of the book to readers with answers to trivia questions involving the folks who blurbed me. That’s not very exciting. I rely heavily on good reviews and word of mouth.

I’m afraid I’m not very creative in regard to self-promotion. I can be creative. Get in the “Imagination Box.” Trust me, I worked for an entertainment group doing creative promotions for way too many years.

I don’t dive deep into self-promotion because I worry I’ll annoy someone. Overwhelm people. I don’t want to become the crazy mother trying to sell her kid’s Christmas wrapping for the school fundraiser.

I should do a lot more promoting because so many people have helped me with this book. It’s a little selfish for me to do nothing, so I try to balance. Something we all seem to be attempting.

On that note, I really liked your reader with the cover posts. I thought it was a nice way to say thanks to the people who take the time to read your books.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

I never tell anyone I’m a writer. Never talk about it. Unless someone is editing for me or I’m working with Down and Out on a new book. When I’m at Noir at the Bar. Bouchercon. Surrounded by other writers. Outside of those circumstances, I never bring up my writing.

Sum up the essence of your latest novel in One Single Word.


Friday, September 20, 2019

Author Spotlight: Tara Laskowski

I'm excited to shine the spotlight on author Tara Laskowski today because a) she has a thrilling debut novel hitting shelves in two weeks and b) well, read on about her spirit animal.... Seriously, though, One Night Gone has been garnering some major attention and I've had it on my radar since I put together my Fall Book Preview List a few months ago. Start your pre-orders!  

If you had to choose only one of your novels to best represent yourself as an author, which one would it be? Why? 

Well, given that I only have one novel, this question is fairly easy. But I do think that One Night Gone is a pretty good representation of all the things that I’m interested in as a writer. It’s got a little bit of spooky, but not too much. It’s got pissed-off women trying to right the wrongs that have been handed to them. It’s got the nostalgia of the 1980s, roller derby, the beach, mermaids, a shady carnival, and creepy paintings. If only I’d been able to throw a unicorn in there, we’d be golden. (#NextBookGoals)

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I think I doubt myself as a writer nearly every day (shout-out to High-Functioning Anxiety! Whoo-hoo!) I mostly just write through it, though, because it’s such a part of me at this point. But when it gets really crippling, I usually just either write out all the stupid things going through my head (This will never work. I’m the worst writer in the world. A total fraud. Everyone hates me.), or tell a close friend what I’m thinking, and the process of doing that usually makes me laugh at myself, which makes it slightly better.

Who or what is your spirit animal? 

Well, my Patronus is a dolphin. Which I know is not the same thing, or your question, but I wanted to throw it out there anyway. My spirit animal these days, however, is the Kraken. We keep to ourselves, hide away in the depths, but do. not. fuck with us.

What’s your favorite thing to do to procrastinate from writing?

About ten years ago-ish, I accidentally deleted my entire music library from my computer when I was trying to back it up. So, I had to reload my library onto my computer from my iPod, which totally messed up all the files, duplicating everything and creating these phantom song files that won’t play. When I’m really feeling like avoiding writing, I open up my iTunes and start methodically deleting the phantom song files to clean up my library. I think I’m on letter “S.” Hey, you asked.

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

Hands-down, I’d bring the Harry Potter series. And if you’re mean and won’t let me take all of them, I’d bring The Prisoner of Azkaban, because I could read that book 700 times and never tire of the wonder of it.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Author Spotlight: Meagan Lucas

I'm always excited to showcase a new author, but I'm especially excited to shine a light on Meagan Lucas today because I was lucky enough to score an advanced copy of her debut novel Songbirds & Stray Dogs and let me just tell you- it is brilliant. (and just came out this week, so start buying!) Here's what I had to say when I first read Songbirds & Stray Dogs over the summer:

"Songbirds and Stray Dogs may be Meagan Lucas' debut novel, but the voice echoing from its pages is so striking you'll be haunted long after you turn the last page. In this gutsy story of a young woman fighting tooth and nail for survival, you'll find both grit and grace and a ringing honesty that refuses to back down. Not often do I read a novel and form an instant kinship with both the author and protagonist, but Songbirds and Stray Dogs captured from me the first, stirring scene and held me all the way until new life began to grow from the ashes. A stunning, startling novel."

And here's what Lucas had to say when she (graciously) took time out from a busy book release schedule to answer a few of my questions....

Follow! @mgnlcs

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

Whenever I doubt myself, which is often, I just remind myself to do the work. “Don’t worry about if it’s good, just get it out.” The majority of my doubt happens when I’m reading someone else’s words, and I come across something brilliant and think that there is no way in hell I’m ever going to create something even half as wonderful, and I get sucked into a hole of doubt I can’t even see out of. When I’m actually writing, I can’t write with the idea or hope that anyone will ever read it – or I self censor – so, if I can forget about other people’s brilliant books and their judging thoughts, (and what my Mom will think!!) and just do the fun part, the actual writing, everything else seems to work out.

What’s your favorite thing to do to procrastinate from writing?

Read! Reading is excellent procrastinating, because I can easily convince myself that I’m not actually procrastinating, that I’m working - doing research, or filling my writing toolbox, when really, I’m just doing my favorite thing.

What advice do you wish someone had given you when just started out as a writer/author? 

The importance of literary citizenship tops my list. I think when you’re just starting it’s hard to imagine how small the lit world is because you don’t know anyone and everything feels overwhelming, but, it’s small. Once you get your foot in the door you realize that every connection you make will know someone else, and if you’re kind, honest, and easy to work with – this plays in your favor – generous established writers will come out of the woodwork to help you because one of their friends said something nice about you. However, if you’re a jerk, it will work against you. If you’re the kind of writer who likes to tear people down, only ever talks about yourself, gets butt-hurt easily, or is just mean – people know, you’ll develop a reputation quickly. Be kind and sincere, don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t talk shit, read and promote other writers, and life will be a lot easier for you. 

Also – start small. Like a lot of writers I started working on a novel right away, and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but it takes a long time to write, and a long time to sell a novel, and I think that causes people to give up. It is easy to lose focus when you don’t have any feedback along the way. I attended a Great Smokies Writing Program workshop taught by Wiley Cash a few years ago where he spoke about how the path to novel publication was starting with short stories/articles and it really hit home for me. With a short story you get feedback from editors quicker, you build a portfolio, your confidence, and a reputation, and for me it helped develop my author voice (I’m far more likely to experiment in a short story than a novel.) A side effect too, is that when you do write that novel, you have a list of publications and editors behind you to help prove to an agent or publisher that you’re worth their time, which I think goes a long way to getting your foot in the door.

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? The easiest? 

In Songbirds and Stray Dogs, Chuck was the hardest character for me to write. I find writing men really difficult, and particularly their conversations with other men. Men relate to each other so differently than women, or men and women together. I spent a lot of time quizzing my husband and eavesdropping on stranger’s conversations to try to get it right. Jolene, on the other hand, kind of just fell out of me. While she and I don’t share much life experience, our motivations and reactions are very similar, so while I did a lot of thinking when writing Chuck, Jolene came straight from my gut.

Have you ever been embarrassed to tell someone that you’re a writer/author?

Yes! Partially because it felt like I was putting on airs (am I really a writer? Hello Imposter Syndrome!) and partially because I know the next question will be something about if I have a book that they’ve heard of. And for the longest time I’d just look down and rub my toe on the floor and mumble something about a dozen short stories in various mags, and regret opening my mouth while we both try to change the subject. And now, while I just very recently have a book and they probably still haven’t heard of it, but at least it’s an opportunity to point them at my local indie bookstore (Malaprop’s), so I’m a smidgen less embarrassed. That is, until they ask me what my WIP is about and the connection between my brain and mouth is severed.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Author Spotlight: E.A. Aymar

I can't tell you how much I love today's Spotlight interview. (okay, I'm telling you- I love it). Not only does E.A. Aymar- author of the thriller The Unrepentant and the 'novel-in-stories' The Night of the Flood anthology, along with Sarah M. Chen and other assorted badasses- bring humor and heart to the sometimes grueling world of writing and publishing, he's got some wonderful advice for you as well. Aymar is yet another reminder why the crime fiction community is the one of the most incredible, supportive bunch of misfits out there.

Who: E. A. Aymar
Book: The Unrepentant 
Follow! @EAAymar

Twitter    Facebook  Instagram  

Has the publishing industry ever made you cry? What did you learn from the experience?

I didn’t cry, but I was overwhelmed when Jennifer Hillier won the Thriller Award for Best Hardcover Novel this year. Jenny’s one of my closest friends, and I love her and I love her books. I know how much Jar of Hearts meant to her, and I know that she’s never really seen herself as an “award-winning writer.” She knows her gifts and strengths, but didn’t see that in her future.

So to hear that Jenny had won that award, and to watch the video of her stunned acceptance speech (I couldn’t go to ThrillerFest this year), meant the world to me. Jenny works hard, and to see her work pay off, particularly in a way she couldn’t imagine, is inspiring. It’s proof that the work, while certainly its own reward, can often lead to other wonderful moments. And many of those moments are beautifully unpredictable.

I know I should be talking about my own experiences here, but that award moved me, and I’ve wanted to write about it. I’m okay putting the spotlight on someone else.


What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I think doubt is common to writers (and all artists). We have to stay immersed in our field, which means reading a lot of other writers, and there are a lot of good writers out there. Especially right now. Nothing makes you doubt yourself like reading something moving, and wondering if readers have that same reaction to your work.

And, for me, I lost that type of confidence in my writing. My first two novels came out and were forgotten – barely anyone read them, and no one reviewed them. Because of that, I was hard on myself, and I assumed they just weren’t very good. And that’s a terrible thing to feel.

Although that was a damaging mindset, it was, in some ways, helpful. It made me work harder. When The Unrepentant was published earlier this year, I’d finally written a book that people were reading and enjoying, and it was being reviewed and receiving praise from venues I’d never expected to be in. And that was enormously gratifying.

Still, though, I hadn’t realized how damaging my doubt had been until Murder and Mayhem in Chicago. I try to go to a few writing conferences a year, and I’d always heard good things about MMC (and it is a great conference). I was sitting at the bar with Jess Lourey and Susanna Calkins and Lori Rader Day and Eric Beetner and other writers I hold in high regard. And I quietly realized how happy I was.

I was happy because I didn’t feel like a fraud.

I felt like I belonged, and through all the years of book store events and conferences and festivals and readings I’d been lucky to participate in, I’d never felt like that before.

I write all that to say that doubt is healthy. Every writer should be skeptical of his or her work. Confidence often verges on foolhardy.

But, at the same time, don’t let doubt blind you. Or take away from the joy at what you’ve done.

What is the worst reason to become an author? What is the best?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and I’m not sure how to say the answer. I think the worst reason to become an author is something along the lines of wanting to get published. I mean, that’s why we all write on a professional level, but I’d caution specifically against “haste.”

I was talking to a writer a few years ago and she was asking me for advice – she’d completed a novel, and was considering self-publishing it. I don’t have anything against self-publishing; it’s not the route I chose, but it’s the right choice for others. I told her about my path of finding an agent, and then that agent finding a publisher, and how long it took (I started writing seriously in 1997 and my first novel was published in 2013). And she said, frankly, she wasn’t interested in going through years of rejections when she knows her novel’s already good.

That attitude drives me crazy. There’s a lot that can be said critically and fairly about the gatekeepers in publishing – I get that. But rejection is part of the process of writing. It’s part of art. If you’re not willing to face rejection, then you’re simply in the wrong field. It’s one of the ways you improve as a writer, and I can’t help but feel that someone who writes a book, and refuses to accept criticism, is faking the funk. Writing a book should not be your achievement. The achievement is writing a good book. And criticism is one of the ways to learn the difference between the two.

As for the best reason to become a writer, it’s the money and the groupies. PANTIES ON THE STAGE, BABY. Oh, and also the joy of craft and bringing excitement to others. But mainly the money and stage thing.

What advice do wish someone had given you when just started out as a writer/author?

I didn’t go through an MFA program, but I did do a number of workshops at the MFA level. And the college I went to (George Mason University, home of the 2006 Men’s Basketball Final Four Patriots), boasts one of the best writing programs in the country – Art Taylor, Tara Laskowski, John Copenhaver, and Laura Ellen Scott are among the talented writers associated with it. I was taught a lot about craft, and I read some fantastic work, but I was never taught the business of writing. Maybe students in MFA programs are taught that now, but I’ve talked to a lot of MFA grads who aren’t. And wish they had.

When I started to take my writing seriously, I had hopes of writing a literary novel, mainly because that was all I’d read. I had no real conception of genres, because an appreciation of genre had been beaten out of me. This wasn’t the fault of any of the schools I studied at in the D.C. area, incidentally; rather, the mentors I chose to study under had little patience for commercial fiction.

It took me a long time to realize that genre fiction wasn’t lacking in comparison to literary fiction, and to understand the importance of writing for an audience. Once I realized that you could do those things, and still aspire to string together some lovely sentences, I became a better writer.

In college, you’re taught to not write like John Grisham. But any agent or editor would kill for the next John Grisham. Which isn’t to say that’s how you should write, but it’s absolutely something any aspiring writer should realize. And I wish I had much earlier.

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

Oh man, it’d be impossible to choose! But that’s a fun question and I want to answer it.

The book that comes to mind is one of my favorites – William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. That was a life-changing book for me. The ending just tore me up, like little knives chopping my insides to bits. I’ve re-read that book several times, and I absolutely want to re-read it again. And the desert island thing (because I assume it doesn’t offer WiFi) would be a pretty good opportunity.

The other thing is…I’ve read a lot of Faulkner, and I’m not sure I ever truly “got” any of his books. He’s a difficult read, but an engrossing one. Even when I’m not sure what’s happening, I can appreciate the beauty of his prose. So this would be a good chance to finally sit down, crack open a coconut, and do my best to completely absorb that novel, and let it absorb me.