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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gregory Allen 2011 MeeGenius Author Contest Winner

As you know, my book, Pajama Girl, won the very first MeeGenius Author Challenge. Pajama Girl was the reigning champion for a year, but now there's a new superhero in town... 

Gregory Allen's, Chicken Boy is the people's choice winner for this year. And that's a huge accomplishment. With over 400 entries this time around, the competition was pretty steep. I was certainly happy I didn't have to deal with that! 

Since I've declared 2012: The Year of the Writer, and MeeGenius authors need to stick together, I decided to interview Gregory. (more authors forthcoming, so hang on to your britches!) Let's hear it for unusual superheroes and their creators! 

The Restless Writer (RW): As the MeeGenius Author Contest winner for 2010, I find that people still don't take ebooks as seriously as print books. For this reason, I grappled with submitting my story for the contest in the first place, but I'm so glad I did. What made you decide to try digital for your story?

Gregory Allen (GA): As an author of adult books - I have embraced the digital era. I believe in giving readers choices so most of my books have always been offered in both eBook and print. (And I'll admit, I do sell more eBook when it comes to adult fiction.) But for the children's book, I honestly hadn't thought about the fact that it would be digital only. A YA author friend of mine told me about the contest knowing I had written a children's book so I figured why not submit to them. Once I truly started looking at their site, I thought they offered a really cool platform to help children in reading and making it 'fun' at the same time.

RW: How did the idea for 'Chicken Boy' first come to you?

GA: Every Wed night, I go to dinner with my godson and his older sister and mom. As a child with autism, we must keep his routine the same so he knows what he'll be doing at night's end. (Eating his chicken fingers, french fries, ketchup and red velvet cake on Wednesday night.) His sister and I started coming up with ideas one night when I said we should write a story about him and make him a superhero. The more we talked, the more I jotted down notes on a napkin. My godson has certain 'ticks' and one was a noise he'd make that sounded like "bahcaaaaaah" so we decided that was his superhero battle cry. I went home that night and wrote the entire first draft of the story. I wasn't even sure at the time if I'd be doing anything with it, but I knew I had to write it while the inspiration was there.

RW: What has been the most surprising aspect of entering this contest?

GA: For me, it was how the entire thing shifted once voting started and I realized it was no longer about "Greg winning a contest." My story (even without illustrations in round 1) was touching so many people in the autism community and I was getting emails and reading posts on the MeeGenius wall that completely blew me away. I realized I was this very (very) small voice in the autism community and saw the importance of getting this book out there. Over 2,000 people voted for it in round 1 and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response.

RW: Your website says you wrote your first musical at 14. As a huge fan of musical theater, I must ask, what is your favorite musical?

GA: Now that's a hard one. As I write in so many genres - I also love musicals of many kinds. For old time musical: The Sound of Music. For more modern: Next to Normal.

RW: Your website also says you toured as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Which turtle were you and what did you get to do?

GA: That was a blast. It was the height of their 'fame' in 1989/90. I'd get to play Michaelangelo and at times - the evil Shredder. (You get bored on the road and want to switch it up.) We played every theme park, zoo, mall, & tractor pull across the US, Canada and even Guam. If someone wanted this 30 minute show - we were there doing it three times a day.

RW: You also write adult novels. Can you tell us a bit about them?

GA: I say I like to tell stories of adversity & diversity. So my books go from one about my older half brother who passed away at 34 years old, to literary fiction that deals with religion & sexuality to my latest coming out on April 15, PATCHWORK OF ME. A contemporary novel about a woman who grew up in the foster care system and decides to investigate her past so she can get on with her future.

RW: Do you plan to write more children's books? 

GA: I may actually go back and look at some of the musicals I wrote back when I was a teenager and rework some of those into children's books. I'm also very aware that the autism spectrum is very wide and each child is different, but I'd like to continue the voice of Chicken Boy and perhaps do something else with him in the future.

RW: What are you doing, typically, when you're not writing? 

GA: My day job is managing an arts center on a college campus. But to relax: I love to travel. I've done a couple of two week cruises in the Baltic & Mediterranean Sea..beautiful!

RW: What are your top 5 favorite books? 

GA: This list really shows my odd taste: Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. And for kid's book: The Little Bear Series by Else Holmelund Minarik & The Boxcar Children Series by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

Thanks so much, Greg! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

John Bolton interview

John Bolton (not to be confused with Michael Bolton) is awesome for a number of reasons. He has the distinction of being my first fan who wasn't already a member of my family, a co-worker, personal friend or even an acquaintance. Well, maybe that isn't quite true. I did manage to attract some unknown fans on my Facebook page but John is the first one I struck up any sort of correspondence with. And that will always make him pretty cool, as far as I'm concerned. Also, he's from the UK, one of my favorite places in the world. His writing makes you hear a British accent in your head. He even does podcasts on writing so you don't have to imagine the accent. You can hear it any time you'd like!  And the podcasts are interesting and also hilarious. I highly recommend podcast #4 A Second Chance?, if you're looking for a good laugh. It might not be as funny if you aren't a writer and haven't run across an old piece of your writing. But still, it makes me laugh. So, by all means, give it a listen.

John has a few magazine articles to his name, but, like most of us, is pursuing the dream of writing and publishing a novel. He participated in NaNoWriMo this past November, and since I have a somewhat morbid curiosity about that whole thing, I decided to pick his brain, for all of us to benefit from. He has a real flare for writing, as you will see in his interview answers, and I'm excited for this opportunity of showcasing him in the dim spotlight of my little blog. So, take it away, John Bolton...

The Restless Writer (RW): When did you decide to seriously pursue writing?

John Bolton (JB): I suppose it began when I was around 16. I began with short stories. This was at a time when I was reading everything I could about the craft of the short story. I remember reading a book in my local library which said that short stories should have a sting in the tail, and so I imbued all my work with a (largely very obvious) surprise ending. It was around the same time that I began a distance learning creative writing course. It was here that I learned that in my first chapter I should be introducing a ‘dramatic conflict’ for the hero to tackle and that subsequent chapters should follow a similar pattern. By 18, I had come to realise that this was all utter rubbish, and that storytelling came from the heart, not from a dot-to-dot breakdown of how someone else does it. I approached many, many magazines with ideas for articles (back before email, when you would send an SAE and wait anxiously for it to return!). I was largely unsuccessful. A few editors expressed interest in seeing my work, others flat out shot me down. Those who did ask to see my work rarely responded once I’d sent them something. I remember I wrote an article for a UFO magazine, and the article was essentially a series of disconnected snippets of UFO-related trivia I’d picked up from other UFO-oriented magazines. I mean, it really was awful. It’s no surprise the editor stopped responding to me. I didn’t get my big break until after I’d finished university, which was probably around the same time that my desperation faded and I began trying to pitch ideas I really cared about, rather than simply scouring the Writers and Artisits Yearbook for anyone that would consider unsolicited manuscripts and sending them anything I could think of (ie, the UFO magazine). Within the space of a few months I placed articles on childhood fear (a pet subject of mine) and lifeguarding (based on personal anecdotes). That was enough to convince me that this wasn’t just a pipe dream and that I actually could do it.

RW: What was your impression of NaNoWriMo before starting it?

JB: That it was something I’d never manage! I was very attracted to the idea of ending November 2011 with the lion’s share of a novel under my belt. I did attempt it in 2010, but failed miserably. Back then I was in the midst of a total loss of self-confidence – it lasted for a couple of years. I’d open up my novel, read through the last bit I wrote, adjust a few words here and there, and that was it. The idea of sitting down and writing – just tapping away and watching the story unfold – had become alien to me. It made me miserable. Writing has always been so dear to me, and it felt like I’d lost it for ever. Earlier in 2011, my wife and my best friend presented something not unlike an intervention, and told me to just get on with it, and that they’d support me every way they could. What it boiled down to was desire. If I wanted to write, I should do so. And I guess you can conjure all kinds of excuses for not doing so. Tiredness, bringing work home with you, lack of inspiration. But the cut and thrust of it was desire. I wanted to write, and I had to remove every barrier to it. So, I booked myself 2 nights in a hotel, and I spent that time writing. It was magical. I found what I thought I’d lost. And so, just before Hallowe’en, I noticed a little banner online that reminded me it was NaNoWriMo time again. So I decided to go for it.

RW: I've never attempted NaNo because I can't commit to guaranteed writing time.  You have a day job and a family, where do you manage to find time to write?
JB:  Most days, I found myself wondering the same thing. It worked out at around 1664 words a day, which is a tall order. Not having written that kind of volume with that kind of regularity since I was about 17 (when 1664 words would pretty much constitute a finished [and rubbish] short story), it scared the hell out of me. I knew I had to stick with it, because if I missed a day early on, catching up would quickly become a very daunting prospect. And so it was that I was writing in bed, in the lounge, at my desk, on the toilet – I even wrote chunks on my mobile and emailed it to myself so it could be worked into the copy I was keeping on my laptop. When I wasn’t writing it, I was thinking about writing it. I often use music to help me paint scenes in my writing, and I also work through certain pieces of dialogue when I’m driving, and my NaNoWriMo project was no exception to that. I lived it and breathed it. The worst day was the first one. I’d spent all day looking forward to getting started, but when the time came, I had nothing. I sat, gazing blearily at my laptop screen, drifting in and out of Facebook, for nearly 2 hours. Inspiration hit me, as inspiration so often does, like a sledgehammer. The plot of the book, a large portion of the personality of one of the characters, and one of the most important concepts of the story hit me, simultaneously, within one single idea. That idea turned out to be the catalyst for everything that followed, for every word that got written from that point on.

RW: 50,000 words in one month is a hefty goal.  Was it more scary or exhilarating to attempt such a feat?
JB: It was terrifying. I’ve often berated myself for starting things but never finishing them. The novel I was working on before NaNoWriMo has been a part of my life for pushing on 17 years, and the last big thing I properly finished was a book set in a leisure centre that took me around 7 years to conclude. So, as well as being scared by the daily word target, I was scared of it becoming just another thing I never finished.

RW: How many words did you end up writing for the month? 
JB: A hundred and twenty-three. Including the title and one dramatic conflict. No, I’m kidding. I think I near enough hit the 40,000 mark before a going-to-explode-at-any-moment car problem took my attention off the book. Real life does that sometimes. But given how totally alien I found the requisite NaNoWriMo writing behaviour, I think I did pretty well!

RW: Did you have anything outlined or written previously for your NaNo project?
JB: I actually picked up the same idea I’d begun the year before. It was really little more than a skeleton idea, with a couple of thousand words written. Between the two NaNo efforts, the idea itself hadn’t developed much, and very few words had been written for it. It was literally like I put the idea down in 2010 and picked it up again last November. The original concept was probably better aimed at much younger children, particularly given the ridiculous cartoon villain I’d created. He got shelved. I originally had five characters, and one of those got shelved too. Really, aside from 75% of the surviving cast’s names, and the title of the book, very little of the original idea made it through. It came down to a single decision on that first day. Do I try and start something completely from scratch, or do I see where that old idea takes me? The old idea won. I’m so glad it did!

If I interviewed people in person
RW: Can you share anything with us about the project you worked on or is it still in Top Secret mode?
JB: It’s still top secret – not even my wife or my illustrator knows the story! But my son does. I felt like I needed a child’s input, even though the book is more properly going to be aimed at preteens. All I’ll say is that it’s about a group of children who have a time machine.

RW: What is your impression of NaNo now that you've done it? 
JB: As a concept, I can see a real benefit to NaNo, particularly in terms of forging some writing discipline. I very much liked the fact that it forces you to explore a concept on the fly, with so little time to develop it that you’re basically winging it on a word-by-word basis. That gives it real excitement. I think we’ve all been in an exam situation where we’re flying on the seat of our pants just writing as much as we can before time runs out. I suppose as writers, that’s really what we’re doing in life full stop. It’s a lot like that. However – and it’s a big however – I don’t think NaNo can produce finished novels. I’m very much aware that, as well as having some 35,000 words still to do, my book isn’t even close to being ready for people to read. I have a mountain of editing to do. The main problem with NaNo, particularly if you can’t write all day, every day, is that you simply can’t afford the time to edit as you go. I would think that anyone who writes a NaNo book and publishes it soon afterwards (and it happens) is either very, very talented or has enough spare time that they can ruthlessly edit on the fly. I think as a fun experiment, or as a means to develop some writing discipline, NaNo is great. As a tool for producing novels? Not so much.

RW: Would you consider participating in NaNo again?
JB: Definitely! I have been critical of it in terms of producing structurally sound, well-written novels, but it’s a brilliant concept and a huge amount of fun. There is also a weighty social networking side to it that I personally didn’t bother with but which I’m sure is enormous fun. The extent of online communities for writers is staggering, particularly for someone like me that has always found writing such a lonely endeavour. I still do, really. I wonder quite where I fit in to the indie writer community. I worry that there’s a culture now of people writing something (anything), firing up Photoshop to knock up something vaguely resembling a cover design, and then hurriedly self-publishing it online, with little obeisance being paid to the literary merit of the work or to their own professional credibility. For me, writing has always been a very sacred thing, and publishing should be the final step in a long, bitter history of revisions and furtive re-drafting. My main reservation with NaNo is that it plays right into the hands of that culture. And that’s a worrisome thing. For a while I was distrustful of the Kindle because I had a long-held conviction that ebooks would eventually destroy the traditional method of publishing (sweet-smelling actual books in glorious actual jackets on the shelves of actual shops). Now I’m less worried that the internet will kill books, I’m just worried it’s killing literature.

RW: Do you think you will make any changes to your writing regimen because of NaNo?
JB: Since NaNo finished, I haven’t sat and written on a daily basis, but it made me less afraid to write. Sitting and writing had become a foreign concept to me, something I remembered doing, and something I pined for, but which I could no longer do. NaNo certainly helped me get back to that mindset where I can sit and write, rather than writing and editing in real-time – a process which produced a very, very small number of very, very well-chosen words.

RW: Writing, as I'm sure you're well aware, can be a very painful process.  What keeps you coming back? 
JB: I write because I have to. Because if I didn’t, I don’t honestly know what I’d do with myself. Stephen King once described it as being a licence to steal. I’d agree with that. Not writing would be like my favourite song coming on the radio and me not singing along. It would take willpower I don’t possess. So I write, I suppose, because I’m lazy, and because not writing would take an insurmountable amount of effort and would, ultimately, hustle me into an early, miserable grave.

RW: Describe your ideal writing location.
JB: Oh, I’m easy. I tend to prefer either sitting at a desk, or sitting up in bed. When I’ve had my writing weekends in hotels, I’ve tended to flit between desk and bed as my backache dictates.

RW: What are your ultimate writing goals?
JB: My dream, and greatest aspiration, is to have a book published. Properly, in a nice jacketed hardback, on paper, in a shop where people have to manually turn pages to advance through it. Publishing online has no appeal for me. My ultimate dream is to have a bestseller, but frankly I’d settle for people reading it and not hating either the book for being rubbish, or me for having inflicted it upon the world.

RW: If you could sit down for an evening with one of your favorite authors, who would it be? 
JB: Stephen King, without a shadow of a doubt. I went to see him at a signing he did in London a few years ago. He did a reading from his latest book (which at the time was Lisey’s Story), then did a Q&A, and then there was to be a signing at the end. There were hundreds of people there, and before he'd even finished talking, people were getting up and going to form a queue to get something signed. Consequently I didn't get anywhere close to him. But I at least got to listen to what he was saying, without wandering off mid-sentence. I left without a signature or a chance to meet my hero, but I left with my dignity. Which isn't something I can often say.

RW: What book have you read more times than any other? 
JB: The book I've read the most times cover to cover is "IT" by Stephen King. He's my favourite author and muse, and that novel, as well as being his magnum opus, is my favourite book. It does everything for me: it has horror, which I love; it focuses on the concept of childhood, which is something I'm deeply interested in; it describes life in a small town, which I can completely relate to (minus the evil clown); and above all, it inspires me to be a writer. My degree was in childhood studies, and I studied "IT" for my dissertation. I was researching the figure of the child, and the notion of childhood in horror literature, with King at the centre of that. It's just an incredible novel, so profound and powerful. It's everything I aspire to achieve, although I know I'll never write anything nearly as good. It's not just my favourite book, it's one of my favourite things ever. I adore it.

Holly on a book, see what I did there?
RW: You posted an audio excerpt from your current work in progress, Holly's Story.  Would you like to share any more info. about that with us?

JB: Well, since you asked so nicely! The story is really more of a novella, now called "Abandoned Places". The central character, Holly, is one of the characters in my novel, but as with other characters from the novel (the grownup one, not the YA one I started for NaNo), there was a part of Holly's story that didn't fit the narrative structure. So I decided to write a separate novella telling that part of her life. The story is about her last day, and details some of the events that led her to take her own life. It's very sad, and it was very emotional to write. Holly was once quite a peripheral character, and this novella was also a chance for me to get to know her better before I became too heavily embroiled in the main novel. I grew to really care about her as I wrote Abandoned Places. I love her, in fact, and I feel just awful about what I had to put her through in that story. But hopefully I can make it right for her in the novel. I've re-drafted since I did that audio recording, so I may one day re-record the whole novella for my website. It's the least courtesy I can afford her.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

These are a few of my favorite things.

After Jody Lamb's awesome post on reading, I decided to come back and do a little post on some of my favorite books, lines, poems, etc. It's all about reading this month, so let's savor it. And I would love, love, LOVE, if you'd share some of your favorites.



Here we go!

     One of my absolute favorite phrases in literature goes to Marisa de los Santos for a line she put in her excellent novel Love Walked In. The phrase is as follows: "I walked up the stairs to my apartment, carrying the moment carefully as though it were a glass globe full of butterflies." 
Is that not a beautiful image? In the context of her novel, this moment refers to her first kiss with her new dream boyfriend. I've held that glass globe of butterflies a few times in my life, how about you? Exquisite phrase. I'll never forget it. 

     Now, April is poetry month and we'll get into that more later, but I also wanted to share my favorite poem. You Were Wearing by Kenneth Koch.  For me, the clincher is the line with "George Washington, father of his country, shoes." I love to pull out this poem from time to time and just try to imagine what exactly all these great images might mean. The possible interpretations are endless and that makes me happy. This poem actually brings a smile to my face every time I read it. Guess what, I'm smiling right now. No joke.  

I've said it before and I'll say it many more times, I'm sure, but Michael Lawrence's The Aldous Lexicon trilogy is one of my all-time faves. Now, it doesn't hurt that Michael and I started corresponding while he was writing the third book and he subconsciously paid a teeny weeny homage to me but I love the books without that little tidbit. They're all about alternate reality, which is creeping up all over the place right now. PBS ran a special about the science of alternate realities in November of last year. NBC is currently airing a new series based on the subject. But Michael's books will remain the most interesting and inspiring for me. He has recently re-written all three books and produced them as a single volume e-book called The Realities of Aldous U. He also made an incredible book trailer for it. It's worth watching, if for nothing else than the gorgeous English accent coupled with some dramatic music that actually gives me chills. (I'm not the only one who's admitted to this! Check it for yourself and tell me what you think).

NOT lecherous. 
 And I'll end this post, before it gets too long, with a little literary confession. Although I don't like them in real life, in fiction, I'm intrigued by lecherous old men. Gross, right? I don't mean too lecherous. I'm talking just the level of Francine Prose's Blue Angel.
I also, sort of, consider The Phantom of the Opera, to fall under the lecherous category.  Maybe more so in the musical than the original novel. It doesn't matter though, I cry every time Christine leaves the Phantom. He's so passionate. Terribly flawed. Even violent, but damn it all, he loves that girl. 

What are some pieces of writing that really stir you up? 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March is Reading Month

Why(what) is this woman reading in a bra?
In honor of reading month, I've assembled some fabulous people to do guest posts. (I have spots left if you'd like to be among them. Shoot me an email at SarahJPerry9 at gmail dot com with the subject "Reading Month" and, in the words of Lennon/McCartney, we can work it out.)

Reading is a heavy topic to tackle. Really, where do you start with it? How can you boil down the beauty, fun and importance of reading? It's really difficult, but fellow author and friend, Jody Lamb has managed to grab the ethereal topic of reading and make it sparkle. I knew she could.

So I'll let Jody kick off reading month in her own magical way. (And if you want more examples of her fabulous writing style, check out her blog.)

And now, on to Jody...

When writers write of reading, we promise of adventure in literary land. Like those stunning, come-explore commercials with aerial footage of exotic places, we tell of books as tickets to grand voyages. Hurry, we say, here comes your whimsical, chance catching of a magic carpet’s edge to experience the worlds you’ll never otherwise see, touch or taste.

It’s a tall challenge to describe something we consider one of life’s greatest gifts! Such a colorful presentation is a must for a faint chance for books to earn a spot beside the entertainment buffet refreshed moment to moment by Hollywood, YouTube and Apple.

As attention spans slim and thrill expectations skyrocket among the reluctant, the too-busy-to-bother-to-read kids and adults, I kick my enthusiasm up a notch to rival that of a travel agent struggling to meet her sales goal for the month.

It feels strange to me, though, when I speak of reading this way, because I feel I’ve only told half the truth about my beloved past time and me.

The truth is the greatest gift reading has given me is to keep me right in my own world, rooted in what I know. While I enjoy the other world adventures, what I’ve really always adored was realistic fiction.

Twenty years ago, my cozy reading spot was on a cushionless wooden floor against my pale blue bedroom wall, beneath a drafty window, in the evening sun.

Actor dramatazation of a young Jody Lamb.
 There I’d read Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” series, Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and just about every realistic novel my elementary school library owned.

I coveted those books more than my classmates’ poured hours into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mario and Luigi, Animaniacs and that one show on Nickelodeon where green slop fell from the ceiling onto people’s heads.

Once, my teacher asked me what it was about realistic fiction that was more interesting to me than video games, movies and even Goosebumps and the other popular books of my era.

A nearly inaudible, “I’m not sure,” tiptoed from my lips and I shrugged off the guilt for telling a white lie.

I knew the truth.

Those stories with relatable, lovable characters chased away fears that I was alone. The characters had problems. Their families weren’t perfect.

Ramona’s family struggled to pay the bills sometimes, too. Like me, Margaret pondered big picture stuff and felt like her peers were infinitely more confident and comfortable with themselves. 

But they made it through, and I knew I would, too.

These tender looks at life as a young person were hugely impactful to me. Growing up is far more complicated than we recall as adults. The problems, the worries are real, perhaps much heavier than in grownup life for some.

Today these realistic stories have the same effects on me. They fuel me up on courage and help me view my own life more clearly.

For this, I’m forever grateful, and this is exactly why I’m happy to be an energetic, vocal fan and tireless travel agent to the world of reading.