And the next stop on the virtual book tour, aphephobia‘s blog.
Below is the interview I recently had the pleasure in participating in.
So, on June 17th, the lovely and talented neo_prodigy’s debut novel, Hollowstone hits the market, and he’s doing a virtual book tour. I’ve only known Neo for… about a year, I think it’s been, and I’ve been consistently moved by and impressed with his writing, so hearing about Hollowstone has been exciting. The fact that he’s another NaNoWriMo success is both inspiring and awesome– so when the idea of a virtual book tour went out, I was very much “I wanna be a part of this.”
And one of the virtual appearances is… here: on my LJ!
What was your primary inspiration behind writing Hollowstone? Were your initial thoughts along the lines of “I want to get published” or did you just start writing something which screamed out along the way “Hey, I need to be published!”?
Ever since high school, I always wanted to write a story that was at least in part an homage/modern day retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The high school I graduated from was a prestigious private school, and being from a working class background, I could relate to Nick Carraway entering this strange new world of the elite and the upper class. However for the novel, I decided to base Noah (the Carraway of this piece) on three of my high school buddies.
I began toying with the idea of Hollowstone during my final quarter of art school. I was taking a film noir class at the time and I had completely fallen in love with the genre. Not surprising, many noir elements permeate throughout the novel.
Shortly before writing Hollowstone I was at a crossroads of sorts in my career. This was back in 2007. Man, I can’t believe it’s been a few years now. Anyway, I had been writing short stories and non-fiction articles. While I had achieved some success, I was ready to take my career to the next level and venture into penning a novel.
That year I learned about the National Novel Writing Month challenge which takes place annually in November. The idea is that with 50,000 words, you’ve either completed a novel or have written a good portion of it. Famous novels that are roughly 50K include Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Great Gatsby.
I’m proud to say I won my first NaNoWriMo and a whirlwind later, well, here we are.
How did you go about seeking publishing? What happened after you wrote it? Did you put it aside for a bit before editing, or did you go full-throttle and only stop when you’d hit the end point?
I worked on Hollowstone for the entire month of November for NaNoWriMo. After hitting the 50K mark and winning the challenge, I actually walked away from the story for a few months to rest, reset and work on some other projects. I returned to Hollowstone the following February and completed it around April if I’m not mistaken. So overall it took me about four months to finish the initial rough draft. From there, I revised and edited Hollowstone and shipped it off to two beta readers: good friends, both of whom are published novelists, to critique and edit the novel.
Once I got the critiques back from them, I did another revision/edit and after that, I began shopping the novel around.
What was the process of getting a publisher like for you?
I think it was less painful when I got my wisdom teeth removed. At least they gave me good drugs for the anguish.
Essentially what I did was extensive research and unenviable grunt work. I researched every publisher and agent I could find and submitted Hollowstone to those who were accepting submissions and who indicated in their guidelines that Hollowstone would be a good fit.
I had this extensive list and I checked off each name I submitted to. I lost count after the first hundred.
While Hollowstone has many things working in its favor, because it features marginalized characters and tackles bigotry in a pull-no-punches manner, I knew it would disqualify me from many markets. Which is what happened.
More than once, I had people who read the manuscript tell me, “Denny, white people aren’t THAT racist. This is sooooooo unrealistic.”
Never mind the fact that the incidents in question either happened to me specifically, or I witnessed them firsthand.
So I definitely zeroed in on markets that didn’t just tolerate marginalized writers but welcomed and celebrated us. And that’s how I came upon Parker Publishing. Their tagline is what sold me: Quality Fiction For Readers Of Distinction. Parker is a company that targets black and other readers of color and believes in not only producing stories featuring minorities but exceptional quality stories featuring minorities. They have some amazing talent on their roster including L.A. Banks.
I remember when I submitted to Parker, I kept saying to myself, if I get picked up by a publisher, I truly hope it’s someone like them. Because I believed in their mission statement. And it’s a mission statement I believe Hollowstone epitomizes.
Nearly a year had passed and I hadn’t heard anything from Parker or anyone else. I was at another crossroads of sorts. I was unhappy with the job I was in at the time, I was stuck in a town that I desperately wanted to escape and my writing career wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I wanted to travel abroad, I wanted to gain new experiences and some new skills. I wanted to make a lot more money and save up in the hopes of leaving the states for good. I was looking at the military with the aims of becoming an Air Force officer. Approximately two weeks before I was scheduled to sign my enlistment papers, Parker contacted me and informed me that Hollowstone had been accepted and they wanted to publish it.
The timing of it was too significant to be a coincidence. It was as if fate was intervening and informing me of my calling to be a writer, an artist and a storyteller.
Did you have to deal with editors and others telling you that you needed to change key factors about either the story or the characters? Did you ever feel like you could compromise any of these things– and if so– what? And what were the things you wouldn’t compromise in a million years?
You know I have to say that I’m truly blessed on that score. I think if it had been another publisher that might’ve been an issue, but because Parker is about promoting POCs in a positive and honest manner, my story was welcomed with open arms.
Editor Kymberlyn Reed and Publisher Miriam Pace have been absolute godsends and I couldn’t have asked for finer people to work with.
I knew I was with the right publisher when Kymberlyn expressed joy in how Noah is a positive and accurate representation of African-Americans and that he debunks so many racist perceptions and stereotypes regarding blacks. In fact, said racist perceptions and stereotypes gets called out more than once in Hollowstone. Many publishers would’ve either erased the realities of that “icky racism stuff” or would’ve simply made Noah white to make the story more “marketable” and “universal.” And for me, I’ve seen that happen too many times to allow it to happen to my work, not without a fight anyway. Hollowstone had too many important things to say to allow that message to be distorted or silenced.
But I was very fortunate that it wasn’t an issue. And during the editing process, I was worried that the editors were going to require massive revisions to the plot or something, but no that wasn’t the case. Other than the standard edits and tweaks (all of which made Hollowstone a stronger piece), the manuscript is as intended.
What would you say are the essential things which pulled you through the writing– and then the editing– and then the seeking out publication– processes? What would you warn budding writers to be aware of and to grit their teeth and persevere through during the process?
Drive, determination and discipline are essential to being a successful writer in my humble opinion.
To budding writers, I will warn them to be wary of self-doubt which seeps in while you’re hitting a writing slump and know that it is part of the process and it too shall pass.
Several times while writing Hollowstone, I began to think I was being delusional and was in fact churning out crap. However after I had a few readers take a gander, they made it clear that I wasn’t crazy or a hack and that the prose was solid and I was just being too hard on myself. But that’s what happens when you’re locked in solitary confinement with only your laptop as your companion. The second guessing and self doubt begins to kick and while they are necessary, like anything else, they have to be kept in balance.
The important thing is just to finish the manuscript, by any means necessary. You can always go back and revise and improve. But you can’t do that if you don’t have anything to work with.
Would you have said you spent longer on the plotting, the writing, or the rewriting of the book? Were there times you wanted to just forget the whole thing and pick up a new project or walk away?
I think the lion’s share is the actual writing of the rough draft. And while writing you go through a myriad of experiences. You’re on the biggest high when it feels like you’re channeling the story through you and you’re merely the instrument, then there are the lows when you’re stuck on a scene and then you begin to wonder who in their right mind would read this crap? But the ultimate objective is to just finish the novel. Just keep writing no matter what. Writing is not unlike sculpting. The rough draft is the lump of clay and the edits and revisions are you sculpting a statue out of the raw materials. But again, you can’t do that if you don’t have the completed prose. You can always improve and revise but you can’t do it unless you complete the piece.
There were many times when I wanted to quit or walk away but being an overachieving alpha, I’m my own worst drill sergeant. There were countless times when I got discouraged when my inner drill sergeant kicked in and began to yell at me, “HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT THIS? You say you want to be a writer. Well guess what maggot, this is the life. And it doesn’t get better. You say you want this but you’re going to run away the first time it gets tough? Are you serious about being a writer or are you just playing make believe? Playtime is over. Either step up or step off. Either bring your A-game or go home. You want to be a writer? Then I’m gonna need you to grow a set, man up and do the damn thing. Now handle your business or take the bench and sitcho ass down.”
Yeah that’s what goes on in MY HEAD.
What’s the next thing we’re going to be looking out for from you?
I finished my second novel Empyrea earlier this year and I’m in the process of editing it. It’s an action fantasy novel that features a gay Native American teen as the primary protagonist. The story takes place on a world where sorcery and science intertwine. Imagine if Aang/Kyle XY/Luke Smith teamed up with Ron Weasley, Artemis Fowl and Peter Pensieve for an epic Kingdom Hearts style adventure. I had an absolute blast writing the novel and sequels are definitely planned.
I’m also currently outlining a super hero story that features a black female teen and a gay man as the primary protagonists. I’m a lifelong comic book addict so this is going to be all kinds of fun. But more than that, this is in response to the ongoing bigotry in the comic book industry that POCs and LGBTQs have had to endure for far too long.
Suffice to say I’m going to be busy for quite some time.
But you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can read an excerpt here.
In case you can’t tell, I’m really looking forward to this one. Congratulations, neo_prodigy, and here’s looking forward to hearing about the success of Hollowstone and seeing your other projects hit the public space. Seriously, folks, this is awesome.