Welcome to an interview with Kevin Brennan, author of Parts Unknown, Our Children Are Not Our Children, and the recently released Yesterday Road. Kevin also has a blog at http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/ where he takes his readers along on his sometimes funny, sometime harrowing road to self-publication.
M: Kevin, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I’m excited to be able to talk with you about your current book, Yesterday Road, as well as your other books.
KB: Glad to do it, Marie. I’ve been following your blog for a few months now, and I’ll be rooting for you during NaNoWriMo.
M: Thanks! I’ll need the support. It was nice of you to beam yourself all the way out here from the West Coast. Fortunately, our weather is finally showing signs of the autumn season, so let’s sit out on my porch. Would you like something to drink?
KB: Only if you want to shake up a nice dry martini.
M: Indeed and I’ll make one for me too! Now, as I tell everyone who visits, don’t mind the cats. They tend to be well-behaved, though, among strangers.
KB: They seem… benign.
M: (Yup, for now they are.) Kevin, since you’ve just released Yesterday Road, let’s start there. This is a novel about an older man, who has problems with his memory but who takes off on a journey to find his daughter. Along the way he meets a young man with Down syndrome and a middle-aged waitress who takes both men under her wing. How did you come about to put these characters together on such a journey?
KB: It started with the littlest fragment. I had a note that said, “Woman with dementia hits the road.” Then I started fiddling with it, changed the woman to a man, gave him a particular goal, and then Joe Easterday showed up. He’s the young man with Down syndrome. From there, it just became a road picture, like Hope and Crosby. (Do people remember them anymore?)
M: I remember Hope and Crosby 🙂 How has your experience in self-publishing Yesterday Road been so far?
KB: Well, there are two angles to all of this: production and promotion. For the most part, the production has gone pretty smoothly, with the small exception of ebook formatting. It’s a little tricky, and even though there are a lot of people out there who you can pay to do it for you, you might not get exactly what you expect.
On the other hand, I had a seamless experience having my cover done. I went to a freelancer’s directory and found an artist with sensibilities that seemed to fit the book (Max Scratchmann of Glasgow, Scotland), shot him over my source image, which he then manipulated, shot back a couple of revisions, and boom — it was finished. And not expensive!
The promotion side of things has been more complicated. I’m learning as I go along. Frankly, I’d been avoiding Twitter ever since I heard about it. Facebook? More like Faceblech. Blogging has been fun (I had a political blog a few years back), but what I’m finding is that it’s very hard to find readers through these tools. Other writers seem to fall from the sky like the frogs in “Magnolia,” but readers? I’m not sure how to get to them without spamming left and right and making more enemies than friends. Then there’s the problem of literary fiction. Most online reading communities are geared toward genre writing.
M: That’s a great point about how easy it is to find other writers, not so easy to find readers. You know I wish you the absolute best in sales and hopefully this promotion will do that for you.
Now, you also have a novel that was traditionally published, Parts Unknown. This novel too has an interesting premise with the main character, Bill Argus, having a late “mid-life crisis” at 63 and deciding to return to the small town and family he had left 40 years before. Parts Unknown was published in 2003. Could you talk about that publishing journey for a bit?
KB: For that book, I did everything the old-fashioned way. Queried agents. Landed one. She was able to sell the novel very quickly (and called to give me the good news on my birthday!), then working with the editor was smooth and painless. She didn’t ask me to do too much to the book.
Ironically, I enjoyed the pre-publication stuff more than the whole post-pub thing — readings, book clubs, radio, all that. That’s where you learn that your little novel is not on most people’s radar, even if it’s the biggest thing in your entire life.
Since then I’ve been writing more books, always trying to go the traditional publication route, but frankly the business has changed a lot since 2003. For the kind of books I write, it seems like self-publication might be a better way to get the work out there. The old clock on the wall is ticking, after all…
M: I would really like to know how these two journeys—traditional publication and self-publication—compare. I imagine both have their pros and cons. Can you say at this point whether being traditionally published was more advantageous for you than self-publication?
KB: The advantage of traditional publication is sort of built-in: a publisher thinks your work is good enough to publish. That said, for midlist novels, they don’t do a heck of a lot of promotion, unless the sales force really gets behind it. They do send out advance copies, which can translate into reviews, and through that route I got a couple of terrific print reviews in big newspapers. But in terms of events, I managed to set up a lot more things myself than they did. Mostly regional, but somehow I got myself onto a panel of “Emerging Voices” at the BEA that year. I think they were kind of stunned that I landed that one. Michael Chabon was in the room, believe it or not, and Daniel Halpern of Ecco Press.
The advantages of self-publishing are mainly that you are in charge. You’re the editor, the designer, and the marketing executive on top of being the author, so you need to be aware of — and good at — a lot of different things. And, if you do well, you get 70% royalties on Amazon. That’s not bad.
M: And your other book, Our Children Are Not Our Children, was self-published to test the waters of self-publication. It’s a wonderful collection of very short stories, odd slices of life where the parents might be emotionally abusive or neglectful or very supportive in a weird sort of way (I’m thinking here of the nudist dad). Please talk a bit about these stories. What inspired you to write them? Were any of them based on real slices of life, or were they musings that you simply took as far as you could go?
KB: I first put them together to submit to literary magazines, possibly as the start of a larger project along the same lines. I think I had the piece called “Baby Teeth” in mind at the outset, based loosely on the childhood experience of someone I know. Then I just started brainstorming other crazy-parents tales, though I will say that “Day Care,” about a couple who lock their toddlers in a closet all day while they go to work, came from a true story. The theme that kids are at the mercy of their parents’ sensibilities is very strong. Dickensian. I tried to set these tales to a kind of objective tone that I hope makes them feel absurd but powerful at the same time.
M: Even though you’re in the midst of promoting Yesterday Road, are you still writing as well? You’ve mentioned on your blog that you are self-employed. How do you find time to write? What needs to happen for you to say that you’ve had a productive and satisfying writing day?
KB: I haven’t been writing much in recent months. I’ll have a book ready to publish in the spring, but as far as new material goes, I’ve been focusing almost 100% on building a platform for Yesterday Road.
Luckily, self-employment gives me complete flexibility in terms of writing at a set time every day (when I’m writing new stuff, anyway), plus I can stay in my sweat pants till noon if I want. And I do.
In terms of what makes a successful writing day, I’ve always had the habit of reading the prior day’s output before moving ahead, so if I’m happy with what I did, I guess I had a good day. That method seems to propel me into the story with a little momentum.
M: Earlier you describe the fiction you write as literary. Do you mean it is more character-driven than plot-driven? Most self-published authors I’ve met write in a specific genre, such fantasy or romance. Do you have any advice for writers, especially writers of literary fiction, who aspire to be published authors?
KB: I usually describe my stuff as literary, or as a hybrid, like literary comedy or literary chick lit (as my next book is), and you’re exactly right, because it’s character- and theme-driven. I’ve never been attracted to plot-oriented novels, probably because I find plot very hard to do well. It seems suited to genre writing because there really are formulas and conventions that have to be met, or the reader isn’t happy. With literary fiction, it’s more of an “anything goes” thing — at least as long as it works.
I would advise writers of literary fiction to find something more fulfilling to do with their lives. Or, if you must write literary fiction, please do it responsibly.
Just kidding. You always hear “it’s a tough market,” and it really is, but if you write literary fiction you owe it to yourself to try to break through and get a book out. I guess the best advice I can offer is, if you think you have the stuff, hit the traditional system hard. Things are tight, but there are also small presses like Two Dollar Radio and Tin House, so all is not lost if FS&G passes on you. And now there’s self-publishing waiting in the wings, which is very fulfilling in its own way. Like complete control of the product.
M: Kevin, that’s wonderful and down-to-earth advice. It’s truly been my pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you again for taking the time for this interview. I know I am one of many others who are look forward to reading more of your work.
KB: I’ve enjoyed it, Marie. That was a pretty acceptable martini. And I hope you don’t mind if I shower you with thanks as I slide out from under these cats.
M: Thank you about the martini! First time I ever made one 🙂 I think I have a lint brush somewhere …
Well, that’s it, folks! My interview with author, Kevin Brennan. Be sure to follow Kevin’s blog at http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/ and pick up a copy of Yesterday Road. Please stay tuned for more interviews by Marie at 1WriteWay.
To get your own copy of any of Kevin’s books, visit any one of these links:
(other formats): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/368692
Our Children Are Not Our Children:
(other formats): http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/our-children-are-not-our-children/
Parts Unknown (direct from author): http://kevinbrennanbooks.wordpress.com/buy-parts-unknown-2/