NiFtY Author: Matt Coonfield

I have a very special NiFtY Author Interview for you today, featuring one of my favorite people in the world: my little brother. He hasn’t always been my favorite person. There was this time once when we were playing Legos and he was obviously wrong about something, and we weren’t very good friends right then…but I digress.

Here’s his interview. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll throw tomatoes and have to clean off your computer screen. Good luck with that.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your work-in-progress?

MC: I don’t want to give away too much. I am actually quite paranoid. The short version is a young man named Ray starts a civil war in the ghost world in an odd and adventurous way.

BH: What was the biggest challenge in finishing your first draft?

MC: Honestly my biggest challenge has always been me. I am a big lazy hurdle that I just can’t jump. I don’t like to write when it is hard, when I have to grind it out. Generally I only like to write when it is flowing. Anyone who writes knows what I am talking about. When you can churn out twenty pages a day and the only reason you stop is fear of carpal tunnel. When your thoughts are practically jumping on to the paper for you. That is when I like to write. When this doesn’t happen I start a new book. Oddly I have never finished one until now.

BH: Can you compare Ray, the main character in your work-in-progress, to anyone you know in real life?

MC: I guess parts of him are me of course or parts of me if that makes sense. I’m not schizo or anything but I like to pretend I am Jared from The Pretender. I have hidden Matt compartments that I draw from and one of them happens to be a teenage ghost-hunting ghost, conveniently enough.

BH: I understand you’re working closely with somebody else on this project. What is his role in your project?

MC: As I mentioned earlier I am notoriously lazy when it comes to writing. My partner’s name is Don and he is basically my dentist. That is to say he pulls teeth. We have only been working together a short time and I am considering buying another cell phone and not giving him the number. Other than that he does all the things I hate: paperwork, typing, forms, queries. Once he offered to paint my garage if I promised to write more.

BH: What is your experience like, working with another person? What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

MC: Well Don can be quite persistent sometimes calling me four or five times a day. I had to get used to it at first but we’ve come to an understanding now. He has given me 100 percent artistic say so, which was a condition when we first started, but even then sometimes he feels adamant about something and I hate to put my foot down too much. There is one scene in particular in the book that he wrote and it makes me leery but I have let it go so far.

BH: One of the things about your writing that impresses me is all the crazy ideas you come up with—ideas that you can make work. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?

MC: Well… My faith is definitely an inspiration to me. Really I don’t think I could write without the Bible. Not that my stories are Christian but the right and wrongs for me come straight from the source. After that I steal them. I guess it sounds weird to say that right after my Jesus plug but it is honestly what happens. I always read things, good and bad, and I can see the improvements that need to happen. I see a tweak that if the author had seen could have changed his whole piece for the better. When I find those tweaks early enough in a book or combine them with other tweaks I get really excited about what I can do with it and when I get excited….

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

MC:  I try to fit it in between reading and Pokemon but too often I am forced to combine two of the three to make up for time.

BH: How has your writing changed—either the scheduling or the experience itself—after becoming a father?

MC: My scheduling has definitely become more intense. The very reason I had agreed to work with my coauthor in the first place is money. I need it. I can’t sell a book if I don’t finish one so I brought on Don to help me finish my books. The experience hasn’t changed in the least, I just have a deeper well to draw from.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

MC: My writing workspace looks suspiciously like the cab of a Nissan Frontier. Much to the chagrin of my typist most of my good ideas come when I should be paying attention to the road. This makes for some very peculiar handwriting and possibly the next unfinished series. We all know how well it worked out for the Canterbury Tales. Don’t judge me.

BH: Just remind me to avoid the road when inspiration hits. What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MC: A notebook.

Beth and Matt Read Catching Fire

BH: You told me recently that Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is not your favorite book, but it made it into your “top ten.” What is your Top Ten?

MC: The Bible, X-Men, Dracula, Death in the Long Grass, The Night the Bear Ate Goomba, Yvain, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Great Divorce, God’s Grandeur.

BH: Twilight didn’t make it into your Top Ten, but we both admit we enjoyed it. What, exactly, is so compelling about that Twilight series? Why are these books so popular, in your opinion?

MC: Stephenie did something real special and it took her like a whole month. She tapped into something that was important to young women and made it interesting to young men. She took elements of comic books (which is why it translated so well to graphic novel), Fabio, and Mythology and made it her own. She didn’t follow rules, and she didn’t heed the pressure to omit her beliefs, i.e. her morals. I don’t think it was the best writing in the world but I loved it and I respect what she did… except for the huge let down in the end. That pissed me off but since the plot was ripped off another story what can you say?

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

MC: Write down what you are feeling now matter how silly it sounds. It will make sense to everyone.

BH: Why do you want to be published?

MC: I would like to be superficial and say it is to finance my laziness but the truth is I want to be able to talk about it with someone, someone who liked what I wrote and who wants to talk with me about it.

BH: Who is your real-life writing role model? [Hint: the answer should be someone you grew up with. Who maybe lived down the hall from you. She had a pink room for a few years. And a cat named Apricot.]

MC: C.S. Lewis, Stan Lee, and Patrick F. McManus. I hate to admit but my sister’s love for all things academic never made sense to me as a child. I get it now and all those years may have rubbed off on me a bit.

BH: Eh, that’s practically saying that your sister taught you everything you know. Any words or advice to other writers for keeping the hope alive?

MC: Give up. The market is closed. You can’t do it.

BH: Hmm. Yep, that’s my brother.

Thanks, Matt, for the fun interview!

Dying for a Date by Cindy Sample

In this post, literary agent Nathan Bransford urges (begs, actually) authors not to ask whether or not we like a book, but to answer this question: did the author accomplish what she or he set out to do with her or his book?

So. Did Cindy Sample succeed in creating a gripping, humorous, and romantic mystery? The short answer: yes. I laughed, I didn’t want to put the book down, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it (even without an air conditioner. More on that later).

The long answer: there were two small problems. And I’m being extremely nitpicky here. My first issue was with the details, and this is a personal preference. In a few places, Sample provided details that I didn’t care to know. Remember I’m nitpicking here, so my example is this: the color of the daughter’s backpack. It really made me pause and ask myself: Is this relevant? Answer: Not really. But this happened maybe five or six times in the whole book, and some readers feast on those kinds of details, anyway. Nitpicking. Personal preference.

The second issue was I found it hard to believe the hottie detective (who I really liked, by the way), would put his career in jeopardy to pursue a romance with a murder suspect (i.e. the main character). However, Joe Morelli constantly does the same thing with Stephanie Plum, and Janet Evanovich’s readers don’t complain. And really, so much else is moving the plot along that I didn’t have time to worry about this until after I read the book.

More on what I liked: the main character. Laurel McKay is funny and real. I could identify with her and loved her voice, her sense of humor, and the hilarious antics she gets herself into. Sample is dead on when she describes Laurel as Stephanie Plum as a soccer mom. There’s a great scene involving a clown suit and that’s all I’ll say here.

The best thing about the book: I literally couldn’t stop reading. Even when our car’s air conditioner disintegrated in eastern Nevada at 3 p.m. on our way to Colorado and I was so bitchy and uncomfortable I would have tossed any entertainment aside in favor of napping – I read on. Great, gripping reads stand the test of a disintegrated AC.

I’m looking forward to the next book, Dying for a Dance, because I want to see more of the minor characters too: the poker-playing daughter (without her green backpack), the best friend, and some others. Oh, and especially Detective Hottie. I mean, Detective Hunter.

So, did Sample accomplish what she set out to do with Dying for a Date? Most definitely. And hey, guess what: I liked it, too.

Feel free to check out my interview with Cindy, if you haven’t already.

Update: Cindy alerted me to a total review faux-pas in how I hinted something about the ending. If you read an earlier version of this review, I apologize! And apologies to Cindy as well.

NiFtY Interview with Josh Fernandez

Kato Peruses an Author Contract (Oh if only my Clarkie could do the same!)

For my second-ever Not-Famous-Yet Author Interview, here is Josh Fernandez. He’s an amazing writer with a hilarious, irreverent voice, and he has a book of poetry coming out this fall. It seems I’ve snagged him for this interview just before his jump into fame. Okay, so publication does not equal instant fame. For instance, I, like many other people, still have no idea who wrote that weird Twilight book.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Stickup Kid?
JF: Buy it or I’ll murder you! No, it’s an exciting little story about a small half-Mexican, half-Caucasian kid named Bear who lives with his mom in Brookline, a very Jewish suburb of Boston. One day Bear separates from his class while they’re on a field trip and he meets a man named Stoop. Bear runs away from home and finds Stoop, who takes him in and teaches the naïve boy about his Latin heritage, but he also teaches him the art of being a stickup kid—a purse-snatcher, a robber, a thief …

BH: You’re one of the few people I know who actually makes a living from his writing. What do you write to pay the bills?
JF: I write mostly arts and culture stories. I write for Spin.com, Sacramento News & Review, Boulder Weekly and some other papers that are scattered throughout our glorious country.

BH: How do you think your nonfiction writing influences your fiction, if at all?
JF: Non-fiction writing has helped me write fiction in a number of ways. It’s really helped me find a voice. My goal when writing for newspapers isn’t to be a solid journalist; my goal is to simply entertain the reader. I get a lot of hate mail. News writing has also helped me find the focus of whatever I’m writing. Nobody wants to read a long, blathering story, except for my grandpa. But he could barely read. And I think he was just pretending to read, trying to escape my grandma. RIP, gramps.

I also write poetry, which helps with everything except for money. Although, I just signed a contract with R.L. Crow press. They are going to publish my first full-length collection of poems, tentatively titled Dancing to Genocide. It should be out in the fall.

BH: What is your writing schedule like?
JF:  I’ve never really had one until I started writing Stickup Kid. I’d kind of just write when I felt like writing, which kind of ended up being all the time. But for the novel I got up every morning at 8, went to the coffee shop and wrote until 2 or 3. It was important that I did that because I have a tendency to stay in my underwear all day and watch YouTube videos of high school kids getting hit in the nuts with various objects.

BH: Voice is one of the aspects of Stickup Kid’s beginning that I admired the most. It’s also a quality all writers are after, and something which confuses many beginning writers. Do you have any tips to share on how to cultivate voice?
JF: I think basically you have to just have a voice. Sometimes I teach a writing class at Sacramento City College and I ask the students if they ever have thoughts that pass through their heads that they’d never tell anyone because they seem weird or sick. They always say “Yes.” Then I tell them to take those thoughts, write them down and then throw away everything else. And then they don’t say anything. Because they’re all asleep. Because I’m really boring. The point is, you just have to be unafraid to grab the core of who you are and put it down on a page. Nobody wants to read the outer part of you that’s been influenced by the outside world. That’s already been done. People need to read the inner you. That’s very new age. I learned that from Yanni.

BH: Your blog title “I Know, I Hate Blogs Too!” just begs me to ask what it is you hate about blogs. So, what do you hate about blogs?
JF: I don’t hate blogs. I just hate bloggers. Ha! I am a blogger, so what does that say? Really, it’s just the journalist in me that hates the idea of people who don’t get paid taking our jobs because they offer their blogging service for free. There’s so much bad journalism now because of this idea that “anyone can be a writer!” It’s the same with self-publishing. Anyone can say, “I’m a published author!” and then be a writer, while the rest of us who are actually trying to write stuff that people will read get left in the dust. Basically, I’m saying “Waaaaah!” But in more words.

BH: Since I started my own website/blog, I discovered roughly 167,738,744 other writer blogs and websites. Are you an island or do you frequent anyone else’s?
JF: Oh I read blogs all the time. I kind of just cruise around to see what other people are doing. I can’t really think of any off the top of my head, though.

BH: Can you compare Bear, the main character in Stickup Kid, to anyone you know in real life?
JF: I based a lot of Bear off my own life. And I took parts of friends from childhood and put them into his character. There are a lot of things that happened to me that also happened to Bear. All the good, heroic things were me. The horrible and twisted stuff was, um, my friends. Yeah.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

JF: Pictures! We have a spare bedroom that we made into an office. It’s good to have an office without a TV. I’d never get anything done with the possibility of Judge Judy lurking nearby.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?
JF: I really like Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry. It allows you look at words in an entirely new perspective. The first time I read the book it made me a little insane. I had no idea words were that delicate.

BH: Last we spoke about it, you were revising Stickup Kid with an agent’s guidance. Where are you in the process? Have you signed a contract with that agent?
JF: I’m editing it right now. When I’m done I’ll hand it over. They want the cleanest copy I can make. After that, if they like it, which hopefully they will, actually, I don’t know what happens after that.

BH: How did you & the agent originally connect?
JF: Luck! I set up my website and one of their interns happened to click on it. He read the part that mentioned I was writing a book and he told me to send the first 20 pages. So I did.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?
JF: It was something about a bow. It was like: make your paragraph like a bow, tight enough so that when you pluck it it will resonate with the perfect pitch. Crap, no, that wasn’t it. I get a lot of great writing advice, but then I forget everything. My mind is small.

BH: Do you “tweet”?
JF: Yes. I was totally against it, but then I realized that it was another way to get my stories out there so I’m getting used to twitter.

BH: Why do you want to be published?
JF: That’s a great question. It’s all a blur now. I’ve been mulling the story of Stickup Kid in my mind for so long that I just wanted to get it out. I really like the story and I honestly think that other people will like it. I like to write stuff that I like to read. I kind of want to see if other people like the same stuff that I do.

Here's the feature image without Josh's forehead cut off. I spent at least an hour trying to fix the feature image. Sorry, Josh. Love the bunny.

BH: Any words on advice to other writers for keeping the hope alive?
JF: Writing isn’t a very hopeful profession. I think it’s a great hobby, but there’s a lot of heartache and rejection in the world of writing. I am the kind of person who expects to be rejected, so when I’m not I feel like I’ve tricked someone. It’s great. Not all people are like that, though. A lot of people expect to be published and expect people to gush over their writing. And when they don’t get published they blame everyone else. It can’t be like that. You have to pay a ton of dues, and when you’re done paying dues, you have to stand there while people dangle pink slips in front of your face that say “We’re sorry, Mr. Fernandez, but we regret to inform you that your story isn’t what we were looking for …”.  Man, that was like the least hopeful thing I’ve ever said. Sorry. I’ll just say: Keep the hope alive!

There you have it, folks! Words from very-nearly-famous author Josh Fernandez. When he’s famous he’s promised to get us all book deals with his amazing influence. Not really. I’m promising that for him.

Thanks again, Josh, for the interview!

You can check out Josh’s website by clicking here.

New Look! Same Great Taste!

A Friday Free-for-All…

I’ve been hating my old theme for awhile; that narrow strip of text stressed me out. But what doesn’t these days. Anyway, still working out the kinks with this new theme, so I apologize if you visit my website and are greeted with life-sized images of Z’s Entourage of stuffed animals.

Speaking of new looks. I need a haircut. Or,  like, a tattoo or something. Things are getting desperate, the elliptical machine is not working its magic, and I’m ready to take things into my own hands (or the hands of a talented hairstylist or tattoo artist). Z just noticed Husband’s tattoo for the first time the other day, and her delight was infectious. I’m ready to impress her with my own tattoo.

But you know, a haircut might do the trick.

Actually, she’d be thrilled with goldfish crackers.

And if I got a tattoo of a goldfish cracker!? I’d have myself a new 21-month-old BFF.

The thing is: I want a good haircut, and those aren’t cheap. At the same time, getting a real style seems sort of pointless, as I’ve worn my hair up every single day for the last fifteen years. Actually, I think I was born with my hair in a ponytail. (Total lie; I was a baldy just like Z was.) All I know is I’m ready for less hair. Something between what I’ve got now (down to middle of my back) and what I was born with (nada).

I’m adding a new feature to my blog: interviews with UNpublished authors. If you are a struggling writer, or just a writer who would love to be published someday, don’t wait for fame to come to you! Tackle fame through my obscure website, where I will treat you as a guest on my very own imaginary talk show. Which means: without the makeup and hairstyle, and without a studio audience. Leave a comment if you want the glory.

I promise I won’t make fun of you. Much.

Since what the world needs now is Clark, sweet Clark, I end with this: