AUTHORNOMICS Interview with writing coach and author Larry Brooks
With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.
AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Larry Brooks
Larry Brooks is the author of six novels, including Deadly Faux and the republished editions of five earlier novels. He is also the author of two writing books, Story Engineering and Story Physics, and the creator of Storyfix.com, a site for writers of fiction.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t really wait a few years to write it, it just took that long (9 years) to get into print. A long and complex story, but thanks to my agent (that would be Andrea), who accomplished what two other agents didn’t, it is finally out there.
As to why I wrote a sequel that may launch a series, it was inspired by the critical success of its processor (Bait and Switch). Getting into his head and then living that crazy adventure with him was too much fun to not do again.
And, I gotta be honest, in the 2004 Publishers Weekly review for Bait and Switch (which earned a star), the reviewer concluded with this: “In a savvy move, Brooks concludes this book with a question mark, leaving it wide open for a sequel. Readers will welcome the prospect.”
That’s an invitation that’s pretty hard to pass up.
How did your experience in writing a sequel differ from writing a stand-alone novel? What was it like to return to the world of Wolf Schmitt?
Finding the character and the voice (in a sequel) was very different than starting something new, because those pieces were already in place. First person makes it even easier, or at least more accessible, and you can’t really switch it up when you bring back that narrator. The challenge, then, becomes hatching a story that is different enough to warrant a follow-up.
What is it about Wolf that makes him such an appealing heroic figure? How do you think of and construct characters in your writing?
Wolf is self-deprecating and as totally void of bullshit as he is sick of it. In the story he’s operating within a carefully orchestrated illusion, one which the reader is challenged to interpret. When a reader likes a character, then when you put your hero into a place in which there is darkness and threat and deceit, we naturally empathize and root for that hero. Which is the most powerful thing you can do in a novel, get the reader to take the journey alongside your hero, and feel not only what your hero feels, but root for them along the way. Some of that depends on rooting against the villain, as well, and then grounding it all with a vicarious connection – albeit one that’s way out there, because that’s where the fun is – to the human experience.
In a general sense, I try to humanize my characters but shade them in ways in which the reader will have a reaction, one way or the other. No clichés or vanilla wafers allowed. It isn’t as simple as liking or not liking a character, or even understanding them, but rather, the degree to which readers care and empathize and root them on. Emotion is the currency of good fiction in any genre.
What was the most difficult part of writing Deadly Faux? What was the most enjoyable?
Looking back I can’t recall anything being particularly difficult. A novel is always, by definition, a challenge to take on, but for me it is the planning of the story where I encounter that anxiety and frustration. Because it’s hard, especially when you are aiming for specific criteria and benchmarks, which I do. Both books in this series have been praised for their endings, so that’s probably where I invested the most anxious energy.
Will there be another Wolf Schmitt book? If so, can you give us any details on what we’ll see?
I certainly hope so. I’m thinking that I need to put Wolf in a more personal situation this time, but without moving away from the concept of the series itself, which is his role as an off-the-books covert federal asset which the agency (pick one, they all have his phone number) uses as a pawn as much as a tool of their trade. But I don’t have it nailed yet.
Four of your backlisted novels were re-released in trade paperback this year through Turner Publishing. How has this process gone for you?
Quickly, actually, it was as simple as sending in the digital manuscripts via email attachment. The only hiccup was that one of the novels (Serpent’s Dance, published in 2002) didn’t have a digital file after three computer changes over the ensuing ten years. I literally sent the publisher the paperback and they scanned it in, page by page. The glamorous inner sanctum of publishing, that . . . can’t you just picture a recent MFA grad leaning over the scanner for an entire night?
The outcome remains to be seen, and hinges almost entirely on Deadly Faux finding a readership to draw folks to the backlist. I don’t really know what to expect, I just know I’m very grateful to have those books back in play. Being “out of print” sucks, it’s like being exiled. Or dead, in a career sense. That’s why I started Storyfix.com, to resurrect and reinvent myself.
One of those books (The Seventh Thunder) will be released as a new title next April, given its prior life as a POD title from a small press. I’m thinking this may result in a different market response compared to the other re-releases, which were all widely distributed under the Onyx/Signet imprint.
In addition to Deadly Faux, you also wrote “The Inner Life of ‘Deadly Faux’”, a deconstruction of the novel that looks at Six Core Competencies from Story Engineering. What do you hope to accomplish through it?
The problem with the online writing community as a marketing venue is that writers are trying to sell their books to other writers. I have nearly 1100 Facebook “friends,” and about 1050 of them are writers I’ve never met or corresponded with, who are there for the same reason. It isn’t just one big happy book club out there. We all get about three “new release” emails a day from our online network, and let’s be honest, those don’t get much traction.
A blog is a much better identity online, but you have to build an authoritative voice and niche, a blog about your novel won’t work unless you are Gillian Flynn, who isn’t writing one. You have to give away value as fast and as often as you can.
I have the leverage of having some market presence as a writing “guru” – yeah, I don’t like that word much either – via my website and my two writing books. So I figured I could get the attention of the “writers buying novels” micro-niche (including my 1050 Facebook “friends) if I could add value to the proposition that they buy and read Deadly Faux. To give them a reason to buy it. The ebook, which deconstructs the novel and tells a few stories about its nine year journey to market, is me walking the talk, offering up my novel as a transparent guinea pig for the story structure and story physics models I espouse in my “guru” work. Buy the novel, get the ebook that deconstructs it for free. Not gonna work at a bookstore or with the bookclub crowd, but other writers who are students of story architecture and story physics have an opportunity here. It’s working pretty well so far, in fact, I think most of the early sales of Deadly Faux are because of this strategy.
When you go through a story analysis as a writing coach, what is it that you do first? How is your analysis process different than other editors?
I think other “editors” – at least those analyzing novels at the story level, rather than the copy level – accept the story premise that is offered (as if it is holy ground) and see how well the author has executed on that. They don’t assess or challenge it all that much, when in fact the premise may be the limiting factor all along, beginning at page one. My approach begins there, at the concept/premise leve, by assessing and very often challenging the core notion of the story itself. Because I believe that you cannot easily succeed in turning a sow’s ear of a story premise into a silk purse of a story, no matter how well you write it. Such projects are the meat and potatoes of the rejection pile, the common grist for rejection letters in which the publisher explains, “… but it’s just not for us.”
I see this a lot, story premises with virtually no teeth, no appeal to them, usually because there is nothing remotely conceptual residing at the heart of it all. From there, once a premise has some story physics behind it, I analyze the story in context to the other criteria of story architecture and story physics, because even if the premise is promising it can easily be screwed up – or at least not fully seized – through faulty or weak execution (which explains the other half of the rejection pile). This approach allows me to read a summary (through a Questionnaire) of the author’s story plan rather than the full manuscript itself (which I also read, but it’s over ten times more costly to go that route… the Questionnaire venue is really affordable, only $150).
It isn’t for the feint of heart. My service in this regard is for writers who want to hear the truth, and the truth is often very stark because the benchmarks and criteria for a good story are universal, eternal and not always all that clear in the writing classes we take. Success in this field has very little to do with sentence-making and wordsmithing – pretty much everyone trying to write a novel has that base covered – and everything to do with the application and weight of the physics of the story on multiple levels.
What’s next on the horizon for you? Do you have any new books, workshops, or speaking engagements coming up that we can look out for?
I have a feature article coming out in the January issue of Writers Digest, about how to keep the middle of a story propped up and energized. I have a couple of conferences booked for 2014 (including “Write on the River” in Wenatchee WA, and a workshop with the Willamette Writers in Portland, both in May). There are two new novels in my head – besides a possible book 3 in the Wolfgang Schmitt series – still swimming around in search of a promising premise (right now they are just concepts; one of the biggest risks a writer can take is to not know the difference, or to try to write the novel before both have been fully developed). Meanwhile I’ll keep hammering out Storyfix.com posts and fielding story coaching work along the way. I have a couple of non-fiction, non-writing related projects on the horizon, as well.
The offer of a free deconstruction ebook with the purchase of Deadly Faux is on the table for Authornomics readers as well. It’s easy to opt in: if you buy Deadly Faux online, just send me the email receipt and a note requesting the free ebook (send to firstname.lastname@example.org). If you bought it at a bookstore (ask them to order it, it’s a small publisher and therefore not easy to find at this point), just tell me where that happened (I don’t need a photocopy of the receipt, I trust you… besides, the ebook isn’t really relevant unless one reads the novel, so by design it’s got built-in integrity).
Thanks so much for interviewing with us, Larry!
Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.
Cherise Hensley is an English/Marketing major at Whitworth University. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is an editor and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.