Welcome to the three hundred and eighty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with author Edward R Yatscoff. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Edward. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Edward: I live in Beaumont, Alberta, just outside of the provincial capital Edmonton. I’ve always loved to read. I taught my three children to read at an early age and back then found children’s chapter books lacking in many ways. Just from my boyhood in the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario I knew I had better stories. I jotted down incidents, situations, and people from back then. Next was stringing them together in a story. Same as my firefighting stories from throughout my career from firefighter to captain.
Morgen: I love that – Toni Morrison is quoted as saying “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Edward: I suppose juvenile has taken the majority of my time. Jumping into other genres right now would be crazy as I have enough on the go.
Morgen: I know that feeling but I can’t seem to stick to one genre unless ‘dark’ counts. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Edward: No pseudonym, although I considered it. There used to be a stigma attached to multi-genre writers criticized on one or the other or not being able to do both good enough, but I don’t think that exists any longer. To date, I’ve written 5 juvenile / middle grade eBooks and am working on a 3rd firefighter novel Final Response. Another juvenile VooDoo Boy is in the works. Presently, 5 books are available online. I have published YA short stories and travel articles, winning competitions in both categories.
Morgen: Back in November I interviewed Kurt Kamm who has written firefighting novels. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Edward: A writer needs rejections if only to put him / her in their place. It makes them realize their work is not the thing of beauty their spouses and friends told them it was. I’ve posted many of my rejections–good and bad–on my website yatscoffbooks.com. If you read them you’ll know why I went to eBooks.
Morgen: You mentioned winning competitions, could you elaborate a little?
Edward: Won a trip for Deep Sea Fishing 101 in a travel competition in Sun Newspaper chain in Canada, placed honorable mention for a fiction piece in Polar Expressions Publishing, was included in 1997 Canadian Library YA Book of the Year (Thistledown Press).
Morgen: Well done. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Edward: Actually I’ve had a few agents for short periods: one couldn’t sell anything, another was a scam in Florida, and one in NYC was anal about editing. One died. I’m baffled at what they want and ultimately what they choose: “…character is too complex for the age group” “…your protagonist is too simple, a cardboard cut-out…”(same character). I believe getting an agent and getting published is simply luck and timing. It’s like art on the wall: I love it and have the money to buy it. But you may hate it and would as soon burn it.
Morgen: It sounds like you were so unlucky and yes, I feel the same about art. You mentioned some of your books are available as eBooks, how involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Edward: All my novels are, and will be, available online. I did all the required extensive formatting and my oldest son, an industrial designer, put together the cover art from my photos. I read both formats, but when I travel it’s mainly eBooks to save space. You can leave a paperback overnight beside the pool and it’ll be there in the morning. Haven’t tried that yet with a Kindle.
Morgen: I guess it depends where you go, but I have a month-old Kindle Touch so wouldn’t like to try it. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Edward: My youngest son in South Korea started me off with a website and getting involved in promotions on Goodreads. The promotion was a free book Old Flames with a promise of an online review. Very few readers took the time to review it. Right now, and until June, I have a .99 cent juvenile promotion to introduce my readers to that genre. I could probably do more but find I’d rather put my energy into writing right now. I do Tweet @ERYatscoff and post stuff on my blog if it’s to do with writing. I have several short stories and some photos posted there, too. I’ve also contributed columns to Storytime Standouts which is about young readers. My 18-month-old granddaughter is very interested in books and I’m finding it interesting how she grows into it.
Morgen: It’s all a time juggle isn’t it. They say money can’t buy you happiness but it certainly can’t buy time and most of us could do with more hours in our days. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actors?
Edward: I loved writing Archie’s Gold a juvenile about Archie Crane, a tough shoeshine boy working the mean streets. It’s a suspense / mystery and has many characters from my childhood in the setting of my hometown in Welland, Ontario. Selling it was a huge let down as Tundra Books in Toronto gave me a verbal promise it would be listed on their 2007 fall list, then 2008 spring list, then, 2008 fall list, etc. then dropped without telling me as I waited patiently. This, after they said they were “…high on it” and would likely be entered for several awards. It proves that a verbal contract is only as good as the paper it’s written on. In my firefighter novels Dennis Quaid would play Captain Gerry Ormond.
Morgen: Dennis Quaid was in one of my favourite films, one that many have never heard of: Frequency. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Edward: Covers are important. I believe they should try and evoke some imaging from at least some area of the book. Yes, I do have complete control over mine. My 3rd FF eBook began as Fire and Ice, until I searched the title on Amazon. There are hundreds of books with the same, or variations of that title. I scrapped that one and my writers group figured Too Late For Spring would be good because of it’s fitting name. Then my wife said it sounded like a gardening book. I thought about it and agreed. Now it’s Final Response but I’m still not quite sold on it. If anyone reads the synopsis on my website I’d welcome any ideas.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Edward: Final Response my 3rd firefighter novel is in final editing. Spring and summer are coming and I hit the outdoors pretty good: fishing, boating, camping, etc. so hopefully it’ll be out by fall. Voodoo Boy is a new juvenile / middle grade about nasty citizens, dark secrets, and a clever boy manipulating a bully to get revenge on them. I’ve got three chapters done on that one. In my writers group The Blob…In My Shoes a juvenile, is running the gauntlet and should be available by Christmas. This story underwent several wholesale changes including switching to as first person on the advice of a prominent publishing house who later changed their mind after I did all the work.
Morgen: Oh dear. I guess it makes you think about point of view. I converted the first 102 pages of a script I did for Script Frenzy April 2010 to the start (37 pages) of a lad lit novel – that was certainly an interesting exercise. Do you manage to write every day?
Edward: Fall, winter, and spring, are my best writing times for original projects. Editing is done all year in bits and pieces. I take great pains in editing. I find it strange how after my fifth or sixth draft and then passing it through my writer’s group there are still minor mistakes. Some kind of phantom must plague my work.
Morgen: I find that too unless I leave something for a while and then there are things my brain passes off as something else so I always have at least one first reader or editor. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Edward: I’ve never had writers block. Give me a topic and I’ll write you a flash fiction right now.
Morgen: I’m the same and am just finishing Story a Day May today and will have written 31 stories in 31 days. The majority are flash fiction and the prompts were much harder than last year but it’s spurred me on to keep going with a new 5PM Fiction slot on this blog. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Edward: I work very hard in establishing the first chapter. It puts me on the road toward a finish that I never envisioned, surprising me. The process of creativity is fascinating. Characters and events shape my story and lead me on. I know many writers use software: click to add suspense, click to speed things up, etc. and I like to think I can tell one when I read it.
Morgen: I’ve not heard of that. My goodness, I’m not sure I’d like that. The fun of writing is the writing. You’ve just mentioned characters, do you have a method for creating yours, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Edward: My characters are always unsure of themselves, even my firefighter captain who is caught out of his element more than a few times. When in uniform he’s a lion, when out of it he can be sometimes very ordinary, but he reluctantly comes up big. My boys are the same, basically unassuming, but determination, smarts, and grit drive them on through their problems. They are picked on and sometimes brutalized with no backup, or magic wand, or talking creature to turn to. They don’t have any kind of special power. It’s old fashioned I know, but kids have to live in this world and sort through their own lives, usually on their own for better or worse.
Morgen: I think it’s a great idea to keep it real. Every story has to be believable, fantasy or otherwise. Do you write any non-fiction or poetry?
Edward: I’m not thrilled with poetry although Haiku is great. Non-fiction is travel articles.
Morgen: Ah yes. I say I don’t ‘get’ poetry but do like Haiku, and Fibonacci because they’re quite simple but show mine to a poet and they’d probably tear it to shreds. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Edward: Like Malcolm Gladwell says in TIPPING POINT: he reckons 10,000 hours in a discipline is the point where many begin to achieve success. I’ve done at least that. As time goes on I do require less editing.
Morgen: I’d say I spend about 10 hours a day on blog-related issues on my computer each day (far too much, I know, mostly emails) so times that by 14 months and I’m about half-way. It sounds like you’re writing what you know, do you have to do much research?
Edward: Some for my firefighter novels on the Red Mafiya and guns. After 30 years in the fire service, I reached a confidence and competency in command and control operations and squelching most of my fears. In one of my upcoming juveniles The Far Bank which is set in my hometown along the Welland Canal, I had to find some measurements on the canal and the size of the boats plying the Great Lakes.
Morgen: That sounds like fun research. I’ve set most of my longer pieces around where I live. It makes it easier to picture places although the internet is a great boon to writers today. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Edward: I like 1st person for my juveniles and third person ‘close’ for my adult novels. I like reading one-sided angles as I’d rather not know what the bad guys are plotting until they make their move.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Edward: I think one fiction piece from many years ago. It had a storyline of a moon mission and aliens up there caught accidently on a photo and the furore it caused on earth when one astronaut never came back. There’s been a movie lately on something similar, Apollo 18 I think.
Morgen: There are supposed to only be seven basic plots so I think you can be forgiven for writing something already done. West Side Story was a Romeo & Juliet remake. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Edward: My favorite is writing juvenile / middle grade. Squeezing my brain has wrung out a lot of old memories, some good, some bad. Least favorite is not getting even 5% of readers to write a review after offering Old Flames for free back in November. The emergence and strength of eBooks has surprised me. I was prepared to continue on, getting rejections, hopeful as ever until the Tundra Books thing I’ve mentioned. That was the last straw.
Morgen: They say what knocks us down makes us stronger and a successful writer is one who didn’t give up and you being here today proves that you’re not. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Edward: First and foremost is to write it, get it on paper. Then secondly, editing. Join a writers group or form a writers group. You need honest feedback. A writers group instils discipline to get something written for the next meeting. If you play guitar by your lonesome in the basement you may think you’re Eric Clapton (so do friends and relatives), but you’re not. You’ve got to take it out and work with other musicians to truly be proficient. Everyone wants to be a writer, but few really put the time into proper editing, and that’s the knock on eBooks. A bad review might stay online forever. Self-editing is not that difficult, there’s plenty of advice online about it, including my quick methods. Don’t ever show your 1st draft to anyone, it’s too raw and crappy, and invites cruel remarks which may damage your ego and encourage you to quit altogether. A joke I came across with editing meanings:
A secretary got an expensive PEN as a birthday gift from her boss. She sent her boss a ‘Thank You’ note via SMS. The wife read the text and angrily shows her husband the message:
“Your penis wonderful, I enjoyed using it last night. Thanks.” Spaces are essential. The devil is in the details.
“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” ― Michael Crichton
Morgen: I love that. I have a couple of edits to go on most of mine then. (And I used to be a secretary, never received a pen as a gift) If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Edward: Tarzan because like all of us, “Tarzan no like grammar.” My grandfather, George, who was a big shot in town: smoked big cigars and drove fancy cars. During prohibition he was a rum-rummer in the Detroit area which probably developed his mean streak. I’d serve rum soaked chicken. Ho-Chi Minh is an overlooked world leader, rarely mentioned when pivotal historical figures are discussed. My wife and spent last winter in SE Asia and the trip turned out to be a huge cultural and historical trip. Uncle Ho had the temerity to go up against the mighty U.S. military and he persevered. What on earth possessed him to think he could do that? I think Gloria’s apple pie would do for him. Toss up here: Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Cook, or Sir Francis Drake. All circumnavigated the globe at a time of myths and fear of the unknown. I think a spread of Canadian bacon, Shanghai noodles (my recipe), a bowl of Humus or Poi, Kim-Chee, and Tandoori Chicken.
Morgen: Maybe two dinner parties then. You’ve just quoted Michael Crichton but is there a word, phrase or another quote you like?
Edward: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King 1963
In this day and age these people are here but you have to look for them. Too bad political leaders don’t subscribe to this.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Edward: My writers group. They’ve provided me with discipline, honest advice, competent editing, and are a real outlet for creativity and writing humor. Do we take ourselves seriously? Yes and no. Our skins are thick enough to bear a monthly whipping. Sometimes I do smaller home renos for winter escape money.
Morgen: I run or belong to four groups and they’re great. I can’t imagine quitting them regardless of what happens career-wise. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks?
Edward: I read a lot. I like to break up my thriller / suspense / mystery reading with a good non-fiction or historical fiction. I fish for trout and walleye, float my boat down the beautiful North Saskatchewan River. In the winter, I work out and swim once a week at the local community center. Since retiring I spent at least a month in warmer climes. Any books I read I post on Goodreads and another book review site eBook reviews R’us where anyone can also post reviews.
Morgen: I know Goodreads but the other is a new one to me. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Edward: I usually pop into Goodreads or Linked-In at their specific eBook / writing / reading areas.
Morgen: LinkedIn is great (and probably where we first met). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Edward: A brave new world. More power and control for writers. Hopefully, we’ll see a few gatekeepers with minimum standards at online sites to, at the very least, sift through poorly-edited manuscripts. Many, many famous writers had rejections but stuck with submitting because they had no other option. These days with eBooks, how many rejections will an author tolerate before going online? This begs the question of where the next famous writers will come from. The answer is surely, from eBooks. Agents and publishers will, more and more, peruse eBook sites to discover talent, even though they’ll only get half the rights (hardcopies) and be forced to put more money into marketing new authors, which is becoming less and less these days. The Chapters Indigo chain in Canada now gives new authors 45 days to sell and cultivate a following–the time period from initially ordering the book, making actual shelf time even less.
Morgen: I still think reviews will be the making of some books – an author can only have so many friends. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Edward: My website www.yatscoffbooks.com I’ve posted short stories there, too.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Edward: I have one juvenile eBook Out on a Limb available for .99 cents, a special promotion for a limited time. I’m trying to get more readers interested in my juvenile stories, hoping they’ll eventually check out the others. What I can’t understand is so many eBook authors undervaluing their work by continually offering their longer stories for .99 cents. It brings all books down. Readers will come to expect all eBooks to be cheap, putting more expensive ones in an unfavorable light.
Morgen: I think a balance is best; .99 for something short but longer works for slightly higher. I don’t agree with some authors charging almost as much for an eBook as a paperback when the manufacturing costs are vastly different. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Edward: Your site is so full, how do you find the time to do all you online? You can’t be working full-time. The little bit I do takes plenty of time as it is, but I’m retired from full-time work. There’s no advertising on your site. How do you make some coin?
Morgen: I was working part-time but left mid-March and boy, has the time flown. I don’t make a penny (or a cent) out of my blog (and vigorously want to avoid third-party advertising that devalue (in my opinion) some sites) but see it as a marketing tool for me as a ‘brand’ and for my eBooks (when I finally get the novels online!). I enjoy it so I don’t mind. Thank you, Edward. It’s been great speaking with you.
Edward has circled the globe counter-clockwise on the hippie trail, worked as a paperboy, grocery clerk, sales rep, iron worker, framer, painter, mink ranch hand, assembly line rubber plant worker, cherry picker, framer, freelance astronaut (no offers), boilermaker apprentice, various sales jobs, delivery driver, and career firefighter and officer. Now, he’s retired leaving Edmonton Fire Rescue as a station captain after 32 years. He lives in Beaumont, AB. with his Gloria. He writes, travels extensively, does a bit of fishing and boating, drinks demon rum, manages a writers group, does occasional renos, repairs everything he has that’s wearing down or breaking, and manages to escape winter at least for a month every year.
Update November 2012: Since May I’ve sold a travel article, done two readings of my juveniles at elementary schools in Toronto and one in Edmonton. I told the students my characters don’t have magic wands or secret escapes or powers to get them out of trouble, and they still liked my stories. Almost every student uses an iPad at home. I’ve been shortlisted for a short fiction article with Polar Expressions Publishing where I garnered an Honorable mention two years ago. I’m hoping to be in the money round this time.
I’ve also finished Final Response. A sample of this third firefighter fiction suspense novel is currently being checked out by readers at Bookkus Publishing (bookkus.com). If I manage to get 4 stars or better, reviews by the readers there, Bookkus will do my marketing. Readers will choose which books move ahead, a novel approach, as presently eBook authors must do their own marketing. So far my average is 3.5 stars. I’m not all that savvy when it comes to blogging and posting on the internet. Sometimes I spend hours looking for particular buttons or go over my word count and get frustrated. I usually get slapped for posting my stuff in the wrong areas. The marketing strategy process will be interesting. If you love reading, you can read and review samples there. They also sponsor short story competitions.
My writers group has two chapters left critiquing The Blob…In My Shoes a juvenile story about using a secret, unknown substance and using at a high school track meet. VooDoo Boy has eight chapters written (3rd draft) and I think two or three to go. I’m hoping to run it through the gauntlet of my writers group in the new year. I’m having a lot of fun with the characters: a Haitian boy, a big school bully, dead cats, fake voodoo, and a few upstanding citizens with dark secrets. It’s all about vengeance on a man who poisoned the Haitian boy’s dog. Samples for all these are on my website yatscoffbooks.com. My writers group has gained two new members and they are well into their projects.
I dropped in to a firefighter rookie class graduation buy, where they treat the entire department to a night out for food and drink, in return for being abused by the senior men. Just seeing all the fresh faces of the class gave me a few ideas. I ran into Tim who has turned out to be a big fan and even gave me a decent review. Unfortunately, like many men, firefighters don’t read novels much.
Oddly, I’m not finding it hard to keep all these projects separate and managed to tend to them through a busy summer which included my youngest son’s wedding. So, after the mentioned projects are completed I still have The Far Bank waiting in the wings for a final tweak, then another project that hasn’t yet reared its head yet, but one that I‘m sure will. The count of books and partially written projects is now nine novels. Can’t stop myself.
Morgen: I feel exactly the same. Thank you, Edward.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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