Welcome to the three hundred and thirty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author, playwright and thriller novelist Gregg Feistman. 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, Gregg. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Gregg: Hello Morgen. I’m a professor of public relations at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA (USA). Prior to being in academia, I spent many years in the corporate world doing public relations in a variety of industries which always involved writing of various sorts. I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was young. My professional writing credentials include being a freelance business and sports magazine writer, an Off-Off-Broadway-produced playwright, and now a published novelist.
Morgen: I love hearing authors say they’ve always been writing. Sometimes I feel I’ve missed out because I came to it in my late 30s (although I dabbled with limericks in my 20s) but then I have the experience to write about. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Gregg: My debut novel, The War Merchants, is a corporate thriller with international intrigue – and with a little bit of romance thrown in! I’m currently working on a sequel in somewhat the same vein.
Morgen: Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Gregg: No, it’s paper all the way, although for my next book, I am considering offering it as an ebook as well.
Morgen: I think it would be a good idea. It’s certainly the way publishing is heading although almost everyone I’ve spoken to have said they’d never give up paper books. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Gregg: Tons! Welcome to be reality of being a writer. I deal with them by being persistent. I think if you believe in your talent and your work, you just keep going.
Morgen: You do (I do). 🙂
Gregg: There’s always another agent, another publisher who hasn’t heard of you yet.
Morgen: There is. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Gregg: I managed to get my first novel published without one. I am seeking one though (if any literary agents out there reads this, please contact me!). Are they vital? Well, I didn’t need one to get published, but I think it’s helpful in the long term, since a good agent can probably open some doors that might otherwise be closed to an unrepresented author.
Morgen: Certainly for the top publishing houses. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Gregg: All of it. As an “unknown”, writers have to be savvy in the marketing / PR efforts for their own works. You have to use a combination of traditional and social media and it’s an ongoing process. Fortunately, my professional background comes in handy.
Morgen: Do you have a favourite of your characters? If your book were made into a film, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Gregg: My favorite character is my heroine, Cassidy Jevon. I could see either Halle Berry or Kerry Washington playing her in a movie version. For my hero Michael Kranz, either Hugh Jackman or Eric Bana. For my villains, Jeremy Irons and Helen Mirren (my chief villain is a woman). And if there are any producers or studios out there interested, I’d love to chat!
Morgen: I’d not heard of Kerry so had to look her up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerry_Washington) she does look quite Halle Berryesque. I didn’t know Michael Kranz (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2947895) either and thought I was good at films. 🙂 Did you have any say in the title / covers of your book(s)? How important do you think they are?
Gregg: Yes, I had total control over both the title and the artwork. I think they’re incredibly important, since whether a reader is browsing online or in a store, it’s the cover and the title that first catches the eye. The best advice I can give is go to a local bookstore and walk around looking at the covers. What design elements are used to make it eye-catching? That’s what I did.
Morgen: Good plan. I didn’t really pay attention until I started putting my covers together and it does make you think. I take photographs differently now, looking for title / name spaces. 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Gregg: As I mentioned, my current work-in-progress is a sequel with the same main characters (Cassidy and Michael). I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s a contemporary story that involves historical fact (similar to my first book) and involves the Catholic church.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Gregg: I wish I could find time to write every day, but life gets in the way! I do try to write several times a week, even if I only manage to pound out a paragraph or just a page. Especially when I’m in the middle of a work, I want to keep writing so eventually I can finish it. I do think writing is part of a writer’s DNA. Like any creative type, writers write because they have to, just like a painter paints or a composer composes. There’s something in our make-up that compels us to express ourselves through a particular medium.
I have gotten writer’s block occasionally. I had a bad case of it for about six weeks towards the very end of my first novel. I knew what the ending would be, but the bridge to it hinged on which direction one of my characters would go and I just couldn’t decide. I eventually resolved it by just sitting down one day and doing stream of consciousness writing. All of a sudden, the creative damn burst and the words just flowed. Interestingly, the character went in a totally different direction than I had first thought, but it proved to be perfect for the story. Which just goes to prove the creative process can’t be easily defined or explained.
Morgen: Stream of consciousness if often practiced in workshops and can work really well. It can certainly clear off any cobwebs. 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Gregg: I write the kind of stories I would like to read. In my creative process, I always envision the ending first. Then I work backwards to see how those characters ended up in that situation. I usually have a rough plot in my head when I first start. For my first novel, I didn’t do any outlining or character background. I knew these characters so well in my head, I didn’t feel I needed to explore their history. Perhaps I would have finished it sooner if I had done an outline first, I don’t know. For the book I’m currently working on, again I started with the ending first again, but I’ve done a partial outline this time. I still like the idea of being open to new ideas as I write that may stray from the outline. I’ve found over the years that when the “muse” speaks to me, it usually ends up being much better than what I originally thought I was going to do.
Morgen: That’s great. It’s practice isn’t it, and confidence. You mentioned knowing your characters well, do you have a method for creating them, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Gregg: Most of the time, I know who these characters are instinctively. Sometimes they come into my head with names all ready. Other times, I have to find their names (I use a baby naming book I bought many years ago). What makes them believable? They have to be real people with characteristics that resonate with the reader. They can be idealistic, but they have to have some of the same flaws the rest of us have. They can’t be too perfect or too psychotic or they won’t be believable. And that includes both the inner and outer dialogue. They have to think and speak the same way most people think and speak so the reader can relate to them. It’s my job as the writer to make the reader cares about them (or hates them) enough to keep turning the page to see how they end up. In other words, they have to human.
Morgen: They do, warts and all. 🙂 Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Gregg: I used to, but not recently.
Morgen: That’s a shame, but then as a short story author I may be a tad biased. 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Gregg: It’s a little bit of both. I write first just to get the thoughts down. Then I’ll go back over it. If I’m not nauseated by what I’ve read, it stays! But I will go back and tweak it here and there. When I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll read through the whole manuscript with red pen in hand and do my own editing. Then I’ll go back and revise. By the time I’m ready for others to read it, I want it to be the best I can make it. When my editor read the manuscript for my first book, there were very little changes he made to it, mostly some fact-checking. But he said the story was pretty much ready to go, which I thought was a nice compliment for a first-time writer. But everyone needs an objective editor, because no one gets it right the first time.
Morgen: I love having a red pen. 🙂 Do you have to do much research?
Gregg: Because the premise for both my books are based on historical fact, I do a fair amount of research, which is a lot of fun. Most of the research I did for my first book came from news accounts. I’ve learned a lot about each one of my topics and I try to put some of that into my writing. I think it also creates credibility for me as a writer if I can tell the reader something they didn’t know before.
Morgen: Without feeling like a history lesson. 🙂 What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Gregg: I write from third-person. Being omnipotent gives me greater flexibility over the story and my characters, and what happens to them along the way. I have read stories told from a first person point of view and am intrigued to try it someday. I think second person writing is harder.
Morgen: It is, and certainly an acquired taste. (Regular readers of this blog will know I love it :)) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Gregg: I certainly hope not! That said however, if your sole purpose in writing is to make money, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reason. You write because you think you have something to say or a good story to tell – even if it’s only for your friends and family. If it sells, so much the better.
Morgen: And even better if your readers give you feedback on it. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Gregg: My favourite part is the creative process, especially when the words are just flowing and I can’t type fast enough. My least favourite part is finding the time to sit down at the keyboard, especially when I know what’s going to happen next and I just can’t wait to type it out. Probably the most frustrating part is the continual pitching to agents and publishers, and getting rejected over and over. But that’s part of the business and you need to know that going in. I think the thing that’s surprised me most is the amount of effort an author has to put in to promote their own work – from media interviews and book signings to social media. Authors today have to be more than just authors. You really have to be the complete package – and that makes you more attractive to publishers (I hope).
Morgen: Snap, snap and snap. I left my job three weeks and I still struggle to fit everything in! What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Gregg: Stick with it. Finish the manuscript. Everyone has a great idea for a book, but they never finish it. Especially with new authors, agents and publishers want to know you have what it takes to finish your work. Non-fiction is different, you can come up with a proposal before writing the book. But with fiction, finish the book first. Then come up with a strong pitch letter and just stay persistent. I really believe that if you have a dream of seeing your work in print and are willing to work at it and pay your dues, you can get there. I did. And with self-publishing and epublishing, there are more options available for authors than ever before. But remember, it all starts with you.
Morgen: It does and it’s great. If a writer is passionate enough they’ll keep going, won’t they. 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)?
Gregg: Good question!
Morgen: Thank you, it’s quite a new one. 🙂
Gregg: I’d say US President John Adams who helped conceive the idea of a democracy ruled by law and helped found the country, Shakespeare of course, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King for his oratory. I’d make something they’d all agree on, perhaps something simple like baked salmon, or pasta.
Morgen: Mmm. I love salmon. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Gregg: Not really. I’m a voracious reader, and I come across stuff all the time, but there’s not one quote I can choose.
Morgen: That’s OK. I’d be hard-pressed and I ask the question… although if I had to choose a word it would be ‘cuddle’. 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Gregg: I do write some for work, some academic writing, but I’m not a researcher. It’s much more application than theoretical.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Gregg: I read, I exercise when I can. I’m also a professional motorsports photographer. And I have a lot of varied interests, from music to art to history and politics.
Morgen: I used to know a motorsports photographer… a couple actually. They loved it. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Gregg: I’ve read “Stein on Writing” by Sol Stein and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King and both were helpful. I also read writer’s blogs and websites from time to time.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Gregg: I’m on LinkedIn and belong to a couple of local writers groups. They help uncover opportunities for exposure (for example, I found this interview opportunity on LinkedIn!), and offer encouragement and motivation to keep writing with like-minded people.
Morgen: I love LinkedIn. Anything you want to know, just put the question up and someone will answer it. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Gregg: I think it’s good. With the different options available, from ebooks to self-publishing to traditional publishing, there are more ways than ever to get your work in front of readers.
Morgen: Aren’t there, and it’s really exciting. I love being a writer now. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Gregg: Thanks for the opportunity. I hope your readers find it interesting.
Morgen: I’m sure they will and let’s hope they tell us! 🙂 Thank you, Gregg.
I then invited Gregg to include an excerpt of his writing…
Michael Kranz looked around the atrium of the Halden Tower, bemused. Glass and marble made up most of the lobby. A multi-story, carefully constructed waterfall ran through live plants, all set against the back wall to provide the background sound of rushing water. Some psychologist had probably suggested it would sooth frantic corporate nerves. The idea was to provide an oasis of calm coming off the streets of a major American city. Of course, the designers of this oasis had purposely not provided anywhere for people to sit and sooth their frantic corporate nerves. Heaven forbid someone should actually want to take a mental timeout here. The waterfall was just for effect and that effect must have cost a small fortune, he thought. Of course, the Halden Companies spent a small fortune every day just on paperclips.
“Mr. Kranz?” a familiar female voice called from behind him.
He turned and came face to face once again with one of the most beautiful women he had ever known. In a glance, he took in the shoulder-length straight ink-black hair, enormous brown eyes, high cheekbones, full lips and smooth ebony complexion. He was reminded once again as to how tall she was; close to six foot, 70 percent of it found in a pair of very shapely legs. Judging by the broadness of her shoulders, she was still athletic, too. And although her maroon suit was expertly tailored, it couldn’t hide her curvaceous figure completely.
He smiled and crossed to her. “Ms. Jevon. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
Gregg Feistman is an Associate Professor of Public Relations at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has had a long career in public relations and corporate communications for local, regional and national companies, is an independent PR consultant, and a former playwright. Gregg resides in Southern New Jersey, outside Philadelphia.
Update October 2012: “In the original interview, I said I was working on my next book, a sequel to the first. That manuscript is now complete and I’m in the editing / revision stages. I’m hoping to have it out sometime next year.”
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