Welcome to the seven hundred and sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today I welcome novelist, essayist and short story writer Joshua Braff, courtesy of Book Marketing Services. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And see below for details of Joshua’s giveaway.
Below is a list of suggested questions. Feel free to answer as few or as many as you are comfortable with (there are a lot to choose from).
Morgen: Hello, Joshua. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Joshua: I am based in Northern California, a town called Lafayette, not far from Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco. In the early 90’s I got very interested in writing short stories. I pursued it, took classes, found a community in Seattle where I was living. From there I got an MFA at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, very close to where I live now. I published in national literary journals and then got an agent in NYC. From there I took on novels.
Morgen: Ah, short stories. My first love. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Joshua: I write fiction but utilize any truths I want to throw in. I also write essays for the Huffington Post. I have dabbled in screenplays and poetry but think I’m a short essay / novel kind of person.
Morgen: It’s good to try everything so we find our comfort zone. What have you had published to-date?
Joshua: I’ve published three novels, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (2004) Peep Show (2010) and The Daddy Diaries (2015). Multiple anthologies, Huffington Post essays, literary journals and magazines.
Morgen: Have you self-published? If so, what lead to you going your own way?
Joshua: I self published The Daddy Diaries. Massive shifts in the industry, the notion that a reputable small press wasn’t going to give me enough marketing attention, my wife being a digital publishing executive for twenty years and the feeling that my career would dwindle away if not for my taking the reigns. Dwindling away is not so bad, except I’m probably an author that should stick around a bit more.
Morgen: I think we all should, and we all have to do our own marketing. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Joshua: Yes, available electronically and on audio. I was very involved in all aspects of forming my own press. It is called, Prince Street Press. I have never read a book on a kindle or computer. I was born in 1967. I love vinyl records also.
Morgen: Same year as me, (although I sold all my vinyl years ago). 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 actor/s?
Joshua: Hard to single out characters as my favorite. When considering them I only feel very proud. Some of my secondary characters are the ones that pop up in my memory. They are on the page for a very short time but can pack tons of punch. The leading actors for my books should be played by professional wrestlers, even the rabbis. No, I don’t know. Movies are awesome for authors because they sell books. I’m less titillated by Hollywood than you might think. Jaded partly, I imagine, by my raw exposure to it all through my younger brother. I’m a book person who sees movies for fun.
Morgen: I used to but I can’t help but analyse them now (as I do books) which is a shame. If your books were audiobooked, whom would you have as the narrator(s)?
Joshua: I read The Daddy Diaries for four days in a sound studio. It could only be me because I write with a certain meter. It’s got a rhythm to it, the stops and starts. I am a seasoned reader of my own work. In some sense, it’s written to be read aloud.
Morgen: Stories, especially poetry, are best read aloud (it’s also how we spot mistakes) – it’s back at the campfire. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Joshua: I’d say I was shaped by John Irving, Ethan Canin, John Steinbeck, Junot Diaz, Tobias Wolf, Tim O’Brian, Richard Ford, Alice Munro, more.
Morgen: Some great short story writers there. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Joshua: Both Peep Show and The Daddy Diaries were the titles from the beginning. The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green came at the very last minute from my editor at Algonquin.
Morgen: Great titles. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Joshua: A new novel. Just getting going.
Morgen: Oh, all the best for that. Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Joshua: When I’m underway, I’ll work in some capacity everday. But I try not to be in the chair for more than three hours per day. Much of writing is done out of the chair, considering this or that while food shopping, showering, etc.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Joshua: A little of both. Outlining the next two chapters but having no idea what the chapter after that will look like. Some planning, mostly headed forward without a set plan.
Morgen: You mentioned being so fond of your characters earlier, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Joshua: Hard, devoted work makes them believable. If I sense a character is not working or isn’t believable, it’s time to remove said character or re-realize them. I use a baby naming book for names. When I see the right name I know it fast. Naming characters does more work in defining them than you might think. Important.
Morgen: Indeed. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Joshua: I edit all the time. Novel writing is a life of editing. Flipping sentences, utilizing dead / weak / limited sentences in other places, many chapters ahead or behind. It’s very busy work, but all done in solitude.
Morgen: I’m a freelance editor and it’s always easier to work on someone else’s writing. Do you have to do much research?
Joshua: Peep Show was a task of major research. The Daddy Diaries all came from my head. I love research and see it as a partner in the writing process. The solitude is opened wide when it’s time to absorb some dusty book that’s got treasures deep inside it, stuff that will help you, guide you, leave you with something humorous you weren’t expecting. Research is heaven to novelists. So vast, like shopping for the best antiques.
Morgen: I’m not a fan of research, although it’s great having the internet to plough through… perhaps that’s the problem; a quick search ends up going so far off piste. What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Johsua: All three books are in first present. I wrote a novel that didn’t publish, just out of grad school. It was in third past, and it reads quite clunky to me now.
Morgen: Our earlier writing often needs more work… but now we’re experienced, we can pull them apart as if they are someone else’s work. You’ve written non-fiction, novels and short stories, do you write any poetry?
Joshua: I have written poetry but it makes me sad.
Morgen: What a shame. I’ve not written much so it’s not my comfort zone. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Joshua: Yes, and I look forward to more.
Morgen: 🙂 Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Joshua: I’ve had so much rejection. No person in my position gets here without pondering quitting for hours and hours. The only way to get yeses from editors is to first get no, no, no’s. They used to come in my mailbox, pre email, and I’d die a little every single time my SASE was returned with a no thank you. The wrinkles near my eyes will tell you if I’ve ever been rejected before. It’s in my every step. From passion comes pain.
Morgen: It does but it makes us more determined to carry on and succeed. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Joshua: My agent now is my wife. She is also my manager and my mentor in grasping all the aspects of direct to consumer marketing. I had an agent for many years in NYC and I highly recommend having an agent for your first two novels.
Morgen: So do I but it’s tough getting one. Apart from hiring Book Marketing Services (hi, Della!), do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Joshua: Yes, a lot. One example of how I market these days, out of my own publishing house, is in writing essays that parallel the topic of my book, parenting, and post it on The Huffington Post. The link to this essay gets passed around in very effective ways online, reaching new fans, seemingly, as I sleep. So, scheduled large scale chat rooms and the notion of “Sip and Skype” type book clubs are also worthy.
Morgen: It’s trying every way we can to get heard. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Joshua: I enjoy being seen as an author of novels because it’s really who I am and how I stand aside in a life filled with ordinary sameness. I’m surprised how hard it is to make a living and how uninterested publishing houses are in offering a living wage to a person devoting their life to the very thing that pays them a salary. Getting a “yes” from a traditional, reputable publisher is merely an “honor” and not a real job. There is grief in this equation, for the type of author that doesn’t write genre fiction.
Morgen: It’s tougher than it’s ever been, I think, which is why so many people go the self-publishing route (myself included). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Joshua: This is a sacrifice in the name of your passion for the art. Find other means of money that will keep you afloat while you try to produce a catalogue of your efforts. Find the uniqueness in your own style and once you get feedback that feels legitimate, hone, hone, hone and hone more.
Morgen: I couldn’t agree more. 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)?
Joshua: I’d like to have a conversation with Flannery O’Connor but I’m not sure she’d be all that into it, so stoic as she appears. Maybe if I promised to pay. I’d start with southern BBQ and probably serve a fluffy yet rich pudding. The other two would be Babe Ruth and Jim Morrison.
Morgen: Mmm, I love BBQs. Could I sneak in? 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Joshua: The most important book I used in the beginning of this venture to publish was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s filled with important tools to approach writing. Every time I’m between books I want to write a Bird by Bird style manuscript. It held my hand in a time when I was heading into the abyss of trying to be a noticed writer of prose. I was a million miles from publishing, and the air was cold.
Morgen: Ah yes, it’s been recommended a few times. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Joshua: I have dabbled in chat rooms geared towards fathers in the marketing of The Daddy Diaries. One important goal in direct to consumer publishing is trying to “fatten” your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Instagram as well.
Morgen: They are key. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Joshua: Depends on what kind of writer you are. If you hold the next great voice in literature your life will be steep for awhile and then things will probably get really good for you. I don’t think story telling and creating relatable characters will ever fall-off the pop-culture spectrum. If writing YA stuff is your thing, it’s a good time to find an agent. If you write Zombie fiction or good Sci-Fi, go at it hard and see where you end up. There is a big audience for you. The short story may be in jeopardy as far as mass interest. Truman Capote used to write short fiction for the New Yorker in the 50’s. People discussed them around the water cooler the next day. Those days feel long gone. After all, there are hundreds of TV channels. The sale of great collections of short stories must be dwindling. So, do what you do best and, of course, striving artistically in the name of a hobby is very, very healthy.
Morgen: As short stories are my first love, I’d love to see them flourish and Kindle does help. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Joshua: Twitter is @joshuabraff. My website is www.Joshuabraff.com. My author page on Facebook is open to the public. Google me, follow me on Instagram.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Joshua: Know that I’m an accessible artist. Never feel shy to approach me. I’m on your side. If what I do in my work makes you feel connected to something that involves all of us, then it’s all working.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Johsua: Why do you think we never see baby squirrels?
Morgen: Oh, good question. Maybe they stay up the trees that the adults flee up whenever my dog spots them… and I don’t blame them.
Morgen: Thank you for joining me today, Joshua. Please tell us more about your book…
I chronicle the very topical world of marital role reversal in which current day Mr. Mom, Jay, his wife, and their thirteen- and ten-year-old kids are suddenly plucked from their life in San Francisco and moved by the new company to Florida. Leaving beloved friends and his Northern California sensibility, Jay struggles to keep his family happy through the learning curves. As Jay searches to steer the group straight, he quickly discovers that the tasks of child rearing grow even more complex as his kids age. Through a series of misadventures with his narcissistic older brother, his lunatic childhood friend, and his increasingly estranged but beloved son, Jay learns that he must tap his own vulnerabilities if he’s to be the rock of stability his family so desperately needs.
A character struggling invariably makes for a compelling story. Thank you, Joshua.
Joshua Braff is the author of three novels, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (Algonquin Books, 2004) Peep Show (Algonquin Books, 2010) and his latest novel, The Daddy Diaries, due out May 5th 2015. His work can be found in The Huffington Post, multiple anthologies including, Living On The Edge Of The World, New Jersey Writers Take On The Garden State (Touchstone, 2007) and Exit Laughing, How Humor Takes the Sting Out of Death (North Atlantic Books, 2012). He has an MFA from St. Mary’s College and has taught at the graduate level. Published essays, reviews, interviews, blurbs, honors and photography at joshuabraff.com.
And finally, details of Joshua’s giveaway…
- 1st Prize: Kindle Paperwhite plus ebook or paperback copy of The Daddy Diaries
- 2nd Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of The Daddy Diaries
- 3rd Prize: ebook or paperback copy of The Daddy Diaries
See http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cfd1de2828 for details.
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