An interview with Scott Craven

Scott Craven (1)Scott Craven is a member of the storytelling team, writing about Arizonans who have compelling tales to share. He’s been a Valley journalist for 28 years, starting as a police reporter at the (long departed) Phoenix Gazette. Over those years he’s also covered courts, local communities, travel and pop culture. His weekly column Ask the Pet Editor, which runs in Sunday Living, has addressed dozens of reader-submitted problems, most of them having to do with various house-training issues. At night he goes home to his Main and Accessory dog, Sandy (7-year-old Australian kelpie mix), who greets him enthusiastically because it’s dinner time.

PJ: How long have you been writing?

SC: When haven’t I been writing? My mom kept one of my earliest work, a historical piece from first grade in which I credit the Pilgrims with inventing Thanksgiving, a finding that remains controversial to this day. As far as when writing started to matter to me, it was as a sophomore in high school when I enrolled in Journalism 101 and discovered how much I loved seeing my name in print. I mean how much I love writing. I’ve been a reporter ever since, save for those few awkward years when I was an editor.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

SC: It occurred on a brisk fall day in 1979 in Colorado Springs when I woke up to my very first professional byline. The night before, in the 65th hour of my official 39-hour week (and just one hour short of earning health benefits), I’d filed a report on a high school football game. And the next morning, like magic, there it was in print. As I stared at it, I thought of the other 35,000-plus Colorado Sprints Suns that carried my name in the exact same place. I’d made it. Or so I thought. I was 21 years old with all the stupidity that comes with youth. But still, that was the first time I felt successful as a writer. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

SC: The writing life has been at least 40 hours a week, at least 48 weeks a year, and changes with each story I do. That’s the beauty of reporting, which allows you to talk to interesting people and tell their stories in compelling ways. But the author’s writing life is just as I perceived it – sitting in front of your home computer, staring at a blank page, and knowing you’ve got to start. Now. OK, now. Wait, what’s going on with Twitter? OK, now. I haven’t checked breaking news for five minutes, let’s see what’s happening in the world. OK, now. And so forth. In the midst of all the procrastinating, a book was written. How did that happen?

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

SC: How much I expected to make when I started writing Dead Jed – zero. Financial expectations met since then – one. I’m lucky to have a fulltime job that pays enough to keep up with the bills and put a little aside, so Dead Jed has never been about the money. Even as well as the book turned out, and how people have reacted to it, I do not expect to make much money on it. Certainly not enough to quit my day job. The book is not out yet so time will tell, but if I earn enough to take a trip to, say, Las Vegas (I live in the Phoenix area), I’ll be happy. And if the book really takes off, maybe I can even afford checking a bag.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

SC: Yes, the focus has definitely changed. As I worked in Dead Jed, I told only a few close friends what I was doing. I also kept it largely a secret when I found an agent, then a publisher, and finally a publishing date. But when the book landed on Amazon, I couldn’t shut up about it. I’ve shifted from “Gotta finish another chapter today” to “Love the way you cut my hair, hey, did I tell you about this book I wrote?” It’s all about the marketing.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

SC: This is my first time, and a lot longer than I thought. When it happened it was still a shock. I queried dozens of agents in batches of 20, and found one within three months. Two years passed before a publisher agreed to take a shot with Dead Jed, and the email telling me about the deal was still surprising. Not just that Dead Jed would see the light of the publishing day, but that there would me a second book, maybe even a third if things went well. More than a year has passed since then and at the time of this writing, Dead Jed is still a month away from its publication date. It’s all about patience.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

SC: I would have written Dead Jed when I was 25. But it would have been tedious, unfunny and a serious blow to English as a whole. So no, I would not have done anything differently. Well, there was that one unfortunate night when I wish I’d caught my sleepwalking son before he used my closet as a bathroom, but as far as the book, I would not do anything differently.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

SC: My job keeps me busy writing, making it difficult to do a lot of writing on the side. So at this point, Dead Jed is pretty much my only project, and thus weekends provide plenty of time to give adequate attention to all needed areas. I’m not like those authors I see on Twitter, telling everyone 140 characters at a time how busy they are morning to night, writing and editing and writing some more. I dedicate ample time to the craft, but I can break away for some quality Xbox time as well. Otherwise I’d get to a point where I was dreading to write. Some might call it laziness. I call it a vital balance.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

SC: Exciting? I’ve won a few journalism awards over the years, even in national competitions. But those don’t stick with me as much as the rewarding stories I’ve done. Like the families who adopted quadruplets that had been abused, changing lives for the better. Or the husband and father in late stages of ALS who refused to give up, using his eyes and a specially designed computer to write inspirational notes to his daughters. Or the elderly man who left his apartment each day at 3 p.m., its living room filled with photos and artifacts of his 60-year marriage, to walk to the Alzheimer’s ward and visit a wife who no longer recognized him. Those are the things I cherish as a writer.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

SC: In my reckless youth, I wrote a lengthy story about a judge who had fallen under much criticism for her views on domestic violence. And I got her first name wrong. It bothers me to this day.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

SC: Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend BookExpo America in New York to represent Dead Jed (still six months from publication when BEA started). The two most memorable things occurred in those two days. The good was when I signed in and slipped an “Author” badge over my head. The following day when I sat at a small table signing not my book, as every other author there, but a postcard emblazoned on one side with the Dead Jed cover, and on the other side was another author’s book. Fortunately, several very kind (and very skilled) fellow authors circulated through the crowd, pointing them toward the table. I probably signed 20 or cards in 30 minutes, but in an atmosphere charged with incredible literary talent, I felt rather sheepish.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

SC: As far as I know, I’ve written the only book about a 13-year-old zombie who doesn’t spend most of his undead time crashing through boarded-up windows in an effort to satisfy an appetite for human flesh, particularly brains. There are other works that take a different look at the genre, but Dead Jed turns it on its rather decayed head. More importantly, no zombie was hurt in the writing of Dead Jed. Yes, limbs were lost and reattached, but that doesn’t really hurt the undead (warning: zombie on closed course, do not attempt).

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

SC: Hang in there. It will happen. Until then, do what I’ve done. Obsessively Google your name and the book’s title every 15 minutes to see if anyone is talking about it. When the list pops up again and every entry ends with Google telling you “You’ve visited this site numerous time,” try Twitter. Then Facebook. Goodreads. Go on ask.fm to see if anyone wants to hear about your book. They won’t, but you will have knocked down another few minutes of obsessing.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

SC: The best tool for promoting Dead Jed is the same for any work, whether it’s a book or a movie or work of art. Make it interesting, compelling and damn good. I think Dead Jed meets those criteria, but if others disagree, then I will happily appear, or host a Skype chat, or wash your car if I have to. The only thing I won’t do is constantly use Twitter as a marketing device. The overuse of Twitter as a promotional tool is quickly approaching my No. 1 Pet Peeve of all time – people who snap their gum. No, the gum-snapping is pretty safe at No. 1.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

SC: Finding outlets and, once found, not exploiting them. Otherwise, I’m pretty comfortable doing anything I need to do. I did mention washing your car, right?

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

SC: Here’s a shout-out to Changing Hands in Tempe. It’s a great store to browse and hosts some of the most talented authors in the country. It also hosts lesser-known writers who have written entertaining books, but I enjoy it most for the staff’s recommendations, allowing people to discover hidden talent. And just when you thought the book-buying business could not get any better, Changing Hands is soon to open another outlet featuring beer. Beer!

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

SC: Wow, let’s see, have to think on that one. OK, as of December 3, it goes like this:

“Dead Jed: Adventures of a Middle School Zombie.”Dead Jed cover

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Not only would Jed give an arm and a leg to fit in at middle school, he actually can. That’s just one of the (dis)advantages of being the school’s only zombie. Jed’s pallor and his ability to hold his breath for, oh, ever, make him a target for the school bully who thinks school is no place for the undead. But even after he disarms Jed, literally, the zombie pulls himself together with some duct tape and staples, refusing to give up.

Where can we buy it?

It is available for pre-order on Amazon, bn.com, and other websites where fine middle-grade titles are sold.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

SC: Promise not to tell anyone, but many of the things that happen to Jed are autobiographical. Not losing limbs, of course, but several of the humiliating things that bring Jed down also happened to me in seventh grade. True story.

Whether you’re inclined to like zombies or not, you seriously do not want to miss this one! Pick up a copy today!

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Thinking Positive Promotes Book Sales by Janet Greger

Dempsey and Mitchell (Reported in Journal of Consumer Research on Dec 4, 2010) found advertising (and I assume its cousin – publicity) sold products not by providing factual information but by surrounding the product with other things shoppers liked, thus creating positive attitudes about the product.

Does that really work for more abstract products than toothpaste and cereal? That got me thinking. Could I sell more of my medical mysteries/ thriller, if I publicized them with something pleasant?

Like vacation spots? In Ignore the Pain, you get a guided tour of attractions in Bolivia (like the Witches’ Market and historic churches in La Paz, the Valley of the Moon, and the Altiplano). Sara Almquist, an epidemiologist on a public health assignment and heroine in my novels, is your guide. Of course, her view of Iglesia de San Francisco might be a little different that that of the average tourist because someone determined to kill her is chasing her across the church’s roof. The description of the roof is realistic – I’ve been there and yes Bolivia is exciting.

Like cuteness? Please insert Bug’s picture. My secret weapon for creating positive attitudes about my novels is Bug&me5Bug, my Japanese Chin. He is the only nonfictional character in all thee of my novels. Just look at him. Who wouldn’t love him? I cast him as Sara’s dog in my stories.

Like popular TV shows? And then I have a serendipitous positive association for my medical thriller Coming Flu. Fans of the TV series Breaking Bad (set in Albuquerque) may find it hard to believe I created my villain before I saw an episode of Breaking Bad. Sara Almquist in Coming Flu unintentionally identifies a drug czar in a quarantined, upper class community near Albuquerque as she studies the spreads of a deadly flu virus.

 

As you read my novels, you’ll have a chance to travel vicariously to an exotic place, learn some science, reminisce about Breaking Bad, and fall in love with Bug. Hopefully these positive vibes will make you want to read my medical mysteries/thrillers.

According to marketing researchers, it generally takes two or three exposures to ads or publicity before shoppers actually buy a product. So why don’t you check out my website (www.jlgreger.com) or JL Greger’s Bugs blog (http://jlgregerblog.blogspot.com), too.

Do you care to comment? Do lighthearted blogs intrigue you to read books?

Bio:

JL Greger has been a scientist, professor, and university administrator. Now she is a writer of fiction, who inserts glimpses of scientific breakthroughs and gossipy tidbits about universities into her medical mystery/suspense novels.

My novels in Kindle and paperback formats are available on Amazon:CoverIgnorethePain

Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight (http://www.amazon.com/Murder-New-WayLoseWeight/dp/1610090624/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365534310&sr=1-1&keywords=Murder+A+New+Way+to+Lose+Weight).

Coming Flu http://www.amazon.com/Coming-Flu-J-L-Greger/dp/1610090985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363872699&sr=1-1&keywords=Coming+Flu

Ignore the Pain (http://www.amazon.com/Ignore-Pain-J-L-Greger/dp/1610091310/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385498311&sr=1-1&keywords=Ignore+the+Pain ). The Kindle version should be available in January.

An interview with N.S. Wikarski

NS WikarskiI first met N.S. Wikarski when she hired me to help with one of her first books some years ago. I was immediately entranced with her unique writing style and have not been disappointed since. I think you’ll be equally engaged if you’ll take a look at this new series she’s working on now…

PJ: How long have you been writing?

NW: Since I majored in literature at school, I suppose I’ve been writing all of my adult life. However, I didn’t get serious about writing my first novel until I hit 40. It must have been part of my subliminal bucket list. Since that time I’ve penned five books with a sixth in the works and three more planned after that.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

NW: Being a writer is a dream job for me because of the freedom and flexibility it gives. I can work at my own pace and set my own schedule. The writing and research aspects of the work are exactly what I expected and also what I wanted.

The part I didn’t expect was how much marketing I’d have to do. Promoting myself isn’t a task I enjoy. Writing is easy. Marketing is hard. At some point, I suppose the momentum will catch up but right now I still need to devote a good deal of time to spreading the word about my books.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

NW: Within a year or so it will live up to my expectations but it takes a very long time to build a fan base as an independent author. At this point, I have a steady income stream but I would like to see the currency flow a little faster.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

NW: I think I would have placed more confidence in myself from the start. At the beginning I didn’t understand that other people’s opinions of my work are simply that—other people’s opinions. Even professionals in the field (agents, editors) are usually guided by nothing more than their own emotional reactions. Ultimately, if I’m convinced that I’ve written the best book I possibly could, then that’s all that matters.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

NW: By temperament, I’m frighteningly organized—a natural born multi-tasker. I think that’s what a writer needs to be given the number of plates we have to spin in the air. When I was much younger (and therefore more naive) I thought a writer could sit in a romantically shabby garret somewhere and just write.  I neglected to notice that those were the writers who usually starved to death.

PJ: Good observation! What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

NW: Getting a perceptive comment from a reviewer or reader that tells me they actually “get” what I’m doing.  People, as readers, bring a lifetime of baggage to each book they pick up. It will color their reaction to the material in a way that an author can never foresee. It’s heaven to read comments that actually demonstrate that a particular reader had their eyes open and connected with the material in my books in a way that I intended.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

NW: Having to deal with people in the industry who don’t find any value in my work. At one time, those people were the gatekeepers of what eventually made it into print. Thankfully that’s no longer the case. In any event, I’ve learned to ignore that sort and seek out the fans who do value what I’m doing. Much to my delight, there are a lot of them out there.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

NW: When the first book in my Arkana series came out, Kindle Nation called me the “next Dan Brown.” Since up to that point I’d been working in a vacuum with no feedback, I was really pleased by that compliment. The Da Vinci Code is one of my favorite books.

PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

NW: I’m doing something in the Arkana series that nobody else is. I’ve taken a highly controversial theory about the lost pre-patriarchal past of the human race and fictionalized it in a way that makes those ideas accessible to a mainstream audience. The books challenge all our notions about gender relations but not in a dry, academic way. There’s murder, mystery, secret societies, exotic locations, and some endearingly quirky characters thrown into the mix. The reader is meant to come away with an entirely new perspective on the world but also be entertained in the process.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

NW: Virtual book tours have worked out quite well for me.  Since I have a limited amount of time available for traditional book promotion, virtual tours are a great way to increase the awareness of my work with a minimal amount of effort on my part. I’ve also found that having periodic free ebook promotions has raised the visibility of my titles on the Amazon best seller lists.

PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

NW: I really dislike social media. I’m a very private person by nature and I find it absolutely baffling when I read some of the comments that people feel compelled to share with the world at large. While I think Facebook or Twitter are great ways to connect with fans you already have, I don’t think they’re very effective in attracting new fans. For a long time I felt guilty about my unwillingness to tweet or blog but then I read some statistics demonstrating that those methods don’t really work to build a fan base. Then I felt much, much less guilty about my natural reticence.

PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Chicago Gilded Age Mysteries:

The Fall Of White City

Shrouded In Thought

Arkana Archaeological Thrillers:Dragons Wing Enigma cover

The Granite Key

The Mountain Mother Cipher

The Dragon’s Wing Enigma

The Riddle Of The Diamond Dove (December, 2013)

PJ: Where can we buy them?

NW: All my books are available in trade paperback and Kindle format through Amazon.

PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

NW: I think most people assume that writers love to write about everything all the time. They have this image of starry-eyed authors walking around in a permanent fog, pen in hand, waiting for their muse to strike. I don’t fit that image. I only write stories I feel compelled to tell. The rest of the time I’d be just as happy gardening.