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:
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!