Thursday, 15 September 2011

Words with... Paul Swearingen

Thanks to Paul Swearingen for this interview

How long have you been writing?

I’ve freelanced since the mid-70s off and on, all non-fiction articles and magazine columns, and I published a radio club magazine for 22 years, until a year ago September. Although I wrote some SF in the late 70s and submitted to various SF magazines (my handwritten rejection notes from George Scithers are prized possessions), I really didn’t start writing fiction again until about 1997.

Do you have a day job or do you write for a living?

I am a retired high school English teacher. I also taught journalism and Spanish, and I’ve worked in radio (most of the time as a radio newsman), as a personnel manager for a large department store, in sales, and in various other areas, including as a telemarketer and as a cemetery lot salesman.

What do you feel is the ideal recipe for a good novel/story/poem?

Make the reader hate or love the main character from the first paragraph, then throw him or her down the stairs so the reader can watch his/her reactions.

What/who inspired you to write and still inspires you?

I had many ‘favourite’ authors who inspired me early on and still do, but Mark Twain would have to be my enduring favorite.

What books have you written? Do you stick to one genre?

At least for now, I write YA fiction, having spent most of my life with teenagers. The five loosely-related novels in the ‘High School Series’ deal with teenage life in high school, of course, although the last two in the series spend more time outside of the school environment than in. I’ve also written another book that is set in 1967, and involves the betrayal and survival of a teenager in a tornado; a second that is set in 1918 against the backdrop of the ‘Great War’ and the influenza pandemic; and a third that is a post-apocalyptic tale of the survival of young people. All are set in Kansas.

How long did it take you to write your book/s?

The first, and also the first in the High School Series, took about six years, not counting later revisions. The shortest, #4 in the high school series, took eight days – it was my second Nanowrimo effort.

How long did it take you to get published? Did you take the traditional route or DIY?

I decided that I wanted to be able to concentrate on the three unpublished novels, so I took the short-cut, DIY method, and uploaded the five High School Series books to Smashwords on January 1, 2011. I’m continuing the traditional route in trying to attract an agent to the other three novels.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers/those just starting out?

Follow your own inner voice, the one that tells you never to give up, but don’t be afraid to ask for advice from experienced writers and editors. Write as much as you can and realise that your first book probably won’t be published, at least not in a traditional method. But, the more you write, the more likely your writing will improve to the point that you will find an agent and a publisher.

Do you have any works in progress?

Yes, the post-apocalyptic novel. I may not come up with an idea for this year’s Nanowrimo novel until October 31, as I did last year’s effort.

Which character from your books do you like most/are most like?

I like the characters who are most unlike myself. In fact, I find it more difficult to write about male characters; I’ve always had a problem with being able to separate my own personality and attributes from my male characters. Three of my main characters are male, five female.

Where and when do you write – do you have set times during which you write or is it just when the mood takes you?

During Nanowrimo I flip on the self-discipline switch and write every day from eight to six, less a half-hour or so for lunch, until the novel in progress is finished. My first Nanonovel was finished in fifteen days, the second eight, and the third about 21. Otherwise, I write when I can carve out an uninterrupted couple of hours per day, so an ‘average’ novel may take about four or five months to complete.

Marketing – the bane of self-publishers – how do you find the experience? Do you have any marketing advice for other writers? Do you use a blog or twitter, etc?

I don’t blog or tweet; I feel that writing activities other than those used to produce my novels tend to dilute my efforts. I do try to keep my name and work visible in various places online, however, and this coming week I am going to try to set up a book promotion with a local, large chain bookstore.

Some of your fave things... Animal? Food? Drink? Film? Colour? Band? Song? Place to chill out?

I like to listen to older folk music when I write (thank you, Pandora!). To keep me from becoming as one with my chair though, I do a lot of gardening and yard work. Mexican and Thai food are my two favourites. Green is my favourite colour, and if I ever am able to sign autographs it will be in forest green ink with my favorite Parker 51 fountain pen.

One day you’re walking in the forest and you bump into an alien librarian from Mars. He wants five book recommendations from you…

The Call of the Sea – Jan de Hartog
Andersonville – Mackinlay Kantor
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter – Mario Vargas Llosa
Parnassus on Wheels – Christopher Morley

Which book do you wish you had written?

The Pied Piper – Nevil Shute

Who is your favourite character from any book and why?

Hugh Lofting’s Dr Doolittle (and NOT the movie version).

Which three authors (living or not) would you like to take to the pub?

Mark Twain, Eudora Welty, Walter R. Brooks. I’d also like to take Bela Lugosi, but I don’t believe he wrote enough to qualify himself as a writer.

What other hobbies/interests do you have or has writing taken over?

Writing is certainly at the forefront, but I’m still involved in gardening, astronomy, photography, AM radio DX’ing, and collecting various items like coins, radio station mugs and refrigerator magnets, multi-band portable radios, maps, books (duh!), old cameras and old computers (my basement is a computer museum. Help!).

What would you like to achieve in the next five years?

I would like to be recognised as a quality YA fiction writer.

If you won the Lotto, what would you do with it?

I’ve lived in a fix-it house for 25 years, so it would receive the first attention. Then, after some investing, I’d like to see much of the rest go towards some kind of scholarship-/seed grant for minority high school students, so that they would be more likely to be able to finish their high school education and then pursue a higher education. The catch would be that they would receive less than a 100% grant/scholarship and would have to work or perform some kind of significant community service to prove their worthiness to receive the support.

Now for the creative bit… please finish this story in 100 words or less…

There once was a small gecko called Fred… who found himself upside down in the pouring rain.
“Dang. That bolt just missed me. I really should get under a rock, huh?” He glanced upward and then scampered under a rock ledge and looked out at the pouring rain.
“Wish I had a tasty insect to munch on while I wait out this thunderstorm,” he muttered. He spotted a damsel fly on a sunflower stalk. “Snack time!”
He flipped out his tongue and … Zap! Another near miss.
Fred shook his head. “Farkle! I’m coming back as a barn swallow and live under a tin roof next time around!”

Finally, what question do you wish I’d asked and, of course, what is the answer?

“What needs to be done to improve the current state of indie and e-book publishing?”

Far too many writers are shooting themselves in both feet by rushing their works to Smashwords and other venues before they’re ready. Many are replete with mechanical errors, lapses in plot, cardboard characters, and just plain bad writing, making success extremely difficult for better writers who are lost in a morass of submitted works, some by children who should go back to school and learn to spell, write in complete sentences, and tell a half-way decent story. I now refuse to review books that are not ‘clean copy’ and ready for review; perhaps e-book publishers could agree on a simple, anonymous check-off system (rather than a prose review) for those books that could be salvaged or quietly deserve to die a quick death?

Thanks for the opportunity! -Paul Swearingen, Topeka

Book links:

High School Football – The Temptation

High School Diversity – The Clash

High School Yearbook – The Drama 

High School Newspaper – The Danger

High School History – The Treasure

Note from Vickie
- to my shame, I hadn't heard of Nanowrimo, so I googled it. Here's the link for anyone who, like me, had no idea what it is.

The website says:
National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Thanks Paul :)

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