Saturday, November 03, 2007

Yvonne Perry Interviews Author Jamie Beckett

Welcome to Writers in the Sky Blog, author Jamie Becket. It is a pleasure to have him share his book with us.

Yvonne: What is the title of your book? Give us the basic story line so we’ll know what it’s about.
Jamie: The name of the book is, "Burritos and Gasoline." The protagonist is a middle-aged man named, Frank Stevens. He’s a composite of several people I’ve known over the course of my life. Frank’s burden in life is his unwillingness to commit to anything or anyone. He’s an island if ever there was one. Understandably, this approach hasn’t worked well for him, yet he persists in being stand-offish in all aspects of his life.

The story opens on the day Frank’s life starts to unravel so completely that even he can’t ignore the reality of his situation any longer. Within a matter of weeks, he’s sure he’s hit rock bottom. However, he hasn’t. That journey is the initial hook that invites readers to hunker down and follow along as Frank spirals down to his eventual collapse. What’s even more satisfying however is Frank’s ultimate realization that redemption is possible. The process of turning his life around and the surprises he finds along the way contain the moral lessons that really make the story worthwhile.

Yvonne: Is this the first book you have written?
Jamie: This is my second novel. Although it’s the first one I finished and published. Because my writing career began when I was flying for a living, much of my writing revolved around aviation related topics. That led to my first novel, which was the story of a group of domestic terrorists who hijack 5 airplanes on the same day, with an aim on shutting down air traffic nationwide. I began working on that story in 1999, just whittling away at it here and there in my spare time. By the Fall of 2001 it was clear that finishing that novel would be disrespectful. So I shelved it and took a few months to consider my options. A bit of introspection led me to a much simpler story - which resulted in "Burritos and Gasoline."

Yvonne: How long did it take to write this book?
Jamie: The first draft took something like 5 months. I was understandably thrilled to finish my first novel. Which is why it was such a crushing blow to go back and read the whole thing, only to realize it was absolutely horrible. That was a real education for me as a writer. Much like writing a newspaper column or a magazine article - regardless how much effort you put into your work, no matter the clarity of thought you maintain through the writing process - editing is the key. You write, then you revise, then you write again and the process seemingly goes on forever. At some point you have to accept the story is good enough and let go. Of course, it’s good to have a few trusted friends read it too. Especially if those friends are decent writers themselves

Yvonne: How did you publish your book?
Jamie: I went with the POD (Print on Demand) route. I think that’s been becoming a more acceptable method of publishing recently, although to be perfectly honest there has been a stigma against books that don’t come from a more traditional publishing house. Being a realist, I spent a fair amount of time working toward a deal with one of those traditional publishers. But the more I looked into my options and the harder I worked to crack that market, the more obvious it became to me that POD and self publishing are viable options in the market today.
I’ve never met anyone who bought a book because they really loved the publisher. People buy books because the story speaks to them, or entertains them, or teaches them a lesson or skill they wished to acquire. The publisher is immaterial in that respect. In my opinion, too many good writers and inquisitive readers have been bamboozled by the marketing departments of major publishing houses to think the only work worth reading comes out of their warehouse and nowhere else.

Yvonne: Did you work with an agent? If so, how did you find the agent?
Jamie: As far as I can tell there are no agents in North America who have any interest in working with me. I can’t say there isn’t one somewhere who would be willing. But I have an impressively thick pile of rejection letters from agents who couldn’t find enough merit in "Burritos and Gasoline," or me to offer representation.

All that rejection bothered me initially. Fortunately I realized over time that all those rejections had far more to do with agents and publishers not knowing how to market the book than they did with me as a writer or "Burritos and Gasoline," as a viable story. I’m perfectly happy to be agent free at this point.

Yvonne: Have you experienced anything unexpected due to the publishing of your book?
Jamie: One of the unexpected surprises of publishing "Burritos and Gasoline" has been the launch of a film making contest based on the book. It's hosted as an online event, which gives the maximum number of people an opportunity to participate. The concept is for participants to make a short film based on a scene or chapter from the book. The films judged to be in the top 3 will win $1000, $500 and $250 respectively.

I'm really excited about this contest. My only complaint being that I can't submit a film myself. But that would be cheating. And since I already know how the story looks in my imagination, it would probably be anti-climactic for me. The excitement for me comes from not knowing what other artists might come up with. I'm really looking forward to seeing the sort of ideas that come in as the contest goes along. On the Internet, the site is:

Yvonne: Where is your book(s) available? Do you have a Web site or blog where we can learn more about you or your book?
Jamie: The Print on Demand publisher I eventually contracted with offered excellent distribution. Which means that "Burritos and Gasoline" is available anywhere in North America or Europe. I got a real kick out of my first sale in England. It just blows me away that my first novel is selling to readers in California, Maine and Europe all at the same time.

Of course, it’s available online through as well as all the major bookstore sites. Obviously, I’m very pleased to have it available to such a wide audience. If it’s not in stock at your local brick and mortar bookseller, they can order it just like any other book. Anyone who wants a copy can certainly get one easily enough. In fact, a copy of the book is provided to those who participate in the film contest.

Yvonne: As far as marketing, do you do more online publicity or print/radio/TV promotion?
Jamie: Being a long time contributor to magazines and a regular newspaper columnist, I’ve spent most of my promotional efforts in the print venue. That’s probably not the best way to go. But it is rock solid in my comfort zone. I’ve done a bit of radio promotion, too; which I have to admit I enjoy tremendously. I’m a blabbermouth. Nobody who knows me well would tell you I have the ability to shut up. So radio is a lot of fun for me. I wish I could do more of it.

Yvonne: Have you hired a publicist to help promote this book? Have you worked with a publicist on any of your books?
Jamie: I’ve stayed away from taking on a publicist, which in all honesty may be a mistake. But I take a very long term view of my writing career. After 15 years of writing for magazines and newspapers, the idea of building an audience for my books over a period of 20 years doesn’t bother me at all.

I remain open to the possibility that I may change my mind, however. Publicists continue to work for a very good reason. Their work gets results. Eventually I may decide to take one on. I’m just not in any rush right now.

Yvonne: Any other comments or things you would like for us to know?
Jamie: My biggest problem at the moment is staying focused on the next book. I’ve got a draft of one done, notes on a third and an idea cooking for another, which means I have plenty of work to do for years to come. But like a bored kid in the back of a third grade classroom, I have a tendency to distract myself with nonsense when I should be working diligently on something productive.

Then again, that trait may be the reason I became a writer. An insurance agent couldn’t get away with staring out the window, daydreaming nearly as much as I do.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

You are doing such a wonderful job of presenting authors and others to the public, and your site reflects all the passion, action, and love that you put into your work.
Thanks so much for sharing this with the rest of us!