Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pay It Forward Interview: Sean Ferrell

Sometimes this writing business--especially the writing for publication part--is rough and bumpy. We all go through the ditches, and feel we're alone. It's easy to look at other writers and think it was easy for them, or that they have some kind of luck or talent we don't have.

This week, a whole big bunch of us are turning the spotlight on those who are almost there, writers who are agented but haven't quite got the deal yet, or writers who have sold but their books aren't quite out. Join us this week for 70 (yes 70!) success stories!

Each day this week I'm going to post an interview with one of these writers, to hopefully inspire you, provide hope along your way, and prove that you CAN succeed in this crazy business. You guys--you're going to LOVE these interviews. They were so inspirational to me!! They're doing it. You can too.

Click here for more inspiration: Lisa and Laura RoeckerBeth RevisLeah CliffordVictoria SchwabKirsten HubbardElana Johnson, Dawn MetcalfKim HarringtonCarrie HarrisAmy HolderKathy McCulloughSuzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins, and Tiffany Schmidt.

Sean Ferrell is awesome.

Not enough for you? Okay: he's my client-brother, and in many ways feels like a real big brother. He's wicked funny, a dad, and a dedicated and fabulous writer. I say this even though I haven't had the chance to read his book yet. I KNOW IT anyway. And this interview? Inspired my socks off. Read on, my friends.

1. Tell us about NUMB!!
What's Numb? Oh, right. My book. Numb is the story of a man who wanders into a circus without memories or the ability to feel pain. He follows what few clues he has from the circus to New York City, makes money exploiting his talent for nailing himself to bars, and ends up meeting more than a few people interested in taking advantage of him. In short, I am not very nice to the poor fellow.
2. Can you tell us a little bit about your road to publication (finding an agent and editor)?
It was easy. I clicked my heels together and there they were. And you were there, and you, and... Hold on, that's not right.

My pursuit of publication was just like so many other writers' paths. I call it the shampoo theory of publishing: lather, rinse, repeat. You work on something, you submit, you get rejected, you rework, submit elsewhere, etcetera etcetera. I was lucky enough to have Janet Reid want to read my book. Then she offered to rep it. Then the shampoo theory reactivated only this time she was the one in a lather. I tried to let her do her job without troubling her for too many updates. What good would it be to have me calling and asking "well, well, well?" Instead, I worked on another book. And another, and then another. Not only did she find an editor who liked Numb, she found an editor who saw the same book I do, and I am lucky on every conceivable front: I have a great agent, an amazing editor whom I like and respect and trust, and I look good in a suit.
3. Was there ever a time you felt like giving up? Why didn't you?
I think it depends on how you define "giving up." I know most people want to hear "ME? QUIT? NEVER! CAP LOCK!" The reality was that in some ways I did feel like giving up. I found excuses to not work. I found things to distract me from the work. I planned great writing sessions, if only the dishes were cleaned first I better do them and oh the rugs need to be vacuumed and I could really iron the napkins even though they are used and paper. For a time I thought about going back to school to pursue a degree in animation. It wasn't until my wife was pregnant with our son that I had a "What the #&@% are you doing?" moment. I was sitting in my living room in the dark, staring at a blank computer screen, and I heard a voice ask me, "When your son asks you what you do, what do you want to tell him?" The next morning I started getting up at 5AM to write. I did that for several months, even after he was born. Then we moved to a place in Brooklyn where my commute to midtown Manhattan was ninety minutes both ways. I wrote on the train, by hand, in leather-bound journals. Eventually I got a small netbook. I still get a majority of my writing done on the train, even though my commute is shorter now and my son older. Pregnant women and the elderly hate me. "No, you can't have this seat. Because I'm an artist, that's why." Through it all the reason I kept at it was "What will you tell your son what you are?" Did I follow my passion? Did I do what I HAD to do. At first, no. But eventually, yes. And I know now that it has stuck. I won't be stopping anytime soon. 

4. How have your writing goals/dreams changed since you started the process?

At first it was very goal oriented. "I want to have a book published." Then you think you've become a "serious" writer when you no longer want the publication but instead just want an agent. That's bullshit. It's as much of a distracting goal as publication. The moment--and I am serious when I say "moment"--that I knew in my heart that I only cared about getting the words in the right order good things started to happen. Do I want my books to sell? Of course. But when I sit down at the keyboard I am completely absorbed by the issues my characters are facing and how to make the sentences clear, the plot work, the descriptions true. I have brilliant moments of self-doubt, beautiful certainty that I suck at this. I think of these moments as brilliant and beautiful because they remind me of what's important: the writing writing writing. Thank God I have those moments of doubt. The second I stop having them is when I'll be going through the motions and writing work that will most certainly be crap. Doubt is a sign of passion. Embrace it.

5. These interviews will hopefully inspire those who are just beginning the writing process. What's the one piece of advice you wished you knew when you started?
I'm a bit of contrarian. Sometimes for humorous effect, sometimes just because, and sometimes because by law I'm forced to utilize my Philosophy degree in SOME way. However, when it comes to writing, I really go the opposite direction from a lot of "how to"s. Some of the things I do wouldn't work for everyone. Some people are outliners; I'm not. Some people say "write in the morning" or "never listen to music, eavesdrop to learn dialog" or "Revise the day after/week later/month after you finish." I would never be so arrogant to recommend that others should write the way I write. What makes my way so special?

But there is one piece of advice I would question: "Know your audience." Why? Am I going to drive them to the bookstore to pick up the book? I always assume that my audience are people who like the things I like. If I fill a book with things I think are cool, people who might be like me will probably find some (I hope most) of it cool too. However, I enjoy lots of different things, and my tastes can change based on mood, weather, time of year. If MY interests and tastes can develop and shift how am I going to meet the interests and tastes of some anonymous "audience?" I spent a lot of time trying to write for a specific audience in grad school. The effect: I wrote very little, and what I did write was like someone else's work. 
Thanks, Sean!! Go see Sean's blog for more general amusement AND advice, or follow him on Twitter @byseanferrell!


suzie townsend said...

Great interview - it is inspiring!

But Sean, who says you look good in a suit?

Elana Johnson said...

What a great analogy to shampoo. I've rinsed and repeated a million times, I think. I love "Doubt is a sign of passion. Embrace it." That's what I'm going to do from now on!

Victoria Schwab said...

Fabulous interview!

And I positively can't wait for Sean's book!

Harley May said...

Great interview. Awesome all around.

Linda G. said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking answers, Sean. I laughed at the shampoo analogy, but it is so true. And your attitude toward doubt...perfect. I believe I'll steal it and use it myself.

Really can't wait to get my hands on NUMB.

Kim Harrington said...

Great interview, Susan.

Numb sounds awesome!

Tawna Fenske said...

Love this interview! My favorite so far (er, no offense, Linda G, who interviewed me!)

Seriously, it's fun to get these insights into Sean's mind. Now I need a shower.

But I can't wait to get my hands on NUMB!


Elisabeth Black said...

This is a cool interview, great idea. Go Susan and Sean.

Tiffany Schmidt said...

The shampoo method! That is GREAT! Wonderful interview Suze & Sean.

Lisa and Laura said...

I loved reading this--can we be friends? Your book sounds incredible--what a story! Thanks for the interview Susan and Sean!