Greg Bardsley knows funny.
He’s the proud author of two books that you can read, and a couple others that he says will NEVER see the glitz and glamour of the publishing world. Cash Out and The Bob Watson were both printed by Harper Perennial, the latter having been released November eighth of this year. I had the unique opportunity to read The Bob Watson while still in the editing stages, and even then it was easy to tell the novel would be a satirical comedy gem.
The Bob Watson follows Rick Blanco, a guy with a dream. Actually, his dream is similar to one many followers of Scribbles can likely relate to: the opportunity to quit his job, housesit a mansion, and finish writing a book. The dream is within his grasp, if only he can pull the perfect “Bob Watson” by ditching his meeting, and making it through six hours of mayhem to prove to his sister he’s not the loser she thinks.
The result of Greg’s hard work? A book that one should not drink coffee while reading.
I learned that the hard way.
Greg and I met last year, although I use the term met quite loosely. While I live on Prince Edward Island, Canada (where as I write this, I’m faced with a wind warning, storm surge warning, and snow squall warning), Greg . . . well, Greg lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where the chief complaint of residents is the unrelentingly perfect weather.
We met as writerly nerds do: via an online writer’s forum.
Followers of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins know Greg has been featured here before. While many of the authors featured on Scribbles have rocked the self-publishing world, Greg is one of the few peddled by the big leagues. Harper Perennial is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing—one of the “big four” publishers dominating book distribution in the English speaking world.
His premiere novel, Cash Out, garnered rave reviews from everywhere including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His writing style is fresh, twisted, and as funny as it gets. As an author of two books published by one of the big four, many would say he’s made it.
But, what is it actually like to go to a bookstore and see your very own book for sale on the self? What are the realities of life under the Harper umbrella, where the grass is oh-so-charmingly green?
Greg’s experiences offer an interesting perspective of life on the other side, and I’m thrilled to be able to share them here.
Hi Greg, welcome to Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins!
Hey there. Sorry for delay. It has been NUTS at work. On Monday night, I worked all the way to 7:30 am, then pulled another all-nighter Wednesday. I have a series of all-day meetings this week, too.
So, your new book is about a serial-meeting ditcher, and YOU can’t find your way out of them?
Ha! You know the term, The cobbler’s children wear no shoes. Actually, I have created an app for people to ditch useless meetings (the Bob Watson Meeting Ditcher ), but I am lucky that my employer is good about preventing meeting inflation. They even invested in training me and other leaders to run better (and fewer) meetings. It was funny because that training was a three-day MEETING. It was a three-day meeting on meetings.
A three-day meeting on meetings? You must really love your job if you developed an app to ditch meetings and didn’t use it for that! Rick Blanco’s big dream is to quit work and write full time. Is that something you would consider?
On some level, I of course would love to be able to write novels full-time, but it’s really not realistic for me. And I am very lucky to have a great job at a great company, working with great people. So I can’t complain. Sometimes I wonder if I were a full-time novelist, maybe I would go nuts with the new lifestyle—the isolation, the new routine, the extreme focus on just writing fiction.
Okay, can I please tell you my FAVORITE part of the book now?
Please do 🙂
That is so funny. I haven’t heard anybody talk about David yet. He’s inspired by an old friend.
Really? I bet he’s the life of the party!
He is a pretty interesting (and funny) person. I’m not sure if he’s like that much anymore. But he is a true original, that guy. I remember trying to really come up with the right things for him to say in the book.
I had to put it down, I was laughing so hard. My kids kept asking what was so funny.
Oh no! I actually worked with somebody who had a lover who wanted her to urinate on him. The real David Sagan was a master at getting women to have sex talks with him on the phone. I always thought those stories were super funny.
I will admit that I’ve never had a woman urinate on me, nor have I engaged in sexual play with a goat. Call me boring, I don’t care.
Do you think the real David will read it?
I did mention to him that there is a character that is inspired by him a little bit. I’m not sure if he’s read it. I once wrote a book (that will always be unpublished) with David Sagan as a central character as a college student. People liked that character. He did like to say that thing about being a large man. He was a tall man with broad shoulders. He’d say it to ladies. It was really funny.
I can imagine the plot of that book was full of dastardly twists. You have a wicked imagination.
Thanks. I finished it more than 10 years ago. That old book will always be screwed up, unsalvageable. I have given up on it at this point.
How many of your characters in The Bob Watson are inspired by real people?
Not really anyone except a few characters—and I should emphasize the term, “inspired.” It usually was just something a person did or said. No one will see themselves in this book. That’s really the truth Bob himself was originally inspired by a real person. I tried to connect with him a couple of months ago, with no luck. The character Bob in the book, which admittedly is a small character, is not anything like the real Bob who I haven’t spoken to in more than 20 years.
People just always loved the idea of “pulling a Bob.” So I kept the first name. The real Bob also was super relaxed, and really did ditch a meeting one day. I looked out the window, and there he was crossing the street with a cup of coffee in his hand. That was when I realized people could approach meetings in a different way.
Were you focused on the plot first and foremost, or the characters? It reads like a largely character driven book.
Interesting. Let me think. Actually, I thought of the plot first. I had always talked about the guy who used to ditch meetings. People always loved that. So I had an idea to write a book in which a guy ditches an all-day meeting and goes on this crazy adventure and nobody realizes he’s gone. That was the original idea, and then I had some things I wanted to satirize.
Oh wow. So how long did it take to turn into a story?
I think it took about a year. I signed the deal in February 2013, and turned in the full manuscript the last day of that year. I had written the first 60 pages and done a little bit of story development before we signed the deal, but then needed to complete the majority of the book in 10 months. I don’t think I’d ever written so much in such a short amount of time. When I turned it in, I heard nothing for five months.
That wait must have driven you nuts.
After a certain amount of time, it did drive me nuts. I had really busted my ass to turn the manuscript in on deadline. But then, I got a lot of feedback about the book—primarily about my main character in that draft, a guy named Randy who was a lot different from the ultimate character I would later develop, Rick Blanco. It was really, really, really good feedback, and I was grateful for it.
My editor, Cal Morgan, was super busy and worked with lots of writers who are much bigger “fishes” than me, so ultimately I was willing to work in a way that worked for him. Then Cal left HarperCollins, so they gave the book to another editor, Eric Meyers, who also gave me a lot of great feedback. The way I look at it as is: this book is so much better than it would’ve been had I not gotten that feedback, guidance and inspiration from Cal and Eric. I’m just terribly grateful.
Tell me a little bit about the editing process.
Cal, who had bought the book on concept, started with a “global” approach, meaning we spent a lot of time looking first at my protagonist and his behaviors. Ultimately I ended up completely changing his personality and motivations. The first character was very self-righteous, very serious and appeared (unintentionally) to be preoccupied with his nephew. So I reinvented him.
After we worked on character motivation and story arc development, we got more specific with my second editor, Eric. Then we got into different scenes and how to get the best out of those scenes, which also was super helpful.
The help with editing would definitely be one of the benefits of going with a publisher like Harper.
Oh, yes. I felt like I was very lucky to be working with full-time pros in the book game, who make a living putting out great books, and who were helping me turn out the best book possible. Without them, the book would not be what it is today. The book is much better because of their collaboration with me. After spending so much time on the first draft of your book, I really think you need a new set of eyes—somebody who knows what they’re doing—to help you make important decisions and provide feedback that the author will not have. You are too close to the story at that point. It’s really hard to be objective about anything.
I am a lunchtime basketball player. Using a basketball analogy, I felt like this was having the chance to go to a weekend clinic for one-on-one instruction from the NBA’s best coach, Steve Kerr, and that I essentially was getting paid to receive instruction and guidance and coaching that I never would’ve gotten, had I just done this myself.
Would that make it hard to fight for your ideas if you disagreed with their advice?
Not really. I have always felt that if a committed, smart, experienced, and skillful person is weighing in on my writing, I should really give what their feedback a lot of thought. Nobody wants to waste their time to give somebody a bunch of bullshit feedback. This is what these folks do for a living, and I want my book to be the best, so I think about all that.
I have to say that, ultimately, I agreed with almost all the feedback. It’s really important to have an open mind about that kind of thing, if you want your book to get better. I try to have a very open mind about the book, that it is a work in progress, and that if someone hates the book, they don’t hate me, and they probably don’t think that I’m a bad writer. They just don’t like the book right now.
So, after publishing two novels, tell me a little bit of the reality of being a published author vs. the fantasy.
Well, I have to say the experience surprised me. It taught me a lot about myself, and about life.
Essentially, we’re all ingrates.
Satisfaction is elusive.
And that shiny object up ahead? It isn’t what you thought.
Selling a novel had been a goal of mine for a long time, and over the years I guess I had created this vision of what the realization of that goal might be like. Basically, I imagined that I’d be awash in satisfaction. I’d see my book in a store, or in my hands, and I’d relish in the delight of finally “getting there,” dancing in the hills as the hunger pangs of my ambition finally dissipated.
With two books out now, I have had some really satisfying moments of accomplishment. But of course, what I learned was that getting your book published is not the end of a long journey, but only the beginning. It’s the beginning of new kinds of stress, new highs, new lows, new kinds of pressure, new kinds of hurt and new kinds of love and delight and growth.
The truth of the matter is, the statistically overwhelming probability is that the world won’t give a shit about your book. To have a remote chance of changing that, authors need to work it, and work it hard—otherwise, very, very, very few people will care (sorry). Even if you do work it hard (doing bookstore events, pitching to media, creating promotional items, and a variety of other things), the chances are that the only ones who’ll care are your mom and a few friends. The book business can be both unbelievably exciting (and rewarding) but also freaking brutal. It can break your heart a dozen different ways. It’s crucial that you find a way to brush aside the stress and disappointment so you can appreciate the good moments (because they are there in very real ways).
You can’t be too proud or aloof. In the world of authors, I force myself to be a shameless tramp walking the busy boulevard in my candy-apple short-shorts and tiny terrycloth tank top, pacing the corner, winking at all the passing bookstore people, the media outlets—anyone, really. They’re tooting their horns at me as they blaze past, spraying gutter water all over me, and I’m getting catcalls. Very few of them actually pull over and the roll down their window. But when one of them does, it’s magic.
These publishing “streets”—it’s hard out here for an author pimp.
Greg worked as a Silicon Valley speechwriter, a newspaper reporter and a global communications leader. His ghostwriting for high-profile business executives has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, and the Financial Times. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His debut novel, Cash Out, was listed by The New York Times as one of five notable novels written about Silicon Valley.
San Francisco aside, (damn you, far away, beautiful weather) Greg Bardsley lives in a place where many of us want to be. He’s a published author backed by the big leagues. And, while the big leagues played a part in shaping his story into the gem it is today, it doesn’t mean that he hooked a free ride. He’s just dealing with life on the other side of the dream: the good, the bad, and the little moments of magic that make it all worthwhile.
Thanks for laughs, Greg!
And as for YOU?? You can find The Bob Watson here.