Interview with Dan Alatorre

danLongtime followers of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins will recognize this face. Dan Alatorre has been a great friend to the site from day one. Dan and I first “met” in June, 2015. I use the term met loosely, because we didn’t actually meet face-to-face until a year later, when he invited me to attend the Florida Writers Conference with fellow out-of-towner, Allison Maruska.

Our paths first crossed in an online critique group. At the time, he was looking for feedback on his WIP, Poggibonsi. What the hell is a Poggibonsi, you may ask? It’s the name of a city in Central Italy. It’s also the title of Dan Alatorre’s incredibly funny, sexy, and surprisingly heart-warming novel.

Dan’s book pulled me in the moment I opened chapter one. It’s about a man who takes his family on a work trip to Italy where things go terribly wrong. And, while it would be fair to categorize the book as a romantic comedy, the story is so much more than that. It made me laugh out loud. It made me cry. And sometimes . . . it made me really, really mad. Just like in life, Dan’s characters aren’t perfect. They’re crafted with flaws. They make bad decisions—intentionally and unintentionally—that sometimes lead to comedic disaster, and eventually end up at a deeper understanding of the oftentimes fickle glue needed to bind relationships together.

Having followed the journey of this novel from first draft to completion, I am especially excited to interview my good friend and critique partner Dan Alatorre here, and share his novel with all of you.

Hi Dan! Welcome to Scribbles.

Good grief, after a buildup like that, I can only fuck things up. We should end here. Thanks! Goodnight!

Umm, get back here. You live in Florida, right? How did you get the idea to write a novel set in Europe?

We were going to Italy on a vacation and I kept thinking, wow, this is such a great opportunity! Who gets to sit among the hills of Tuscany on the piazza of a beautiful Tuscan villa and write while gazing over fields of lavender and grapes and olive trees? People dream about that but nobody gets to do it, right? So I was going around Tuscany (I’m gonna drop the word “Tuscany” in as much as possible because Tuscany is amazing and I was in Tuscany) and we went to Rome and Venice, and I kept thinking, “There’s a story here, there’s a story here…” But I was forcing it, you know? I was trying to find a perfect, gift-wrapped box of inspiration instead of letting it find me, letting it come to me. And after the two weeks, I was a little sad because lightning didn’t strike and plop the Great American Novel – already written – into my hands. Dammit. I was gonna have to work for it.

You were on vacation with your family? Does anyone ever ask you if the story parallels your real-life experiences? The main character’s immediate family members both have names similar to your own family’s names.

We were on vacation and we had at that time a four-year-old (who’s now seven), so a lot of the stuff that happens to the family in the story actually happened to us. There are a few scenes like when the wife tries to start a romantic fire in the fireplace and gets soot all over herself, but looks cute because it’s on her nose – that happened. Filling the villa full of smoke because we didn’t get the flue open, that happened.

dan 2So there are a few real things because sometimes using real things makes the story more real. Other things didn’t happen. The cheating DID NOT happen, of course, and one other important distinction: the wife in the story starts out as a busy professional and kinda becomes pretty unlikable. My wife is a sweetheart. (She has to be if she puts up with me, right? We’ve been happily married for almost 25 years for a reason.) People should not think what the wife in the story does is anything my wife would do. I even put in a note – a disclaimer, probably – that whatever a situation called for, I thought about what my wife would do and had the wife in the story do the opposite. I used names that were similar to ours, but the similarities end there. The story is fiction. Hope I’m not bursting any bubbles by saying that. I don’t think people think Stephen King is a psychopath when he writes about one. But he is kinda creepy, so maybe he is a psycho…

Anyway, one thing to guard against – here’s a tip, new authors: “real” is also kinda dull. When you only write what really happened, it tends to reads as a bit on the boring side because most of us aren’t leading Indiana Jones type lifestyles. Readers want an escape, so you must give them one. You can draw on your experiences, but you must amplify the drama for some real life situation to make it into your story.

How would you describe the main character, Mike?

* Mike is a smart, hard working guy who land a dream assignment that might make him a partner in the firm. He’s been successful and he plays by the rules. He loves his family. But things get away from him and he ends up waaayyyyy over his head, and from there Mr. Cool becomes Mr. Bean.

I’ve heard it said that a good writer puts a little of themselves into every character. Did you find this was the case while writing Poggibonsi?

Well, if you write about stuff you have no clue about, you’ll sound like an idiot to people who do know. It’d be hard for me to write about being a teenage girl right now, right? But ask me in a few years and maybe I could tell you, because my daughter will be a teenager then. By taking real bits and pieces of real people – a lot of characters are amalgams, you know – you can come up with something really great.

Here’s an example. Sam in Poggibonsi is the MC’s assistant in the story. She is smart and witty and sarcastic. She teases her boss mercilessly but has his back 24/7. They are friends. Who wouldn’t want a relationship with their boss like that? As a result, she can say and do stuff that a real office co-worker can’t. But we’ve all had that funny co-worker, so by drawing on our real life experiences, we can take our real friend and make a great character.

So Sam is based on a few people. She’s got bits of former co-workers that went into her (gosh it sounds like I’m building a robot – the Sam 2000) and she’s got bits of personality from friends. She – because we writers get to stew over a great comeback or insult – she delivers punchlines in a staccato style we all wish we could do. And she’s vulnerable. She’s also me, to a degree. I can be a smart ass, so Sam is often that side of me. Mike is the more serious side of me. Maybe that’s why they get along so well. But make no mistake, Sam is also based on some real life friends.

I don’t think a writer can not put parts of themselves into their characters. You have to be able to write 3-dimensional characters, so you have to understand them; how do you understand them if you aren’t connecting and identifying? In Poggi, I have the 4-year-old daughter say and do things that readers totally believe and love, because I had a four-year-old and I knew what they were capable of. But it’s still my interpretation of what she was doing, with select moments pulled out and heightened and dramatized so she’s completely adorable.

Sam’s one-liners could make a grown man blush. How did you come up the stuff that comes out of her mouth? She had me on the floor.

As an author you get to set up the joke and deliver the punch line, and then you get to rewrite it if it doesn’t work. Real life people rarely get that opportunity if they aren’t stand up comedians. We had Sam make one joke that was hilarious, followed by another that was mediocre. The author gets to rearrange them so they build on each other and get funnier; the real life person doesn’t – so it’s partly in the editing and the setting of the stage.

Sam always knew her boss Mike respected and trusted her, so she said what most people would think, and she did it fearlessly.

The key word is fearless. She doesn’t hold back.

For example, to take the overseas flight, Mike had to get a physical, and the doctor did blood work and everything else, then left the test results on Mike’s answering machine. Because he heard the phone and internet connections were lousy in parts of central Italy, he gave Sam access to his voicemail and emails – figuring she’d keep him apprised of business stuff.

And of course, she gets the medical test results, and conveys them to him, Sam style:


“Hey, congratulations, Mike!

“What, that we made it to Italy in one piece?”

“No, that according to your doctor, your testosterone level is normal.”

“What?” I pressed the phone to my ear, lowering my voice. “How the hell would you know that?”

“You told me to check your voicemail for you, you told your doctor to leave your test results on your voicemail for you, and so I found that out. And now I’m telling you, which you also told me to do.”

I put my free hand to my forehead. “Well, that’s . . . none of your business.”

“I didn’t say it was. I’m just saying congratulations, you’re normal. Don’t they do testosterone tests when a guy has heart issues? Is there something you want tell me? Because if I need to start shopping for a new boss, I want a heads up.”

“Your job is safe. I am not having heart issues.” On the boat loading platform, I watched Mattie swipe her credit card through the ticket machine.

“Oh, man issues, huh?”

“What? No. That’s not even a thing.”

“Well, I figure if there are women issues there might be man issues. Other than addiction to ESPN and The Three Stooges.”

Mattie stared at the machine. No tickets came out.

“Sam, nobody older than the age of ten, or younger than the age of eighty, likes the Stooges. I think ‘man issues’ is a fancy way of saying ‘midlife crisis’ for bozos who can’t cut the mustard.”

“Well, I’m gonna defer to you on that chief. But . . .”

“But? What? Was there more to the message?”

Mattie pounded on the ticket machine with both hands. A small crowd began to gather.

“Well,” Sam cleared her throat. “The doctor also asked if you wanted a Viagra prescription sent over to supplement the samples. So I am relaying that to you as well.”

“Oh, God.” I closed my eyes.

That fucking Jan.

“I’m sorry, Mike. I really didn’t want to know these things. Well, maybe a little.” She giggled. “Is there trouble in paradise? No lead in the pencil? Overcooked the spaghetti? But you’re in good shape. You run. Why can’t you raise the drawbridge?”

A few bus-boat employees rescued their ticket machine from my wife’s karate kicks. I turned around and hunched over the phone. “There’s nothing to know! There’s nothing wrong in, you know, that department!”

“Okay, okay. Don’t protest too much, Hamlet.”

“That’s . . .” I took a deep breath. “Listen, my doctor is crazy. She thought those pills might be necessary. But they’re not.”

“I completely believe you.”

From the dock, Mattie waved at me, tickets in hand, and the scheduled water taxi approaching. “The boat’s here. I have to go in a sec. Do I have any other messages that are of any importance?”

“Strangely, no. After that one I kinda lost interest. I haven’t gotten into your emails, though. Can’t wait to see what’s hiding in there. I’m thinking Swedish vacuum pump, gerbils . . . ”


So what’s the key to it? Finding something funny, and just pushing it as far as you can. Plus, listening to your friends who read it. Somebody else suggested gerbils and the Swedish vacuum pump, but it was funny so I added it. They get the assist.

She makes appearances in one or two of your other works, is that right? Did you have a hard time saying goodbye?

I am a big believer in No Sequels. Ideally, I want to do new things, not do the same thing over and over.

However, that doesn’t mean a character that audiences love shouldn’t make a reappearance. Sam steals the show in Poggibonsi, so I added her to the next story I was writing, The Water Castle. Because she’s away from her work environment, she’s even less restrained. I also have a story for her where she ends up being chased by the FBI in a case of mistaken identity, but that’s still in the kicking around stages right now.

dan 6I always have a hard time saying goodbye to characters. If they are written well, that should be the case. But it turns out that every time I open Poggibonsi, there she is. So I don’t have to say goodbye, I just have to open the book again.

Now, here’s a dilemma. If I change Sam’s name in The Water Castle to, say, Sara – it’s not Sam anymore, and it’s a new character. I think readers would say Sara’s a lot like Sam, and feel a little ripped off that it’s NOT Sam. On the other hand, if I don’t write Sam exactly as readers want Sam to be, I alienate them. The solution would be Sara, right? Then everybody wins. And maybe not have her name start with an S. Then I’d be praised for always writing these smart, funny women – when really they’re kinda the same one – and I could evolve and not worry about hurting readers feelings for making Sam different somehow.

There’s one part in Poggibonsi—I think you know which part I’m talking about—that had me laughing so hard I was crying. Was there ever any worry that you were going too far? I mean . . . really. Mike had a pretty rough night. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to give him a hug or a slap.

Oh, I ABSOLUTELY was worried I was going too far. Lots of time.

First, you have to take risks as a writer. Safe sucks. Safe is boring.

Second, although it’s just you at the keyboard, I wanted input from a few people to make sure that scene wasn’t too much. Without giving it away, Mike and his wife have a squabble, and when he tries to get romantic, she tells him to take care of it himself. Okay, so if we all understand what we’re talking about here, he takes things in hand and a funny scene happens.

I thought it was really funny, but I worried it might be offensive to readers. What do do?

Ask some other authors. Specifically, women, since odds are 80% of the time a romance is going to read by a woman, and that was the audience of Poggibonsi. Now, you can’t just email a friend and say hey, THIS happens – what do you think? They will think you’re crude and disgusting. They will stay away from you from then on and not return your calls.

Unless they are writers.

We writer types have to research all sorts of stuff. What color blood appears in the moonlight, how to dispose of a body in west Texas… all kinds of things. So we are used to people grabbing us on Messenger and saying, “Would you say decapitating another human being feels like slicing a gristly piece of ham?” We talk about that stuff. So when I had that scene in Poggi, I asked a few writer friends – ladies, specifically – and I set it up and asked if it was too much.

Bottom line: if it’s funny enough, you can do anything.

So the scene was a hit. And that became a governing rule. Another is, if it feels real enough and you put the emotion in, readers will willingly go along for the ride. They will laugh with your characters and cry with them, and thank you afterward. But it’s a lot of effort, and you really have to put your bare soul on the page. That’s another tip. Go there. Great writing isn’t safe.

The scene where Mike first meets Julietta takes up a whole chapter of the book. She and Mike don’t say a word to one another, but the sexual tension is off the charts.

This is a place where everyone has been in this situation and everyone can relate. Mike sees a pretty young lady on a train and he’s kinda checking her out, and she of course has no idea. But he’s not being rude, he’s a little mesmerized. And because we’ve all had a crush, we understand it. He takes in her every detail – but if she looks in his direction, he looks away. Out the window, oh what’s that on my phone – he can’t make eye contact.

We’ve all done that, but usually in grade school or just for a quick moment as adults. Here, he’s stuck on a train with her for a few hours, strangers in a cabin section, and he just can’t look away. He even feels bad about it. When she gets off the train and another guy checks her out, he feels ashamed about doing it himself.

Because we’ve all been there, we understand. But great stories are built on tension. I make him keep looking even though he knows he shouldn’t, and he keeps falling deeper and deeper into a trance over her, wondering all sorts of things about her like where she lives and what she does for a living – all over a stranger.

It’s a chance for any of us to be honest about having had a moment like that, and under the circumstances, he’s surprised he did. That’s a lot of tension.

Sorry that wasn’t really a question. I was just taking a moment to relive it.

It’s one of my favorite scenes.

*Clears throat* What was one of the hardest parts of writing the book? I remember talking to you about the scene where Mike has to explain to his daughter the reason why Mattie doesn’t want him at their home anymore.

Mike cheats on his wife and eventually she takes him back. The hardest part was figuring out why she’d do that. I was stumped. For two weeks, I was writing other scenes while trying to think of a reason for her to take him back. I wouldn’t. Nobody would!

Except… People do. Occasionally in the world, a spouse will cheat and the other one may take them back. Not always, but occasionally. So I knew it had happened; I just couldn’t find a way for my characters to get there – and they needed to. I wanted that happy ending. I watched Oprah episodes and Dr. Phil, and finally came up with a solution. That was the absolute hardest part of the book to write – as far as a plot problem.

dan5As far as difficult scenes to write, it was when he has to explain to his daughter what he did. That scene, I cried into the keyboard imagining me having to explain something like that to my four-year-old daughter, and the kid not understanding, so he has to explain more but doesn’t really want to say what happened, and his little girl is sobbing and says, “Did you say you’re sorry? You always say we should apologize when we hurt somebody.” – stuff like that (I’m tearing up as I write this, dammit) having the Dad lessons thrown back in his face from his child, and realizing that he not only hurt his wife but his daughter, that was a biggie. That was hard to write. Painful to imagine.

I cry every time I read that scene. Every time.

I’ve had guys write me and say that was the hardest scene in the book to read because it was the most realistic.

As I mentioned above, we met when you recruited me to give feedback on Poggi while in its early stages. That was almost two years ago. What took so long to get the story to fans?

I had written a few books and published them, but as I worked with you and other writers I saw the need for my writing abilities to improve. I wanted to be a better writer, so I took the time to learn how to do that, to improve my craft.

The story is the same, but it’s much richer and much more immersing. Totally worth it. Poggi is the best story I have written, without a doubt. I’m a much better writer for having spent that time improving my skills.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Can we expect any more releases from you?

Nope, I’m kicking back and goofing off.

Seriously (because I know you’re laughing at that answer) I’m trying to finish An Angel On Her Shoulder, a paranormal thriller, which is with beta readers right now, and also The Water Castle, a romance. Both are slated for release in 2017. Angel kicks ass. It’s really good – that was also revised during my Improve The Skills phase, and it is an amazing read now.

The Water Castle is gonna have them crying by the boatload. It’s a romance for the ages. Pretty unforgettable.

I also have a Christmas story I need to finish, and an illustrated children’s book that’s ready. Plus I host a the Word Weaver Writing Contest where I personally give feedback to writers who enter a 3000 word submission in hope of getting big prizes, so there’ll be two more of those in 2017, and the start of the second year of Young Author’s Club at a nearby grade school.

Oh, and mowing the lawn. Gotta do that a few times, too.

Um… yeah, that’s about it.

That’s ambitious! Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins is a website geared largely to writers. What advice would you give fledgling word-slingers about to publish their first book?

What I usually see in new authors is a fear of being interesting.

They might make the bad guy and good guy have a sword fight, but they forget to feel the jolt of the metal-on-metal impact that sends a painful shock wave up your arm as the blades clash. They want to write a romance but they don’t explain the deep, black, bottomless abyss of pain that comes when she breaks his heart, and how it feels like the sun will never shine again even though it’s a crystal clear day outside.

They fear risking putting raw, real emotions on the page because of what someone might think.

All that stuff, that’s the interesting stuff readers are coming to the story to find. Give it to them, and be brave enough to write in a way that scares you a little.

Writers, find good writing partners (like I found in you), who’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t, and who are amazing writers in their own respect, but who will tell you the truth even if it’s hard to hear. That’s a real friend and co-conspirator, and they are worth their weight in gold. It has been my pleasure to get to know you, and I feel humbled to have been praised so highly be you so often. I feel like I have to go save people from burning buildings now, to be worthy of such adulation.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Dan. Getting to know you and seeing your story move from its infancy stages to final copy has been a nothing short of an absolute privilege. I am lucky to have met you, lucky to be part of Poggibonsi’s journey, and lucky to be seeing you again as PRESENTERS, in less than six months at this year’s Florida Writers Conference.

Can you believe we get to do this? I’m stoked. What a blast it’s gonna be!

dan 3

Dan Alatorre is dedicated to helping other authors learn and grow in their craft. His website, DanAlatorre.com, is packed with tips and tricks for writing killer stories and building a strong social media presence. My advice to you? SUBSCRIBE. Sign up for his newsletters. Dan is a natural teacher who cares about making fledgling writers AUTHORS.


Praise for Poggibonsi:

“Outrageously funny”

Poggibonsi is disarmingly charming; a laugh-out-loud, bumbling romp through lust and love in central Italy. Alatorre captures the breathtaking romance of the novel’s namesake perfectly, peeling back each layer of story until all that remains is genuine, raw emotion. An outrageously funny, guilty pleasure of a read.

– J. A. Allen, Old Souls

“Funny, Sexy, Heartbreaking, Hilarious”

In Poggibonsi, Dan Alatorre tells a compelling and hilarious story while giving its serious and heartfelt themes fair treatment. Protagonist Mike Torino is a hard-working family man who is struggling in his marriage, and when temptation looms on a business trip in Italy, he can’t help but indulge. His winding and sometimes bumbling misadventure leads him on a journey that ends only when he discovers what is truly important to him.

Funny, sexy, and at times heartbreaking, Poggibonsi is much more than a riotous romp. It’s an exploration into what makes us human and drives us through life.

– Allison Maruska, The Fourth Descendant and Project Renovatio trilogy

“A well-written, imaginative treasure!”

Your “misadventures” were effectively showcased via humor. The sequence at (CAN’T TELL YOU) where Mike (ALSO CAN’T SAY) and the later sequence with (SORRY) was brilliantly inspired! Overall a well-written, imaginative treasure.

Tracy Miller

“Many will go back and read it again simply because they enjoy smiling.”

This was fun. You have something very special here. I know that your audience will love it and many will go back and read it again simply because they enjoy smiling. A most entertaining experience.

– Annette Rochelle Aben, GO YOU


Purchase Poggibonsi, or check out some of Dan’s other books, here.


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Greg Bardsley on The Bob Watson, Gutter Water, and Magic.


aaeaaqaaaaaaaaxaaaaajgm2ywi3owq4ltvkzditngzmys04yzhllwflytzlzjexotm3zqGreg 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. quotescover-jpg-72The 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. bbb

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.cash

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!SONY DSC

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 🙂

 David Sagan.quotescover-jpg-52

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.

quotescover-jpg-60Oh 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. untitledPeople 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.untitled1

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. quotescover-jpg-34It 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.untitled4

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.

steveI 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.quotescover-jpg-89

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.

quotescover-JPG-34Selling 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).

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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.


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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.

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An Interview with Trevor C. Smith, Author of Year of the Rooster


Trevor and I met in the Twitterverse in August last year. You can find him on Twitter here. And, while sometimes Twitter People are Nuts, Trevor is creative force to be reckoned with. He’s also the author of Year of the Rooster, a novel published in 2010 by Rebel Satori Press: tt

Johnny Means used to make a living. Now he has a Life. Sick and tired of the revolving door, the same old jobs, the same feeling of faceless anonymity at work, the mind numbing grind, Johnny is in the mood for mutiny. And he’s going to do something about it. He wants his revolution. He’s had his wake up call, and now he’s going to send a message to The Man. With the rawness and grit of an untreated wound, Year of the Rooster explores one man’s powerlessness and his passage to the heights of power. It taps into the psyche of the masses. The boredom, the pressure to consume, ignorance of the subconscious… and the lies we tell ourselves to distract from the ugliness of reality. Year of the Rooster dismantles the illusions of security, predictability and anonymity that pacify humankind. It exposes common incarcerating binds of society. Greed. The Cubicle Effect. Our contentious relationship with money. Stalked by the unbearable heaviness of Being, Johnny Means hunts his own prey: The Meaning of Life.

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Other Year of the Rooster Reviews:

“. . . you’ll feel like wanting to take a bath after every chapter. Yet, amongst all the hopelessness, fear, resentment, desolation, death and destruction, there is a sort of purity. By way of friendship, conversation, and their reckless antics, the characters come to realize who they are and what all this (life) could possibly mean. The truth reveals itself in a very surprising and unexpected way.”

A guaranteed page turner you won’t be able to put down.”

. . . an awesome read that will suck you in from the first paragraph.”


Trevor’s book is visceral, gritty, and clever. He isn’t afraid to take chances. And, his blog is just beginning to take off, with posts that center around writing. Go check it out! Recently, Trevor agreed to an interview for Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, and so it’s my great pleasure to introduce him and his work to all of YOU.

Me: Hi Trevor, welcome to Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins!

Trevor Starlord Smith (so sayeth his social media handle): Hi!

Okay, right off the bat, I feel like I should probably ask . . . is your middle name really Starlord?

I’d love to say yes, but it was insisted on by my six-year-old when he realized I could name myself anything on Facebook. He has a writer’s mind.

That’s cute! How many kids do you have?

One. A six-year-old version of Robert Plant.

This Robert Plant? From Led Zepplin?

TrevHaha, yes. But my son is 60 years younger and no goatee.

That’s hilarious. How are they the same?

Long curly hair, huge personalities, charming as all hell and loved by the ladies.

Nice. So, you’re in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada)?

Yeah. It’s a city of acquired taste but it gets a bad rap. I like the honesty and grit of the place. Was in Toronto before that for the most part. But moved to Hamilton after some time travelling.

I’ve never really heard much about Hamilton, to tell you the truth. It’s by Lake Ontario, right?

Yes. Hamilton is directly south of Toronto off Lake Ontario. A great deal of Torontonians flock here because of the affordable real estate. If you weigh the cost of living with quality of life you can decide pretty quick if it’s worth living in a place. Toronto is out of control as far as I’m concerned.

5Where I’m from originally is a little town nestled in southern Ontario between highway 7 and highway 401 called Campbellford. I lived there until I was 18. Had to get out. Just wanted to experience life too much.

Let’s talk about your book, Year of the Rooster.

Haha, if I had the choice I’d change the title.

To what?

Summer of the Dog. Year of the Rooster had its own meaning at the time. I was born in the Year of the Rooster and was finishing it in the Year of the Rooster. For some reason it fit. I don’t know, maybe I should leave well enough alone.

I like both titles, actually. How is Year of the Rooster relevant to the story?

That’s the thing, it’s not. I suppose it just felt important at the time to the process. Which makes the title more about the act of writing than the story itself. Kind of like Tropic of Capricorn I suppose.

quotescover-JPG-71So–what used to seem appropriate doesn’t really work anymore?

You can get away with it with a novel. But as I’ve been transferring it to screenplay I decided the title should be more relevant.

You’re transferring Year of the Rooster to a screenplay? That’s ambitious. I suppose, given your background in film, it would be a natural transition. You do prop and set building right?

Yes, I do art department work. I love working in film. It’s very satisfying. On shooting days I do Art Deco and whatever else is required.

What are you working on now?

Just finished a film called Mobile Homes. I think it will be good. Then I went straight to a CBC special series called The Story of Us. It’s a Canadian history piece. That will air this summer, for Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Wow! That’s interesting.

I also worked on a CNN special series called Race for the White House. It was actually the highest rated, most viewed CNN series premiere. Kind of a big deal, haha.

Sounds like a wild ride! You’re a tattoo artist too, right?

Periodically, yes. Picked it up a while back and every so often my friends and family convince me to do art on them.

2So, with all that going on, how do you find the time to write??

Film and TV gigs last for a certain period of time, could be 6 weeks, could be 6 months. But mostly I have my weekends and down time between to write.

I would almost compare your writing style to Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club and Choke). Would you say that’s a fair association?

I love crazy characters with bigger than life personalities and strange quirks and traits. That comparison was made by Random House when they read it, too. I take it as an enormous compliment.

That must have been a huge pat on the back, coming from Random House.

It really was. It was a huge boost for me because (Palahniuk) is definitely one of my all-time favorite authors.

Has he influenced your writing, would you say? Or is it just a coincidence that your styles are similar?

He definitely influenced me, along with Hunter S Thompson and Irving Welsh. But it was almost a validation of my own voice when I went to see Fight Club in the theatre.

Hunter S. Thompson’s work is pretty amazing, but I don’t think I’ve read Irving Welsh.

I would definitely recommend it. Along with Mary Woronov’s two novels; Snake and Niagara.

How much of yourself do you see in your main character, Johnny Means?

He was an amazing vehicle to expunge frustrations with the establishment through. It’s fun to use a character to take it to an outrageous level to make something entertaining though. I had to work hard to keep him charming though, because the things he does aren’t socially acceptable.

Like dog fighting?

A lot of people ask if I’ve been to a dog fight and the answer is no. I did however grow up in the country and saw my fair share of fighting between neighbor’s dogs.

quotescover-JPG-35Did you begin with a theme in mind, or did it come to you later?

I decided to use the dog fights as a metaphor, and also a way to shake people awake. You can write all the human on human violence you want, but you start killing dogs and suddenly you’ve got everyone’s attention.

And, you are GREAT at drawing people in. I like the first line, but the next paragraph is killer.

Thank you. One day the entire opening first page sequence came to me while walking down Queen Street in Toronto, at the corner of Augusta to be exact. And I was forced to stop, pull out a pen and paper and write it out.

Just like a light went on. I love those moments. How long did the story take to complete?

Much longer than I would have liked. In total I’d say about 4 years. Since then I’ve learned how to write quicker in my own way. It wasn’t my first complete work, but I knew as it was tumbling out of my head and onto paper it was special. At least I thought so. Funny thing as a writer, if you write something you believe in someone else likely will too.

I liked the advice on your blog the other day. About getting published by not worrying about getting published. Is that what worked for you?

4Yes. While writing YOTR I did research into how to get published. Basically the end advice was vague but direct. Write your absolute best, keep it to 50 thousand words. So that was my goal. I was cocky. As I wrote it I assumed it would be published and didn’t worry about it. Put it out of my mind.

A little cockiness is mandatory in writing I think. Self-doubt can be crippling in this business. Obviously it worked, because your book is great.

Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it! (The thought process) was foolish and naïve when I look back on it now, but it worked. Eventually I realized that if the idea of getting published is at the forefront when you write it will inevitably affect you and influence your writing. And almost always in a negative way.

Are you working on another book?

I actually received an author’s grant from the Ontario Arts Council for my second one which I completed about a year ago. Since then I’ve started another as well.

An author’s grant is an opportunity a lot of authors would love. Was the process of getting it tough?

At first it was embarrassingly easy. First application ever, I received it. Since then I’ve applied and been turned down. But hey, they have to share the wealth with a lot of talented writers out there.

What a great opportunity! So, what’s been the most satisfying moment of your writing career?

quotescover-JPG-82Most satisfying moment for me is always finishing a novel. But finishing YOTR was huge for me. Getting signed for publishing was the most satisfying. I just felt validated for all my hard work. And it felt like credibility. That, and the author’s grant definitely had me dancing at the mailbox.

Haha, I bet. YOTR was published by Rebel Satori Press, right?

Yes. They were a writer’s dream, really. I was fortunate that my brother found them and suggested I might fit their publishing style. Rebel Satori left the editing up to the author. I’d finished the novel and put it down for a while, then in Fiji I decided to finally give it a once over to polish it up properly. Still missed something like two dozen typos!

Oh, I bet that was a kicker. Those typos can sneak up on you.

Speaking of typos, what’s with texting autocorrect? That shit can get dangerous.

Autocorrect is VERY dangerous. I have never in my life tried to spell ducking.

Lmao, me either.

Writing and publishing has changed dramatically in the last ten years. How has it changed the way you look at your future projects?

I’m seriously thinking about self-publishing my next few pieces, and doing it all through my blog

Like Andy Weir and The Martian?

Possibly. I’ve been seriously thinking about simply releasing it as a PDF on a pay-what-you-can format. Or simply releasing the PDF for free on a donation basis. Then charging only for orders of the physical book. I also considered releasing a page a day on Instagram. The industry has changed so much even since I was published. It reminds me of the music industry back when it started to fold.

6Oh, wow. It’s true, there are so many ways to get your work out there these days. Keeping an open mind as far as publishing may give you an unexpected advantage.

You said you’ve found a way to write a little faster now that your debut novel has been completed. Does that involve outlining?

It does, however I love the organic effect of writing without really planning too much. I found for my second one that keeping the theme and message prominent was very helpful. It gives your characters a focused goal. I like my story and characters to surprise me. I write out a shitload of notes before I engage. I like the idea of a wall of yellow sticky notes. That could be happening very soon!

What does your writing space look like now?

It looks a lot like a living room with three computers, two cats and a six year old playing video games. Eventually I’m planning on moving into a spare room upstairs and making it my own.

Haha, my five year old always becomes incredibly hungry when I sit down to write. It’s clockwork.

They have impeccable timing.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I did from when I was about 13 or 14. I could just feel the need to write a story. Which I did. It was nonsense but it got me started. Who am I kidding, it’s still nonsense!

All right. It’s almost time to wrap this up. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Spice Girls or Pussycat Dolls?

That’s a loaded question. The answer depends on how many whisky I’ve had.

1Haha. What type of whiskey do you drink?

I like Jameson. But there’s a local distillery from Stoney Creek I enjoy. 40 Creek it’s called. They make a few interesting blends that are reasonable on the pocketbook.

Well, I just want to say thank you for agreeing to this! It was a great insight into the mind of a writer. I hope my readers have enjoyed it, and will go check out your work for themselves.

And thank you for making time for this. It was great getting to chat!


Talking with Trevor was a lot of fun. Did you know he’s also a consecutive participant in the Scribble on Cocktail Napkins Sunday Scribble Challenge? His entry this week ROCKED IT. The prompt was to get your reader to root for a villain in as few words as possible. This is Trevor’s entry:

Willem is a killer without conscience. He feels no guilt for the atrocities he commits against the innocent. He barely understands it himself. His preferred tools are an AK-47 and a machete. Today alone he killed three women and seven children between the ages of two and eight years old.

Tomorrow he will die acting as a human mine detector.

Willem is a 11 year old child soldier in Sudan.


Ah-may-zing. YOU can write an entry to the Challenge, too! Check it out here: #SCC2, and don’t forget to vote!


How to Get Published: Advice From the Other Side


quotescover-JPG-25Since I began admitting that little ol’ me was writing a book, a funny thing happened. Other people started telling me that they wanted to write books too. I quickly realized what I was getting myself into. EVERYBODY wants to write a book. Only a fraction of those people get around to finishing their masterpiece (because writing is actually kinda hard), and only a fraction of that fraction get published.

Recently, Greg Bardsley, an author friend of mine (whether he agrees to it or not), took time out of his busy schedule to help me with a few questions I had about attracting agents/publishers, as I creep ever closer to writing my new two favorite words in the entire history of the world, THE END.

finalcover_withps_shadowIn July, 2011, Greg received the news from his agent that ALL aspiring novelists want to hear. He was going to get published. And not by just anyone, but by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins. Since then his book Cash Out has garnered countless 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 funny as hell. It’s easy to see how he got to where he is today, and it’s fair to say I’m pretty stoked for the release of his second book, next year.


BUT, Greg didn’t get to where he is today by sitting on his ass waiting for a published to fall out of the sky and onto his book:

He has 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.


A lot of rumors circulate writing communities about just what it takes to get published. Hopeful novelists will chuck around advice ranging from “Create a buzz,” to “Get your name out there,” to “Dance around a wishing well in the rain on the third Wednesday after the Winter Solstice.”

Sorting through some of the vague and downright counterproductive tips can be tough, which is why I flagged Greg down to cut through some of the bullshit and into the proverbial publishing meat. His answers were incredibly eye-opening, which is why I figured some of YOU might want to get in on the goods too.  cropped-newbanner2014bSo, with no further ado, meet Greg Bardsley, author of Cash Out, the upcoming novel, The Bob Watson.


Welcome to Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, Greg!

Thanks, Jenny. … By the way, that Winter Solstice dance doesn’t work (I learned that the hard way).

We met through a mutual friend, Mark Richardson, author of Hunt for the Troll. You both live in California, right? How do you two know each other?

gregYeah, I live near San Francisco. I met Mark a long time ago. We were both on the communications team at a large technology company in Silicon Valley, and we started up a defacto writers’ support group with another writer there, Al Riske. The three of us spent a lot of lunch hours talking about writing fiction, and helping each other with our stories and manuscripts. We’re still great friends—and each of us has since become a published author. Seeing our books in print has been satisfying. But really, the best part was growing with Mark and Al, and having so much fun along the way, and just the friendship.

One thing I’ve noticed about the writing community since I stepped out of my comfort zone is how eager writers seem to be to help each other out. Why do you think forming an alliance is a good idea?

I think that, as writers, we’re already putting ourselves out there, so we know how great it feels to have a little support along the way.

The crime and noir community is super supportive. I hear from friends who veer more into literary and general fiction genres, and it seems like those areas can be a lot more distant and indifferent, and very clubby. I am not sure why the crime/mystery/pulp writing scene is more inclusive, but it seems to be just that, which is really cool. Even though my books fall more into the satire and general-fiction category, I still get a ton of support from many of these good souls.

quotescover-JPG-77I didn’t plan it this way—it just happened. I would place a short story with a zine or a journal, and then I’d really get a kick out of the other stories. We all reached out to each other, and some really strong friendships (and writing partnerships) were borne. We are all still pretty tight. In hindsight, I realize now that these bonds enriched the whole experience (not to mention my writing), and opened the door to finding the right agent and even my publisher.

So I often say the same thing established authors told me back in the day: Get involved, be real, do selfless things for your writing buds (without expecting reciprocation), have a blast, learn from each other, and create a new group of “up and comers.” Read each other’s unpublished manuscripts; get your stories into the same journals and zines, if you can, and maybe even produce an anthology or yearly zine with them. If you all produce some good work, have fun and support each other, one side effect might be that there’ll be a “buzz” around your work. Astute agents (and even some publishers) will notice. Even if the buzz doesn’t happen, you’ve had a lot of fun, you’ve grown and you’ve made life-long friendships.

If you all come up together as writers, you’ll do anything for each other.

I’ve heard that terminology before: create a buzz. How exactly could a buzz translate into a book deal?

I am not sure if it does. But it can help. I know if you really do have a buzz (you’re getting anthologized, you’re getting recognized for your shorts, maybe you’re winning a few awards, or have lots of readers on your blog), you can use that as a selling point to agents, and they can do the same to publishers.

For me, it was the short stories. You could take chances with shorts, and you could get reactions from readers much sooner than with a book—and I met all these great people.

untitled2One such person was Anthony Neil Smith, the editor of Plots with Guns. He was a big supporter and eventual mentor, and PwG had a passionate following. Long story short, over the course of years, one of Neil’s good friends introduced me to his agent, who later would represent my third try at a novel, Cash Out. Neil also told me about Cal Morgan at Harper Perennial, who also had a short story zine called 52 Stories. Neil suggested I submit some stories to Cal; and that’s how I got my writing in front of Cal (he didn’t accept any of my stories, but he liked them). A few years later, when Cash Out was ready for submission, my agent David Hale Smith came up with a great list of editors, but he still asked me if there were any other editors we should pitch to. I thought of Cal—DHS happened to know Cal and included him in the initial pitch to six editors. Out of those first six submissions, we had two takers—Penguin and Harper. We went with Cal and Harper. Anyways, none of this (getting DHS, landing with Harper) would have happened, had it not been for my amazing group of friends and mentors.

The one thing I notice is that sometimes people fail to understand is how long it can take (if it ever happens). People want the book deal to happen now. But in reality, it almost never happens on your timeline. People get super bummed out. They are devastated. Hell, it’s a fucking jungle. Tough sledding. Whatever euphemism you want to use. That’s why I advise people to diversify their emotional investments in terms of writing—do shorts, create a zine, be sure you grow as a writer, be sure you’re having fun. quotescover-JPG-34 Try not to think about book deals. In most cases, it’s really premature. Focus on the craft—the writing, the stories, the growth. Keep working. It will take years and years and years—and then more years. And statistically, the odds are still against all of us. So, be sure that you’ll be okay if you never get a book deal. Be sure that you’ve had an amazing adventure regardless of what happens.

And at the end of the day, the thing that will get you a deal is writing a great book.

Is having a buzz around your work what worked for you?

“Buzz” did not land me a deal. But it might have encouraged people to read the first few pages of my manuscript. After that, the only thing that was going to get me a deal was an editor “falling in love with the book.”

After more than 15 years and three manuscripts, I finally made it work. That’s the part (decades of trying, several failed books that will never be published) that makes some aspiring writers go pale. The reality is, very few published novelists get their first manuscript published.

But like so many others, I just have to write fiction. It’s just too much fun.


Greg gave us a rare glimpse to the other side of writing. Yes, many people want to write a book. It’s a saturated market. BUT, even though it might be difficult, getting that elusive deal is possible. Stick with it. Enter short story contests with clout. Get published in literary magazines. And, even though the words might be a bit cliché, they mean something . . .  so, stir up a buzz, dammit.

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Hunt for the Troll: Mark Richardson


Many of you follow Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins because you want to be an author . . . someday, in the hypothetical land of far, far away. tn5xnBut, I recently met an author who proves that even with a busy family life and successful career, that dream is still an option . . . now.

As new author myself, when I come in contact with the few who have made it, who have climbed the mountain of writing a book and then *eyes widen in wonder as mouth unceremoniously unhinges* getting it published, I have a ton of questions.

I talked about my love/hate relationship with Twitter before, here. To be fair, most of the time I do love Twitter. I’ve had some pretty neat conversations with people I would have never come in contact with otherwise. On Wednesday, when Canada’s new Prime Minister was sworn in, I logged in to read up to the minute updates about his cabinet. As a writer, I follow hashtags like #amwriting which often lead to the incredible, free writing resources that are invaluable to self-taught writers like me.

Last week in the Twitterverse, I met a budding author whose debut novel, Hunt For the Troll, was picked up and released by the independent publisher, New Pulp Press. We got to talking, which got my curiosity up, and I checked out his book.

A-may-zing. His characters are out of this world. You need to read it to believe it. Here’s a quick look at the blurb:

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It all starts when twenty-something software programming genius is visited while he sleeps by a mysterious figure referred to as the Troll. “We’re going to change the world,” the Troll tells the narrator. Soon we’re introduced to an assortment of off-beat characters: a red-haired, one-eared, female temptress; a pot-smoking tech reporter; a computer-generated Halfling; and a few venture capitalists who are all interested in finding the Troll. Mostly taking place in San Francisco, Hunt for the Troll is a quirky hybrid of mystery, pulp, and modern fairy tale.”


The author, Mark Richardson, graciously agreed to an interview for Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins. I just knew most of YOU would be interested in hearing about everything from the process of writing a novel to getting it published, too.

With no further ado, here’s Mark!

So, you’re from Chicago, and now you live in Northern California?

Yes. I grew up in Winnetka, Illinois, just north of Chicago. I went to school at the University of Iowa. And have now lived in California for a number of years. I feel like a Californian at this point.

I bet you love California winters.

It’s funny: I am not sick and tired of perfect weather!

That is funny. And, I hate you. (Did I mention we got 18 feet of snow last year???) So, Hunt For the Troll is your debut novel. I HAVE to ask, where did you get the idea for the book? It almost seems like a mix of The Matrix and Alice in Wonderland.

It is sort of like those books, although not really exactly. It started out as a short story. I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami, and I really like his story, “The Dancing Dwarf.” It is a fairy tale. And I wanted to write something similar. So I started writing a story called, “The Internet Troll.” The short story didn’t really work; I spent 2-3 months trying to make it work. And then one day . . . it just kind of became a novel.

Wow! So how long did it take you to write?

It took about a year. I have a family and a full-time job, so I couldn’t write every day. But I just kept plugging away.

Would you like to explain how Haruki Murakami’s writing affected your work, to people who may not be familiar with his style?

He’s definitely one of my favorite authors. You should check him out. He’s Japanese and probably one of the most popular writers in the world. Many (although not all) of his stories have magical elements (magical realism). And he writes in a very accessible style. So the books are easy to read, weird things happen, and I find them very fun to read and interesting. The first line of “The Dancing Dwarf” is: “A dwarf came into my dream and asked me to dance.”

That is a killer first line.

You find out later that the narrator works at a factory where they build elephants. So weird stuff.

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Your characters are pretty out of the ordinary. Were you ever concerned that people might not love them as much as you did?

Concerned probably isn’t the right word. I think it is unlikely that everyone would like my book. I think a fair percentage wouldn’t, and that is okay. But hopefully some would.


I think that’s a bold move, though. The books that try to please everyone are hardly worth reading.

Exactly. And it is frankly impossible anyway.

So did you focus on a certain theme while writing your book?

It did not come naturally. There was a lot of thrashing around to figure out what the book is about. I didn’t outline, and after writing about a third of it I had to go back and re-write it.

You aren’t saying you’re PANTSER, are you?!

Not sure what that means…

Plotters plot, and pantsers wing it. I am a die-hard plotter, and madly jealous of all pantsers . . . who can pull it off

I think I am a pantser. I kind of wing it. At least initially. I have started a new book and did storyboard it. But now finding myself going madly off what I had planned!

Do you use any kind of standard outline? The Hero’s Journey?

No, I really didn’t. Although it is kind of a hero’s journey story. Maybe starts out as stranger comes to town, but then the hero goes on a journey to find him.

You say this was supposed to be a short story. Have you written many others?

I’ve written around 10 short stories that have been published. That’s how I started out writing fiction.

Where can we find them?

I listed some of them on my webpage. My favorite is “Tears of the Platonic Man,” although my wife likes, “Tattoo Woman.”

You are married, with two kids and an active career . . . so how do you find time to write?

It can be tough. I write for my job, so the periods when I was really busy I just couldn’t write the book. But there were also weeks when I wasn’t that busy at work, so I would block off an hour or two and work on the book. I’ve found if I just keep at it the words can pile up.

How did you feel about the whole editing process of publishing?

Mine was pretty easy. My publisher, New Pulp Press, is an independent publisher, and they hardly changed a word. The editing process at my job is much more arduous.

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Really? So what do you do in your Clark Kent time?

I work for a tech company in Silicon Valley. I write speeches and white papers and sales guides and other documents. Webpage stuff, too.


That’s interesting. Do you find writing fiction hard after slogging away all day in the real world?

If I am working on a big project at work, then I’ve found it is hard to dedicate the mental energy to the book. But I think the fact that I write so much at work also helps me be a better writer. The whole idea of putting in ten thousand hours. I haven’t put in ten thousand hours of fiction writing, but I have definitely done that and more as a writer. And I think the fiction writing makes me better at my job.

How so?

I’ve gotten very good at starting with a blank page and creating something. And I can kind of slip into that dreamy state where time flows by and you’re just focused on what you’re writing, if that makes sense. I have to create things for work, so I have learned to just buckle down and do it.


Let’s face it. A blank page can be very intimidating, especially when writers have so many other aspects of daily life to contend with. But, even though Mark has an active home life and successful career, he still pumped out a great book.

Because the only difference between writers and everyone else, is that writers write.

Check out Mark’s book here. You won’t be disappointed!