Representing the Midwest in Fiction with J. Ryan Stradal

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Mindy:             Welcome to Writer, Writer Pants On Fire. Where authors talk about things that never happened to people who don't exist. We also cover craft, the agent hunt, query trenches, publishing industry, marketing, and more. I'm your host Mindy McGinnis. You can check out my books and social media at MindyMcGinnis.com and make sure to visit the Writer, Writer Pants On Fire blog for additional interviews, query critiques, and more at writerwriterpantsonfire.com. If the blog or podcast have been helpful to you or if you just enjoy listening, please consider donating. Visit writerwriterpantsonfire.com and click support the blog and podcast in the sidebar.

Mindy: Today’s guest is J. Ryan Stradal. His first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, was published by Viking in 2015, and reached the New York Times Hardcover Best Seller list. His short fiction has appeared in Hobart, The Rumpus, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Review of Books, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Electric Literature, and Midwestern Gothic, among others. His second novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota, is available now. J. Ryan joined me today to talk about representation of the Midwest in popular culture, the rising importance of microbreweries in small communities, and the lost stories of the middle class.        

Mindy:             Let's talk about the book, The Lager Queen of Minnesota. One of the things that, as I said, really appeals to me about it is that it's about the Midwest and it's setting is in the Midwest and you grew up in the Midwest. I often see, and I imagine you probably do too, writers and TV show producers and movies, always trying to do the Midwest and not quite getting it... if sometimes completely missing the mark and really corn holing us. So if you could talk a little bit about that, I would love for you to let us know your opinion.

J. Ryan:             I totally agree. I've seen some over the years, like Butter for example, which I thought was extremely condescending. The writer of that movie, I'm not gonna name names, but he's from Maryland. He's not even from the Midwest, you know, we gotta make our own art. We've gotta represent our own people. So in a lot of ways this is a response to me not seeing our people represented properly or with enough depth or imagination, but also not just a course correction or a diatribe. It's the celebration of these people. Being a Minnesotan, I'm more inclined to praise what I love than denigrate what I hate. I'm more motivated to write stories about these people because I love them, than do it as some kind of retort to culture at large, but that does play into it. I wasn't seeing enough stories about the people I consider to be my people out there in the world, in any media. There are plenty of great Midwestern writers. Don't get me wrong. Peter Guy, Nicholas Butler, Lorna Landvik Vic Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley. There's a ton of them, but in terms of writing about kind of contemporary working class suburban and kind of like the people I grew up with, I wasn't seeing a ton of that. That's kind of my sweet spot in terms of inspiration, subject matter, like people that live in these smaller towns on the outskirts of a city and live paycheck to paycheck. That's how I grew up.

Mindy:             Yeah, me too. I encourage you as an offside, check out the author, Donald Ray Pollock.

J. Ryan:           Oh, you bet. I saw him on a panel a while ago and he was really cool. I actually bought one of his books at that event and gave it directly to my brother. Said, give it to me when you're done and he's never given it back to me.

Mindy:             Take it back because that man is my idol. I mean, pure sheer Midwest. He's from the Circleville area up here, very southern Ohio, very Appalachia. Stunningly talented.

J. Ryan:           Cool. Yeah, I've heard people compare him to Dennis Johnson.

Mindy:             Absolutely. Yup. Absolutely. No doubt about that. So the other thing that you talk about, and you just mentioned it too in response to the question about the Midwest in general is middle class and it's so true that so much of our popular culture is centered on the Uber rich or Uber poor. That's what we talk about. It's like that's where the stories are and that's not true. I mean there is that grind and that struggle of just making it, it's so terrifying in itself in some ways. And I know it plays into the book. So if you could talk about that for a little bit.

J. Ryan:             Well, it's also so rich with conflict and I mean, when you're struggling to make it every day is some kind of conflict. Anytime you can't answer a problem with money, you've got conflict. And that's one of the things I find kind of amusing, uh, about the fact that so many books are written about wealthy people or, or at least financially stable people. It's like, boy, what problem do they have that they can solve with their wallet? And the people I grew up with couldn't say that. And my characters, most of them can't. Every situation could end up becoming septic for them. You know, like the smallest cut could kill them sometimes. I enjoy exploring that dynamic because you know, you grew up in a world where, you know, as Eda says in my book, you'd treat money like a motorcycle driver treats asphalt. It keeps you going, but one mistake with it can kill you. I knew a lot of people who are very risk averse, you know? Certainly very cautious, very, uh, if not stingy at the very least, you know, very conservative with money. Like I grew up in a family. We didn't eat out a lot. You know, I wanted to though, boy, I'll tell you that when I started working out out of the house and making my own money, I spent it almost all on restaurants and CD's.

Mindy:             I love that.

J. Ryan:             So those kinds of purchasing decisions, having opportunity costs when it comes to money, you know, and I explore that with my character, Diana, you know, she's got a job, she makes money doing something criminal on the side. But anyway, she's got money that she needs to sustain her and her grandma's life, but also looks at this money in her life and goes, what do I spend it on? I have a choice. I can't do both things. Boy, that's as dramatic as it gets. I'm surprised more people don't explore this realm. Talking to someone else earlier today, and, uh, we talked about this topic and it came up that, well, maybe not enough people come out of the working class to become writers. And that could be a part of it too. Is that you've gotta be in a fairly privileged situation to be able to afford the time off to write a book. At least have your mornings free. I mean, if you have kids and you're working a full time job, I mean, how many hours a day do you get to write? You can do it. I know people who do, it's a lot harder. You know, someone whose parents paid for their MFA and now they get to sit in an apartment in Brooklyn and write their novel. It's very different for them from what I came from.

Mindy:             Yeah. Exactly. Same here, same here.

J. Ryan:             And they're obviously gonna write a different kind of novel than you or I. I don't even think they should try to write a novel set in Ohio. I wouldn't want to read it.

Mindy:             No, not at all. And that's, yeah, that's the experience that I have. Um, I'm lucky enough I'm able to write full time now, but you know,.

J. Ryan:             Yeah me to too and I feel the same way. I feel lucky.

Mindy:             Yes. And always aware that it can be taken from you.

J. Ryan:             Oh yes.

Mindy:             Well, and you mentioned being risk averse as part of that middle class mentality. And I see that, I mean, you can't take a stand and say, I'm going to be an artist. I mean, that's all risk.

J. Ryan:             Oh my God. Yeah. And it was a risk my parents supported, you know, my mom's supported and understood because she always wanted to be a novelist herself. My Dad was slower. His burner on the stove is slower to heat up under that pot. He's into it now, you know. But uh, at first when I went to college, he was like, oh, you should major in, uh, in a skill like a trade. And so I majored in Radio, TV, film partially, you know, partially to make him happy, but also because I was scared shitless of the idea of writing prose at the time. I was a young dude. I didn't like to revise.

J. Ryan:             I didn't revise. Oh my God, what, what insanity was that?

Mindy:             You know, I didn't either. My very first book, I finished in college, I wrote a novel, finished it and was like, I'm sending this to publishers. And I did. And then, you know, that didn't end well. That did not work out.

J. Ryan:             Thank God. it didn't. Imagine if that had been your first book out there, you wouldn't be able, if it was still on shelves like right now you wouldn't to be able to look at it.

Mindy:             Thank God self publishing didn't exist then because, oh my God.

J. Ryan:             Oh yeah, yeah, I know. I know. I know. Just imagine. I talked to writing classes sometimes about that, but like I've sent out this story 50 or 60 times and it hasn't been accepted. Like, you know, maybe in five years you'll be glad it wasn't right? Also think of that.

Mindy:             I have a blog post, an interview with another author coming up tomorrow and she was querying for six years and I had over 500 rejections and you know, I was querying for 10 and I definitely had over 500 but I'm not sure how many, but then she says the same thing. It's like it was all on me. I was just so convinced that I was this little undiscovered genius. I wasn't revising, I wasn't putting in the work. I wasn't even rereading my own stuff. I was just like, this is awesome!

J. Ryan:             Oh no, Oh no, no. Yeah, Kerouac writing on the road. This is just my role of typewriter paper right here. I know I wrote a manuscript in my twenties that'll never see the light of day, but I was of course, you know, disappointed about that at the time. You know, like any writer would be. I didn't even get a response from agents. Yeah. I mean, once or twice I maybe got, we received it, you know, but certainly no one asking for a full. And then the cases I sent a full like no response. You know? And I look at it now and I perfectly understand it's an embarrassing piece of work, but it was the first novel I had to write more to develop the discipline of writing a novel.

Mindy:             Absolutely. I know I would get partial requests, then I would send them off and they would just be like crickets. And now I'm like, well, I mean I'm glad they didn't respond. I don't want to know what they thought.

J. Ryan:             Me Neither. I'm glad that some of these agents are no longer in the business and they're no longer around to besmirch my good name should they check their email archive.

Mindy:             So you've mentioned writing that bad first novel and getting out of your system. How many novels did you complete? How many books I should say? Did you finish before you got an agent?

J. Ryan:             Okay, well I got an agent with my second one, but it was 10 years later and then the intervening 10 years I took extension classes at UCLA, which were great because first of all I had an instructor, Lou Matthews, best instructor I've ever had who read my work and said, you know what J. Ryan, your work's going to get a whole lot better, once you start writing about things you care about. It's like, Oh snap. He was right. Lou was right. I was like all right, okay. Waddled out of there like in shame like a toddler. But then, you know, I thought, you know, he's right, I've got to take him up on this. And so that was one thing. The other two things were a ton of reading and a lot of writing. I published my first short story in 2006 after my mom died.

J. Ryan:             It was about four years before I had another one published and that four years it was instructive too. Cause I wrote, I was writing, submitting that whole time, you know. I was burning up, Duotrope, you know, like deadliest catch captains smoking, you know, it was, you know, I just didn't let it get me down. I could feel myself getting better. I took the, I took Lou's advice, started getting short stories out in the world again and one was published in 2010 and 2011 then a couple in 2012. And it was just slowly building up a little momentum. And in 2013 I started writing Kitchens of the Great Midwest. I mean I'd been thinking about it since 2009. I'd been saving money since then to take a year off from work. I'd been working in TV production, but I just couldn't help it anymore. In February of 2013 I was working on a show called Storage Wars, Texas. I just started writing it in the morning, you know, before going into work. And um, the rest is history, I guess. It took me about a year to write writing every day. And when Storage wars, Texas was canceled for some reason. Who knows?

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J. Ryan:             I just thought, you know, most of the time I'd hop onto another production, but this time, you know, I'm gonna take this as a blessing and I'm gonna keep writing. I'm gonna use the full day now and treat it like a job. Yeah, that was another huge lesson. Was treat it like a job. Wake up, clock in, do your writing. I don't have any sort of word count or page count assigned to every day, but I do try to write every day.

Mindy:             I think what you're saying, you've got two like mini MFA courses right there - write about something you care about, which is great. And treat it like a job. That's, that's a big one. I read and I believe it was uh, Nick Cave, the singer who also writes novels and I believe that I read somewhere I have it stuck in my head that it was him. So if I'm, if I'm attributing this to the wrong person, then I apologize, Nick Cave. But, um, I read somewhere that even when he is just writing at home, he wakes up in the morning and he puts on a suit.

J. Ryan:             Oh yeah, I've heard that.

Mindy:             Yeah. And it goes to his office to write cause he has to treat it, he has to tell himself he's at work.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. My buddy Brian K. Vaughan, He rents, uh, like an office about a mile or two from his home that he goes to, you know, and so it's like going to work for him.

Mindy:             I think it's really smart because one of the things I see writers talking about all the time on Twitter, and I'm guilty of it too, is that we lay around in our pajamas all day because we can, and I think I will probably take myself a little more seriously if I had pants on.

J. Ryan:             I do notice my writing gets better if I, if I have pants on.

Mindy:             Yeah. As it should, I feel a little less sloppy if I'm actually, you know, got some support. So one of the things that actually the major theme with The Lager Queen of Minnesota is the emergence of brewery culture. And you talk a lot about how you visited breweries and you learned so much about all of the brewery process and the families and the communities that do pop up around a brewery, especially in small towns where they can be like a social hub. So if you could talk about that.

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J. Ryan:             Yeah, I've been noticing that since I was touring for Kitchens, you know, cause I did over 120 stops for Kitchens, mostly in the Midwest. That's where it so much or the brewery culture has been historically in, and is now, you know, and it's wonderful to roll into these smaller towns that were a lot less lively 10 years ago. Have this center have this epicenter. Uh, you've got some like local people working there that normally would be working elsewhere, be going to the big city or would have outright moved to the big city by now. And they're making something and keeping money in the, in the local economy, hiring locals to work the tap room and giving families, young families, couples, people with pets, quite often, a place to come hang out. That's not denominational, that's not a chain that doesn't funnel the money outside of town somewhere. It has a little bit more conviviality than a coffee shop. Also can be a little more raucous. You can have like, you know, musicians that aren't just a solo acoustic guitarist in the corner. I really love it and I love, I love seeing it and I love their uh, effect on, on small town America and the Midwest. I've been motivated to write about it since then and I wanted to marry it with this idea I had of writing the story of a, an unfairly divided farmland inheritance, which has happened a couple of times on both sides of my family. And I thought, oh, how could I marry these two things together? And Lager Queen is a result of that.

Mindy:             I find often when I'm traveling for work or I'm just visiting friends, like from college that are scattered usually around the state, they do, you know, most places have a, a semi local brewery. Everybody wants to show it to you. Everybody's proud and everybody wants you to try it and, and I'm like, no matter what, I actually think,I always tell them that it's good because you can't say...

J. Ryan:             Yeah, you got to see it's good. It's like, it's like going to your grandma's house and she makes you a pie. What are you going to say? Like grandma, your pie makes me cry. I'm going to cry to sleep thinking about this pie. No, no, funny to think of a brewery is pride of place, you know, for, for community.

Mindy:             But it really is, I went through a period of time where I was really into the microbrews and so I would tweet about it a lot. And I was traveling, I think it was a couple of years ago. I was traveling and I ended up out in California and I had a fan. She actually brought me like a six pack of the local brew.

J. Ryan:             Oh cool.

Mindy:             Yeah, it was really cool. But I, my signing ended at like 9:30 I had to fly out at five in the morning. I had like, you know, a six pack of this local brew and I'm like, oh my gosh, I can't, you know, slam these overnight.

J. Ryan:             I know. I know. That happens to me too. Sometimes people will give me beer, like tall boys or something. Like the end of the night when I've got a 5:30 AM flight or something. I'm like, well maybe I've got a buddy here that I can pass this along to and I'll take a picture of this can and next time I'm in this town I'll make a point of having this beer.

Mindy:             That is exactly what I did. I took a picture and I left it for housekeeping because I was like, I can't, I can't drink six beers tonight like that's not on the table.

J. Ryan:             Not at all. Boy. The demands on writers. Oh God, you drink all this beer. People give you so much beer.

Mindy:             Beer and coffee. That's the thing.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. Yeah. Hey, I'll take it. I love them both.

Mindy:             I do too. Do you have anything that you're working on now? What do you have coming up next or are you just still focused on pushing The Lager Queen?

J. Ryan:             I am working on another book tentatively titled Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club. So the setting is a Midwestern supper club, like of a northern Minnesota, Wisconsin ilk with the fish fries and the brandy old fashions. So that's the primary setting, but it's really, once again more about the people about the family involved. I was writing it yesterday at a hotel in Connecticut, you know, I don't know if I'll have time to work on it today, but yeah, no, it's a world I love being in and developed some brand new characters and, but it's still a Midwestern setting. I'm not, not one talking about the Midwest. It feel like it's, it's home to me in a lot of ways and also has presented me with a lot of puzzles that I need to unpack.

Mindy:             I hear ya. All of my books are set in Ohio, small town, small town Ohio, because I don't see enough of that. One more reading recommendation if you haven't already picked it up. Steven Markley wrote a book called Ohio.

J. Ryan:             Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard about it.

Mindy:             It's good.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. Good, good, good. That's good to hear. It's about a group of high school friends?

Mindy:             Yeah. It follows them in high school and then also in their adult lives and uh, it really captures the Midwest. specifically Ohio. Just really good. Really good. I was all over it.

J. Ryan:             Awesome. Awesome. Thank you for the rec.

Mindy:             Absolutely. And uh, thank you for the interview. It was awesome. I'll let you go. I know you've got another one to get to, but it was a great talk. Good time.

J. Ryan:             Yeah. Oh yeah. It was invigorating.

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Liz Coley On Some Hard Truths About Publishing

It’s time for a new interview series… like NOW. No really, it’s actually called NOW (Newly Omniscient Authors). This blog has been publishing since 2011, and some of the earlier posts feel… dated. To honor the relaunch of the site, I thought I’d invite some of my past guests to read and ruminate on their answers to questions from oh-so-long-ago to see what’s changed between then and now.

Today’s guest is Liz Coley, fellow Ohioan who has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds, Flights of Fiction, Winter's Regret, and You Are Not Alone.

In 2013, psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 was released by HarperCollins and HarperCollins UK in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. Foreign translations have been published in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, Czech, Slovakian, Traditional and Simplified Chinese.

Has how you think (and talk) about writing and publishing changed, further into your career? 

Last time around this blog, oh back in 2012 or so, I wrote, “Relax and trust the people who’ve done this hundreds of times.” I don’t feel that way anymore. There’s a saying in author circles, that if you stick around long enough, eventually anything that can happen will happen to you or someone you know. Publishers have folded, contracts have been cancelled, the ever-revolving door of junior editors has broken up author-editor teams, and agents have betrayed their clients. I’ve kind of lost faith that anyone can predict anything in this crazy biz. And yet they keep trying.

Let’s talk about the balance between the creative versus the business side of the industry. Do you think of yourself as an artiste or are you analyzing every aspect of your story for marketability? Has that changed from your early perspective?

I had a revelation about my brand: apparently, I write library books. Books that are empathetic and well-written, about interesting issues and interesting humans. They are readable and the kind of book a teacher or librarian or mom would want to hand to the kid in need. I also know this isn’t what the publishers are looking for. Not high concept or sensational. Not a multibook YA fantasy romance. I’ve seen my rejection feedback; the editors may praise the writing, but say, sorry this isn’t a breakout story for the market today. Yeah. Duh. I knew that.

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have to earn a cent. In fact, I pledged away all my first-sale income to a worthy cause. So I write stories I think are important, and that’s why it breaks my heart a little that no one wants to publish them. There are gatekeepers, and I don’t consciously write to please them, to my detriment, I guess.

The bloom is off the rose… what’s faded for you, this far out from debut?

The year I sold Pretty Girl-13, a lot of things changed. I believed that my ten years of writing and attending workshops and reading books on craft and submitting short stories were finally paying off. This was the cusp. The threshold from Liz’s life part I to Liz’s life part 2. I was also on the cusp of a significant round number birthday. I said to my husband, “I’m really excited for this next decade.” I made a lot of valued writing friends, I spoke to marvelous kids at a few schools and a lot of festivals, I won a few awards, and I received letters from people who said my book had changed their path in life.

The energy of that launch period carried me through the unforeseen disappointments—my editor rejected two manuscripts for my option and released me; although I wrote three additional manuscripts after those, my agent failed to sell anything; there were betrayals of trust and financial shenanigans. And now, it wasn’t . . .

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a huge windstorm in Columbus that brought down a maple tree in our yard. My oldest son, about twelve at the time, very excitedly asked if he would be allowed to use an ax to cut up the tree. About ten minutes later, he came into the house and reported sadly, “That wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.”

So, yeah. Publication was awesome. But the writing life? I’ve been hacking at that tree for almost twenty years. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be.

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Likewise, is there anything you’ve grown to love (or at least accept) that you never thought you would?

In my dark night of the soul, with twelve and two half manuscripts under my belt, one sale, and five self-pubs that net me about $25 a year, I decided to try something different to fight the despair. I enrolled in a week-long immersive playwriting masterclass at the university. Changed my life.

Playwriting plays to my strengths—brevity, dialogue, character. The ten-minute plays that rolled off my laptop that week were deep, playful, engaging, and most of all, appreciated by the actors who voiced them, the instructors, and my first audiences. The immediate gratification of this art was an overwhelming experience, and I began developing another whole network of supportive friends in theatre. After three years of masterclasses, I became a TA, I’ve accumulated a small inventory of works to submit and/or self-produce, I founded Next Stage Cincinnati Playwrights, and my work has been performed in San Diego and Cincinnati.

And lastly, what did getting published mean for you and how has it changed (or not changed!) your life?

Getting published means that one of my tales swims in the eternal sea of story-telling, like an imperishable plastic straw among the millions. Even though to date, I haven’t replicated that success, I remind myself to be content with what I have achieved: the ongoing reviews from people who stayed up all night reading; the letters I continue to receive from people with Dissociative Identity Disorder in their own lives or those of someone close to them; the recognition of librarians and teenagers who call it a favorite book; and the simple fact that my kids have a copy of their mom’s book on their own bookshelves. The fans have been the greatest gift, and on top of that, there’s a beer waiting for me in Prague as thanks for mailing an autographed Czech edition to a man to give his girlfriend. 

In terms of changing my life, because I haven’t gotten back on the all-absorbing post-release merry-go-round, I have had the time to sing at church, watch Netflix while I exercise, write plays, volunteer in literacy, captain a tennis team, and work on political campaigns. I suppose, in that sense, it is better that my publishing experience didn’t end up consuming all of me.

The Do's and Don'ts of Self-Marketing With Kelly DeVos

  Mindy:             Today's guest is Kelly DeVos, who's work on body positivity has been featured in the New York Times as well as on Vulture, Salon, Bustle and SheKnows. Her debut novel Fat Girl On A Plane - named one of the 50 best summer readings of all time by Reader's Digest Magazine is now available from Harper Collins. Her second book, Day Zero, is coming in 2019 from InkYard Press. Kelly joined me today to talk about the sophomore experience in publishing, the importance of networking, and how not to market yourself.

Ad: 16 year old Alice Burton has a crush on a college guy, but the night he finally notices her, so does her dad's creepy best friend. Wasted Pretty by Jamie Beth Cohen follows Alice as she tries to protect her future, her body and her heart.

Mindy:             You've got your debut, Fat Girl On A Plane behind you. And really often whenever we're talking about anything in the arts, I hear the phrase "sophomore effort" when speaking about an artist's second work and it's usually not used in a complimentary way. So tell listeners a little bit about your publishing experience the second time around. What is different and are the pressures different?

Kelly:               Yeah, so for me anyway, the struggle of the sophomore novel was so, so real. The experience of writing my second book was so different. For Day Zero I wrote four sample chapters and a fairly detailed synopsis and the book sold based on that proposal. So it was my first experience writing and working on something that had already sold. And I found that the writing process, at least for me, was a lot more difficult in the sense that I really did not know if I was working on a good book or a readable book or a book that other people might want to read. I think when you're working on your debut, you know most people get an agent with their debut so they have that sense of validation that comes with like, okay, a gatekeeper has read this and thinks that it's good. But with Day Zero, no one had read it and I was working alone and it just felt emotionally anyway, a lot more difficult.

Mindy:             I know that when I was working on my second book, the pressures were slightly different because of the fact that it was a followup title. I was following up Not A Drop to Drink with not necessarily a sequel, but a companion book. So with you, you are changing over to something entirely different. I want to talk about that a little bit about the genre departure, but I want to ask you more about the whole concept of the "bloom is off the rose" - that debut experiences behind you. Anything that you took with you from that first experience in publishing that you were like, yes, I know to do that this time or I definitely want to make sure I try this.

Kelly:               In my writing process, early on I made basically like every mistake that you can make. So it's hard to kind of like pinpoint and say like, okay, there's the one thing that I'm, I'm not going to do because the reality of it is, I'm probably not going to do a lot of those things. I had improved my writing process. Like I had gotten a lot faster at drafting and editing and so forth in between books. Uh, so I felt like there was a lot of learning there, but I felt like what I really got out of debut experience was I had met a lot of really great writers along the way and I had people to turn to for advice, which I think was what was different from the debut experience where you're still kind of meeting people and kind of finding, you know, your crowd or like the table that you're going to sit at in the lunchroom. So I guess that that's what was different for me.

Mindy:             Yeah, the networking changes entirely and it continues to change. I can tell you two of my closest friends in the writing world are in my debut group and we actually met because we are members of the Class of 2k13 and we've just stayed in touch and we do appearances together and we get together as often as we can. We work together, we talk pretty much every day, at this point, online. It's a lovely experience. I really do feel like through this process of publication, I've definitely found my people.

Kelly:               I feel like I always sound so cheesy, but I'm like make friends, you know? I mean every time people are like, what's your advice for writers? I'm like, make friends, you know, find the people that whose work you like and tell them that you like their work and you know, network in the sense of being an engaged member of the community and you know, get out there and support other writers. Because I feel like ultimately that's what helps you so much. I mean, as you probably know, like a lot of promotional opportunities come from other writers. One of the things that writers get in terms of like going on tour, oftentimes it's like one writer advocates for another. So it really is important to make friends and meet people and find your people.

Mindy:             It's very true and it's one of those situations where networking is a business term, but it's also like fun and friendly. It ends off coming out like it's who you know, but that's not really what we're saying. Just having those connections in those terms of having friends makes a huge difference. Um, so like for example, just a couple of weeks ago, and in fact I think it was just last week, I drove to Pittsburgh and back in one day because Kit Frick was having a launch party for her newest release and she asked me to come. Then I was like, yes, I'll be there. So you know, it was like I had the opportunity to go into an area and a market that I hadn't necessarily been to before and Kit wanted to have another author there beside her in order to launch her new title. And I was like, yeah, I'll totally do that.

Mindy:             So I drove down to Pittsburgh, we did an event together, it went really well. And while I was there, the staff of the bookstore was like, Hey, we've got this event that goes on a citywide event called Bookish in the Burgh. You really should contact the organizers. We would love to have you. Came home, sent the email, the organizers like yes, if you're driving distance you're in. And I'm like, cool. Kit asked me to do this, like as a favor. I said yes. And now I've got a whole event planned for the winter that wouldn't have come about otherwise.

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Kelly:               I think that the important thing is that it's like you make friends, you know? Where I always see people getting kind of derailed, they get on a blog and they get like networking advice, which is oftentimes like go in Facebook groups and post 10,000 things about your book. Go to an authors' meeting and get everyone's email address and then spam them with stuff about your book. Like that's not the same thing as making friends. You know, making friends is about human engagement. Being a member of the community, which is a lot different than just like the way that you would go into a scenario, like a sales person.

Mindy:             Some of the advice that I see sometimes about like go to an author's signing and promote your book to them and it's like, no, don't do that because it's like that's happened to me multiple times. I did at one event where I was presenting and I was actually like doing it for free in order to promote an upcoming event. I showed up and they were like maybe seven people, which is fine. I mean I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it to promote this larger event over the weekend and I show up and of the seven people that were there, three of them were self published authors that brought their own books to hand to me to ask me to read.

Kelly:               Oh my gosh.

Mindy:             And I was like, cool, good for you. That's awesome. Self-Publish. Get out there and make those connections. But it's like, you know, I was just handed 12 hours worth of reading material and I tell them, I'm very honest. I'm like, look, I'm not going to have time to read it. If you want to give it to me, I will take it and there is the off chance that it may catch my eye and I'll pick it up and read it. But more than likely this is going to go in the free little library in my hometown and I'm very honest about that. But I'm always like, hey, feel free to email me. I have like a Word document that's like 10 pages long with advice for aspiring writers. Email me, I will send this to you, listen to the podcast, follow the blog. Like I'm happy to help. But when you're in a situation like that, it's like there... I use the word supplicant but I don't mean it in a negative way. I just mean that it's like we're not on an even footing, you know, they're asking me for something. I don't feel like they're, they're wanting to meet me and talk to me. I feel like they want to use me to their own advantage.

Kelly:               Well first of all, like so much love for people that self-publish. Like that's a completely valid authorial choice and it's got the difficulties of you have to do your own marketing.

Mindy:             Absolutely.

Kelly:               There's so much bad advice out there for self published authors. You just know those poor people probably read some articles somewhere that was just like go to an author event and give them a copy of your book so that they can go on their channels and talk about it. And it's kind of like, I mean, I feel really bad about that whole thing because like as you know, just among your writer friends who are publishing, like if you just read every book from writer friends and tried to just keep up on that, it's almost like a full time job.

Mindy:             Yeah.

Kelly:               If you've got somebody who's coming in and they're a stranger to you, it's like, it's a pretty big commitment to say like, okay, I'm going to put somebody that I, that's I really care about as a person on hold so that I can read this thing that like you just handed to me and we don't even know each other.

Mindy:             Right. And that's the thing. I totally agree. I have absolute respect for self published authors. Um, my friends Kate and Demitria, we do indie publishing with anthologies. We put together different anthologies and we know, I mean, I know how much work it is and how hard it is to get noticed and I know what the hustle is like and how very, very small the rewards can be. Asking someone that you don't know to read your book in the hopes of them promoting it for you? It's not the best approach because I mean, like you said, I don't read all of my friends' books like good friends, very good friends. I don't have time to read all of their books. So, no, I'm not going to read a stranger's book.

Mindy: And then also just because of who I am and the way I was raised, I have total guilt about the fact that they handed me a book because I know for a fact that it costs them money to have this book printed. It probably costs them at a minimum 10 to $15 to have it printed. And it's like they're just, they're handing me something they might be able to sell and make money on and they're giving it to me for free. And then I feel awful because I'm like, dude, I, I should read this, but I'm always completely honest. I'm like, more than likely I'm not going to read this. If you want to give it to me, you can. I never refuse anyone, but I'm telling you 99% I, I'm not going to get to this.

Kelly:               That's like a marketing don't

Mindy:             Actually, I do think putting your book in a free little library, if you want to give away a book for free and just see if you can get someone to read it and like it and maybe give you a review. Free little libraries. Man, I love them. When I'm driving through a town and I see a free little library, I have boxes of my books, in my car, I will just stop and sign a book and stick it in there and you know, see what happens. You never know those little ripples can really matter. And so that's what I do when someone hands me a self published book, I put it in a free little library.

Kelly:               Yeah. But the other piece of the puzzle too is that like oftentimes if you haven't done any self publishing, you don't know a lot about it. Like I myself have never done any self publishing and so if people asked me for advice or promotional advice, I really don't know. I mean it's a totally different game in terms of what self published authors can do and you know, because they can do a lot of things that traditionally published authors can't do. Like they can do price promotions on Amazon or advertisements, like the things that we can't do because like we don't actually quote unquote own the distribution channel of our book.

Mindy:             Right.

Kelly:               A lot of times I don't know what a good thing for them to do would be. I really just don't know.

Mindy:             No, I don't either. You're right. It is a completely different animal. It's like asking a ballet dancer to show you how to do break dancing. Like it's, it's the same world where they have a body and they're using it to dance, but that's it.

Kelly:               I will say though, on the marketing don'ts, like also if you go to a conference and they give you a distribution list of everybody's email, do not subscribe those people to your email, your eblast list. I've had probably like three or four people do that to me recently and it's kind of like that is just not the way to market to somebody. I'm not even sure it's, it's a dubious legality actually. If they haven't opted into your communications.

Mindy:             That's very true. They have to actually opt in specifically to your list in order for you to add them.

Mindy:             Coming up, jumping genres, but still remaining true to your author brand.

Mindy:             So let's talk about your new book Day Zero. It is a genre departure from your debut Fat Girl on a Plane. So talk a little bit about Day Zero.

Kelly:               Yeah, so Day Zero is a young adult thriller. It's set in a near future quasi dystopia and follows a teen hacker Jinx Marshall who believes that her father is responsible for triggering a political and economic crisis. So she's pursued by this group of shadowy paramilitary types. And while she's on the run with her step siblings, she tries to learn the truth about her dad.

Mindy:             Why the name Jinx? I'm just curious.

Kelly:               My mom had a friend in high school and that was her name and so she was doing something for her high school reunion or something and she was like, and my friend Jinx will be there. I'm like, Jinx? Her name is Jinx? I'm like, I'm using that. That's going in a book. So, hi to the real Jinx. Hopefully I'll get to meet her.

Mindy:             It's so cool. So it is very much a genre departure. It's very different from your first one, which was a contemporary more about like a culture reflection than anything. So I'm really curious about the audience that you have drawn to yourself with your first book or do you have any concerns about them following over to the second since the topic is so different?