A bit about the book:
High school senior Frenchy has little ambition beyond hanging out at the smoking rock until his best friend, the ever-witty and conniving Stewart, gets him to try out for Man of la Mancha. To everyone’s surprise, the guys are a hit. But when Stewart’s antics begin to grow more obsessive he wears his costume 24/7, freaks out about little details, and displays an incessant hatred of the high-tech windmills outside of town Frenchy worries that there’s something deeper going on. Is Stewart spiraling into madness, just like Don Quixote? And can Frenchy battle through his own demons in time to save his friend from self-destruction before it’s too late?
In Spinning Out- what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about?
I think I took my game to the next level in general on this book. Richness, texture is at the heart of good fiction—how many balls can you juggle in the air and still have it work? There’s a lot going on the novel, lots of different layers and story elements. This is not to say that there aren’t flaws, of course, but I think in general it all works pretty well. In terms of one single aspect I’m most proud of, I’d say it’s the narrative voice of Frenchy, particularly the dialogue.
It always amazes me how authors can keep all the story lines plotted out so well! All the different threads coming together.
Tell us about your writing process. How long did it take you to write your current book from idea to finish? Please tell about revision is you can!
I came up with the concept for the novel back in 2004, wrote the first draft in 2008-2009, and now it’s finally being released in 2011, so it’s had quite a journey. In terms of my process, I teach high school English, so it’s catch as catch can sometimes. The year I wrote the rough draft, I was only teaching in the morning, so I used the afternoons to write. The schedule makes for long days, but it allows me to provide a stable income for my family and still be able to publish. Last year was occupied with revisions. The novel went through extensive rewrites—several chapters were added, others were completely rewritten, and a few were just plain cut. I was very fortunate that the book ended up with Julie Romeis at Chronicle Books. She had a very clear sense of what I was trying to do with the story, shared my passion for it, and most of all was willing to really push me to get the most out of it. The growth that I experienced as a writer—despite having already published five novels—was mostly due to her diligence.
I teach too so it’s awesome to see another teacher being published! I think my students would be amazed to know how long it can take for a novel to come together. And to hear you cut entire chapters would just floor them!
Is the story and/or characters based on anything/anyone in your real life?
Not specifically. The whole controversy over putting 300’ wind turbines on ridges where I live in northern Vermont was in full swing as I began to write the novel, and it seemed like a perfect fit with a story about a production of Man of La Mancha. And the story is set in my own stomping grounds, so there’s some inspiration there. The characters in Spinning Out, as well as my other Vermont novel A Gathering of Shades, aren’t based on particular people, but rather composites—a little bit of this person, a little bit of that person. I suppose every writer does this.
So the old saying “write what you know” didn’t really apply here. I wish my students would get that as well.
How much say did you have in the cover of this book? What is the process for creating a cover (my students are always curious about this!)
Publishers have their own design teams who are professionals and very good at what they do, so I generally trust their talent. For this book, my editor Julie Romeis was very good about keeping me in the loop, showing me proofs, soliciting feedback. The final cover—which is different from the ARC you probably read—is very striking. Bright red and silver with foil paper. Very cool looking. It features the wind turbines, which I was glad about. They’re very strange, alien looking things. I always loved the cover to the YA novel Godless with that foreboding, looming image of a water tower, and I always imagined something similar for this book with a wind tower, so it was neat to see them go in that direction.
I saw that the final copy had a different cover. I like them both for different reasons.
What kind of student were you? Was English your favorite subject in school and did you always write?
I was precocious as a youth, so school was never hard, but as a result I didn’t develop the best study habits, which caught up with me later when I went to college. English was always my favorite subject. I wrote some as a kid, but not as much as a lot of kids do. I was mostly a reader. I always had a book tucked away in my desk or under my pillow. In fact, I wish I read as much now as I did when I was a kid. There are so many things competing for my energies these days—children, work, chores, music, the internet…I could go on and on—so ironically I rarely sit down to read a good old-fashioned novel. How embarrassing is that coming from a novelist?
Ok, not so sure I want students to hear that last part 🙂
And because it’s the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? Whoooo are your favorite authors now and when you were growing up?
One of my favorite authors in terms of fiction and influencing my own work is Ray Bradbury. It’s a strange case—he’s widely read and everyone knows who he is, yet I can’t help but feel that he’s underrated and overlooked as one of the great contemporary fiction writers. I love his prose style—artful yet unpretentious—and the fact that his work transcends genre. Much of it is traditional sci-fi, but a lot isn’t. He just tells a great story and manages to combine interesting ideas with very moving characters and situations. I also love Ursula LeGuin and Margaret Atwood. When I was growing up, I loved Tolkien. Beyond that, I didn’t have a favorite author per se—I just read whatever came my way.
We read Ray Bradbury every year in my classroom. I try to impress upon the students how important he is, but I’m not so sure they believe me. Maybe they’ll believe you!
Thank you so much for joining us today!!!! It’s always fun to hear what authors have to say.