|Steve Piacente at BEA 2013|
I (virtually) met Mr. Piacente online, Twitter to be precise. A common love of Unicorns allowed us to strike up a conversation. Because let's be honest, who doesn't like Unicorns? That conversation led to reading his books Bella and Bootlicker. Two books I completely recommend (there is a link below - or you can just follow this one.)
Bella won two awards -
WAOG - What is your genre of choice, and why?
SP - I like to think my work falls into the category of literary fiction. Things like fate, communication, relationships, and ethics fascinate me. Much of the action in Bella is driven by hard choices made on the battlefield and in the bedroom. The big themes in Bootlicker are guilt, hope and redemption. In this podcast, I talk about the choices people make when no one is watching: http://anniejenningspr.com/jenningswire/podcast/podcast-choices-in-the-dark/
How many books have you published? (self or otherwise)
Two: Bella, and Bootlicker. Both are self-published, though I began with a traditional Washington, D.C. agent for each novel. I decided to self-publish because the process was so slow, and because technology had simplified the procedure.
Technology has turned the publishing world upside down. There used to be one key to the literary castle – you wrote a book, signed with an agent, and clinked glasses when the agent sold your novel to a publisher. If the chain broke at any point, your story was over, and all you got to write was angry graffiti on a wall beside some dark overpass. Astonishing advances in technology – advances that even 10 years ago seemed unimaginable – have changed everything. But the good news is the same as the bad. That is, technology has made it possible for anyone to publish. And everyone is. That includes a lot who may not quite be ready, or who don’t want to bother having their work professionally edited. The result is a cluttered marketplace and confused readers. Traditional newspapers are so overwhelmed, many have adopted review policies that ban self-published books. This piece on the subject drew more than 80 responses: http://www.stevepiacente.com/blog/2011/12/10/noroom-at-the-inn-for-indies/
All of which means that to have a chance of being taken seriously, a self published author must produce consistently solid work, and then follow with a creative long-term marketing and promotion plan that includes: a website, blog, three to five social media properties, and of course a fresh stream of content.
What are your stories about?
Bella: A striking widow intent on proving the military lied about her husband’s death lures a Washington journalist into the investigation. Working together, they discover the power of temptation, the futility of revenge, and the consequences of yielding to either.
Bootlicker: is about two unlikely Southern political allies, and the dark secret upon which they have built their careers. The story begins in 1959 in rural South Carolina. Poor, black teenager Ike Washington stumbles on a Klan lynching led by a white judge. Caught, he must choose: join the dead man or begin hustling black support the judge needs to advance. In trade, Ike is handed a life of comfort and power. Decades later, as he is poised to become the first black SC congressman since Reconstruction, guilt-wracked Ike winds up alone in the same forest, a long rope in his fist.
Tell me about your current project.
Bootlicker is a prequel to Bella that features the same investigative reporter as a younger man just beginning his career. I have an idea for a sequel to Bella that would show readers what happens to the key characters in each story. For now, however, I’m working mostly on marketing and promotion of the first two novels.
Where can I buy copies of your work?
Amazon is easiest. Go to www.stevepiacente.com and click either cover to get to the Amazon pages.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Calico Joe by John Grisham. My favorite authors, however, are John Updike, Annie Proulx, and Philip Roth. In addition to writing, I also review books on Goodreads. Here’s one review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/327976975
What keeps you going on those days when writing gets hard? (e.g., a favorite quote or a personal motto)
I kid about my 20-plus years as a daily newspaper reporter, saying I had editors who didn’t permit writer’s block. With fiction, it’s rare that I can’t get something done, but when it happens, I don’t fight it. I will visit famous quote sites, or sometimes photography websites, to get the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes I’ll trade the computer for a pen and pad. Sometimes I’ll just go to the park and shoot baskets. One of my favorite stories about writing comes from Anne Lamott, the author of Bird by Bird. In explaining the title, she says:
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
What advice can you give other aspiring writers out there?
1 – Have something to say, and make sure to say it as no one has said it before.
2 - Get your work professionally edited before you publish.
3 – If you’re writing to become rich or famous, you’re writing for the wrong reasons.
4 – Be prepared to switch from creative writing to creative marketing once you’ve published.
5 – Get well acquainted with using social media for marketing purposes, particularly Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest.
6 – Start blogging on a subject related to your novel or non-fiction book.
What cautions do you have?
Make sure you’re writing because you love to write. If the end game is something else, consider a different line of work. Also, don’t try to write what you think will sell. Instead, write about subjects you care about, and know going in that some readers will be on board and others will simply not be interested.
Do you work on more than one project at a time?
Ha. In addition my fiction, I am creative director at a Washington, D.C. firm called The Communication Center; I conduct writing and self-publishing webinars for the Author Learning Center; I blog regularly for my own website, for Jennings Wire, and for my company. I also teach communication classes at my alma mater, American University. The blog sites follow:
www.stevepiacente.com/blog (reports from the self-publishing trenches)
http://anniejenningspr.com/jenningswire/author/steve-piacente/ (My “News for Thought” columns look at stories behind the headlines)
http://www.thecommunicationcenter.com/teen-displays-skills-beyond-her-years (Uses current events to deliver tips about communication skills)
What is your favorite memory in your career as a writer?
In 34 years as a professional writer, there are many fond memories – front-page stories that documented scandals, elections, individual achievements and much more – to the day my proof copy of Bella arrived in the mail. But my favorite memory involves a short story called Four Hands, which I wrote during my first class in the Johns Hopkins program. I was working on another piece in our family room downstairs, while upstairs my two daughters, then 14 and 12, were practicing a piano piece for an upcoming recital. Their teacher had given them a duet that required four hands, two for the high notes, two for the lower register. There was more fighting than playing, and I was about to lay down the law when I realized that a better story than the one I was writing was sitting right in front of me on the piano bench. I used the practice sessions to reveal the girls’ characters, made the dad a renowned conductor worried more about his reputation than his children, and the recital, when all goes horribly wrong, as his moment of enlightenment. Four Hands not only got me an A, a small literary magazine also published it – my first published fiction.
If you could do it all over, is there anything you would change about finding an agent and finally publishing?
I had traditional agents with both books, and eventually wound up choosing to go the self-published route. There’s no one way to do this, and I’m content with the way things have worked out so far. One of the things I like is being able to control my own schedule, branding and marketing.
What has been your toughest criticism? What has been your greatest compliment?
I honestly try not to pay too much attention to either.
Who is your greatest influence(s)?
Mom knew that the most important thing about good writing is that it starts with a love of reading. She taught me by modeling the behavior, not by forcing me to read. She was a voracious reader, and always encouraging as I began showing interest in writing. My mom, unfortunately stricken now with Alzheimer’s, was the embodiment of women’s lib before anyone coined the term. She was a single mom who worked full time, rising to comptroller of a moving company despite not having a college degree. She understood the importance of education and was committed to ensuring that both her children would go to college. Moment of Clarity is a short video about dedicating Bella to my mother. http://youtu.be/M3nrzKQE-30
Do you have any other passions besides writing?
I love sports, particularly basketball, tennis and cycling. I have combined the last with my interest in photography and created a Pinterest board called, “Not the Monuments:
When did you know you wanted to write?
I learned early I couldn’t do the math and science, but I also learned I was able to write about the people who could do the math and science. The correct path seemed obvious. I also learned early that I enjoyed telling stories. Growing up in New York, I was very private, but also filled with a need to share my thoughts, and so writing became my vehicle. Later, as an undergraduate, the only question was how I could make a living as a writer. A friend introduced me to the editor of our college paper, who assigned a feature on the bearded lady at the circus. (A photo documenting this momentous event lives on our AU class blog at: http://09wmcblog.blogspot.com/) An internship with the Baltimore Sun my senior year honed my appetite for daily reporting. Two weeks after graduation, I landed my first job, covering high school football for the Naples Daily News.
Take a moment to swing by http://www.stevepiacente.com/ and follow Steve on Twitter! Tell him Aryn sent you. ;)