Last week I posted Part one of my interview with Simon Rose, where we talked about influences, we talked about pop culture, and we touched upon where Simon got his ideas. This week we focus a lot of stuff on writing. We talk about Simon’s first time in the classroom, and we talk about the hardest things to write, and we talk about an incredibly changing industry that is publishing and how it is done.
Finally, before we begin, I just want to say this. I rarely get the chance when I interview people to have a full conversation like this. Usually questions are online, and while there is a give and take to an interview and conversation,it is truly a treat to have this kind of conversation put to paper. I want to thank Simon for giving me this chance.
Simon Rose: Where were we?
Joshua Pantalleresco: I have no idea.
SR: Have you done interviews before?
JP: First time.
SR: You interviewed Derek Donais though, right?
JP: Sort of. I tend to have questions in my head. I ask them and go with the flow. It’s better to let people lead you into directions.
SR: As a writer, you sometimes get asked questions that people think they ought to ask you. Like if a scene in the book was influenced by a specific event, or something like that. One time at a school an 8 or 9 year old child asked me who I would be if I was a superhero.
JP: But that’s a good question! Especially for 8 years old. Who would you be?
SR: Someone super, but not too super, I think. Probably Spider-man.
JP: I’d be Green Lantern. The idea of a ring that makes whatever you wish happens is awesome.
SR: Would there be anybody in DC I’d be? Let me think…maybe the Flash. Green Arrow and Hawkman are kind of interesting too. The lesser supers, I guess.
JP: Superman would be kind of boring.
SR: I have to give DC credit. The more recent Dark Knight movies changed the public perception of Batman was looked at in the public eye. It was really hard to get rid of that silly stuff the 60s Batman TV show created, although it still had some appeal at the time. I think that’s why Marvel interests me more. They were creating new ideas while DC was doing things that were quite frankly a little silly.
JP: I find that the silliness worked with Superman. He’s such a silly character if you really think about it.
SR: Yes, when you think about, he really is. Too many super powers too.
JP: It’s much more interesting in my view to have Superman go to a kid who has a large problem only he can handle. Once in a while, I don’t mind the occasional villain.
SR: I suppose. I mean the other real problem with Superman, or indeed many superheroes, is that all the villains often want the same thing, to rule the world and so on.
JP: It can’t be helped. He is Superman.
SR: At the end of the day, you can make up a story about anything you want. You can create a superpowered marshmallow that lives on Jupiter, but what’s the story about? That’s what counts.
People often talk about interesting characters in books but something still has to happen to them or there’s no story at all.
Take Green Lantern for example. You mentioned that he’s got a ring that makes stuff? Cool. What’s his story? What’s he doing? If he’s not doing anything it’s not going to matter.
Harry Potter is an orphan, his parents murdered by a horrible villain. Yet, if Harry didn’t go to Hogwarts do you think all that would matter?
With kids, you can’t give them a chance to put the book down. If they do, there’s no guarantee they’ll ever pick it up again, there are just too many distractions these days. You have to engage their interest right away. There’s no magical formula for it, but I say the first two or three chapters have to grab the reader. After they do, then you can slow down and tell your story a little, if you like.
I just watched one of the Indiana Jones movies on TV the other day. Which one starts with him fighting on that ship in a storm and he’s trying to save a golden cross?
JP: The Last Crusade?
SR: Yes, I think it was. Very exciting scene that gets you straight into the story. At the start of The Temple of Doom, he drinks the poison in that nightclub and there’s action for the first twenty minutes. You’re completely caught up in it until they stop in this village in India, but then the story really begins with the news that the children are missing, and it goes off from there. By then, you’re hooked and have to know how things are going to turn out.
JP: Going back to the influences and experience aspect of it for a moment, you were talking about the dog or cat that gets lost in the forest back at the beginning. Why do you feel that those books exist?
SR: Not sure, but it could be because writers don’t want to create really uncomfortable or scary stories for that age level. No one really wants to relive horrible moments if they can help it. For many people, it’s really hard to write about the truly awful things out there. On the other hand, you rarely see well-written passages in books about really happy moments either. You don’t see too much written about your wedding day, or the birth of your child, for example.
JP: Warren Ellis once said that joy is perhaps the hardest thing to write. I agree.
SR: You think joy is the hardest?
JP: Absolutely. Genuine happiness is rare.
SR: Some people say that good, or at least plausible, love scenes are hard to write.
JP: That’s my point. Isn’t a love scene supposed to be joyous?
SR: It depends on the genre, I guess.
JP: True, but I mean for most, it’s hard because it’s such a happy thing. I consider joy, followed by comedy to be the hardest things to write.
SR: I agree about comedy. Look at something like a hugely popular sitcom. If you study the credits for the show, you’ll see a long list of writers for every episode. At some point there was probably a staff meeting involving each part that you see on their act or show. A guy might say “I have this scene here that I think it’s funny…” reads it, and then hears either “let’s use it, ” or he gets a rejection every week. That’s hard, man.
JP: I tend to think that on the other hand, if you can make that room laugh, you know the joke is funny.
SR: That’s true. It’s an interesting genre, for sure. I run a playwriting camp for kids aged nine to twelve every summer. On the first day for around three hours we come up with a story. I type it up and work with the kids on the script the next day on these giant reams of paper. They write most of the script and add these things that they think are really funny, but sometimes aren’t that effective.
The next day we start rehearsals to see what works and what doesn’t. Every time, we see that some of the jokes work and some don’t.
The only way you can find out if it’s really funny is if it works with a live audience. For example, you’ll have someone walk to the stage, perform their lines, and trip over something, purely by accident and not in the script. Physical comedy is easy to see and create a laugh but it’s sometimes hard to write well.
Even If you’re an experienced joke writer, you still have to see someone perform. Jerry Seinfeld has that style that’s like observations on life, such as “Have you ever noticed those things that …” and you know it’s him. Still, someone has to perform it to see if it works.
JP: The other major factor sometimes is the audience itself. What works for one audience may not work for another. I really don’t envy stand up comics. They go out every night and perform, and I know there are times they have to try different things.
SR: The first time I went to a school I thought all I’d need to do is introduce myself, do a reading, and answer questions. It was a very long hour. I finished everything in twenty minutes and for the next forty I had to scramble.
After that, I was prepared in case things went wrong. I have the manuscript from my first book, scrolls with medieval language written on them, books I used to research the novels, and so on. I also have other activities prepared just in case the audience doesn’t ask any or enough questions.
I learned to always be prepared and have things to do. Like when you were late for our interview and I had this word search to put together.
JP: Fair enough. So what’s coming up for you?
SR: Well, there’s the new book in the fall. It looks like October 15th or thereabouts, but it’s still up in the air on the exact date. I’ll know more soon.
I’m currently teaching an online class on writing for the University, am coaching some other writers privately, and have some more school visits coming up. I also have a historical fiction class planned with Mount Royal that I’m hoping will fill up. I’m working on my own ebooks as well that are how-to guides for aspiring writers.
JP: Ebooks are great. Everyone’s got them these days. It’s really hard to stand out with them though.
SR: Tell me about it. I wrote the 25,000 word The Children’s Writer’s Guide and self-published it recently. The writing came relatively easily, based on my own experiences. I put it online through Amazon and managed to sell 4 books quite quickly. I then went through CreateSpace and printed a bunch for the Calgary Expo. I also took them to one of the Young Writer’s Conferences run by the local school boards. I managed to sell the book to kids, which was something of a surprise. The book isn’t really for a young audience. Yet the kids told me that their parents encouraged them to go for it, so I thought, why not?
I sold all the copies I’d had printed and started thinking about doing more books for writers, on topics like ways to earn money as a writer, sources of inspiration, writing techniques, that kind of stuff. I’ll publish them on my own as ebooks first, and then print them out and sell them at festivals and cons.
I’m not looking to become renowned for doing these kinds of books, but they are something I think that I can put together and have them out there with my other works.
I never thought about doing these kinds of things myself until recently. I figured I had nothing to lose, and then I saw the potential.
I remember one publisher who I pitched the idea of these kinds of books to and was told that they wouldn’t sell. Yet here I am, selling them at cons, proving the publisher wrong. Things are changing out there.
JP: I really feel like publishers missed the boat with Amazon. They’ve been merging forever now. The traditional method of publishing is growing smaller and smaller. Barnes and Noble is on its last legs in the states.
SR: Apparently, yes. The really large bookstores may very well disappear altogether.
JP: I think the smaller bookstores have a shot at thriving, provided they create a unique experience for the consumer. I think that’s why a lot of Young Adult bookstores do well. The books themselves are unique, so the stores are too.
SR: Yes, that may be true. I knew a guy that was worried about going out of business five years ago due to the intense completion from the big bookstores. Now it seems people like him might very not only survive but also thrive. It’s amazing how things change.
That’s my conversation with him. For more information, visit Simon’s website at http://www.simon-rose.com. He also has a blog in which he updates regularly at http://http://simon-rose.blogspot.ca. His twitter handle is @simonroseauthor and his facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Simon-Rose-Author/211746955865. Check him out. His work is entertaining, and in the case of his ebooks, valuable information. I want to thank Simon one last time. Hopefully it will not be the last time he shows up here for an interview. His time was much appreciated. Thank you.