Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Interview With Indie Author Andrew Leon

Today, I’m delighted to share an interview with self-published author Andrew Leon of Strange Pegs. His book, The House on the Corner, has just been released in e-book and POD format. Please join me in welcoming him to The Warrior Muse!

Every child has whimsical dreams of mystery and adventure, but what happens when they get more than they bargained for?

Ruth, Tom and Sam are forced to move far from their friends and the only life they’ve known. Unwilling at first, they arrive in Louisiana only to find themselves in a house full of mystery. There are secret rooms, hidden caches and crazy neighbors—everything a kid can dream of—yet these are only the beginnings of a fantastic journey of magic and discovery. What happened to the previous tenants, who vanished without a trace twenty years ago? And why do some of their neighbors appear to be more than meets the eye?

The House on the Corner is a story that will delight people of all ages, from the young adults it was written for, to the parents who explore it with them.

Andrew, we have the summary of the story, but tell us a little about what this story means to you.

The House on the Corner is about 3 siblings moving to a new house and a new state and what happens to them. In some respects, it's very Narnia in that it really grew out of that spot I had when I was a kid of always hoping against hope that something cool or strange would happen in big, creepy houses. Even houses I spent lots of time in. Like my grandparents' house. I just kept waiting.

Of course, what the book is really about is the kids, how they interact, how kids interact, and about growing up.

It sounds like you maybe moved around as a kid. Were you frequently moving? Was there a house that you had particularly interesting experiences in?

Actually, no, I really didn't do any moving around. Well, we moved from Texas to Louisiana when I was still too young to remember it, but, after that, I just grew up in Shreveport. I did live in a few different houses in Shreveport, but they were all, basically, in the same neighborhood. However, my grandparents' house was full of little nooks and crannies, all the houses in that neighborhood were, and it just always felt to me like there should be secret doors that I just wasn't finding. I should say that we did, eventually, move into my grandparents' house when they moved full time out to their farm in east Texas. Even as a teenager, I felt like that house had secrets that I wasn't able to figure out.

Speaking of the wonders of exploring a new house as a child, the children in your book are so well characterized that I, as a reader, became very fond of them (and frustrated with them...and worried about them). Are they based on your children or someone you know?

Actually, yes, they're based on my children. On the whole. It was sort of the point, when I started the novel. I needed something to keep me writing, because I have, well, several projects I've started and never finished. I'd go until I got stuck and switch to some other idea. I needed some external source of accountability. My clever scheme was to write a book for my kids and read it to them as a bedtime story as I progressed. I knew they'd badger me if I didn't keep going. Since I was going to be writing it for them, I decided to make it about them. They, of course, love it, and, sometimes, refer to themselves as their characters or, even, get mad at each other because of things I wrote in the story. We've had to have several discussions, at this point, about how they are not their characters. That's not to say that they're completely accurate. Ruth is the closest to her real life counterpart, but Tom was really only a jumping off point from his double. The basic personality is the same, but there's going to be quite a bit of divergence in the next book.

Did being held accountable in that fashion help you, ultimately? How long did it take you to complete the novel, including writing and the majority of your editing?

Yeah, it really helped me get started and keep going. At some point, I reached a sort of critical mass and was able to continue on my own, but if I hadn't been reading it to them when I started, I never would have reached that point. It took me 6 months to finish the initial draft. During that time, because I was reading it to my kids and in their classes at school, I was also editing it at the same time. Mostly grammar and spelling and catching awkward sentences. Not long after I finished, we had a death in the family, and that really derailed me for a while. Well, between that and the holidays, I didn't look at the book again until January of this year. At that point, really, only the first half was edited heavily. I discovered the ABNA contest and wanted to enter it, but the deadline was only a few weeks away, so I knew I didn't have time to go back through the whole thing again with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. That's when things get sort of jumbled, because, through ABNA, I also discovered CreateSpace, and I figured I'd just kill two birds with one stone, so I went ahead and set the book up for publication and entered ABNA. It was one of those "why not?" moments for me. At any rate, I was very surprised at how much easier it is to spot errors in the actual book in my hand than it is to spot them sitting at my computer looking at it on the screen, so a new round of editing commenced. That, also, got more involved than I'd intended, but, as to length only, that was about another 4 months.

Now that we know a little about how the story came to be, I'd like to talk about your decision to go a different route than traditional publishing. Self publishing versus traditional publishing is something I'm paying a lot of attention to now. What made you decide to go that route and did you query at all first or go straight to self publishing?

Well, that's kind of a complicated answer. After I finished my manuscript, I did start querying. Actually, I started talking to someone at a small press before I finished the manuscript, their acquisitions manager, and he was the first one to read it. He said it was the best manuscript of its genre, magical realism according to him, that he'd seen the entire time he'd been with them, which was something like 7 or 8 years. And they made an offer right off the bat. But I didn't like the offer they were making, so I started querying. This was in August of 2010. My mother-in-law had been struggling with pancreatic cancer for nearly a year and a half, at this point, and she ran out of treatment options just about this time, so, by the end of August, I had quit querying, because her health began a fairly rapid decline, at that point. Through that time, I started really looking at the publishing industry, in general, and more specifics about what was going on with agents. Not that I hadn't done that before, but I'd only done it in the aspect of what agents I wanted to query and how to go about doing that.

The problem was that I was still stuck in the idea that that was just how it was done. That was THE option. I mean, the option if you wanted people to believe you were really, really a writer, not just someone writing fanfic or the like. I already knew about all the waste in the publishing industry and have been pretty disgusted by it since college (when I worked in a used book store and discovered all that stuff). The thing that really got to me, though, that made me stop and think about what I was doing was the way the role of the agent has changed in the digital age. Or, possibly, I should say what the role of agent has disintegrated into. Over the past several years there has been scandal after scandal of agents skimming off of their authors, which is bad enough, but the real issue is that agents are no longer working for the authors but for the publishers. They have become these gatekeepers that help the "big 6" homogenize everything. They don't advocate for the author, anymore. And they're doing everything they can to defend traditional publishing and denigrate anyone who goes any other route. That's the thing that really tells you whose side they're on. I'm sure there are still some good agents out there, and, by that, I mean agents that work for their authors' interests and not the publishers' interests, but I think the odds of finding someone like that are pretty small.

At any rate, in reading all of this stuff, I came across the ABNA contest a couple of weeks before it was going to start for this year. This was in December, so, not only were we in the midst of the holidays, but my mother-in-law had just died, so it was a volatile time. I knew I didn't have time to go back and do anything major with my manuscript, but I also knew that I'd already given the first third or so a fairly heavy dose of editing, so I decided I was going to enter the contest. Through the contest, I discovered CreateSpace, and, since I was having to format the novel for the contest, I decided to go ahead and set it up through CreateSpace at the same time. I had people asking to read it and stuff, so I thought, "why not?"

I'm sure I made some mistakes in all of that, but I'm glad I did it, and I learned a lot about what I'm doing. If I hadn't, I'd probably still be sitting on this thing wondering what to do with it.

Your path so far has been very interesting, as is your insight into the publishing world. There's been a lot about agents becoming publishers lately, and one has to wonder how that will impact the writer/agent/publisher relationship. It certainly doesn't seem like that will work out well for writers. I could be mistaken, though. For the final question, what advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Before I answer the question, I think what we're finding out about the whole writer/agent/publisher relationship is that there are too many fingers in the pie. So to speak. When all of this stuff first started, and I'm talking hundreds of years ago when books first started being published, the author was the one in control. The one with the power. Publishers, in effect, worked for the author. After all, there was no use for the publisher without the author. Somewhere in there, though, we allowed the publisher to become the one with the power. In a similar manner, agents started out working for the author. The author was the boss and the one that paid the agent. Somewhere in there, though, the agents have become the ones with the power. For all practical purposes, now, the power flows from the publisher, to the agent, and the author has none. The author has become merely an employee. I think we are at a point, right now, where authors are in a position to again become the ones with the power. If they choose to take it. For so long, though, we've accepted the established way of doing things that most people want to stay in their cages. After all, you can't be a "real" writer unless you have an agent and are published by one of the big 6. I think we have the opportunity to challenge this for the first time in a really long time, and, if we don't, it may be another couple of centuries before the time comes again.

Part one of the answer is this: a writer is only an "aspiring author" before they've completed a manuscript. There are a lot of those out there, though. I see the blogs every day from writers struggling to complete a manuscript. For whatever reason. Although, I think, the biggest one is a lack of discipline on the part of the writer. And I've been there, so I know what that's like. The only advice I can give there is to figure out your trick. The thing that will enable you to sit down and plow through and get to the end. Mine was reading my work to my kids as I went. It gave me the incentive to finish. I think that's the most important thing an "aspiring" author can do. Figure out what you need to do to finish.

Part two: Once you have a manuscript, before you start querying or anything else, know what you want as a writer. Is your goal to have written? Is your goal to be published? Are you trying to make a living at it? Is what you really want is to walk into a book store and see your book on a shelf? Do you just want people to enjoy what you've written? I think this is where a lot of writers get lost. I mean, we all have this dream of getting published and selling a million copies and being adulated by the press. It's a great dream, but you have to figure out what you really want. At the core. When I actually thought about it, I realized what I want is for people to enjoy what I've written, like the boy in my daughter's class at school who asks me how far I am on the next book every time he sees me, because he loved The House on the Corner so much. That's what I want. So I'm taking the steps to accomplish what I want to see happen with my writing, and that doesn't require traditional publishing. At any rate, figure out what you want, and choose the path that will best accomplish that.

Andrew, thank you so much. You’ve given us a lot to think about. It’s obvious this isn’t something you’re just jumping into. Do you have any closing thoughts or anything you’d like to share?

I think the most important thing we can do as writers is to believe in ourselves and our stories. I see so many people posting about how they need to make story changes because some one person (usually an agent) has said they didn’t like something and, then, spending months and months ripping and tearing and gluing and taping to make those changes only to do it again when the next person (again, usually an agent) comes along and points something else out. We can't respond that way to these people, because, honestly, they don't know anymore than we do. In fact, they know less than we do, because they don't know the story. This is not to say that you shouldn't respond to technical help when someone shows you incorrect grammar or the like in your work, but you can't let people push you around where your story is concerned. Get many opinions and listen to all of them. If they're all pointing at the same area or set of areas, yes, look at them and make them stronger, but don't take any one person's voice as law. Well, you know, except mine.

You can find Andrew’s The House on the Corner by following the links on his blog sidebar at . Andrew offers a sample of the first chapter there, as well (or you can click HERE). You can get the hard copy from CreateSpace, get the Nook version HERE or the Kindle version HERE. Check it out!


D.E. Malone said...

I heard it said before but I think it needs to be reiterated again and again, which Mr. Leon does here, and it's that writers need to ask themselves what they actually want from their writing. Our real desires too often get lost in the 'get an agent/sell a book' frenzy, when in fact, it's ultimately to have our stories read. These days, that can be accomplished in so many ways!
Nice interview! Thanks for sharing.

shelly said...

Great interview! His book is on my TBR list.

Amanda Leigh Cowley said...

Well done on a wonderful interview, the book sounds intriguing (I've already added it to my TBR list) and it's great to hear some background surrounding the story.

Good advice for budding authors there - when I joined a critique site, I remember some people saying 'you're not giving enough background,' and then others saying 'you're giving too much background.' Aargh. I've now learnt to separate the wheat from the chaff, but it can be overwhelming at first!

Andrew Leon said...

Thanks for the time and the space, Shannon! It was great fun. I'm still waiting for my shot to get to interview you!

Unknown said...

What a fabulous review! I love finding new authors!! Yay to the author club! This is the perfect time of year to have this novel released as well!!!

Crystal said...

I really liked how he talked about the houses in Shreveport, how he figured there were secret doors etc. I had the privilege of living in a house like that once, and my granpa's house was like that, too. Guess it's a writer thing, eh?

Also? Fabulous writerly advice!

Shannon Lawrence said...

Dawn, I agree that asking that question is very important.

Shelly, I hope you enjoy it!

Amanda, oh yes, I have had conflicting feedback several times now. I like to look at the differing viewpoints then do what I feel is right (whether that means making a change or keeping it the same).

Andrew, I look forward to the day!

Jen, I hope he finds it a great time of year, for sure!

Crystal, I've always wanted a house with secret rooms and passageways. There's a neighborhood around here known for having quite a few homes that involve them, as well as bunkers! I desperately want to visit one.

Deniz Bevan said...

Thanks for a great interview! This sounds like a wonderful story - just my type of YA.

Unknown said...

Hi Shannon, cool interview. Andrew is popping by to me next month, but I'll link back to here. I was also popping by to let you know that there are several awards for you at my blog. If you have them already no worries.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Deniz, wonderful! I hope you like it.

Michele, yay, I'll definitely come by for the interview. On my way to check out the awards; thank you!