LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org
Monday, March 13, 2017
Author Jason Marchi on his award winning book, The Growing Sweater
WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER AND WHY?
While in high school I took two writing classes with a very popular teacher. Her name was Joan Hayes and she did not marry until her retirement from teaching. Miss Hayes had a colorful past. She was a former mother superior and before that she assembled bombs in a factory for a living. She brought amazing love and energy into her teaching and I took Creative Writing I & II with her during my junior and senior years. That’s when I first got the idea that I might want to be a writer when I grew up.
When I entered college I discovered the short stories of Ray Bradbury. This changed my life forever and I fell in love with the magic of good writing, of how a story could affect a reader emotionally. That’s when I knew, more than anything else, that I wanted to be a writer and tell exciting stories for the rest of my life.
AS A CHILD, WHAT DID YOU ASPIRE TO BE WHEN YOU GREW UP?
The very first thing I wanted to be when I was grew up an architect. I loved buildings of all sorts, from houses to churches to skyscrapers. I used to build house models from scratch using balsawood for the framing and thin cardboard for the wallboard and sheathing. I’d cut strips of heavy paper to make my own siding shingles and strips of fine black sandpaper to make roofing shingles. I built about a dozen houses like this, finishing the interiors with paint, carpeting, and I even made my own miniature furniture. Only one of those houses remains intact today. All the rest I dissembled because they took up too much room, but I have pictures of three of them. I built the house models from blueprints my father got for me.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE?
My mom often told me stories about her life before I was born. We were sitting on the back deck one September day when I was about 21 or 22, and we were noting that sweater weather would soon arrive. She then told me about a sweater she’d knitted for my father (before I was born) that he only got to wear once. He got it dirty right away with food stains. When she washed and dried it for the first time it stretched! It was too big for him, so my mom’s uncle Otto, who was nearly seven feet tall, wore the sweater for a while before it grew too big for him. As soon as she finished telling me be this very brief story my imagination began turning the concept over and over. “What a great story that would make for children!” I said, and that evening I started the first draft and completed the basic story a day or two later. While writing the story I simply ran with my imagination of what kind of tale I would love to have had read to me if I were still a kid, a fun adventure, a “what happens next” kind of story. I changed the facts to fit a more dramatic timeline. I had a grandmother knit the sweater for her youngest and smallest granddaughter. This way the sweater could stay in the family as long as possible before the family had to part with it.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK AND WHY?
It is a few lines. “The sweater was too big for any of the zoo’s washing machines. So the zookeeper washed the sweater by letting the elephants spray it with their trunks. Two giraffes then held the sweater up to dry.” I think those are pretty funny images. They came to me in a flash while I was writing the story, as if the story wrote itself at that point and I did not have to think about what happened next.
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU AND WHY?
All of my characters are like me. A bit of me is in every single character, spread out pretty evenly come to think of it. That happens a great deal when I write. As human beings we have very complex thoughts. We have very different moods at different times: anger, fear, joy, and so on. We behave differently with different people. So when I create distinct characters I always go into myself, my emotional memories, and give them to my characters.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
I did not set out to put a message into The Growing Sweater. I just wanted to capture a fun story and run with it to a logical and fun conclusion. After I sent the manuscript out to fellow authors for comments to help me strengthen the story or find any errors, etc., I learned that the story had a message. That message is summed up by a blurb on the back of the book. “A charming tale that mixes fantasy with reality to show how important an unselfish spirit can be.” That was written by Doug Menville of Braille Institute. Now when I look at the story I see that that message is very clear. I never saw that message when writing. I hope that teachers and parents will point out to children that by sharing with others instead of just throwing things away you can help others recover from troubled times.
WHICH AUTHOR HAS MOST GREATLY INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING STYLE?
I mentioned him before, Ray Bradbury. Bradbury single-handedly turned me into a writer. No writer before him had such an effect on my intellect and my emotions. I had a wild imagination as a kid, which was fueled by all the awesome science fiction and fantasy shows I grew up watching: Thunderbirds, Lost in Space, My Favorite Martian, Mr. Ed, Star Trek, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Bewitched, The Flying Nun, I Dream of Jeannie. I was NOT a big reader until I entered college to study English and geology. And after I discovered the amazingly creative stories and very beautiful writing of Ray Bradbury when I was 19 I fell in love with the idea of writing and telling stories. Bradbury gave me a permission slip to let my imagination soar, and he also showed me that it was okay and proper to write all these fantastic ideas down on paper and make them into stories to thrill or inspire others.
WHAT BOOK HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun short story collection, which my mother found in a used bookstore and gave to me when I was 18. She was always bringing home books for me on varying topics in her endless quest to get me to read. I hated reading when I was a kid because I was a very slow reader and I had to go back over the same paragraphs to remember what I’d just read. It was torture. When I was 10 I had to go to a special reading teacher to learn to stop moving my head when I read.
Well, I did not read that Bradbury book until a year later, when I entered my freshman year in college. I had a small dormitory room to myself and when all the other students were sleeping late on a Sunday morning I started to read that book. The first three stories I read hit me like a ton of bricks. Right then I fell in love with the idea of trying to write my own stories with the same kind of emotion and truth that Bradbury put into that book.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
Having a positive influence on the lives of children. About the same time I was informed that The Growing Sweater had won a gold medal in the 2016 Literary Classics contest I received a letter from a librarian in Maine. She runs an after school reading program and one of her students, a young girl, hates everything that is read to her. Everything. So this librarian grabbed a copy of The Growing Sweater that had just been donated to the library. She read it and the girl sat enthralled through the entire 1400 word story. The girl then asked for the book to be read to her a second time. She’d never requested that before. Same reaction. The girl was so enchanted by the book she borrowed it, took it home, made her mother read it to her again and again, and then she told the other kids at school about the book and it did not stay on the shelf for weeks. Her classmates kept borrowing it. I heard a similar story from another parent. One five-year-old girl insisted the story be read to her every night for weeks and she asked for a purple sweater and a stuffed animal elephant (one of the characters from the book) for her upcoming birthday.
A similar thing happened with my first children’s book, The Legend of Hobbomock: The Sleeping Giant. When that book came out in 2011 I had lots of bookstore signings in my home state of Connecticut. Two eight year old boys came up to me at two different signings and told me that they hated to read until their mom or dad found and gave them a copy of my book. Wow. I was knocked over that my Native American story had changed the lives of these two children. And now they wanted to read more books.
DO YOU HAVE ANY WRITING RITUALS?
Just one. I cannot write in a silent room. If the weather is seasonable and I can open the windows, I am soothed by the outdoor sounds: singing birds, a train passing at the edge of town, children playing in a yard a few houses over, the wind in the trees, a lawnmower whirling in the distance. All these sounds comfort me and allow me to concentrate on my writing. When I have the windows closed and I want to write then I have to play soft ambient space music that I find on YouTube. There cannot be talking or singing, just the soft ambient space music that has a soothing repetitive beauty to it. That focuses me and also opens my imagination.
HOW DID YOU FIND AN AGENT / GET PUBLISHED?
I’ve been rejected by every single agent I’ve approached over the past 25 years. I’ve only had luck selling my poems, articles, and stories directly to magazine editors. No book editor would ever take my work, so I self-published my two children’s picture books. I worked for the big school publisher McGraw-Hill for 17 years so I learned all about publishing books there. I’d still like to be published traditionally – through an agent who gets me a book deal and even a big book-to-film deal. If not, I’ll keep self-publishing.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO CELEBRATE THE PUBLISH DATE OF YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
After the first case of books arrived from the printer I took pictures with my iPhone and sent those pictures to my closest friends. And I posted some pictures to my Facebook page. Other than that I did nothing special. I really wanted to get back to the computer and work on more stories.
WHAT OTHER BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
The Legend of Hobbomock: The Sleeping Giant. A 32 page picture storybook. The book is a dramatic retelling of a Native American legend about how a set of hills in South Central Connecticut came to look like a giant man sleeping on his back. The book was the single bestselling title in the history of the Barnes & Noble store in North Haven, CT. The book is also a 2015 REVERE Awards Finalist in the picture book category.
Ode on a Martian Urn is a collection previously published and new poems that touch upon the subjects of science, science fiction, fantasy, and horror.
Both books are available at www.OmicronWorld.com and Amazon.com
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF BECOMING PUBLISHED AND ANY TIPS YOU MIGHT OFFER FOR OTHER ASPIRING AUTHORS?
I have both traditionally published and self-published. My first professional sale was a 28 line poem to the now defunct science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. I was paid $1 a line and earned $28. I sold them more poems until the editor left and the new editor stopped publishing poetry. I then sold poems to many other magazines and later I started to see my short stories appear in small magazines. But I could never sell a book manuscript to a publishing house so I turned to self-publishing, and that choice turned out to be the right choice. My Legend of Hobbomock picture book became a Barnes & Noble recognized regional bestseller in Connecticut. And the book has strong back list sales locally.
Most recently Follett and Baker & Taylor, the two big distributors, asked me to become a vendor in their system so they can fill all the school and library orders they are getting for that book. More and more teachers want to use it in their classrooms, as dozens of teachers have already been doing so over the past four years.
So, my biggest advice is to try self-publishing if you KNOW you have good story but no agent or publisher will accept your work. However, if you self-publish you must be prepared for a lot of work that will take you away from pure writing. You must learn all aspects of running a small business AND find freelance editors to clean up your manuscript and make it great, and people to design your book, and a printer, etc. The best resource available to learn the A to Z of self-publishing for success can be found by joining American Publishers for Special Sales (APSS) which is owned and operated by the current guru of self-publishing, Brian Judd. Join for $60 a year and learn ALL you can from Brian’s books (which you will need to purchase) and his free webinars. He also consults on a very affordable basis.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
If you are self-publishing then join APSS (mentioned above) and really dig into their resources and learn how to sell books to bookstores, libraries, book clubs, chain stores, corporations and many other venues most writers don’t think about.
If you publish traditionally ask your editor how you can help him or her market your books as far and as wide as possible to drive sales. Unless you are a celebrity of some sort, a traditional publisher will do very little to market and advertise the book(s) of yours they are paying you to publish. If you don’t sell enough copies they WILL drop you and you will be out in the cold without a publisher and very likely without an agent. Everyone involved in the publishing industry needs to sell books at a profit to eat and pay the rent or mortgage. Pitch-in anyway and every way you can to help build buzz about you as a writer, your book or books. Capitalize on your expertise in a subject in which you can give lectures and talks, and build an audience platform that way. Successful publishing is really about showmanship, in addition to producing a good book that people will want to read.
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS?
I’m working on two new children’s picture book stories, and they have yet to be illustrated so it might be three years before I can get those books into the marketplace. However, I’m now completing two young adult short story collections (for ages 13+) and I hope to have those available both in print and ebook formats in 2017. One is titled The Man in the Black Frock Coat and the other is The Island People. Both of these collections are stories in the tradition of the classic Twilight Zone television series from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Readers never seem to get tired of thrilling or chilling stories of a speculative nature. I sure don’t. I’m also editing a book of speculative stories and poems called Automobilia which I hope to have out in 2017 or 2018 at the latest. I’m going to try to sell this book to a traditional publisher because it’s the right topic to go that route.
All these titles are or will be available though my publishing company website at www.OmicronWorld.com and at Amazon.com, as well as through Follett and Baker & Taylor for interested schools, libraries, and bookstores.
NOTE: If readers would like to purchase any of my books and have them signed and personalized they will need to order them through the www.OmicronWorld.com website.
LITERARY CLASSICS Book Awards & Reviews International Book Awards • Top Honors Youth Book Awards • Seal of Approval http://www.clcawards.org