Debut Author Q&A: Meet Rob Dircks

A funny thing happened on my way to an author event at the Seaford Library in Seaford, N.Y…. I got to meet some cool authors! (Imagine that!) One of those authors was Rob Dircks. I had the pleasure of being Rob’s tablemate that day, and we spent most of the time chatting books, publishing, and writing. I’m so happy to announce that Rob’s first novel, a science fiction comedy titled, Where the Hell is Tesla?, is available on Amazon. Below, Rob and I continue our chat about how this novel came to be. I wish him much success!

rob-portrait Name: Rob Dircks
Name of book: Where the Hell is Tesla?
Book genre: Science fiction/comedy
Date published: March 2015
What is your day job? For the past 20 years, my brother Dave and I have owned and operated a Long Island ad agency, Dircks Associates. Probably the most recognizable creative we did is the AOL CD — you know, 250 Hours Free? We did most of them. Now I write and design print and online communications, and do some photography/videography/audio for other national clients, such as AARP.

Your book has such an intriguing title. What is your book about? It’s a combination buddy comedy/fish-out-of-water story/sci-fi romp. A slacker security guard finds the lost journal of Nikola Tesla and talks his best friend into exploring Tesla’s secret invention, the Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus. They bounce from one misadventure to the next trying to get home until the existence of the entire multiverse winds up depending on these two unlikely heroes.

Why did you want to write this book? Ever since elementary school, I’ve been into comics, then sci-fi books and movies, and I’ve got this weird fascination with conspiracy theories. One day, I stumbled across this outrageous conspiracy theory article about Nikola Tesla — how he had secret journals that disappeared after he died, that the FBI took them, and that they contained plans for death rays and god-knows-what else. Maybe an hour later, I was still digging down this Internet rabbit hole, finding little scraps of hints and clues, this wonderful bottomless pit of Tesla intrigue, and I said to myself: What if he had something REALLY crazy in those journals? Like an Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus?

At the same time, I knew I wanted to write a comedy about a normal guy stuck in extreme circumstances. So at some random moment it all came together as “What if a slacker security guard discovers the lost journal of Nikola Tesla?” And boom. There it was.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? 1) Carving out time to write. My “real life” is constantly tugging at me, to make sure I get my paid work done and satisfy my clients. 2) Marketing. Ironically, even though I’ve been in advertising for so long, I’m less “marketing-y” than I probably should be. So I find the mechanics of promoting my work very challenging. But I’m learning.

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Meet Tracie Banister

Today’s featured debut author is Tracie Banister. I LOVE the concept for her chick-lit book, Blame It on the Fame – following the five nominees for the Best Actress Oscar from the time they learn about their nomination until the winner is revealed during the awards ceremony telecast. Which of this year’s nominees do you think would be most interesting to follow? Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, Viola Davis or Rooney Mara? 

Name: Tracie Banister

Name of book: Blame It on the Fame

Book genre: Chick lit

Date Published: January 18, 2012

Publisher: Self-published

What is your day job? Prior to embarking on a full-time writing career, I was a personal assistant to an entrepreneur for over a decade.

What is your book about? Blame It on the Fame tells the story of the five nominees for the Best Actress Oscar from the time they learn about the nomination until the envelope is ripped open and the winner is revealed. Readers will get to take a peek behind the velvet curtain and see how the media frenzy surrounding the Oscars affects these five very different women and takes a toll on them both personally and professionally.

Why did you want to write this book? I’ve always been fascinated by Hollywood, all the glitz and glamour, the premieres, the parties, the designer gowns, etc., and there’s nothing more star-studded and fabulous than the Oscars. What we see on the red carpet at this event every year are the public faces of the nominees. I wanted to know what was going on behind-the-scenes with these actors and actresses. How overwhelming was the whole experience? How thrilling? How terrifying? How did being part of the Oscars change their lives? And that’s how Blame It on the Fame was born.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? For this particular book, the most challenging part was having to interweave the stories of five different heroines over a specific period of time. I had to use a big dry erase board and multicolored post-it notes (each color representing one of the main characters) in order to keep the timeline straight, see where the different stories had their climaxes, and make sure that each heroine was getting her fair share of pages. It was all quite mind-boggling!

Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book? I always do research for all aspects of my books. For Blame It on the Fame, I had to get details on current celebrity hotspots, the venues where the different awards shows are held, Oscar statistics, and most importantly, I needed info and visual aids to help me with all of the red carpet fashion that’s discussed in the book.

What motivates you to write? I’ve always got stories knocking around in my head, and I enjoy giving my creations life on the page. I don’t think I’d be happy if I didn’t write; it’s something I’ve done since I was a little girl.

Did you experience writer’s block? I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block per se, but I’ve definitely experienced writer’s burn-out. I’m a perfectionist, and I can get very frustrated with myself when my stories don’t turn out the way I want them to. At times like these, I have to step away from the computer and recharge my batteries by hopping on the treadmill, going to a movie, or chatting with a friend.

How long did it take you to write this book? This one took quite a while because it was the longest (almost 500 pages) and most complicated of any writing project I’d ever tackled before. I wrote the first half of the book over a two-year period (I was running my own Avon business at the time, so I didn’t have a lot of spare time for writing). But when I switched gears and started devoting myself full-time to Blame It on the Fame, I was able to write the second half of the book in about 8 months. So, I’d say three years total to write, revise, and complete Blame It on the Fame.

Why did you decide to self-publish? Unfortunately, traditional publishers are not high on women’s fiction at the moment unless it involves vampires and/or a heroine who is under the legal drinking age. I actually sat on Blame It on the Fame for two years, hoping and praying that the publishing pendulum would swing back towards Chick Lit, but it never did. Meanwhile, digital publishing exploded, and I saw all of these indie authors publishing their own books and having amazing success by going that route. So, I thought, Why not? I’ll just take my book straight to the people. I have confidence that there is a huge audience of Chick Lit fans out there who would love to hear from some new voices in the genre.

Was the self-publishing process easier or more difficult than you thought it would be? It was a much more involved and time-consuming process than I’d first imagined, but I’m a control freak. So, I absolutely love being in charge of everything — editing, cover art, marketing, etc. I have learned SO much along the way to self-publishing my book, and I think it’s been an amazing and enlightening experience!

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That it’s easy. It’s not. Writers have to have a tremendous amount of focus, self-discipline, and determination to see writing a book through to the end. It can be fun and rewarding, but it can also be very daunting and enervating.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I always love it when the characters go from being an abstract idea in my head to a real, multi-dimensional person on the page. My non-writing friends think I’m nuts when I say this, but my characters take on lives of their own, and I love it when they do and say things I didn’t expect them to! For me, it’s the unplanned bits in a book that are almost always the best.

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I can’t say enough good things about Twitter as a marketing/networking tool. I have become a part of the most amazing community of writers and readers on Twitter who have been so supportive and encouraging throughout this whole publishing process. Facebook is another good avenue for connecting with people and talking about your book. And I think it’s crucial for authors to have a blog, although you shouldn’t let blogging distract you from your writing. My advice for writers is to build buzz about your book in the months and weeks leading up to your release. Get people excited about what you’re going to be selling. And don’t give away too much in advance. You want to entice people with just enough info to make them want more.

How has life changed for you since the publication of your book? Well, I’m not rich and famous yet, but I do have a great sense of accomplishment, which is something I value highly. As scary as it was to put my book out there for public consumption, I’m glad I took the risk because I’ve loved getting feedback from readers. To know that I’ve entertained people with my stories and characters is truly a gift.

Do you find yourself obsessively checking sales stats? Not yet, but give me time. My book hasn’t been out for long. I’m sure that I’ll be a sales stats-checking maniac a month from now!

Do you plan on writing another book? Blame It on the Fame is actually the third book I wrote. I’m hoping to release book two, a Chick Lit novel with a Latina heroine, this summer. I’m currently working on several projects, a Regency novel, which I’m hoping will be the first in a series, an era-hopping romance with a paranormal twist, and I’ve been playing around with a YA novel as well. So many ideas, and so little time to write them all!

My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I would definitely agree that luck is difficult to come by for most authors, myself included. The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and it’s next to impossible for new writers to get their voices heard. So, you have to go out and make your own luck with hard work and perseverance. The opportunity for me was digital publishing, which was something that wasn’t even an option just a few short years ago. My advice to everyone is to never give up on a dream because there is always more than one way to make it come true.

Meet V. Morley Johnson

This week’s debut author (yes, I’m a few days late, but I won’t tell if you won’t…) is V. Morley Johson, a fourth grade teacher who wrote her debut novel so that her students could finally see a girl be the hero of a story. That’s actually one of the reasons I wrote my own debut novel, Baby Grand. Hooray for heroines!
V. Morley Johnson
Name of book: Daughters of Pahol and the Battle for the Book of Light
Book genre:
Date published: November 2011
Publisher: JGroup Publishing
What is your day job? Fourth grade teacher
What is your book about? The Daughters of Pahol have always walked in the light, with the Book of Light, and the Sword of Light as the source of their power. The Daughters of Pahol have protected this Book, the Sword, and the kingdom for generations… until Queen Anriel falls under the power of the Rephaim. The Rephaim are witches who walk in the power of darkness, with a plan to take the throne, and all of its secrets. The exiled youngest Daughter of Pahol is the key to stopping the Rephaim. And the battle for the Book of Light begins…
Why did you want to write this book?
I wanted to write a book with a girl as the hero. As a teacher I have read many stories where the boy saves the day all the time. I want girls to grow up knowing that they can be heroes too.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? The most challenging part is finishing it. The beginning is always easy. It took me about two years to find the time to finish it.
Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book (visit certain locales, etc.)?
Yes, I researched the names of the characters. I wanted the characters’ names to have special meaning in relation to the story.
What motivates you to write?
I like the creativity in writing. I like the feeling of creating something that didn’t exist before.
Did you experience writer’s block?
I don’t think I have ever experienced writer’s block. I more so have time constraints that keep me from writing consistently every day.
How long did it take you to write this book? About two years.
How did you go about finding a publisher? I decided to self publish and create my own publishing company.
Why? I researched the traditional versus self-publishing road, and the self-publishing road seemed like it would be the most rewarding for first time authors.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about writing a book?
That it is easy and anyone could do it. It takes time to develop a book idea and write it, then rewrite it over and over again.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? Discovering who the characters are as they develop throughout the course of the story.
What tools/methods have you employed to promote your book? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? I started a blog where I write about my journey as a debut author. I have an author page at, and making connections in the writing community on Twitter. I would advise writers to make as many connections via social media as they could to promote their books.
Do you plan on writing another book? Yes, the Daughters of Pahol is a three-book series. I am beginning to work on the second in the series.
My favorite last question: Oprah once famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I would agree. A wise teacher once told me that preparation is everything in life, and over the years I have found it to be true.

Meet Author Jen Wylie

Today’s featured author is Jen Wylie, who, in the last seven months, has published her debut novel, two short stories and a short story series. Talk about a busy author! Today, I wanted to talk with Jen about Tales of Ever, which is part of a pilot program, Electric Shorts, being put out by Echelon Press for young readers. Each series contains six short stories presented once per month as electronic downloads (eBooks), much the same as a television series. Tales of Ever is the fantasy series Jen has written for young adults (13 to 17 year olds).

Name: Jen Wylie

Name of book: Tales of Ever Series

Book genre: Young Adult fantasy short story series

Date published: First Tuesday of every month from March to August 2011

Publisher: Echelon Press

What is your day job? My “main” job is I’m a stay-at-home mom of my two little boys. I wouldn’t call it a day job though, as I also work nights and weekends… and holidays. :) I also work with my publisher doing edits, acquisitions and marketing.

What is this series about? The Tales of Ever series is about a young girl who learns she is a Firestarter (like her parents, but she didn’t know this) Her father disappears when she is young. Her gift manifests when she is a teen; sadly a few months later her mother dies of cancer. She is taken in by family she doesn’t know, and soon learns a female firestarter is considered dangerous. They banish her, and she ends up in a crazy place called Ever. Her uncle inferred her father had been sent there as well. So the stories tell of her looking for him, learning more about her powers, making friends and trying to survive.

What would you say was the most challenging part of writing it? For me, the hardest part is writing endings. The Tales of Ever series certainly has been challenging, as I need to have sort of an ending at the end of each story. (I don’t like to just stop and say, “To be continued.”)

What motivates you to write? I love writing. My head is always full of ideas, so much it drives me a bit crazy sometimes. Of course, with my new series I’m contracted to have these stories out at a certain time… Yes, I have evil deadlines! That is certainly motivation too.

Did you experience writer’s block? I’m never truly blocked, but I do get stuck sometimes. Usually I just write the next scene and come back. Going for a drive with the radio cranked works too.

How long does it take you to write each book in the series? I have a month to write and self-edit each story installment. Usually I can get the biggest chunk done in a few days… then I lose momentum and the rest takes longer. These shorts are 13 to 14K words each, so I figure that’s not too bad.

How long did it take you to find a publisher? I spent a year and half looking for an agent. I came across Echelon Press online and really loved them… so I submitted my work. I was lucky enough to get contracts for 2 short stories and a novel (and later the Tales of Ever series).

Do you have an agent now? I still don’t have an agent. If you want your book in one of those Top 5 (or whatever it is) publishing houses, I hear you need one. If you are happy with a smaller publishing house, then just go for it. There are quite a few who don’t require you have an agent to submit.

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? Wow, there are so many misconceptions – how long it takes to write, how easy it is to find an agent or publisher, that edits will be quick and easy. LOL! I think the biggest is that you write it and you’re done. No way! Be ready to spend a lot of time out there selling yourself and your book. Even the big publishers don’t do all your marketing for you. If you want sales, people need to know about you and your book.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this series? Oooh, I LOVED creating Ever, how crazy and wild it is, all the strange creatures there, how there is no sun and the sky shifts from one colour to another. My brain is still coming up with fun ideas for each new story! 

What tools/methods have you employed to promote your work? What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? Web presence is very important. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, have a blog, a website with links to all of these, I’m also on goodreads, manic readers, jacket flap and so on. If I can be somewhere, then I’m there. :) Definitely get out there and start making yourself known. Blog tours are a really fun (yet busy) way to meet others, either by having authors on your blog, or going out and doing one yourself. 

What else is on the horizon? I have 3 more stories in Tales of Ever left to write. I also will have a new Jump story coming out soon, and a new Immortal Echoes. My fantasy novel Sweet Light will be coming out this summer too. So yes… lots going on! 

My favorite last question: Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I don’t know about preparation… Opportunity certainly plays a factor, and luck brought that about. I could go on and on about how if I didn’t do this or that I would never have… You get the picture. :)

Meet Author Gareth L. Powell

Did first-time novelist Gareth Powell have a literary agent when he got a publishing deal with Solaris? What does he think about writer’s block? Does he consider Oprah a loon for once saying there’s no such thing as luck without preparation and a moment of opportunity? The answers to these burning questions — and many more — can be found in this week’s Debut Author Q&A.

Name: Gareth L. Powell

Name of book: The Recollection

Book genre: Science Fiction

Date Published: September 2011

Publisher: Solaris Books

What is your day job? I work two days a week as a public relations officer for a disabled children’s charity, and three days per week as a freelance copywriter. I am also a full-time father.

What is your book about? In a nutshell, the book is the story of four characters and the way their relationships play out over several centuries, and the way they pull together in the face of an ancient and unexpected threat.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? Writing the first line.

What motivates you to write? I don’t know. It’s just something I have to do. I don’t really have a choice. I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always had that urge, and I can’t imagine a life in which I didn’t feel the compulsion to put words on paper.

Did you experience writer’s block? I think writer’s block is just a euphemism for indecision. If you can write about anything, sometimes it can be tough to narrow your choices down to one particular storyline. I have dry periods where I’ve not known what to write about, but I’ve found that constantly tinkering away with notes and ideas keeps the process fresh and alive in my head, so that even when I’m doing something else, part of my brain stays in writing mode.

How long did it take you to write this book? It took a year, although most of the main body of the book was written in a three month period.

Do you have an agent? I did something that most people will tell you is impossible: I sold my novel to Solaris without an agent, and before I’d finished writing it. They commissioned the book on the strength of the synopsis and first 40 pages. That may have had something to do with the reputation I’d already built up on the SF scene through the short stories I’d published in magazines and anthologies. But, if asked, I would definitely recommend that new writers try to get agency representation. I was lucky, but the market is so competitive that an agent can make all the difference. When an editor receives a manuscript from an agent, they know that the agent has read it and considers it of publishable quality.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? When you get into a novel and the characters come alive in your mind, the words start flowing in a rush and the story takes on a life of its own. It’s a giddy feeling, like riding a high and beautiful wave, and it can carry you forward. I mentioned that I wrote most of this book in three months. As soon as I got the go-ahead from Solaris, I poured this book out onto the page, and loved every minute of it.

What advice would you give to writers regarding promotion? The best advice I can give is to be friendly and act professionally. Use social media to get to know people. Engage in conversations. Help people out. Offer encouragement. Support fellow writers and they will support you. Go along to conventions and shake hands with editors and agents. Be polite. Have confidence, but temper it with humility. Get as much of your work in print as possible, and make sure it’s the best you can possibly make it.

Any other novels on the horizon? I’m currently working on three books, but I don’t really like to reveal details of what I’m working on until it’s finished.

Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I think that’s a valid statement. Luck certainly plays a part. But you can increase your chances by writing a damn good book, and building a credible reputation. Don’t be arrogant. Be the kind of writer that editors want to work with. And write to the very best of your ability. Never settle for less than your very best work.

Meet Author Liz Borino

For this week’s Debut Author Q&A, I chat with Liz Borino whose new ebook was recently released by digital publishing newcomer Lazy Day Publishing. (Readers with keen memories will recall that George Pappas, whom I interviewed earlier this month, is also a Lazy Day author.) I found Liz’ description of her book intriguing and thought she totally nailed something that I struggle with: how to describe your book in a tantalizing nutshell. But I’m working on it… :)

Name: Liz Borino

Name of book: Expectations

Book genre: Contemporary Romance

Date Published: December 1, 2010

Publisher: Lazy Day Publishing

What is your book about? Expectations depicts the struggle between what we desire for ourselves and our familial obligations. This is personified by Chris and Matt Taylor, identical twins, who are trying to win their overbearing father’s approval and acquire their trust funds. Their best friend and roommate, Aiden O’Boyle, left his family behind in Ireland to pursue a career in dance. Robert Taylor, Matt and Chris’s father, has set certain conditions that must be met in order for them to receive their trust funds. Matt must work at a job he hates, while struggling with alcoholism. Chris has to deny his own desires and deep love for Aiden to get married to Matt’s girlfriend. All the while, their father continues to use extreme measures to ensure his sons’ compliance. The story takes place against the backdrop of preparation for Aiden’s upcoming performance.

What was the most challenging part of the writing process? Knowing when to stop. My book was 130,000 words when I finished it. I had to do a lot of editing to make it publishable.

What motivates you to write? I can’t not write. It’s the only way to get the stories out of my head, thus preventing them from driving me crazy.

Did you experience writer’s block? I didn’t experience block so much with Expectations as with the sequel. As a matter of fact, Expectations was constantly playing in my head. It became an obsession.

How long did it take you to write this book? It took me one semester to write and about six months to edit properly.

How difficult was it to find a publisher? After several agent rejections, I did another round of edits and started researching publishers that would be a good fit for my book. In the midst of that, I found Lazy Day, or rather they found me. One day, Staci was following me on Twitter. Since I always check out new followers, I went to their website and got so excited because they seemed to be just what I was looking for. Fortunately, I was able to convince them I was what they were looking for as well.

What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That it’s easy! It’s not, but it is fun and definitely worth it!

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? I love creating. I love my characters. Their story enthralled me, and I’m so glad I have the opportunity to share it with the world.

You mentioned that there is a sequel to Expectations? Yes! I’m contracted for the sequel, which I’m working on now.

Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I agree completely. I believe in making my own luck. To me that means, hard work, passion, knowing when to toe the line and when to smash the rules!