The Blogging Sumo: A Conversation with Author Jennifer Griffith Continued

On Monday, I posted the first part of a discussion between myself and Jennifer Griffith, author of BIG IN JAPAN from Jolly Fish Press. Jennifer was one of the first people to read my upcoming novel, THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, and was instrumental in getting the manuscript in shape to submit to publishers. The first post began a discussion back and forth about different aspects of writing our books and that conversation continues below.

RR: Prior to BIG IN JAPAN, you wrote and published three LDS centered romance novels. What is it that made you decide to leave that genre knowing that your established audience might not respond to a story about an overweight Texan traveling to Japan and making it big in the sport of sumo? Also, what did you learn from your first three published novels that helped you write BIG IN JAPAN?”

JG: For one thing, my original publisher was taking a hiatus from publishing due to the 2008 economy. My last LDS book came out in the fall of 2007, and at that point I had just given birth to my fifth child and I was deep in the mommy trenches. Writing wasn’t really even on my radar screen at the time. I figured, with that situation, I might not ever bother trying to get published again. But the sumo story popped up, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started it in the summer of 2009 when the rolling storm of life smoothed out a bit.

I had always wanted to write mainstream stories. I like LDS stories, and I read quite a few, but I found a really great book called “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell, and in it he outlines how to write commercial fiction. It made me want to give it a shot–just to push myself to try something new. The sports genre is almost funny–I hardly ever have a strong interest in sports, so it’s ironic that I would be the person who writes a sports novel at all, let alone one that peaks at #9 of the Kindle sports genre list. I guess life is full of ironies.

Still, your question about audience is a good one. I think for some people who’d read my earlier stuff, this was a stretch. However, it’s hard to imagine that my voice or my writing style is that much different. When I read an author I like, I’m looking for that voice. I don’t really care what the setting is most of the time. I might have lost a few readers for that, but I did make inroads into the 50+ male readership crowd that I’d never have garnered if I’d stuck with the other genre.

But I have another question for you, Ryan. I’ve heard you say this novel ended up being somewhat cathartic for you. Your main character, Todd, writes for his therapy (against his will.) Do you think all writers write to work through their thoughts and concerns to some extent?

RR: You know what’s funny about this question? My wife enjoys the food/mystery genre with the recipes at the end of each chapter. One author she likes has a main character who enjoys the affections of two different men. Book after book she can’t decide between them. Yet, neither man is jealous of the other and both are content to bide their time like until she is ready to make a decision. When Shannon told me about these books, I couldn’t help but chuckle. My immediate thought was, “This is a woman who probably didn’t date a lot in high school and is now living out her fantasies of how men truly should behave through her writing.” Maybe that comment is unfair, but I think it is safe to say that there are very few men in this world who would be willing to live with that dating scenario.

Anyway, back to your question: I think an author’s level of catharsis is probably related directly to the story they are trying to tell. But on the other hand, I can’t see how a person’s real life would not have a direct affect on their writing. In recent interviews, Steven Spielberg talks about watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He says he can clearly see the darkness in that movie that he believes is a direct correlation to the fact that both he and George Lucas were going through divorces.

As for THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, I had lost my mom to cancer not long before I started writing. At the time, I didn’t put two and two together, but once I was finished, it was clear how writing portions of the story had helped me get emotions out that I had not really shared before. There are other aspects of the book that function similarly. In hindsight, I think my proximity to the subject matter made it a better story—certainly more real. But I must admit that I am now curious as to how good of a writer I am when I try something different.  Will I still be able to tell a compelling story when the subject matter doesn’t so closely mirror my own life? I guess I’ll have to see.

What about you? What aspects of your writing have been influenced by the life you were living at the time? I know you lived in Japan for about a year and a half, but what other facets, if any, of BIG IN JAPAN can be attributed to your life experience?

JG: Probably a lot of aspects of the story mirror my life. I know that sounds far-fetched, that I as a 5’1” Mormon mother of 5 could have much in common with any member of the sumo world. However, it’s the human experience I tried to touch on. I might never have been over 400 pounds, but I don’t know many women who haven’t felt some measure of despair about their weight, especially while going through pregnancies and post-partum physical changes. I found lots of moments where I could tap into my own experiences worrying about physical appearance and self-confidence related to that. Maybe that’s too much sharing, but I think many, many people can relate to Buck in that way. I know I did.

Also, when I was drawing Chocho, I really wanted her to be a capable woman, but I wanted her to be thoroughly feminine. As I have aged, I have seen how strong a woman can be while still remaining in the traditional feminine role. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world is the old saying. Even though I worked hard to get an education, traveled abroad some, lived in Japan, worked for Congress, I now am a homemaker and mother. That is my most fulfilling role. It may sound non-progressive to say this, but I wanted to create a character in Chocho that would be a really good role model for women who want to keep the traditional femininity alive but who are devoted to having strong opinions within that realm and within their best sphere of influence. Does that even make sense? Am I rambling? I guess I could see myself at a crossroads at one point, choosing between career and home, and I chose home. I have never regretted that. Chocho would, to my mind, choose home. Do you agree with that assessment of her?

I would agree with that assessment, but I probably wouldn’t have picked up on it had you not pointed it out. I think this is a difference of point of view with regards to men and women. What I liked about Chocho was her inherent goodness. You did a good job on portraying a man’s preoccupation with appearance. At the beginning of your book, Buck is transfixed on a woman who is beautiful, but nothing more. She treats him like garbage. When Buck meets Chocho for the first time, he again is struck by her physical beauty. But as Buck matures and gains self-confidence, Allison’s overall desirability fades and Chocho’s expands because he realizes she is so much more than just a pretty face. Her kindness, in my mind, is her greatest feature. And because that is what I took away from Chocho’s character, that is why I would agree that she would choose home over career and never look back.

And now back to your book, Ryan: It was really different for me to write from a male point of view. I botched it here and there, I’m sure. You were laughing about the male leads in your wife’s favorite series, that they were just not very believable to a man. For part of your editing process, I know you reworked “the love interest” for Todd the Blogger–at least a couple of times. How was it finding a way to create a female character, likable and believable? Because I would think your book will appeal equally to male and female readership. What helped you get her just right?

RR: Well, in short, you and Aimee Staten. But to expand on that answer, again we are getting into male vs. female perspectives. Prior to your critique, only two females had “met” that character. Both of those individuals also had greater access to my thoughts and motivations during the writing process, so they understood not only what was on the paper, but what was in my mind. But when you and Aimee encountered the character for the first time, you were both adamant that she was not likable. I have to admit, I was stunned. I loved this character. I went back to my male friend who had read the book and asked if he felt the same way you had. He was as mystified as I was. However, when I mentioned it to my wife and to the other female who had read the book, they both admitted they could understand where you were coming from.

So, once I got over my shock and dismay, I set about trying to “fix” her. My issue was, I wanted a character that was somewhat broken herself. What was difficult for me was finding that thin line between a broken character that was overly bitter and one that was not bitter enough. It took a few attempts to get that right. But what is interesting to me is that although the character comes across much differently now than she did originally, she never changed in my mind. She is still the same person. I just wasn’t allowing her to express herself correctly.

End of part 2

In the third and final installment, we will turn the tables on each other and ask questions about our own books. Check back later next week for the conclusion of our discussion.

BIG IN JAPAN is available in most book stores and can be found on-line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can also find Jennifer Griffith at her website http://www.authorjennifergriffith.com or you can follow her on Twitter and/or “like” her author page on Facebook.

THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER arrives August 2013. You can follow Ryan Rapier at his twitter feed @RyanRapier or “like” his author page at Ryan Rapier, Author on Facebook.

Have I Sacrificed My Man Card?

I had an uncomfortable realization last night as I stood among a group of Young Men’s leaders following mutual?

I’m embarrassed of my book in a testosterone heavy environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not embarrassed that I wrote a book or that it is getting published.  All that is absolutely still awesome, its just…

We were standing in the church parking lot talking about church basketball when suddenly my friend who is the young men’s president says to the group, “I know he’s not going to say anything, but I’m going to. Did you know Ryan wrote a book that is getting published?”

The response was great.  Everybody was surprised and congratulatory and very supportive.  But in that instant, I realized I desperately did not want them to ask THE question. “What’s it about?”

I know this says something terrible about me, but I immediately thought, hmmm-dead wife, depression, psychiatrist, blogging (in general), issues with family and a romantic aspect throughout. Not exactly the makings of a new Old Spice commercial.

And I have had those conversations with men and they go something like this:

“…and so that’s kinda the gist of the story.”

Crickets

Finally one guy will volunteer, “Sounds…interesting,” said in a tone of voice suggesting anything but.

Thankfully, last night nobody asked the question. One guy did say, “Well, you’re going to have to read and tell me about it because I don’t read.”

I said, “Fair enough.”

So, my dilemma is figuring out a way to better market my book to men in a way that I don’t lose valuable male “street cred”. Maybe I should say, “It’s about a group of Mormon guys who like to watch basketball and golf who are all die-hard Sun Devil fans. And it’s funny.” Not much of a story there, but boy doesn’t that sound masculine.

Anyway, please come back tomorrow for the second part of my conversation with author, Jennifer Griffith. Intellectually we are knocking it out of the park. You will be smarter just for having read it. Or your money back. Also, if you haven’t been to my facebook author page, facebook.com/ryanrapierauthor, please visit and help me boost the number of likes. I realize this is shameless self-promotion, but I had to give up all facades of dignity and propriety the second I decided to publish a book. Now it is all about me all of the time.  Thanks for reading.

Can A Two Person Discussion Qualify as a Roundtable? Part 1

One important thing I discovered after finishing my first draft of, THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, was that I needed to let other people see it for the express purpose of trashing it beyond belief. If you don’t engage in this kind of masochistic behavior, your book will likely never reach its full potential.

One of the individuals who was kind enough to read my book and provide valuable feedback was, Jennifer Griffith, author of four published novels including her latest, BIG IN JAPAN, from Jolly Fish Press.

Admittedly, I have not read Jennifer’s three previous novels. My wife has, and gave me the gist. They are light, romantic comedies. I have, however, read BIG IN JAPAN and enjoyed it immensely. It is not a romantic comedy, nor is it entirely light.

It is the story of a very large man from Texas named Buck Cooper. To most people he knows, Buck is a nobody. But when he accompanies his parents on a business trip to Japan, Buck discovers that his large frame and sizable girth are viewed very differently in the Land of the Rising Sun and he soon finds himself immersed in the wild world of sumo wrestling.

As one of the few people who has actually read THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, I thought it would be interesting to have a back-and-forth discussion about both books as well as our experiences in writing these novels. Today’s post is the beginning of our discussion.

I began by asking the following question of Jennifer:

RR: For marketing purposes, the publishing world is very quick to categorize a book into a specific genre. Within genres, there are sub-genres, but this seems to only pigeon-hole an author’s work even more. I have seen Big in Japan categorized as a sports novel, and it certainly fits in that grouping. But if you could describe your book without having to worry about genre, what would you say Big in Japan is really about?

JG: I spent a while struggling with which genre to categorize BIG IN JAPAN in. You’re right, it is a sports novel. But it’s different. When I set out to write it, I wanted to write something I could categorize as ‘commercial fiction,’ and I think that’s where it ultimately came down when I was shopping it to publishers. Kinda general, I know. It doesn’t fit neatly into sports because what it’s really about is a man’s journey from being walked on and invisible to being the warrior he was always meant to be deep down inside, his self-discovery. Oh, and don’t forget his discovery of love. What Buck lacks from the very first scene is the love of a good woman. He doesn’t know how or where to find it, and the story is his journey toward love. So, sports? Yeah, that’s the setting. But it’s more of a character-driven book, ultimately. Well, I hope, because that’s what I wanted to have come across to the reader.

Now, for my question to you: THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER is the story of a man’s healing process after the death of his wife, and all the people along his path who either help or hinder that journey. You’ve populated it with so many real-to-life characters. How did you breathe life into so many different story-people?

RR:  Wow, believe it or not, that is a tough question. The truth is, I’m not familiar with how others write and so I can’t compare what is normal and what isn’t. But when it comes to my characters, it was important to me that the reader be able to relate to each person on the page. It wasn’t necessary that they like each person, but they needed to be able to say, “I know someone just like that.”
So the first thing I tried to do was create a compelling backstory for every major and mid-major character.  The next problem to solve was finding a way to share that backstory through Todd, my protagonist, who tells the story in first person.
But finally, once I felt like the character was established with a backstory, which simultaneously outlined a personality, I let them create themselves. I know that sounds weird, but with every conversation or scene, I would visualize the people I had created having the conversation I was about to write. Going into each chapter, there were certain things I knew I needed to achieve and communicate, but I had no preconceived notion of how the conversations or actions of the characters would get us there. I let the make believe people in my head do that for me. What was interesting about this exercise was the amount of good material that got left out or how the direction of the book would change based on the behavior of a character I had just written about. I would sometimes start a chapter with a line or two that I felt were vital to fit in some how only to have the conversation go in an entirely different direction. Again, I don’t know if that is normal or not, but that is what worked for me.
JG:  I think that’s one of the major strengths of your manuscript, Ryan–the conversations. The characters sound true to life, their voices are solid (each one having his own voice and sticking with it throughout the story) and yet there’s enough conflict in each conversation to keep the tension going. It was one of the really big pulls that kept me turning pages as I read it.
RR: Well, thank you. That is kind of you to say. Speaking of characters, I am curious about some of yours. Obviously your story is about Buck and his experience, but I wonder if you were to write a companion novel, which character from Big in Japan would you most want to know more about and why?
JG: I’ve actually thought about this. I doubt I’d do a full novel about any of them, but a novella (50 pages or so) would be kind of fun. Chocho, Buck’s love interest, would be the obvious choice, but I think I might have more fun writing the story of Reggie, Buck’s Philippino friend who is being pursued by the relentless geisha girl. It’d be fun to explore the back story of their romance and what could possibly be his reluctance to it.

RR:  See, I find that answer fascinating. I think a short story on Reggie would be great, but the fact that he and Chocho are your first choices highlights a difference between us that I think we’ve discussed before. It’s kind of the “Avengers vs. Dark Knight” argument. The one character from BIG IN JAPAN that I was drawn to was Torakiba, Buck’s mentor and a fantastic villain. Unlike like the other baddies in your story, this character seemed to have a deeper sense of character there that I would love to know more about.  What made this guy, whose introduction into sumo was probably very similar to Buck’s, into the person we meet in your story? Anyway, that’s just me. Your turn.

JG:  It took me a long time to edit BIG IN JAPAN. Years. What I would like to know is how your editing process went. (Because of how polished the manuscript was when I finally saw it, I know I came to the editing process late in the game.) How did you go from your first draft to your final draft? Did you do several passes, like, one for dialogue, one for plot holes, etc., or was it more comprehensive? Did you have a beta reader who helped you?

RR:  I think not having been part of a writing group (and therefore not understanding the ‘rules’ to writing) played a role in how my manuscript came about. I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to edit as you go. I’ve since learned that a major rule of thumb is get the story down first, edit later.

But what I did was write a chapter and then take a day to go back and edit that chapter before moving on to the next one. Once I was finished, I would then bring that chapter home and let my wife, Shannon, take a crack at it. I know another rule is don’t let your family and friends be your editor because they tend to go to easy on you, but my wife has no such qualms.

While she was editing, I would start the next chapter, but when she completed her edits, I would stop what I was doing to go back and incorporate her suggestions I thought had merit, which were about 97% of them.

Then, when four or five chapters had gone through this process, I would take them to my best friend and his wife who are avid readers. They were the first to admit that they are not writers, but I felt certain that they would be able to point out when something didn’t feel right. And I was correct. Again, I know I was breaking the second rule stated above, but I also knew this friend had no issue with being too nice. I told him I wanted the truth and he gave it to me.

So when he and his wife finished their critiques, I would stop what I was doing and incorporate their input immediately as well. And, from start to finish, that is how I wrote THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER. Then, when I was finally done, and the entire book had gone through this process, the four of us met together and discussed what worked and what didn’t.  That was seven months from the time I had sat down and put my first words to the page. Finally, Shannon and I each did one more edit of the entire manuscript. That was when you entered the picture. As far as specific edits, I never did any. Every edit I did was a blanket edit looking for any problem I could find.

And thus ends part 1. 

Join us later this week for the second part of our discussion which kicks off with Jennifer talking about her move from LDS fiction to mainstream.

BIG IN JAPAN is available in most book stores and on-line at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It is also available for download on most e-book applications.

THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER arrives in stores this August. 

The Tradition of Taking One on the Chin

One of the things I was determined to do when I set out writing a book centered on Latter-Day Saint characters living in an LDS culture, was not to have the book based in Utah. No offense to my Utah friends and family, but I get tired of reading about Mormons in Utah. I get tired of hearing about BYU and the soft snow of winter falling on…whatever it is soft snow falls on. I wanted to write about people I knew-people who had been born and raised in the desert and had little to no concept of soft snow falling on anything.

So, I decided to set my book in Gilbert, Arizona. I wrote about characters who had been born and raised in this community that has been swallowed up in recent years by the grand mass known as the Phoenix metro area. I personally did not grow up here. I was born and raised in a small community in southeastern Arizona. But for nine years of my life, I lived and loved this town that has carved out its own section of the Valley of the Sun.

Another aspect of my main character’s life that is referenced many times in the book is that he and his friends attended Arizona State University. Todd Landry is not a Cougar and he never will be. In fact, if he’s being completely honest, those who profess to have attended “God’s college” really get on his nerves quite easily. He is a proud Sun Devil who bleeds maroon and gold and has a particular distaste for all things Red and Blue coming out of Tucson.

Maybe I am wrong here, but I would imagine most authors write a bit of themselves into their protagonists. Because this is where I certainly did. My wife and I both graduated from Arizona State and continue to be proud members of Sun Devil Nation. Which brings me to this last weekend.

In an attempt to indoctrinate my children, I took my two boys, aged 10 and 8, to their first college athletic event. We got up early (and missed a pine wood derby…dang!!! sarcasm intended) and drove with some friends down to the Arizona State/University of Arizona basketball game.

The weather could not have been more perfect and it was absolutely awesome to walk around the campus, showing my boys where their mom and I went to school, long before they were born. We ate lunch at the Memorial Union and both boys were highly jealous that a school existed where students could get Papa Johns or Chik-fil-A any time they wanted it.

When we finally got back to the arena and settled in for the game, it was more fun than I could have imagined watching my son’s different reactions. Neither boy has shown a huge interest in sports, although the 8-year-old is coming around somewhat. But both boys were fascinated and the 10-year-old even admitted it was much more interesting watching it live than on TV. However, he is my technology kid and he was very mellow through the entire event, taking in the big screens and other technological gizmos that surrounded us. The 8-year-old, on the other hand, bought into the game itself, hook, line and sinker.

When he figured out that people yelled during UofA’s free throws, he told me he was going to concentrate all of his hatred (he reads A LOT!!! and has the vocab to prove it) and put it into his screaming. Turns out, the kid has a lot of hatred. He screamed at the top of his lungs every time and never quit.

Sadly, UofA basketball is almost always better than ASU. About the last quarter of the game, UofA started to pull away, much to the chagrin of my boys. The Tucson fans were there in abundance and began to chant, “This is our house” over and over. Both boys were highly offended and wanted to yell back something in response. And that was when my opportunity to teach them about the realities of a rivalry occurred.

I explained that because we lost, we had to sit there and take it.  But I encouraged them to bottle it up and hold onto it (healthy parenting at its best) because I intend to take them to the ASU/UofA football game later this year. It will also be in Tempe and there is a much better chance ASU will come out on top. And when that occurs, I will show them how good it feels to lustily chant something back at these people who were taking such pleasure in our pain. I can’t wait.

And so, my boys have now been inducted into a grand tradition. They now despise a rival. I’ve never been so proud. Now, I just have to pray that neither one of them ends up attending that podunk college to the south. I don’t know if I will ever recover. Although, having a UofA alumnus in the house would be better than having to deal with the holier-than-thou attitude of one returning from BYU.

My debut novel, The Reluctant Blogger, arrives in bookstores August 2013. For more information and updates regarding the release, please follow me on Twitter or “like” my Ryan Rapier, Author page on Facebook. 

You Can Stuff Your Sorries In A Sack and Book Update

When I was a sophomore in high school, I begged, pleaded, cajoled, and was eventually granted my own subscription to Sports Illustrated. At the time, it was one of the greatest days of my life. I lived for the mail to come every Thursday so I could marvel at the amazing photographs of athletes captured mid-motion and immerse myself in the stories of victory, defeat, glory and pain. I’d always loved to read, but Sports Illustrated (SI) gave me something more than a book could. I got to catch a glimpse behind the curtain of my favorite sporting events that I’d just experienced days earlier. I could also get to know real-life people I’d seen on television through their in-depth articles. It made me the sports fan I am today.

See, I’m not the typical sports fan. I tend to gravitate to personalities rather than teams. I root for Peyton Manning more than any one particular team in football. My favorite basketball player is, and always will be, Larry Bird (mainly because of an eight page article that ran in one of my SIs, Kathy Ireland will always be my favorite supermodel because of SI as well, but that’s a topic probably left untouched), I love to watch golf on television, but only if Phil Mickelson is playing. Finally, Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr will forever hold a special place in my heart because when it comes to sports, I came of age during their amazing Final Four run that captured the hearts and minds of Arizonans everywhere.

One other personality that I was drawn to during this period was a cyclist who appeared on the cover of SI during my Senior year. He was the first American to win the Tour de France and had an amazing story to accompany his greatness. Before that article, I could not have cared less about cycling. After that article, I had someone to root for.

That cyclist’s name was, Greg LeMond. And as of today, he is still the only American to have ever officially won the Tour de France.

After high school, I gave up my subscription along with any interest I might have gained for cycling. In fact, I only bought my first bicycle since childhood two years ago. And that was so I could feel better about myself in how I got to and from morning racquetball just one mile away from my house.

I noted over the years the amazing story of Lance Armstrong, but it never captured me the way Greg LeMond’s story had. Maybe because I never read about it in a magazine. But after he won his first Tour following a battle with cancer, I was impressed, I guess. I can’t really remember. Then he got divorced from the woman who had stuck with him through his cancer recovery. I was less than impressed. The rest of Lance Armstrong’s career barely registered in my consciousness.

But then a few years ago, I read something about Greg LeMond being one of the leading voices accusing Armstrong of doping. I, like most people, had hoped over the years that the rumors surrounding Armstrong weren’t true. But if LeMond was saying it…the smoke preceding the fire was visible to me.

I started paying just a little bit more attention and was horrified to see what Lance Armstrong and his handlers did to Greg LeMond. They trashed him. They cost him a multi-million dollar deal with Trek bicycles. They tried to destroy his reputation. In some cases, they succeeded.

Fast forward to last night. Now we, the general public, are supposed to forgive a man seeking redemption for decades worth of lies. But the word “lies” doesn’t begin to cover it. He tried to destroy anyone who ever accused him of, what it turned out, he was doing all along.

So forgive me if I am a little slow in saying forgive and forget to Mr. Armstrong. Forgive me if I hope that every lawsuit that is now waiting in the wings for him is successful. It’s not that I believe he is unworthy of forgiveness. I simply believe he ought to experience what he has put so many others through in years past. Specifically, the one cyclist I ever cared about, Greg LeMond.

Book Update

In other news, I received the book packaging form from my publisher last night and learned some of the details I had been curious about.

1. My book will be put out under the Bonneville Books imprint of Cedar Fort Inc. That probably means very little to most people, but since signing the contract, I had been curious what little logo would appear at the base of the spine of a book with my name on it.

2. Ever since I finished the manuscript, I had been curious how many pages it would be in a regular print book. Now I know. The Reluctant Blogger will weigh in at roughly 432 pages. Quite the Tolstoy I turned out to be.

3. My book will be ideal for the cost conscious in our tough economic times. Barring any changes, The Reluctant Blogger will ring up at $9.99 retail price. So for anyone I know who is thinking, “Wow, some guy I know wrote a book. I might want to read that. But there is no way I am paying full price for a brand new book just released.” No worries.

As always, keep checking back for more updates and stories regarding The Reluctant Blogger, and invite everyone you know who might be interested to visit this blog or my Facebook author page, Ryan Rapier, Author. You can now also follow me on Twitter at @RyanRapier. Thanks again to everyone for your support.

What’s In A Name

My entire adult life I have wanted to write a book. But the thing about wanting to write a book is that you REALLY have to want to write a book and that was always the thing that stopped me. I enjoyed the idea of being an author, but didn’t have the drive or discipline to make my desire a reality. However, through the years, I have had several ideas that I thought would make a good novel. Looking back, they were all horrible. They included:

-A society where every new human was born as an old person and aged backwards. (I know this idea sucked thanks to the movie Benjamin Button)

-A religious thriller where the anti-Christ came in the form of a woman. (I think this idea may have formed in my mind during the final days of sleeping in a double bed before my wife and I made the marriage-saving decision to switch to a California King.)

There were others, but they were all so bad I’ve chosen to forget them and let them die in their own misery.

Then, about four years ago, I was struck by an idea that wouldn’t go away. I thought about it constantly-and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Not only was the idea good, but the title was completely obvious, The Square Pegs.

I wrote this title down on a piece of paper and kept it visible on my desk at work to provide the inspiration that someday I was going to write this book. And there it sat for over two years.

Then one day, a mid-life crisis hit. I was sitting at my desk asking, “What do I even do?” This question was born out of my inability to satisfy my two boys with an explanation of what my job actually consists of. I was like Billy Crystal in City Slickers when he goes to his son’s career fair.

So, I dusted off my plans and looked at my idea with fresh eyes. I knew instantly it wouldn’t work.

The original idea was writing a book about four Mormon men, all in their mid- to late-thirties, who were, for very different reasons, single. Single in a culture that reveres marriage.

The four men that would be represented were: a widower, a cocky divorcee, a hen-pecked husband separated from his wife following her affair, and a man who had never married. Over time, these four guys had found each other and formed their own little social club that got together at least once a week. They called themselves The Square Pegs (Just in case there is anyone not seeing the connection, they were square pegs that didn’t fit in the round holes of regular Mormon society.) In my grand scheme, the book would have covered such topics as: depression, infidelity (in all forms), the definition of manliness, homosexuality, plural marriage, dating again with children as part of your package deal, death, and whether the Mormon church really could be all things for all people. It was not going to be a conversion story and not all four of the protagonists would come to the same conclusion.

Pretty quickly, I realized my scope was waaaaayyyyyyy too big. So almost immediately, I settled on one of my characters and made him the focal point. I chose the widower.

I’m not sure why. I suppose my best explanation would be the same as Stephen King’s. He once said something to the effect that he wrote about his nightmares. Well, for me, my worst nightmare would be if my wife were to pass away. So I started there and let the book take shape.

Once that decision was made, then I had to decide how to tell the story. I had been keeping up a family blog for a couple of years. Pretty quickly I realized that my subject was going to be heavy and depressing unless I found a way to infuse it with humor. And that was when it hit me: I need to write this book the way I write my blog. But how do I do that?

What if the widower is just not moving beyond the death of his wife? What if the problem has gotten so bad that he’s been forced to see a psychiatrist? Mormons hate the idea of prayer and faith not solving everything. Wouldn’t having to see a psychiatrist make him even more depressed? He’d probably be so bad off, he’d make a horrible patient.

There it is.

My main character, Todd Landry, is so depressed, he’s been forced to seek psychiatric help from a Jewish psychiatrist his bishop referred him to and it’s killing him. He knows he needs the help, but he is so embarrassed at being there that he won’t allow himself to talk to the doctor. So, as a last ditch effort, the psychiatrist requires Todd to write nightly on a private blog that only the doctor and patient can see. Then, each week they will discuss what Todd writes about.

Seemed like a winner to me. So the book became Todd’s blog entries.

With my new setup, some of the issues I’d wanted to address fell by the wayside. Meanwhile, focusing on a widower opened up several new possibilities that hadn’t existed prior. Before long, one of the four characters from the original idea fell by the wayside, but the other two remained. And through it all, I kept the title intact.

Then, when the day came that I finally finished my first draft, I began to let a select few read my work. That ended up being one of the most gut-wrenching experiences of my life. Laying myself out there for criticism, especially since I had ended up putting so much of myself in the main character, was brutal. But mostly the feedback was good. Some changes were needed and were made, but one thing that kept coming up was, “Why do you call it The Square Pegs?” 

Because I was stubborn, I would explain my thought process and usually when I finished, the person I was explaining myself to would look at me skeptically and say something like, “Okay…it’s your book.”

D%@* right it’s my book! And I kept the title all the way through the submission process to different publishers. Finally, that blessed day came and Cedar Fort agreed to publish it. But after I signed the contract, the first communication back was, “The editorial board wasn’t really comfortable with the title. We think we are going to change it. Do you have any suggestions?”

Uh, Yeah…how about The Square Pegs? But in the end, they returned with The Reluctant Blogger, and I have reluctantly accepted that this is a much better title for the book that actually got written.

So there it is. How the book I wanted to write became the book I wrote, and how The Square Pegs became The Reluctant Blogger. And now, come August, we’ll find out what people think of Todd Landry and his blog entries. If you want to sign off now, go for it. Otherwise…

The Plug: If you know someone who may find this story interesting, please invite them to visit this website or to visit my Ryan Rapier, Author page on Facebook. If they become a fan, they will receive notices of blog entries like this one that further describe the process of writing this book and getting published, as well as additional insight into what the book is all about. Thanks again for everyone’s support. 

Look for The Reluctant Blogger, Coming August 2013, from Cedar Fort Inc. 

Trying to Answer Why The Blogger is Reluctant

Wow! I am humbled by the response I have had since Tuesday when I announced to the world that I think I’m a writer. I truly appreciate everyone who has responded to my Facebook Author page and written words of encouragement.

Since that time, I have fielded two questions probably more than any other. One, what is it about, and two, is it any good. Let me quickly address the latter. I’m not sure I am the best person to ask. Not that I’m unfamiliar with the book, but rather because…

I honestly don’t know.

I mean, the natural human being who has been working on this project for over a year and a half wants to scream, “Of course it’s good. It’s better than good. It’s amazing.  Best book written in decades.” Because I learned that if you are ever going to have the hutzpah to actually finish a book, you really have to believe you’ve built a better mouse trap.

On the flip side, nobody is a harsher critic of my work than me. (I am sure this statement will quickly be outdated once the Amazon reviewers get a hold of it. I guess that’s assuming any Amazon reviewers ever read it.) So when I go back and read what I’ve written, I often shudder in horror at the absolute atrocity of words I somehow thought looked good together on the same page.

So, to help give people a more balanced (and less schizophrenic) idea of the book’s merit, I will try and get one or two of the people I had assist me in editing to give an honest critique. (Unless they hate it, in which case they are banned from the blog and heretofore dead to me.)

As far as what the book is about…I have to admit that’s almost as difficult to answer as the other question.

The problem is, people legitimately want to know, but they really are looking for an extremely abridged answer, and I don’t know how to give them one.

So, I’m going to end up leaving that job to the publisher and their blurb writers. They have to be able to do a better job than I’ve been doing. What I am going to do, is tell some stories about how the book came to be and try to help people get a sense of the book without giving too much of the plot away. There is nothing I hate worse than picking up a book and reading the dust jacket, thinking it sounds like a great book, only to discover that the dust jacket told me the whole story. It’s infuriating.

So if you are one of those who would prefer to just hear the blurb…you are free to go. On your way out, let me throw the small print at you one more time.

This book is amazing. Please tell all your friends about it and have them visit and “like” my Facebook Author page. Look for it coming in August 2013. The Reluctant Blogger. Yada yada yada, please buy it.

There, everybody good? Fair warning, if you stick around, you are likely to suffer through the small print one more time. But I mean, come on, you had to know that was part of the deal, right?

Anyway.

Since I have already taken so much time setting this up, I will start today with a tease and then finish the story on Monday. For making everyone who hung around wait, I will promise not to mention the small print until the end of Monday’s post. Deal? Cool!

The tease is this: the book I wrote and the book I set out to write ended up being two entirely different things. I’ve been told you are supposed to start with an outline and chart your book chapter by chapter before you ever start writing so that you don’t screw it up too terribly bad…Yeah, I didn’t do that.

So on Monday, I will share the title I used originally and why, by the end of the project, I was the only one among my peeps who thought it still fit.

Once again, thank you all so very much. A person’s dreams rarely come true without the help of others. (And thus concludes the Walt Disney portion of the post.)