Parting Shots: Part Three of a Conversation with Author, Jennifer Griffith

Two weeks ago, I posted the first portion of an on-going conversation between myself and Jennifer Griffith, author of BIG IN JAPAN, and one of the few people I entrusted my early manuscript to of THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER.  Part one of our conversation can be found here, while part two can be found here. Below is the third and final part of our conversation.

After asking about her novel, I took the opportunity to finish our conversation by asking Jennifer the following question:

RR:  “Now, I’m curious, what were some of your initial reactions when you started reading THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER? I’m tempted to clarify the question further, but I think I would prefer the answer I will get if I leave it fairly open.”

JG: “When I first started reading it, the very first chapter, I thought, man, this guy can write. It was a breath of fresh air for me. As we got a little farther into the story, I thought Todd, your main character, was a sad case, and I worried that the story might end up being sadder than the kind of stories I usually read (although I do like a good Nicholas Sparks novel from time to time). But about five pages in, I started to recognize (and get!) the sense of humor that pervades the novel. From that moment on, I was in it for the whole ride.

 
One thing that I love about this book is how quickly (like, by page three) I cared about the characters in the book. From chapter one, I wanted to see this man triumph, I ached for his tragedy, I longed for his relief. It is the test of a true writer whether he/she can get the reader to care about a character, and I definitely connected with Todd from the start. And what a good, good journey you took him (and thereby, us, as readers) on!
 
As I read it, I was discussing it with our friend Aimee. She and I kept saying how this story will appeal to women since they love all the talkiness of this style of writing and the relationships that are the core of the story, but it will appeal to men as well because of the real man that Todd is. It’s got broad appeal. I am sure it will find a good readership. I’d recommend it to any of my reading friends. (Almost. There are some who only like Wimpy Kid books.)
 
I need to add one more thing, my other impression of the novel is that it is a story that is very timely. It touches on issues that members of the church deal with all the time and that have in the past been avoided in public discourse. Recently, these issues have been discussed more openly, and I think this book is hitting the shelves at just the exact moment, and I see it helping a lot of people come to grips with realities they never thought they’d have to face in their family relationships. I see it as a healing book.
 
And here’s my final question to you: Where do you expect to see THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER received the best? By that I mean, who do you think is the book’s best audience? (And for the record, I do see it having broad, broad appeal.)”
RR: “I think my strength lies with women over 50 who were avid watchers of DALLAS and THE LOVE BOAT in the late 70s/early 80s. I mean if someone liked JR Ewing back in the day, this is definitely the book for them.
Seriously,I have to admit I don’t know. I think that is one of the problems a person can run into when they just sit down and start writing without knowing their genre, their target audience or even where the story is going to end up. It may end up being the book you wanted to write, but when it comes to the business/marketing side of publishing, things can get tricky.
I think Generation Xers, male or female, will relate best to the story because that’s my generation and I write like an Xer. If you buy into stereotypes, my book would probably attract females more than males, but the men who have read it have made comments like, “I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up reading the dust jacket, but it ended up being much different than I thought it would be, in a good way.”
So again, I don’t know. I think most anybody who gives it a chance will enjoy it. I’m sure there are exceptions, but that will always be the case. My hope is simply that whoever picks it up finds themselves invested in Todd Landry and the people who surround him. And when it’s over, each reader is a little sad, because they feel as if they have to say goodbye to new friends. If I accomplish that, I will have succeeded.”
I would like to thank Jennifer Griffith for her time and willingness to take part in this exercise. For me, it has been a lot of fun to learn about her motivations and experiences in writing BIG IN JAPAN, and I have also enjoyed getting a chance to reflect on my experiences writing THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER. If anyone reading this has any questions for either Jennifer or myself (not that I expect any), please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post or on the Facebook link that likely brought you here.
BIG IN JAPAN, from Jolly Fish Press is available at most bookstores and is available on-line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. 
THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER arrives in August, 2013. For more information on its release, go to facebook.com/ryanrapierauthor and click “like” for updates and additional postings. Ryan can also be followed on Twitter at @RyanRapier.

Excuse Me, Sir, Can You Spare Your Name?

First of all, great game last night. I was hoping that the Forty-niners would pull it out, but…I really didn’t care that much. My team lost three weeks ago and I was mainly watching for the commercials.

Speaking of commercials. Living where I do, the God Made a Farmer ad was my favorite. Not funny, but made me proud to be the product of rural America.

Other favorites:  Joe Montana stain, Leon Sandcastle, Stevie Wonder and the voodoo dolls, and…ah, we’ll leave it with those three because what I really want to comment on is:

The Three Worst Ads of the Night.

1. Who on earth thought any of us would want to see a supermodel make out with THAT guy. He looked like Pat from the old SNL skits. Furthermore, who took that thought and said, “You know what would make this whole idea better? Extending the kiss and amping up the sound effects. Yeah, let’s do that.” Now I will grant you that they are getting a lot of buzz today, and maybe that was their goal, but I will tell you this. We have a new Carl’s Jr. opening here in the little town where I live. And I will not be going. EVER!!! And the reason I won’t be going is because I boycotted them long ago when they came up with the idea of showcasing the sound of people chewing their food. That is the most disgusting thing in the world and they think it will make me want to buy a hamburger? It makes me want to vomit. So, no Carl’s Jr. for me, thanks. And you can add GoDaddy.com to that list after last night. (Okay, they were probably already on the list, but they definitely moved up to the second position after last night.)

2. I know a good idea for an ad. Let’s make a beer that is bottled all in black and we will have a bunch of people dressed in black dancing with gold highlights on their faces and skin so that they look like rejects from the Capitol as described in The Hunger Games. Definitely a can’t miss.

3. Did anyone tell Calvin Klein that 1) This is a sporting event, therefore the audience will be made up of at least 50% men, and 2) umm, dude, kids in the audience?  I was watching with my 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. Thanks, Calvin. You definitely provided me the most exercise I got during the evening as I scrambled to grab the remote and change the channel. Not that I wouldn’t mind looking that good in my underwear, but still.

Now to the main topic of the day. Endorsements.

I hate asking people for help. It’s almost a disease for me. What is even worse is asking someone for help that I don’t know.

Now, just the other day, I was informed by my publisher that at this point in my book’s young life, I needed to get out of my comfort zone and ask anyone with notoriety that I might know to read my book and provide an endorsement. I felt a little sick. The problem is, I live in a small town and I don’t know very many people with notoriety. In fact, almost none.

Now, I do know Stephanie Meyer. She and her husband lived in the same ward we did back in our Arizona State days. She even threw my oldest daughter’s baby shower when she served in a Relief Society presidency with my wife. The problem is, that was almost fourteen years ago and we haven’t exactly kept in touch. So, I would feel a little awkward about calling her up and saying, “Hey, remember me? I know it’s been fourteen years and all, and you went on to massive wealth and popularity while I…not so much. But see I have a book coming out and…well, hey, you up for giving it a once over?” Something about that just feels wrong.  But I probably could have pulled that off were it not for the second problem. I don’t know how to contact her. In fact, that’s likely a much bigger problem than the first one.

So, that left me with a couple of options that I have taken advantage of, but still not many. So I did what any little brother does and ran to my big brother for help.

Jerry Rapier runs Plan B Theatre company in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is well known and well connected among the Utah arts community. The awards and accolades he and his projects have racked up over the years are quite extensive and could command their own blog entry themselves. My salesman of the month award from Countrywide Home Loans just prior to the housing crash pales mightily in comparison.

I felt silly having to reach out to my brother for help, but I didn’t see many other options. Thankfully, he was more than willing to help and immediately sent my book to Eric Samuelsen, playwright, retired BYU professor and former president of The Association of Mormon Letters, an organization dedicated to the production and study of Mormon literature and its enjoyment by all. I didn’t come up with that last sentence, it’s on their website.

Needless to say, I was thrilled Eric Samuelsen would even be willing to take a look at my book. My greatest hope was that he wouldn’t hate it. Three days later, I received the following endorsement:

“So you need a book cover blurb? Tell me how this one works:

“Man, I liked this book. Warm and human and real. A novel about growth and loss and pain, about Mormonism and judgement and forgiveness, about recovery and redemption. I read it in one afternoon, just couldn’t put it down. A winner.”

That’s my honest response. Really really liked it.”

I’ve never been so shocked in my whole life. When I had started writing THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, my greatest hope was that it wouldn’t suck. And now, THIS??? I have to admit, I cried a little. (To be fair, Jerry said he liked it, too. But he’s my brother. He has to say that.)

And so, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you. I don’t know if either one of them will read this, but I wish to express a massively huge thank you to Jerry Rapier and Eric Samuelsen. Your willingness to help me is immeasurable and something I doubt I will ever be able to repay. And since Jerry is continuing to hook me up, additional thanks are directed your way.

I have to admit, I’m now getting a tad excited for August.

THE RELUCTANT BLOGGER, by Ryan Rapier, arrives in August 2013 from Cedar Fort Publishing.

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.

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. 

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.