My most recent book, out this past March, is Dr. Hackenbush Gets a Job about the hardest working lounge singer working as a temp secretary in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It has been called a hard-boiled, political screwball comedy. My upcoming book in November is “Electricland,” which is a political satire set in 2008, also in Los Angeles (hey, they say write what you know [poor LA]), but also briefly in other parts of the world.
Tell us something about yourself.
For thirty years my focus was music. I sang, studied music and later trained to be a composer and conductor at the Grove School in the mid 1980s. I wrote lots of chamber music and had a few good concerts. Around 1998, after a few years in Central Europe and Kazakhstan, I finally came back to LA and realized I’d run out of things to say as a composer. But thank God for the internet: I found a sympathetic writing community online and began to write, get critiques, and write more and better works. Several of the internet friends have become friends off-line as well and we all still encourage each other as writers.
What inspired you to write this book?
Music and Reaganomics for Hackenbush. Iraq, Chechnya, and the Bush junta’s war-n-terror machine for Electriland.
How did you publish this book? Why did you decide to self-publish?
Well, if you look at the back of “Dr. Hackenbush Gets a Job” there are quotes from publishers who really liked the book, but had to turn it down for marketing reasons. Yeah, well, my agent and I finally just gave up. But that’s not why I founded the Wapshott Press LLC. I founded it in 2007 to cheer up an internet friend who was going through some tough times. She was unemployed, uninsured, living with her parents, had just gotten out of the hospital with a treatable, but unpleasant diagnosis, and the cherry on top was that when she got home from all that, a publisher who’d accepted her short story was now rejecting it. Well, I couldn’t do anything about her health or finances, but I sure as hell could publish her story. That’s how Wapshott got started, and it keeps going because it’s not just a workable publishing arrangement, it’s a damn good one. Thank God for the internet, print-on-demand publishing/distribution (no waste, no risk), and BAM! Marketing and Promotions, Wapshott is doing quite well with all this, thank you very much. We’ve published half a dozen books (two anthologies, three novels, and one biography) and have three ongoing magazines (that are always looking for submissions). We keep our prices reasonable because what’s the point of publishing books if your friends can’t afford to buy them? We’re slowly getting into eBooks, but I’m conflicted about that because at Wapshott, we go to great lengths to produce good looking books that look good being read, and eBooks don’t have the same pizzazz. Or something. But we are getting into eBooks because we’re realists.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I kind of knew early on, but shied away from it because it seemed too easy. I was a somewhat angsty kid; I didn’t realize that struggle isn’t always noble until later in life. So, in addition to music, wrote prose and poetry into my teens and then decided to completely devote myself to music because, after all the stress, angst and struggle, the emotional rush of singing and performance were so great. I go on and on about it in “Dr. Hackenbush Gets a Job,” if anyone is interested in knowing more about it. Anyway, in my late 30s I segued back into writing and have been very happy. I kind of wish I’d stuck with writing; I’ve gotten more love in literature than I ever did in music. Sort of sad, but there you have it.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Making enough time for it. I have a really good day job and I like to sleep sometimes and see my friends, so hacking out enough time to write is more work than the actual writing. When I’m really hot on a book, I write from 7PM until 1AM as a general rule and catch up on my sleep when, alas, the fever passes. As a general rule I work on books an average of 2-3 hours a day, more on the weekends.
How do you do research for your books?
Living, thinking, visiting, looking, libraries, interviews, internet. Doesn’t everyone?
Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
I learned what I already knew: what great and wonderful friends I have in Lynn Loper, Jane Seaton, and Laurel Sutton because they were totally supportive of my writing, gave me great feedback, editing and proofing; and Robin Austin who designed the website and the cover. There aren’t enough thanks in the world for these fine folks, but I’ll say it anyway: THANKS! Publicity-wise, I learned that the larger review and media sites require four to five months advance notice to review your book. And they won’t usually touch anything that hasn’t already been published, alas. But good to know going forward.
What are you reading now?
“California Crack-up. How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It” by J Mathews and M Paul because I’d like a deeper understanding what’s happened my home State. I’m also reading Father Boyle’s beautiful “Tattoos on the Heart,” which I cannot recommend highly enough. I feel loved and yet am humbled reading it. I can’t think of another book that’s touched me so deeply and done it so genuinely.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I read such a wide range and mix of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, I have no idea where to begin. I’m deeply impressed by the writing of Ishmael Reed, Jon Krakauer, Basho, Paul Krugman, Warren Ellis, Suzanne Lummis, Alan Moore, Molly Ivins, Chester Himes, Louise Hay, Catherine Ponder, Yugi Yamada, Yaya Sakuragi, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Vivekananda, Edna St. Vincent Milay, Chester Himes, Donatella del Bono, Lene Taylor, Colleen Wylie, Kelly S. Taylor, Kathryn L. Ramage, and the list could go on for days. I’m inspired, enraged, engaged, amused, soothed and/or delighted by these authors, and sometimes all at the same time. It’s wonderful.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I’m writing a graphic novel script, but it’s going slowly for reasons mysterious to me. I sit down with it and if I write 500 words, that’s a good day. I don’t know, might be writers’ block or sunspots or something. However, I’m also working on the next issue of Storylandia, editing it actually, which will be Storylandia 2, which is going better than the comic book script. I’ll be putting a Hackenbush novella, “Dr. Hackenbush Gets Nervous,” in it because submissions have been slow and I don’t want to hang the other authors up any longer. “Dr. Hackenbush Gets Nervous” is a mystery, which is a genre I never felt any urge to write, but my agent thought if we could get anything Hackenbush published, we could then more easily get “Dr. Hackenbush Gets a Job” published. As we know, this was not the case, but “Dr. Hackenbush Gets Nervous” is a fine novella, that was expanded to novel length and someday I might publish the two novellas (the other being “Dr. Hackenbush Gets Some Culture”) and their novels in one book (because I can).
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Write the best book in you, then make it a little better. And don’t worry so much about publishing because if you don’t end up with a big publisher, you can always do the print-on-demand thing and then, voilà! You’re published! If the big houses won’t take risks on new writers anymore, then new writers will have to explore other options. It’s not like the big houses do any publicity or promotion anymore, unless it’s for a blockbuster, which probably doesn’t need it. Full disclosure: I’d publish my books with Random House or whatnot in a nanosecond. But it’s nice to know I can be published without them, too.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
This interview, these websites:
and attendant Facebook/Myspace/Twitter/LibraryThing/GoodReads/LinkedIn pages, book giveaways, blogging, and the wonderful folks at BAM! Marketing and Promotions, who are worth every cent I’ve paid them. I’ve learned a lot from all of this, including reading the Selling Books blog, thank you very much.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
http://gingermayerson.com for the whole Ginger Mayerson saga. There are mp3s there so you can set to music, too!
Thank you for the chance to do this interview.