Monday, October 15, 2012

Interview with John Henry Brebbia

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?
Unlike my first novel, which took me 30+ years to write−In The War Zone is not about war or the military. Rather, it is an uncommon contemporary love story. The protagonist−Gibb Quinn−is a former street fighter raised by his single mother in a trashy Las Vegas trailer park. A scholarship to the University of Portland, compliments of the Bishop Gorman High basketball coach, enables Gibb to escape from his gangbanger neighborhood to become a star computer salesman for the Big Byte Corporation in Seattle. His is a quintessential American success story until the company sends him East to rescue a failing retail outlet. Despite his Ralph Lauren wardrobe bought especially for this assignment, Gibb could not be more out of place in Chatham, Connecticut - a tight coastal hamlet full of old fashioned, narrow-minded natives that treat him as a "Vegas hustler." (It’s more a case of Gibb having left Las Vegas, but being perceived as though Las Vegas had never left him.) More interested in his place on the Big Byte leader board than being accepted socially by the natives or the local business types−the “Regulars”−Gibb concentrates on becoming number one in sales in New England. 

All is well until Alicia Farrell, aka the virgin princess, aka the Belle of Chatham Township, and her mink-clad mother−members in good standing of the local aristocracy−visit the Big Bye store to purchase a PC as a Christmas present for the family patriarch, Judge Farrell. Alicia, who is promised to Josh Bingham, Jr., a Yalie member of the other ruling family, has deferred her admission to Yale Law School for a year while working as a paralegal in her Uncle Tom Farrell's law office. The trouble starts when Alicia's weekly visits to the Big Byte for computer software lessons convince the Regulars the Vegas hustler has designs on her. This, in turn, sets the rumor mill on fire. Gibb's protestations that his interest in Alicia is strictly platonic fall on deaf ears. The resulting boycott of the Big Byte store puts Alicia at odds with her family and the townspeople, generally. From there the story proceeds apace to its surprise ending.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
Years ago, with my first novel, APO 123, I went through the process from beginning to end, without success, trying my best to interest agents and publishers from coast to coast. After I had collected a drawer full of rejections, I gave up and for several years relegated the manuscript to my safety deposit box.  At the urging of my friend, mentor and fellow writer’s club member, John Henry Irsfeld, I revisited it and on his recommendation, in 2010, published it with CreateSpace. By that time, Irsfeld, whose first novel Coming Through was published by Putnam, had resorted to CreateSpace to self-publish his latest novel, Night Moves. This despite Irsfeld being a distinguished professor of English and creative writing at UNLV and on a number of occasions having being recognized for his writing talents. Irsfeld’s experience was enough to turn me against wasting time going through the same drill as I had in the past. Incidentally, APO 123, is now in the hands of a Los Angeles TV syndicator whose staff has pronounced it’s content suitable for use in producing a 10-12 week, one hour, TV series. When In The War Zone was finished and ready for publication, I felt satisfied enough with CreateSpace to again publish with them, as opposed to one of the other self-publishing alternatives.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
Yes. I am a founding member of Lefty Salazar & Associates, a Las Vegas writer’s group. One of the other founding members, the above-mentioned Professor John Henry Irsfeld, reviewed the manuscripts of both my novels and offered advice that improved my writing. (The third founding member is Jack E. Sheehan, who has a best seller to his credit.)

What is your writing process?
It’s worth bearing in mind that in college I majored in economics. Never did I take a course in creative writing or read a book on the subject, although while attending Stonehill College I did have the lead in the senior play. While stationed in Verdun, France during the height of the Cold War, acting as an Army prosecutor in a command consisting of 15,000 people, I sent frequent letters to my Judge Advocate General’s Corps classmates and copied my best friend in law school. Mine was such an unconventional experience (akin to a M*A*S*H for lawyers), that I was determined to preserve the stories for my fellow Cold War Warriors, as well as for other friends and family members. 15 years later, while a partner in a “white shoe” corporate law firm, I retrieved the copies of my letters from my best friend, the contents of which, a veritable wealth of material, was the basis for fictional APO 123. The challenge was to work the material into the structure of a novel, about which I knew very little. Before sitting down at my typewriter, I read and reread The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby−Hemingway and Fitzgerald being the two authors whose style of writing I most admired. This was the sum and substance of my preparation. From there, I proceeded in a stream of consciousness manner to compose a 1200 page−two volume manuscript−a story in itself. 25 years later, after rewriting and rewriting and rewriting−along the way revisiting The Sun Also Rises a number of times−my writing style had evolved to its present state. My two biggest problems were (1) training myself how not write like a lawyer, and (2) constantly reminding myself that I was not writing my biography and had license to rework the stories in ways that would be the most entertaining and of the most interest to readers.

My second novel is a work of pure invention, the beginnings and ending of which came to me with relative ease. Once the first draft was finished, the rest was rewriting ad nauseam.

The shorthand version of my writing process as it has evolved over time, is to sit down at my computer with a dictionary and thesaurus at my side and write either what comes into my head or material I have made notes about.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you.
In the case of APO 123, the challenge was dealing with an overabundance of material/individual stories (the original manuscript gave picaresque a bad name), weaving the selected ones together in a coherent story line and in fictional form. In the case of In The War Zone−a work of pure invention−it’s safe to say I just went where the muse took me. In terms of the protagonist’s observations of Las Vegas manners and mores, however, I was able to call upon a wealth of personal experience. Like other writers I have read about, ideas came to me in bed, in the shower, and everywhere in-between. In each case, I hastened to scribble them on notepads for later transmission. On many such occasions, I was accused of being pre-occupied, but loath to admit it.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
My wife, Trish Brebbia, is credited with editing both manuscripts.

What have you’ve learned during your self-publishing journey?
Most of all that, with the kind of fiction I write, it’s all about the story. As far as self-publishing is concerned, I’m sure you know as much about the process as do I. Showing their insularity/smugness/omniscience, it wasn’t until self-publishing (led by much maligned Amazon) evolved into a $billion industry, that the mainstream publishers jumped on the bandwagon. Suffice it to say some 16 of the best selling e-books on Kindle were self-published. What does this tell us about the keen eyes and ears of the major publishers who are trapped below decks on the good ship “blockbuster” while waves are washing over the decks? My wife and editor, who averages about a book a week, finds that these days more often than not books published by the major publishers contain editorial mistakes, detracting from the value of what used to be one of their specialties. Now that the major publishers are hurrying to get to the front of the self-publishing parade, there is hope for all aspiring writers with talent. I count myself among them.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
APO 123  also is available at the CreateSpace e-store and Barnes and Noble and on Nook. In The War Zone is in the process of being converted to .mobi and ePub and will also become available on Nook and possibly Barnes and Noble. Both books are available through Brian Jud’s Premium Book Company book marketing program for non-bookstore retailers. As soon as I have time, I intend to explore the possibilities of making both books available on iPad and other channels. It seems apparent that these channels alone are not sufficient to gain traction in the very competitive book marketplace.

What kinds of marketing [twitter, facebook, blog, forums] are you involved with for promoting your book(s)?
I have a webpage: with a blog, and a facebook page, but haven’t yet figured out how to maximize their utility.

Since last April, I have made author's presentations at The Works independent bookstore in Pacific Grove, CA, the University Club in San Francisco hosted by a member of the board of the San Francisco Literary Society, the public libraries in Provincetown, MA and Chatham, MA and the iconic New England Mobile Book Fair independent bookstore in Newton Highlands, MA.

For the past 2 months, I have been contacting reviewers on The Indie Reviewers List. So far I have had 5 acceptances, plus a review from the Portland Review of Books is in process.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
If you are sure you have the talent and a story worth telling/reading, follow Winston Churchill’s famous admonition: “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!

At the times when I was most discouraged, I would remind myself of how, after John Kennedy O’Toole committed suicide because he could not get A Confederacy of Dunces published, it took his mother 11 years to convince someone that counted (Percy Walker) to read the manuscript and convince a publisher – in this case, the Louisiana State University Press – to publish her son’s satirical masterpiece, publishing phenomenon and ultimate winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. (Oddly enough, during his military service, O’Toole was stationed at the same Army post as my friend John Henry Irsfeld.)

What’s next for you?
My plan is to devote most of my free time to marketing In The War Zone.  In the meantime, my youngest son, Christian Brebbia (Yale, NYU film school), and I and others have formed a movie production company. Once I have gained enough traction from In The War Zone to raise the funds, we will commence principle photography on a feature film entitled Teeth. Christian and I co-authored the screenplay, which is based on a short story of mine.

Teeth is a zany comedy/satire about Hans Potts, a New Jersey orthodontist, and his horse-faced mother, Miriam, two world class bigots who flee from ethnically challenged Camden, New Jersey to Los Angeles seeking peace and contentment. Then from ethnically challenged Los Angeles they set their sights on the old south seeking peace and contentment. En route in their moving van, they become marooned in Gumball, Texas, a tiny town in the Texas Panhandle. Gumball is in a segregationist time warp ruled by an old fashioned, moonshining sheriff and it's all downhill from there. Instead of peace and contentment, the Potts’ manage to incite a war among the KKK, a congregation of black Presbyterians, a moonshining segregationist sheriff, a corporate raiding party headed by a Jewish Napoleon, and the US Treasury Department. So there!

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