Friday, December 30, 2016

Interview with W.T. Fallon, FAIL TO THE CHIEF

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
My latest book is Fail to the Chief, a parody of presidential proportions. In it, I imagined the presidential election as a reality show called American President—every week, candidates have to perform challenges selected by the audience, then the person with the least votes is eliminated.

I wanted the challenges to be things that I'd always wanted to see in a real election. The first challenge is working a real job—all the candidates have to go out and work at a real job, with no aides around to make sure they say the right thing and look good. Each candidate gets a different job, voted on by the audience, based on his or her previous experience or campaign promises. So there's a scene where this governor who opposes raising the minimum wage has to go work at a fast food restaurant, where obviously his coworkers aren't his biggest fans. As he's trying to work the cash register, he also has to deal with customers who have their own issues with him.

Other challenges include a debate where all the contestants are hooked up to polygraph machines—something I've always wanted to see, even though it'll never happen in real life—and a sort of reverse drinking game where you take a shot every time someone says something trite and overused—only the candidates are the ones who have to take a drink. I always wanted to see a debate where all the candidates are drunk.

Do you have a favorite character?
Probably  Bryan Seafoam, the host of American President. The story is told from his point of view, so we get to see all the candidates and their antics through his eyes. Bryan has his own subplots—he wants to be a serious reporter, but his producer pressures him not to be too hard on the candidates, to leave that up to the audience on social media. Later in the story, he uncovers a cheating scandal and has to make some difficult decisions. There are some surprise twists at the end.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
Years ago, with my probably-needed-some-work first effort at a novel, yes, I tried querying agents. What a waste of time that was. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't wasted so much time on that. It really was a big time suck. I spent hours reading about how to write an effective query letter, rewriting mine a million times, and it was just an ROI of ZERO.

When I finally gave up on that, it was around the time that self-publishing on Amazon was getting big. So I became very interested in self-publishing. I had heard that a few people were actually making good money with their self-published novels, although a lot of people don't. I decided I was going to finish my next book and put it on Amazon myself, and the hell with agents and publishers. That was in 2012, I think, around the time the Kindle Fire came out.

So that year I started a Nanowrimo novel with the idea of finishing it in November, and I did—November of 2014. (Hey, they never said it had to be November of the same year, right?) By then the self-publishing field had expanded exponentially. I think the Kindle Fire's success helped make ebooks more popular, but besides that, everybody and their dog decided to publish a book on Amazon. Unfortunately, that made the market really cluttered, which is still true today. There are some great self-published novels out there, but there's also a lot of stuff that really needs an editor. It's very hard to get noticed with so many books of varying quality out there.

How long before you got your offer of representation/your first contract? Was it for your first novel?
So after I finally finished that Nano novel in 2014, I was still really into the idea of publishing myself on Amazon. But, like I said, there are a lot of challenges to overcome. You can either figure out how to design your own cover, or pay someone to do it. I didn't have any money, so I figured I'd just design my own or use one of those free covers Amazon offers to authors. (That was a seriously bad idea, and I don't recommend anyone do that.) As far as editing, I figured I'd do it myself and hope I didn't miss anything.

But even if you do a great job of designing a cover and editing your book, it's still difficult to get anyone to even see it, especially if you don't have a marketing budget. So I ended up talking to a small press, Oghma Creative Media.

Initially, I found it hard to let go of the idea of self-publishing. I'd gotten really attracted to the idea of doing everything myself and having control of everything. I probably found self-publishing so appealing because I'm a little bit of a control freak. However, after thinking about it, I realized it would be nice to have help with things like editing and cover design, so I agreed to let them publish that novel.

What factors influenced your decision to go with a particular agent or publisher?
I liked that Oghma wanted its authors to be involved in the whole creative process, from editing to cover design.

If you used a graphic designer/publisher’s designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I was very involved with the cover, which was designed by Richard Howk at Oghma Creative Media. I told him it was very important to have some of the candidates on the cover, and I also wanted the host, Bryan Seafoam, sort of sitting off to the side doing the facepalm. I really like how it turned out. It really shows what the book is about.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
Yes, I belong to a couple critique groups, and they have helped me improve my writing a lot. For a long time I thought, I'll wait until I improve my writing, I don't want to read them something awful. Eventually it occurred to me my writing might improve a lot faster if I got some feedback on it, so I went, and I wish I had done it sooner.

What is your writing process? Do you listen to music or do you like silence?
Usually I listen to music, but I try to write whenever I have time. Thanksgiving Day, I was in the longest line EVER at JCPenney waiting to buy something in their sale, and I was so bored. So then I remembered I was trying to do Nanowrimo again, so I got out my phone and wrote a whole page while I was standing there in that never-moving line. No, I didn't win Nano this year, but I did get some writing done.

Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
I'm a pantser. I can't outline. If I had to know everything that was going to happen in my story before I started, I would never start. I just figure it out as I go along.
I had no idea where I was going with Fail to the Chief. In fact, when I started writing it I really only planned on it being a short story. That's actually a good example of one way my critique group helped me—I read them the first five pages of what would become Fail to the Chief, which I hadn't yet figured out how to finish. I was hoping someone would suggest something funny that would help me think of an ending.

Then someone said, “This should be a book,” and I was like, “I don't think there's enough here for a book.” But everyone else said, “It should be a book,” and it's rare for everyone in the group to agree about any one thing. Usually you get a wide variety of opinions, and that's good, but this time it was unanimous.

So I said I'd think about it, and I did, and the funniest thing happened. Once I stopped thinking of it as a short story, I realized I had more than enough material for a book. In fact, I ultimately figured out why I couldn't finish it—there was too much story for a twenty-page resolution. I would have no problem finishing it as a book.

Of course, it probably would have taken me months, and I'd probably still be writing it if I hadn't lost my job the next month. So there I was, a two-time college graduate who had finally gotten a job that paid like I was a college graduate and not a kindergarten dropout, after years of being a college-educated cashier, and six months later I got fired. (My former employer claimed they were going in another direction, and technically that was true. That direction was replacing me with a couple of interns at a much lower rate of pay.) Then I got denied unemployment because my former employer lied and said I was fired for cause after telling me I did nothing wrong. I was angry, depressed, and humiliated. I had spent so much time, working two jobs to pay for college, just so one day I could make more than minimum wage, only to spend years working in retail for little more, then the minute I got a decent job, it got taken away.

So I said, “Screw it, I'm going to finish my book.” And the next scene I wrote was the one with the governor in the fast food restaurant. In it, he meets a manager at the restaurant who's working three jobs just to make ends meet, despite having gone into debt to earn a college degree. The governor declares that he's obviously solved the state's unemployment problem if someone can find not one but THREE jobs, showing just how out of touch he is. It's a funny scene, and it got a lot of laughs at my critique group, but it also has a serious message: A lot of people struggle to pay for college, only to end up working for minimum wage. The fast food manager's explanation of his problems was a good way for me to work out my anger and frustration with my own life, while hopefully making people think. That's one of the reasons I write: To make people think.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
It is difficult, because I do spend a lot of time looking for opportunities to do interviews, write guest posts, and appear on podcasts. But it's also important, because again, it's very difficult to get your book noticed when there are so many books out there.

What’s next for you?
I'm working on my next book, The Trust Pill, which will probably be published in 2018. It's a comical look at the pharmaceutical industry in the not-so-distant future. If you've ever seen a commercial for some sort of medication, and the list of side effects was so long and so much worse than whatever it was for, you have some idea of what the book is about.

Book Blurb
After years of emceeing insipid singing competitions, TV personality Bryan Seafoam can't wait to host "American President," the world's first reality show to elect a president of the United States. Finally, an opportunity to be a real journalist, digging up dirt and playing hardball with the top ten candidates.

But it doesn't take long for the contestants to start slinging mud at Bryan - literally, when billionaire candidate Ronald Chump is challenged to dig his proposed moat along the Mexican-American border himself. Forced to work in a fast food restaurant, an anti-minimum-wage-hike candidate learns his coworkers are struggling to survive with multiple jobs and claims to have solved the unemployment problem in his state-leaving Bryan to duck ketchup bombs from customers. To make matters worse, Bryan's producer pressures him to be nicer to the candidates, and his former crush, now an experienced political correspondent, shows up-and shows him up at every turn.

When a cheating scandal rocks the show, Bryan begins to suspect it's just the tip of a very underhanded iceberg. Will trying to expose a plot to wreck the most hysterical, er, historic election in history cost Bryan his career-and his personal life?

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Author Bio:
W. T. Fallon believes if you can’t say something nice, you should say something funny and totally true. She has few marketable skills, but is highly talented in the areas of sarcasm, satire, and snark. For the past several years, she has written for the local Gridiron Show, and this year she started a blog called Sharable Sarcasm. The 2016 election provided so many opportunities for humor that she decided to write her first novel, a political satire called Fail to the Chief, which will be released in September. She was recently published on The Satirist, and has been writing for Humor Outcasts since September of 2016.

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