Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Interview with Michael Snyder, author of My Name Is Russell Fink

Today, I welcome Michael Snyder as my Authors-Helping-Writers featured guest. Michael’s debut novel, My Name Is Russell Fink, was released this past February and his next book, Return Policy, will be on the shelves this coming December.

Q: Tell us something about yourself. Do you have any hobbies, Michael?

Michael: I suppose writing is still my number one hobby. I used to be a musician, so I do try to knock the rust off of fingers when I can. In the years to come however, I have a sneaking suspicion that my hobbies will morph into whatever interests my four children. (Hopefully, I’ll have at least one basketball player in the bunch!)

Q: I find the titles of your books very intriguing. They don’t give away the genre, though, tell us what category they would fall into?

Michael: My genre is hard to pin down. I suppose my first novel could be classified as a romantic comedy. However, even though I do place a rather high premium on humor, my goal is to write good stories peopled with authentic characters. The humor should serve the story.

Q: Will you tell us about the “acceptance call” experience?

Michael: My agent called on my eldest son’s birthday. We were piled into the minivan, driving home from somewhere when he shared the very good, yet very humbling news that Zondervan wanted to buy my book. Two of them, in fact. That was in October of 2006. The overall feeling was simply gratitude…and maybe a wee bit of trepidation about all the work I knew was coming!

Q: What inspired you to take up fiction writing? Or, who inspired you and what did they say or do to help you get started?

Michael: I’ve always been compelled to create. So one day I turned to my lovely wife and said I might be interested in trying to write a novel. She enthusiastically encouraged me to give it a try. Not long after I was hanging with a friend of mine from church and learned that he’d written several novels. That’s really when the light went on and I realized that novel-writing isn’t just for ‘other people’, that you didn’t have to be special to write novels. The key ingredient is desire…and hopefully a little talent too. By the way, that friend from church is a new Bethany House author named Don Hoesel.

As far as inspiration, I love to read amazing authors. It gives me something to aim for and keeps me way, way humble.

Q: Amazing authors? Is that a group of authors?

Michael: Nah, I'm afraid my reference to “amazing” writers was a subjective one. That’s such a personal thing. [Simply read the absolute best writers you can.] But I realize that a) we'll never have a consensus on just who those are (a good thing), and b) that my tastes are mine alone (another good thing!) I'm not looking to make converts!

But I can say that “reading over my head” is not only great for drawing inspiration, but to also keep us all humble. We all have our own unique callings. And I have to remind myself that my obligation is to write the stories rattling around in my brain and not worry so much about what I can't do!

Q: How long did you concentrate on learning the craft of fiction writing before you received your initial offer?

Michael: The timeline is a bit fuzzy for me. (My memory stinks!) I do know that in the first 18 months I read over 30 books on the craft of writing. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize now that writing my first novel (that will NEVER be published!) was my version of a college degree in novel-writing.

As far as the actual writing goes, I prescribe the following: 1) Read a ton, 2) Write as much as you can, 3) Study books on craft.

Publication? 1) Repeat steps 1-3 above…ad nauseam, 2) Go to writer’s conferences, 3) Be courteous AND teachable, 4) Pray a lot…and not just for success as you define it. God knows what He’s doing.

Q: Will you tell us about your rejection experiences?

Michael: Along the way, I really did mean to keep all my rejections as souvenirs (so I could more accurately answer questions such as this!). Suffice to say I was rejected plenty. Some houses rejected me twice for the same manuscript (in case I didn’t get the message the first time). And yes, Russell Fink was rejected by several publishers as well. We all pay lip service to the notion that we’ll have to endure rejection along the way. Thankfully, I was able to laugh it off most of the time. It’s inevitable. The trick is to make it work for you.

Q: So what did you do to handle writer frustrations in those years before publication?

Michael: The best antidote to writing-related frustration is more writing. I really believe that. Obviously, getting a publishing deal was a goal of mine. But I can honestly say I’d rather write well than write for publication. The mindset that carried me through the ‘lean years’ went something like this: I’m absolutely certain that if I work hard enough I’ll get a publishing deal. And I’m every bit as certain (if not more) that no matter how hard I work at all this, that I will never, ever get published. Sounds like an odd contradiction, no? But God is in control and I’m not. My responsibility is to the work. Somehow those conflicting mantras kept me from thinking about the ‘getting a contract’ part too much. Publication is wonderful, no doubt. But it’s not the point.

Q: How many novels did you have completed before your first sale? Do you hope to have most of them published some day?

Michael: My first (unpublished) novel has few bright spots, but mostly it’s lame! I finished that one, then started three others before having an epiphany—Only write what you love!

I was never a slave to writing for markets or trying to please people. But I have to admit there was enough of that residue to keep me from simply writing exactly what I wanted to write for a while.

As to the abandoned novels…I’ve kept a few of the ideas in a file. But I doubt I’ll ever revisit the actual prose.

Q: What’s a typical writing day for you?

Michael: My writing day is a bit odd, and a tribute to my wonderfully supportive family. God comes first, then family and friends, then the day job. Obviously, that doesn’t leave a lot of ‘free time’. So when I get home from work, it’s totally family/dinner time. Then I try to engage with the kids till their bedtime. When they bed down for the night I usually take a 30-minute nap. Then it’s mommy and daddy time, which typically includes, caffeine and cereal for me, then maybe some bill paying or Seinfeld reruns. I write from 9:30 until my eyelids give out.

Now that’s dedication.

Q: As a fairly new author, how important do you feel agent representation is in this industry for first sales?

Michael: I would never suggest that everyone needs an agent. But I sure do! There’s just too many details and negotiations and such for me to deal with. And the more time one spends doing those things, the less time one has for family and writing and nurturing creativity. Agented or not, I would still strongly encourage writers to get to conferences and make their own face-to-face connections with editors. That’s vital, in my opinion. But regardless of who actually sells your book (the author or the agent), a good agent can and will make your life SO much easier.

Q: Michael, thanks so much for sharing such great advice and your road-to-publication journey with us. Before we get a look at your newest novel, I have one last question for you, any final words for weary authors-in-training?

Michael: Read a lot. Write a lot. Help other people when you can. And by all means…have fun! If you don’t love the process of writing before you sign a contract, your un-fun-ness will only multiply after the ink is dry.

And thank you, Eileen for letting me play along.

To learn more about Michael and keep in touch, you can stop by his website. Now, for a look at Michael Snyder’s debut novels:

Title: My Name Is Russell Fink
Genre: Contemporary, General Fiction
Available where books are sold since February, 2008

Back cover:
Russell Fink is twenty-six years old and determined to salvage a job he hates so he can finally move out of his parents house for good. He's convinced he gave his twin sister cancer when they were nine years old. And his crazy fiancé refuses to accept the fact that their engagement really is over.

Then Sonny, his allegedly clairvoyant basset hound, is found murdered.

The ensuing amateur investigation forces Russell to confront several things at once-the enormity of his family's dysfunction, the guy stalking his family, and his long-buried feelings for a most peculiar love interest.

At its heart, My Name Is Russell Fink is a comedy, with sharp dialogue, characters steeped in authenticity, romance, suspense, and fresh humor. With a postmodern style similar to Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland, the author explores reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith in the midst of tragedy. No amount of neurosis or dysfunction can derail God's redemptive purposes.

Title: Return Policy
Genre: Contemporary, General Fiction
Available everywhere in December, 2008

Back cover:
In his second book, novelist Michael Snyder introduces us to three very unusual and distinct voices all torn by tragedy:

Willy Finneran, washed-up genre novelist with an espresso maker that just won’t die and a habit of avoiding conflict even if it means putting the truth on a sliding scale.

Ozena Webb, Javatek’s top customer service representative and single mother. She spends every evening playing board games with her twelve-year-old son who is mentally crippled from an early childhood accident.

Shaq, a small and scraggy homeless man with trauma-induced blank spots on his memory, trying to piece together the story of his life while assisting Father Joe at the Mercy Mission.

As their stories intersect, the narrative vacillates between hope and naïveté, comic relief and postmodern ennui. Startling in its authenticity, this unforgettable novel reveals that no matter how far one has strayed from hope, there is always a way to return.

Giveaway Info:

I’m hosting a giveaway of a signed copy of Michael Snyder’s My Name Is Russell Fink. Drop a pertinent line with contact information in the comment section of this post before 9:00 pm. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 21/08 and you could be the lucky winner!

I’ll notify the winner early on Thursday, May 22/08.

May 22/08: dolls123 [@] gmail [.] com was the lucky winner. Congratulations!


stampedwithgrace said...

I love to laugh, so I would enjoy reading your book :)
That's great that you enjoy spending so much time with your family! what a blessing

Lori said...

I'v been wanting to read this novel since it came out. :) And now I have a second one to look forward to! Mike, I've enjoyed your past posts on the Master's Artist blog. Keep writing.

P.S. I love the way you've prioritized. It's encouraging to see that with discipline, someone can put God and family first and still write with dedication and excellence. It's something I'd like to work on. :) So, thanks for the encouragement!

P.P.S. Sign me up for the drawing! aaronandlori (at) gmail (dot) com

carla stewart said...

Thanks for the great interview, Eileen. And Michael, your honest sharing gives us all hope!
Please enter me in the drawing.
carla (dot) stewart (at) sbcglobal (dot) net.

Charlotte Schofield said...

It's really neat reading your trials in getting published. It's one of thoes things, as someone who wants to get published eventually, it's good to read about others. I'd love to read this book. please enter me in the drawing.


ChristyJan said...

What an interesting interview. My Name Is Russell Fink sounds like a great read.

windycindy said...

Happy Friday! I like his priorities! His book has a wonderful cover. The Bassett hound's eyes and the name of the character/book title is unusual makes a small hint of quirkiness in the book! I enjoy reading romantic, suspense books with comedy intermingled! Please enter me in your delightful book drawing. Thanks for a fun interview and the book review.

michael snyder said...

Hey guys...thanks for all the great feedback and attaboys! And thanks again to Eileen for letting me come over and play.

(By the way...don't put me in for the drawing...I've seen enough of Fink for a while!)


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Michael, are you very sure you couldn't use another autographed copy of YOUR own book? I'm tempted to put you in the drawing...your wife might enjoy it as a gift.

If I should ever get published, my wonderful hubby will certainly be receiving one from me with a huge note of gratitude for all he's put up with through these learning-to-write years. Oh, wait, those years never really end, do they!

Jillian said...

Thanks for the great interview! It sounds like both of these novels would be a great read! I can't wait until the day I have more time for reading...that means when my 1 year old learns that it really is okay to sleep! LOL


dolls123 said...

I'd love to read this book


luv2read said...

This sounds like a good book it makes me want to read just because a cute dog is on the front. I have just discovered this blog page and really like the vocabulary word article you do each week. spowell01(at)bellsouth(dot)net

Pink Heather said...

Thanx for sending me over here, Jillian. This sounds like a fun read! If I don't win a copy I'll be looking for it in the bookstore.
hopkinsh (at) shaw (dot) ca

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Congratulations to dolls123 [@] gmail [dot] com!

You're the lucky winner of Michael Snyder's My Name Is Russell Fink.