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My (Unpublished!) Interview with Writers Digest

My (Unpublished!) Interview with Writers Digest

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Published by John Shore
An interview I did with Writer's Digest for a special issue of their magazine they killed just before deadline.
An interview I did with Writer's Digest for a special issue of their magazine they killed just before deadline.

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Published by: John Shore on Feb 20, 2010
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07/22/2011

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My (Unpublished!) Interview with Writer’s Digest
About three months after my book
came out,
Writer’s Digest 
magazine contacted me for aninterview. By way of planning for a special “Spirituality” issue of themagazine, they had asked their readers to recommend a book on thetopic. A lot of people apparently named
Penguins,
and that’s why theycontacted me.They interviewed me via email. The interview was never published,because at the last minute
Writer’s Digest 
decided to kill its special “Spirituality” issue. But here’s that interview as it
almost 
appeared in
WD:
Q:
Your first book,
was a guide to punctuation. Howdid you make the leap from punctuation to spiritual writing?
A:
Well, the key to a successful writing career is to build your ownniche audience, right? And one day it came to me: Pastors whopunctuate! Who’s writing for the comma-loving clergy? So at first Iwrote a single book, all about God and punctuation—but somewhere inthere (between the chapters “Paul: Could He Use Any More Commas?” and “The Apostrophe Apostasy”) I realized that what I had on myhands wasn’t so much a single book as it was a single, deeply stupidbook. So I trashed that effort, started again, and ended up with twobooks so unlike each other that very often, if they’re in the sameroom, one of the two of them will spontaneously combust.
 
Q:
You’re kidding, right?
A:
Yes. Sorry. In actuality, my leap went the other way; I finishedPenguins about three months before starting
Comma Sense.
It’s justthat
Comma Sense
was released first; it came out in August of 2005,and
Penguins
came waddling along about two months later—which, inthe glacial timeframe of book publishing, is, like, four seconds apart.Book-wise, they’re fraternal twins. Which is why they always fight.But, that’s just books. Whaddaya gonna do?
Q.
How is
Penguins
different than other spiritual books out there?
A:
Well, it’s humongously funny, for one. (Um … is there any way tomake something seem
less
funny than to say it’s funny? Is there anyword in the English language more
boring
than “humorist”?) And thebook’s also really quite dramatically short. And (save for theafterword) all of its text, from the cover flap copy to the dedicationand on, is written in the voice of God. And it very directly and verysuccinctly addresses the eight or nine reasons non-Christians typicallygive for why they’d rather have a thistle jammed up their nose thaneven consider becoming Christian. So: short; funny; voice of God;rationally and completely answers the huge, primary objections toChristianity. That’s the book.
Q:
Sound interesting!
A:
Well, I was definitely confident that no publisher would say they’dseen a book like it before.
Q.
What did you learn about the publishing world/spiritual writingmarket in the process of having the book published?
A:
Um … everything, I think.
Penguins
had a long, weirdly intense pathto publication, so just through that process I learned a lot. It was firstrepresented to the CBA (Christian Bookseller’s Association) market bya Christian-market literary agent. He showed it to all the Christianpublishers, who all responded to it in the exact same way: “Fantasticbook! It’s got everything! It’s hilarious! We
love
it! It’s too secular.” Sothen I sent the book to Super Mainstream Market Agent, DeborahSchneider, who, miraculously enough, almost immediately agreed torepresent it. (“I have to,” she said. “My 15-year-old son Charlie lovesit.”) She showed it to her friends who run every publishing company in
 
New York—and they all responded to it in the exact same way: “Fantastic book! It’s got everything! It’s hilarious! We
love
it! It’s tooChristian.” So the first big thing I learned is that publishers of any sortare really disinclined to react favorably to any book that’s unlike all theother books they publish. They want something they can absolutelydepend upon to sell—which means they’re pretty exclusively interestedin things as close as possible to something else they have that’s eversold. It’s kind of a crazy business like that. Publishers are truly stuckbetween “We crave creative, new stuff!” and “Creative, new stuff freaks us out because we don’t know how to market it!” Editors keptloving
Penguins;
their marketing people kept balking at it. What Ilearned is that the book business is all about marketing. And I also, of course, learned that Christian and “mainstream” publishing are entirelyseparate businesses. There’s almost zero relationship between them.Different people, different market, different process.
Q:
What are your writing habits, and where do your ideas come from?
A:
Sadly, the only “habit” I have is avoiding work. Unless I really havework—like, say, a deadline. Then I work like a mule team. Basically,my day goes about like this: Wake up around 4 a.m. Swear to stopdrinking coffee so I can get more sleep. Turn on computer. Makecoffee. Be grateful wife is such a sound sleeper, since I’m crashingaround in kitchen like Frankenstein on Vicodin. Sit at computer. Bebummed that I have no e-mails. Sip coffee. Check to see how
Penguins
is doing on Amazon. Feel either elated or suicidal. Pokearound online version of 
New York Times
online. Feel “Can Write Now” part of brain kick in. Open whatever document I’m currently workingon. Write until wife wakes up at six. Be loving, happy couple until sheleaves for work. Slump into loneliness. Try to work some more. Fail.Take nap. As to where my ideas come from—where do anyone’s ideascome from? You go through life; you process and collect; you sensegaps; something suddenly defines and fills one of those gaps—andbang, there’s your idea. Then you’ve got something new on yourhands. If you’re a writer, then the question is whether or not that ideais new
generally 
, or just to you? If you see it’s a new idea, period,then you just had yourself one good day.
Q:
Why did you write
Penguins
in the voice of God?
A:
To cut out the middleman. There are a zillion books out there bypeople talking about God; I just couldn’t write another one. For aperiod of nearly five hundred years that ended only recently,Christians universally considered Thomas a Kempis’s
The Imitation of 

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Helen Winslow Black added this note
Ya gotta love a writer who is unafraid to say his goal was to one-up Thomas a Kempis!

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