Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Bryan Bliss

It's Friday, so time for another Friday Feature. Today, we have the pleasure of an interview and questions and answers from a recently agented Bryan Bliss. I first connected with Bryan while I was cheerleading for his agent search at Verla Kay's blueboards. He made me laugh. So, I followed him over to his blog, and he made me laugh more. Read on. I don't think you'll be disappointed!

Bryan, thanks for doing this interview. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up outside of Chicago until my senior year of high school when I moved to....da-dum-dum!.....North Carolina. I’d never seen a gun rack, eaten a corn nugget, or drank a Sun Drop. But NC is good people, so I stayed in-state and went to college in the mountains, where tried my best to be radical and go to law school, but ended up failing on both counts. After college, I worked as a waiter, a newspaper reporter, a park ranger, a Denim Expert (don’t ask), and somehow managed to convince a number of theological graduate programs that I wasn’t a heathen (little did I know that these liberal schools search out apostates such as myself.) Now I work as a youth pastor, something that I really sometimes have a hard time getting my head around. But at least I get to do it in Oregon with my wife. Wait. That sounded wrong. At least I get to LIVE in Oregon with my wife and kids while being a youth pastor. Phew. (Now you know why my church work makes life interesting....)

Bryan, what are you currently working on?

It seems like I’ve been working on the same book forever. But, honestly, it’s only been about a year. I don’t know if YA is considered a genre or not, but it is young adult fiction. Contemporary, realistic, you’ll-get-no-vampires-here young adult fiction. Basically, it’s about a guy who’s seen too many movies and develops a “John Cusack Philosophy”. It’s got true love, movies quotes, swashbuckling, and ninjas. (Without the swashbuckling).

What made you start to write seriously?

Honestly, I think it started when I was in seminary. I fell in with a group of people who, like me, I think, weren’t sure why they were surrounded by all these people who seemed pre-ordained to look good in robes. Every one of them were creative, funny, and a bit irreverent. I had been writing for some time, but thanks to their help (and a couple of great teachers), I really started to find my voice and gain confidence in my writing.

If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

I like my friend Ray Veen’s blog, He’s funny, almost as good looking as me, and his mom sometimes comments and ruins his street cred. Really, it’s like a party over there. Seriously, Ray’s been a huge help in my writing life and - even though we’ve never, officially met - has become a good friend.

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

I wrote a post a while back about National Poetry Day, and it served as a time machine back to college. I took a poetry class, and while I am an awful poet (Charles Bukowski actually made a trip to NC to slap me around for trying...), the experience wasn’t a total loss. For one, it helped me realize that fiction can be poetic. Second, it helped me discover some great poets. Gary Snyder’s “Poems for Robin” ripped something apart inside me the first time I read them. Even now, I’m trying to right something that connects with such powerful emotion.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Verla Kay’s message board. If you write for children, middle grade, or teenagers you need to check it out. It makes me sing that song from Karate Kid in my head.... “You’re the best one’s ever gonna get you down...You're the best...” Okay, I’ll stop.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Trying to avoid perfection. In my mind, I hear it in all kinds of songs (Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me in Your Hear’), see it in movies (Most recently, “Away We Go”) and obviously in books (like the CESSNAB part of Libba Bray’s “Going Bovine”). Of course, the trick is realizing that many (if not all) of these people can look at stuff they’ve created and feel the devil of perfectionism poking.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

For me, it’s been trying to find a writing schedule that works. You’ll hear people scream stuff like, “Write every day!” And that’s great advice. However, I’ve found that I end up doing more damage to my writing than good if I force myself to write when I’m not feeling it. Of course, that can be dangerous because you can wake up and discover you haven’t written anything in a month. Basically, I write Monday through Friday and give myself a free pass on the weekends. If I’m feeling particularly inspired, I write. If not, I watch movies (which I call research.)

Tell us about a book (or author/ who) that has impacted your writing life.

I hate to seem typical and drop John Green, but its the truth. My wife read LOOKING FOR ALASKA and I, obviously, laughed. Teen Fiction? *scoff* Should I get you some Babysitters Club books too? Hardeeharhar.... At the time, I was finishing the same book I’m revising now (just written for adults), but something was off....the MC seemed immature and not believable. I don’t know how it happened, but for some reason I picked up ALASKA and read it. Things happened quick after that...I realized my writing was so much better suited for younger audiences. I had the voice of a teenager down (a benefit from hanging with teens all week....) and, after reading a lot of YA, I realized how much I enjoy the books out there. Two years later, and I’m not sure I’ve read an adult fiction title.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My biggest practical goal is to write something that connects with people. Something that’s real. That’s, honestly, my reach-for-the-stars goal too. I’d love to write full time and make lots of money and maybe be voted king of something. But the connection part is what I’m really hoping for.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Having people say things like, “This part made me laugh...” or “This IS good...” Also, really getting to ‘know’ my characters. I feel like I could write any scene for the two main characters of my book. This scares me too, because I don’t want every other book I write to be derivatives of the same voice.

Bryan, you have recently connected with an agent. Would you mind telling us how that came about? (It's such a great story!)

Well, let me start by saying if you don’t like annoying tales of dudes who don’t have to suffer through long, excruciating periods of waiting - don’t read this.
My whole query process took 16 days, and saying something like that in a room full of writers is the kind of thing that will start a brawl. Or at the very least, some muttered metaphors. I believe I queried 13 agents, but there might have been a couple more. The next week was a flurry of requests and e-mailing (not to mention Facebook updates.) I received 9 requests for full submissions and one request for a partial. One agent rejected without a request and I never heard back from two more. I was feeling like a rock star until the first rejection came. Then the second. And then a third. With each one, I felt a tiny piece of my soul die. (Okay, not really - but it still sucked.) A couple more rejections came my way and I decided to read my manuscript.

Big. Mistake.

All I could see were issues. And by ‘issues’, of course I mean that the entire thing was utter crap. It didn’t help that I got a few more rejections that day. I did end up speaking with a few of the agents, and one offered representation almost immediately. While the agent was very nice, their ideas about the book and the stuff I felt was really important didn’t connect. I was already thinking it wasn’t a good match during the call, but I decided to let things settle a bit in my mind. Not jumping at the agent’s offer felt like Tom Cruise, Risky Business-type stuff (but without the prostitutes and me sliding across the floor in my underwear.) But the book is really important to me, and I wanted to make sure that this agent’s suggestions wouldn’t take away the parts I felt were necessary.

I did, however, contact the remaining agents who were reading and let them know I had an offer of representation. At first, I wasn’t going to based on my feelings during the phone call. But all my friends said I needed to really consider my options and give other agents a chance to consider the book.

The story ends with me speaking with Michael Bourret of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management. The whole thing was a bit blurry, but it seems like the first 20 minutes were spent discussing all the things I needed to change about my book. Unlike the other conversation, everything Michael said was like, Yes! The phone call ended with him saying something like, “Well, I think the book is about two strong revisions away from editors being able to see it.” Then silence. So I said, “Do you want me to revise it and re-submit it?”

His answer almost made me do flips and slide across the floors of our house in my underwear: “No, I want to sign you as a client.”

I ended up speaking to two different agents, but both conversations felt polite and obligatory after speaking with Michael. He just got my premise, got the writing, and the whole thing felt comfortable. The following Monday, I E-mailed him and accepted his offer of representation.

How has your writing life changed since snagging an agent?

Not much, honestly. It still feels surreal. I’ve got a whole lot more work to do on my book now. And, of course, whenever I go out for dinner and the waiter asks me what I’d like to drink I say something like, “Well, what WOULD a guy with an amazing LITERARY AGENT want to drink?” But, really, nothing has changed much.

If you could be any character from a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Harry Potter. Because I would rule at Quidditch.

Thanks for the great interview Bryan! Everyone--make Bryan feel at home by posting a question or comment for him. He'll be stopping by. Maybe he'll even tell us what position he plays in Quidditch.


  1. Bryan: Thanks again for the great interview.

    So, was there a particular John Cusack movie that inspired you?

  2. What a great interview! Congrats again on your new agent! I love to read about writing journeys.

  3. Hi Heather -

    Of course I'd be a Seeker. That's where the fame is, right? ;)

    As far as John Cusack goes, I like Say Anything a lot. Gross Pointe Blank is good too. I guess you would call me a John Cusack Fan. I celebrate the guy's entire collection.

  4. *gazing off into space* You've triggered various Office Space scenes to run rampant through my head.

    I love John Cusack (and Joan as well). Did you worry that the references would be outdated for current teens?

  5. WOW! I love this! And I'm very interested now about the book. I'm heading over to your blog now Bryan. Great stuff Heather!

  6. I love John and Joan Cusack too. And, I love your story about how you found your agent. Congrats! You're book sounds like something I would enjoy reading.

  7. Bryan, you crack me up!

    What a great interview.

  8. Bryan-- I only asked the question about referencing John Cusack because it is something that I worry about in my own writing, and I many times edit out pop culture references before I get too far along. I'm interested to hear what your thoughts are.

  9. Yes, I struggled with the John Cusack first. I had SO many people telling me that it wouldn't fly with the young adult crowd, etc. I think the movies I reference will always be (or should be) relevant. And in the way I use them, I hope readers will look up something like Say Anything. I decided to keep the various references after reading Frank Portman's KING DORK and Nova Ren Suma's DANI NOIR (Hey Nova...) Both books use movie/music references that probably aren't known by many teenagers.

  10. Awesome Interview. What a great story!

  11. "John Cusack Philosophy" - I like that!

    Great interview~

  12. Heh. Bryan's been my bud for a while now, and I didn't know even half this stuff. Thanks for sharing this interview, Ms. Lane.

  13. Ray--No problem. I enjoyed Bryan's funny take on things!