Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: Paul Greci

Paul Greci really is a Northwriter. He blogs about living in Alaska, running in sub-zero weather, walking on a treadmill while writing, and seeing very cool cold weather phenomenon. He is an exceptionally creative and supportive writer, and a very respectful member of the writing blogosphere. His blog posts always contain elements of eye candy and food for thought. Okay, seriously, if you haven't yet clicked through to any of those links, go visit his blog--you won't be disappointed.

Paul Greci taught English in a Day Treatment School for fifteen years in Fairbanks, Alaska. He has also worked as a field biologist in remote parts of Alaska, and has led backpacking trips for teenagers. He enjoys sea kayaking, hiking, gardening, and long distance running as well as reading, cooking and writing. Now he is writing full-time and is represented by Jennifer DeChiara.

Welcome, Paul! It's great to have you here for the interview! Tell us--what are you currently working on?

I’m working on a young adult novel. It’s an adventure/survival story set on a remote Island in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

I imagine it would take a bit of gumption to survive on a remote island in Alaska. Sounds interesting! What made you start to write seriously?

I think my path to writing seriously was very gradual with a big leap at the end. I’ve been writing off and on for a long time. In college I wrote poetry and had a couple of poems published in a small literary magazine. After college I wrote some really horrible short stories. I always kept a journal of wilderness trips I’d been on.

I completed my first novel, which took about four years of very part-time writing, in 2006. I’d set it down and not come back to it for several months at a time.

When I started my second novel (fall 2006) I wrote almost every day, before and after work, and had a draft completed in a four months. I really enjoyed the process of being totally immersed in the story. I took a creative writing class (Spring 2007) and went to a writers conference (summer 2007). Then I had an idea for another book and decided to just go for it. So, I resigned from my job in August 2007 and wrote Placement. Here’s a short blurb about it:

PLACEMENT is a story about a bright but angry fifteen year-old boy stuck in two systems—special education and social services—and his quest to rise out of both of them.

Fifteen year-old Chad Carson just wants to be treated like a normal person but has been in Special Education for behavior problems since third grade and has lived his entire life with his alcoholic mother and her series of abusive boyfriends. When Chad threatens an obnoxious Teacher’s Aide he knows he’ll get suspended but doesn’t anticipate a referral to the Spruce Grove Academy—a program for the Baker, Michigan School District’s rejects. At Spruce Grove, Chad presumes he’s sunk to the bottom of the teenage hell-pit, but then his mother and her boyfriend are arrested and Chad is placed in an emergency shelter. In Chad’s twisted journey to normalcy he learns from the old and homeless, challenges the professionals, and finally stands on his own in a place he never expected to be and with a person he never expected to love.

Paul--I know this is a tough question, but, if you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?

There are lots of awesome blogs out there but if I was only allowed to read one blog a day I’d read Betsy Lerner’s Blog. She’s an agent who used to be an editor, and she is also a writer so she’s a three for one deal in-terms-of perspective on writing and publishing. And most important, she’s really funny!!

What is a favorite blog post that you have written?

What I’ve enjoyed most about my blog is matching photos and illustrations to the writing. If I had to choose one post it would be Moose on the Loose.

Paul--it's clear that you are wonderful at mirroring words with images on your blog. Tell us, what online resources have you found most helpful?

There are so many great resources. If I had to choose one I’d pick Jessica Faust’s blog. When I was querying I read her blog daily. Also, I found a subscription to Publishers Market Place to be a great tool for agent, editor, and author research.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

There are so many trials both long and short term and they change over time.

After I wrote my first book, I had no idea if I’d ever have another idea for another book. So, wanting to write, or wanting to try to be a writer was a huge trial because I didn’t have anything to write about. Many months later, I was at an education conference, and got an idea for another book.

Right now my biggest trial is concentrating on my current WIP while Placement is out on submission.

I know the feeling of stressing out about getting that next big idea. What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

When I resigned from my teaching job to write full-time I made writing my job. Luckily, in my two and a half years of full-time writing I haven’t had too many days when I didn’t feel up to writing.

I definitely have days when I feel that what I’ve written is horrible, but I tell myself that it’s a process and that I had to write those pages in order to write whatever is going to come next.

Oh! I’ve just discovered my trick: There are no short-cuts!

Sometimes, don't we all wish there was a short cut? Oh, well. Paul, please share with us how you connected with your agent, and how writing changed (or didn't change) for you after that point.

I connected with my agent, Jennifer DeChiara, through a cold query. I knew who Jennifer was because I’d met an agent, Steve Fraser, at a conference, who works with her. I also have a friend, Carol Lynch Williams, who is represented by Steve. And, I had used a couple of books in my classroom written by two of Jennifer’s clients. I didn’t mention any of this in my query letter.

When I queried my first book, I had a couple referrals and had met a couple of agents at a conference and everything turned into rejections. I realized that more than anything an agent really has to connect with the writing. So instead of crowding my query letter with people I knew who knew her, I focused on the story and my background.

I met Jennifer when I was in NYC over the holidays and we had a great meeting. Having her as as my agent has changed my writing in the sense that I know she will do all she can to find my writing a home. I don’t feel as isolated as I did before I signed with her.

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson. In Twisted I was struck by Laurie’s use of short, powerful, chapters sprinkled throughout the book. I think reading it helped free me up to follow my voice, to go with my instincts.

In terms of craft books, I’ve found Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass to be very helpful during revisions.

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

I want to write the best books that I can. If those books are published I hope they are attractive to both reluctant and voracious readers. And, I hope my books ring true on an emotional level.

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

The best part of my writing experience has been writing Placement. Taking a book that I twice thought was finished and revising it and making it better. When Jennifer offered me representation, she said that there was nothing plot or character related that I needed to do to the book before she submits it, and she is an editorial agent.

As a writer, it was satisfying to know that I’d taken an idea and turned it into a book that just needed some light editing before submission. That’s not to say that it won’t go through some edits if I am fortunate enough to secure a book deal.

Wow--that's wonderful, that your book was so polished when you queried your agent. Definitely something to shoot for! Do you have any advice for other writers?

To follow your dreams and to know that at any given moment, whether it’s difficult or easy, you are right where you need to be. Don’t give up.

Great advice, Paul! Thanks again for doing the interview! Everyone, please make Paul feel welcome by leaving him a comment or question in the comment section. He'll be stopping by today (when it's a decent hour in Alaska!) to answer them.


  1. Paul--thanks so much for doing the interview! How many words per mile did you write yesterday? And, when you have an entire day dedicated to writing, how do you provide yourself with a schedule? Do you spend eight hours on writing?

  2. This was amazing, I love learning about authors!!! I've always wanted to go to Alaska, and books about being there and enjoying it all would be fantastic!

  3. You had me at Alaska. I'll be showing up on your doorstep just as soon as I can find a way to hitchhike on a plane...

    Seriously, I'm heading over to your blog right now Paul. I'll take Alaska any way I can get it, and if that means vicariously through you, I'm all about it. *sigh* Now I'm going to be useless for the rest of the day wishing I was free of the lower forty-eight...

    Being in Alaska, do you find that you write more in the winter months or in the summer? Or does the season affect you at all? I know that most folks get out and roll even when it's the dark of winter.

    Oh, and do you write longhand or on the computer?

  4. Heather, thanks for having me here today. My treadmill resets itself if it's idle for a couple of minutes so I never know how many words per mile I'm logging.

    As to how I provide myself structure when I have a full day dedicated to writing: Since I'm writing full-time I have at least four days a week that I'm at it all day. I get up early and basically write for a while, then take a break and do some chores, and I just do this all day. Sometimes in a twelve hour time period, I'll get in eight hours of actual writing. It varies. I seem to need more breaks when I'm rewriting than I do when I'm writing a first draft.

    And, sometimes I ban myself from the internet.

  5. Paul and Heather, great interview. Fridays are so fun as always.

    Paul, I'm dying to check out Placement! There are some elements there that are similar to my wip. The story of your novel writing experience is really inspiring. And I'm really interested in your answer to Heather's question above. Your process is interesting to me.

    It has been great having you here in the blogging community!

  6. Oops, there is your answer. Banning from the internet--very good idea!

  7. Great interview. Love the premise of Placement, unique and I imagine it is inspiring, too. The computer/treadmill setup is crazy awesome!!!
    Alaska is the most beautiful place. I took an Alaskan cruise in 98. The glaciers, the dense forests, the mountains, all gorgeous.
    Love the moose on the loose pics!

  8. Jen, thanks for coming by today. Glad you enjoyed the interview.

    A. Grey--Thanks for coming by today. I hope you make it to Alaska and have some adventures up here.

    I think I write more in the fall, winter and spring, because I'm off having more adventures in the summer. I seem to be doing okay with the darkness as long as I am active. And, my wife,Dana, has her summers off, so we try to take advantage of that. I'm just not around as much, and we grow a big garden, which takes time.

    I wrote my most of my first novel long hand. I started writing it during a week of standardized testing for my students. They were actually taking the test and not disrupting class so I started writing. Now I do most of my writing on the computer but do a fair amount editing long hand.

  9. As usual, I love this interview. Paul, I especially love your circumstance of living 'far away', yet you're right here, everyday and for us. I often feel disconnected from the US, being on an odd peninsula hours and hours away from coolness. But, then I tell my whiny self to shut up, especially when so many people envy my seclusion. That's how I feel about your island - jealous.

    Paul, a couple questions/comments.
    1. Yay for PLACEMENT taking place in Michigan. Maybe our MC's can be friends.
    2. You are so centered, like a sun, what are your eating habits, if you don't mind sharing.
    3. I have not read TWISTED, yet, but the books' cover is so gut-wrenching and intriguing. This question also follows up your seconding my recommendation of IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY for Marybeth. All of the books you have spoken about are 'serious' books, highly-acclaimed, but serious, mentally tedious. I am wondering what books make you laugh out loud, or in my terms, pee your pants.
    4. Thanks for sharing your agent-discovery story. I especially appreciate you for pointing out that your query was based on your ms, not the ties you have to that particular agent's contacts. Good reminder!
    5. "There are no short-cuts!" There sure aren't, or I'd have found one by now...

  10. Hi Jon, thanks for coming by. My eating habits vary widely. I have a cup of strong, black tea in the morning. I get on kicks where I eat oat meal for breakfast for days on end, then switch to toast with peanut butter. I also have a chocolate habit that ebbs and flows. And, it being Alaska, I do eat a lot of salmon.

    For laugh out loud books, these two come to mind: Ned Vizzini's Be More Chill, Carolyn Mackler's The Earth, My Butt and other Round Places. And, Twisted is pretty funny, too.

  11. Gotcha, thanks for 'putting me in my place' about TWISTED. Really, I just wanted to see your reaction.

  12. Also, it's like 4 or 5 AM there, man. You guys, this guy rocks!

  13. Yes, Paul, I was duly amazed when you popped up to answer these questions so quickly--thanks for loving us so much to get up super early!

  14. Hi, Tina. Thanks for coming by. Glad you are interested in Placement. It'd be interesting to take a peek at your book too.

    Thanks, Kelly. I've done a lot of sea kayaking on the Alaska coast. It really is an amazing place. The treadmill keeps my back happy:-) I do take breaks from that,too. If I get tired the walking becomes a distraction.

  15. Great interview - I enjoyed learning more about you and PLACEMENT, Paul. Very encouraging to hear your story. Thanks Heather!

  16. Deb, Thanks for coming by. I'm glad my story was encouraging to you. We all need some of that in this business:-) Have a great day!

  17. Ha! I followed your Moose on the Loose link and have to say I'd follow the moose. I enjoy surprises in writing even if they might get deleted in later drafts or even immediately. As for mooses, or meese, stories, I've got one. I was hiking in Yellowstone when one came crashing through the trees of a hill above me. He stopped just feet from me and we both stared at each other. I think it was the element of surprise that might have saved me from being trampled. He simply left. And I never forgot.
    Lovely interview. Thanks to both of you.

  18. Tricia, thanks for coming by. That is quite a moose story! I had a similar experience with a deer, but deer are like mice when compared to moose. I'm glad that moose walked away:-) Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. You're welcome, Deb and Tricia! It was absolutely my pleasure to host Paul's interview today. He's an amazing writer. Thanks for stopping by!

    And, Tricia I liked your moose story as well, and am glad that the moose wandered away!

  20. Wow! What a great quote "you are right where you need to be." I agree with Heather that Paul is an "exceptionally creative and supportive writer" Very true - just look at that treadmill setup!

    Paul, I can't wait to read your survival stories. Seems like you have the experience to make your writing sing. I also nodded my head at your lesson of trusting your instincts in writing.

    Loved reading this and now I'm going to check out all these wonderful links that Heather added. Great job to you both.

  21. Great interview.

    Paul seems to have a very positive attitude and that's really great. His blog is cool.

  22. Terry,thanks for coming by. And for the kind words. And I agree about Heather, she does do a great job, and gives a lot of her time to make these interviews happen.

  23. Kathy, thanks for coming by. I think I have all my troubled students over the years in part to thank for my positive attitude. They really needed a lift continually.

  24. Great interview, Paul and Heather! It's great to hear specific details of a writer's journey...

  25. For whatever reason, the first time I read, "Don't give up." It didn't stand out to me. But, the last few times I've returned, it keeps grabbing my attention. So simple. Don't give up. Thanks.

  26. Great interview, and great advice.

  27. Thanks,Jon. When I started writing several years ago, a few of my friends who were published would say that to me periodically before I was even at the query stage. I didn't realize the enormity of that "don't give up," statement then. There are many places to give up along the way. I tell myself, just keep going, Paul. Some days it's easier to say that than others.

    Hi Alissa. Glad you enjoyed the interview. I hope you have a great weekend. And, for anyone reading, check out Alissa's blog. She has a YA novel coming out, next year w/FLUX. Right?

  28. I found Twisted very inspiring as I set out to write my YA novel too. And I love your treadmill setup, Paul. Do you keep walking (or running!) while typing? I have to know!

    Thanks for doing this great interview, Heather!

  29. Heather, thanks for coming by.

    Regarding the treadmill, I walk slowly, about 1.5 miles per hour w/some incline. Any faster and my concentration wanes, plus my screen starts to shake. I can dismantle the desk in about a minute or two if someone wants to use it for real exercise. Sometimes I just stand and work. If I get really tired after several hours of walking, then I'll take my laptop and plunk myself down in a glider rocker by the woodstove.

    I found Twisted to be such a fresh read. It really inspired me, too.

  30. Alaska. Wow! Congrats, Paul. On your agent and a great novel. Hope it sells soon!

  31. Thanks, Laura. I hope it sells period, but soon would be fine by me. Thanks for your thoughts!

  32. Wow, I love the idea of PLACEMENT. It sounds great!

  33. I feel I know you even better now Paul:) Your novel sounds really good and I hope someone picks it up soon!!!!

  34. Sarah,thanks. I'm glad you like the idea. That's encouraging.

    Hi, Terri. Thanks for your thoughts and good wishes.

  35. Great interview! Fascinating stuff, especially for a couch-bound semi-urban prisoner of wall and street like myself. I follow Paul on Twitter and he seems like a really nice guy as well. I look forward to reading his books.

  36. Captainstupendous, thanks for the positive thoughts.

  37. Oh, my gosh Paul? You twitter too? Maybe you could give me tutorial. Thanks so much for the wonderful interview, and your attention to these questions in the comments!

  38. Heather, thank you for having me here. It's been fun. I'll check back later today to see if there are more questions.

    You just zip me an email whenever you want to talk twitter-talk.

  39. Paul, give Heather a really good tutorial on Twitter for me because as things have been going, it'll be Heather that gives me my lessons on Twitter! Pay it forward, baby. Oh, well, that's what your whole interview already, just a little more. I promise I'll buy your book. Is that a bribe? Did it work?

  40. Jon, I'll be happy to share even more than what I know regarding Twitter.

    If you want to get a headstart check out this link:

    And if you do a google search for Twitter tips and tricks you'll find lots of information.

  41. Great interview Paul. That YA adventure/survival sounds super. I hope it is coming along. I write adventure as you know so it is those kinds of books that I love. Thanks for sharing your expertise. And for helping me in the Land of the Unknown. (query land) *grin*

  42. Robyn, thanks for your thoughts. Good luck with the querying!

  43. Thanks, Heather and Paul, for a great interview. It's nice to have this opportunity to learn more about Paul and his writing. PLACEMENT sounds like it will be a wonderful story. I hope it finds a home soon.

  44. Carol, thanks for your thoughts and wishes!

  45. Paul - great to get to know you a bit more! Didn't know you were on Twitter, I'm just off to dig you out.

  46. So great to hear about your journey. Of course an agent picked you up... grounded, cogent, dreamer & weaver of a great story. Can't wait to buy "Placement." Very helpful to learn that you focused on voice in your pitch rather than cramming it w/"who-you-know's". Reassuring to know that it can be about the writing, the voice, the story.

  47. Robert, thanks for the kind words. And, yes, I'm with you. It's all about the writing!

  48. Dear 'Doctor' Greci,
    The interview was wonderful. Thank you for sharing that very lively, entertaining, passionate and spirit-driven piece with me. It's so good to see that not only are you staying on the path but indeed are thriving despite temporary whiteouts, choking forest fire smoke, ice fog and otherwise dark moonless spells when you've wondered when or if anything was ever going to happen. Well, it's nice to see that it is! Hugs from John and Suse

  49. Thanks, John and Suse. Glad you both enjoyed the interview. Love your list of obstacles!