Friday, March 3, 2017

Interview with author Lewis Buzbee

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lewis Buzbee, author and teacher of creative writing. He gave me some practical answers for aspiring authors like myself.

I’ve always been curious about how much research to do before starting a new project. In the past, I would come up with an idea and research a little as I was writing. Right now I know I want to write a book with dragons as a main focal point, but I know I will need to do much research before starting a story about them. I asked Mr. Buzbee how he approaches doing research. He stated it usually takes him about six months to complete his research.  “Reading, taking notes, visiting places I can visit, talking to people, calling and writing people. And of course, lots and lots of staring out the window.”  I think a lot of aspiring authors might ignore the research step like I did when I first started. Knowing your setting, or talking to someone who has a career that your character will have is only going to enhance your story.

Most writers dream of seeing their book on a shelf of a bookstore, but we know it’s a long process to get there. Agents are one step of that process. I asked Mr. Buzbee what tips he would give for finding one, as the market is flooded with aspiring authors. “You have to be able to be patient with the search, willing to go 50 or 60 agents in order to find the right one. And you have to have faith in what you’ve written.” His main advice, though, “Write a really good book. And by that I mean, don’t get impatient. When you think, oh, it’s good enough, it’s not. Good enough isn’t. It has to be better than that.” To reach that level of better than good he suggested leaving the story for a while and coming back to it a month later and be ready to write a new draft.

I’ve been learning from asking different authors that the dream of writing full time, going to your computer or notebook every day with a cup of coffee, letting your words ooze out as a shelf with all your novels looks down on you, isn’t a realistic dream.  Being an author, and a good one at that, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a full time author. If you dream of becoming a J. K. Rowling, simply for the money, odds are you’re writing for the wrong reasons. “You should write books because you must write these books.” Getting lost in writing is one of the most unique experiences I have ever experienced.  “But also a reminder that writers write books because they love writing.” Being realistic about what to expect is great, but also don’t lose the fact that you’re doing it because you love it!

Have you considered self-publishing? I have, and wondered if it is worth all the time and effort.  “To be a successful self-published writer, that is, to sell more copies than just for your friends and families, well, that takes an entrepreneurial spirit, and some time and some money.” There are so many aspects of the publishing world you would need to know thoroughly if you wanted to be a successful self-published author. “If you want the book out there you will need to think of yourself as a publisher, and be willing to do all that work that mainstream publishers do on behalf of their writers.” This includes hiring a good editor, copy editor, cover image designer, and an interior designer of the book. Of course you can upload it to Amazon no problem, but if you want to have more than just family read it, it’s going to take a lot of effort.

For first time writers Mr. Buzbee explains that completing that first draft is the best starting point. “A writer doesn’t really know what a novel is until they’ve finished that draft—you learn by the writing of it.” I can totally relate to this statement! When I wrote my first novel, I had no idea what I was getting into. It helped me learn what being a writer really means, just by making myself finish that story. “Write 4 to 5 days a week, for at least 2 to 3 hours a day, until you’re done, and don’t let your social or work life get in the way. Writing a novel requires sacrifices, but the rewards are so worth it.” Learning how to edit your work is key as well. You want to present a polished manuscript to an agent or when you self-publish. “Learn your craft, study it diligently.” Taking the time to learn how to edit is just as key as learning how to write.

There is no shortcut for becoming an author. If it really is a dream you have, then expect to give it time, lots of time. “You should expect to give it five years of hard work before anything comes together. Be willing to go ten before anything happens. Be a writer first, then worry about being an author.” Enjoying the process is a part of that though!  All of that work and time will pay off. Mr. Buzbee explained to me how seeing his stories published feels, “I was 20 and sold a short story to a really good magazine, and there it was, a few months later, in print! Even now, forty years later, whenever I have a new book out, or new story, the thrill is still there.” 

About Lewis Buzbee

Lewis Buzbee is a fourth generation California native. He began writing in 1972, at the upripe age of 15, after reading the first chapter of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, and unfortunately, things haven't improved since then. He sold his first two short stories in 1979 and has been published, and unpublished, since then. He's worked as, in this order, a dishwasher, a bookseller, a publisher, a caterer, a bartender, and a teacher of writing. He and his wife, the poet Julie Bruck, live with their daughter Maddy in San Francisco, just half a block from Golden Gate Park. His books for adults include The Yellow Lighted Bookshop, Fliegelman's Desire, After the Gold Rush, and First to Leave Before the Sun.

His first novel for middle grade readers, Steinbeck's Ghost, was published in 2008 by Feiwel and Friends and was selected for these honors: a Smithsonian Notable Book, a Northern California Book Award Nominee, the Northern California Independent Booksellers' Association Children's Book of the Year, and the California Library Association's John and Patricia Beatty Award.

His second middle-grade novel, The Haunting of Charles Dickens, won the Northern California Book Award, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and was chosen as a Judy Lopez Memorial Award honor book.

His new middle grade novel, Bridge of Time, is now out in paperback, and a new nonfiction book, Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom, has just been released.