Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Authors On The Rise Interviews Author Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Authors On The Rise is proud to bring you an interview from author Roy L. Pickering Jr. He is the author of, Feeding The Squirrels and Patches Of Grey. He is also the author of many short stories: Proverbs For The People (Kensington Books), Role Call (Third World Press), The Game: Short Stories About Life (Triple Crown Publications), and Prose to be Read Aloud, volume one.

Dee Dee: When did you write your first book, and how long did it take you to complete?

Roy: My first attempt at a novel was undertaken when I was in high school. I abandoned it after a few chapters but showed enough commitment to convince myself that I had full novels in me some day. This was later proven when I completed Patches of Grey. The first draft took me a couple of years to finish as it was written while I was first a full time college student and then a full time working stiff. I continue to be a student of life with a 9-5 gig. Patches then went through a substantial amount of revising over the course of a year as the literary agent who represented me submitted it and obtained feedback from various publishers. After parting ways with my agent and having grown weary of the pursuit of publication, I put my novel aside for awhile and returned my focus to something I enjoy far more than the query and submission process – writing. Much changed in the world of publishing as I worked on novel # 2. Self publishing rapidly grew as a viable alternative to the traditional route, as did the number of success stories that resulted from it, and what had once been something I held my nose up at transformed into an acceptable option. I knew I would eventually get back into the hunt for an agent and publisher once my second novel was done, but in the meantime rather than letting Patches of Grey collect dust as a manuscript in a drawer, I decided to put things in motion towards the day when people beyond a select few would have the opportunity to read it. Last year I reached the end of my journey, at last holding a printed copy of my first novel in hand. Since then I’ve learned that it wasn’t really the end of a journey, but the beginning.

Dee Dee: Several of your short stories have been published in anthologies. Please tell us about them?

Roy: I’ve written somewhere between 50 and 100 short stories over the past couple decades. They have been published by a wide variety of print and online publications. As you noted, several of them have appeared in anthologies. It is often the case when I find out about an anthology seeking submissions that there is a theme to it. I like to write on a wide variety of topics and in a range of styles. Therefore no matter what the theme is, a story or two of mine frequently fits the bill. The Game: Short Stories About the Life sought gritty, urban stories and they accepted two tales of mine that can be described as such. Prose to Read Aloud is an anthology put together specifically for students who enter competitions. As the title indicates, the stories chosen would potentially be read aloud at such competitions rather than silently to yourself, so I evaluated my body of work with this in mind and submitted a piece that fit the criteria. Most recently one of my short stories appeared in Ménage à 20 which is an anthology of “tales with a hook”, as in a surprise ending. I had plenty of pieces to choose from since one of my earliest short story writing influences was the master of the twist ending – O. Henry. On occasion I will write a new story specifically for an anthology. An example is the one I wrote for Proverbs for the People. Each story in it was to be inspired by an African proverb, so first I selected a proverb and then I wrote a tale with it in mind.

Dee Dee: Which do you enjoy writing more: short stories, novels, or other?

Roy: As a young man I believed that I would probably write novels but not short stories because all of my ideas seemed far too big to fit into short story format. I subsequently learned that I was capable of story ideas of various sizes, with short stories being much easier and taking far less time to write obviously. If I was only allowed to write one or the other I would go with novels, but fortunately I don’t need to make such a choice and enjoy jumping back and forth. I’ve also traveled the middle road and written a novella that is published exclusively in electronic format by SynergEbooks. I’ve yet to jump on the ebook bandwagon as a consumer but I certainly don’t mind if that’s the way someone ends up reading my stuff. Feeding the Squirrels is about 60 pages long and basically was written as a literary experiment. Each chapter of it is a story unto itself, independent of the others but sharing a narrator. It was assembled as a series of short stories appearing in no particular order. In the end I decided to tie up the various loose ends for it to read as a single cohesive story. The experience was a rather interesting hybrid of short story and novel length writing.

Dee Dee: How do you go about creating your characters and plots? Do you start with the character or the plot?

Roy: I’m not sure I can put into words how I go about creating characters and plots. They simply appear in my mind, sometimes when I’m trying to conjure them, other times when I’m not. Then comes the hard part - taking the story from my head and effectively placing it on paper. Character and plot tend to be conceived simultaneously, although it is also fairly common for plot to come first, after which I make decisions about the characters who will be put through its paces. Far less frequently if ever do I have a character in mind first and then try to figure out a storyline to put him or her in.

Dee Dee: What aspects of your own life are woven into your books?

Roy: Many aspects of my life are woven into the stories I write. For example, the setting of Patches of Grey is the Bronx, NY where I happen to have grown up. I'm more of a write what you know kind of author than the kind whose books show off the extensive amount of research I've done. Although I haven’t to date written fictionalized accounts of incidents that happened to me or to someone I know, I’m constantly borrowing elements from my day to day, especially in novel length material where so many details are required to flesh out the various characters. So I'll borrow a physical characteristic here, a personality trait there. I do not write formulaic stories within a genre that don’t have anything in particular to say about the world but are merely trying to entertain within the parameters set by the formula. Nor do I write with intent to hammer readers over the head with a message of personal conviction. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. My goal is always to engage readers with a narrative that has them caring for the characters and wondering what will happen next, choosing favorites, taking sides, becoming involved with the story just as I love to be when I’m absorbed by a great book. The plots of my stories frequently revolve around social issues of importance and interest to me, yet I avoid being preachy. Very little of what I write could be described as light-weight brain candy that doesn’t nudge readers to form opinions or re-evaluate what they thought they believed. I strive to make readers think about things that often roll around in my head, so in that regard there is often an autobiographical element to my writing. But I don’t neatly provide answers as I see them to be. Instead I utilize the plot to pose questions for people to ponder for themselves.

Dee Dee: Do you have a favorite character from one of your books or short stories? Why is that person one of your favorite characters?

Roy: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite character, except perhaps that whatever I’m currently working on tends to be my favorite story and set of characters at that time. But I suppose a few characters stick for longer than others. One who comes to mind is from a short story entitled Harry. He is a homeless man who has decided he has nothing to live for and no hope for a brighter future, so he intends to commit suicide, only he finds that can’t muster the courage to end his life any more than he can summon the drive to improve it. Another character who has popped into my head now that I’m thinking about it is a teenager from a small town who is treated as an outcast in large part because he is an albino, leading to dire consequences in my story Crosses to Bear. The narcissism of the narrator in Feeding the Squirrels necessitated that I explore this aspect of my own nature to create him, making for an interesting writing experience. The longer I think about this question the more characters will come to mind, and you only asked for one, so I’ll stop here.

Dee Dee: What advice would you give to a struggling author right now?

Roy: Marry well above your station, of course. All kidding aside, I recently wrote a blog entry called Advice for Aspiring Authors - - so pretty much anything I can think to say on the subject can be found there. The final line is: “You want to write…write”. Along with reading (a lot, and plenty of variety rather than sticking to a genre or to a small set of favorite authors), there is no more effective way to improve your craft. And in theory, the better you write the better your chances are of getting a lucrative publishing contract and becoming an overnight literary sensation. Unfortunately it rarely works out quite so neatly. Many authors will learn that arduous writing is the relatively easy part, to be followed by promotion and promotion and promotion. Being a PR person comes more easily to some than others, and some have more money and time to put into it than others, but it’s a necessity in situations where Oprah is not so kind as to recommend your book to her faithful followers.

Dee Dee: What is one thing you wished you knew before you published your first book?

Roy: I wish I knew that I’m not a particularly good editor, especially of my own writing. I needed to weed out a fair amount of errors before going back on press with a corrected reprinting of Patches of Grey. It can be drudgery to seek out those little errors you made that managed to elude Spell Check, but it is part of the process and no segment can be glossed over if your goal is to put out a book you can be proud of.

Dee Dee: How much input do you get from fans and critics? Do they influence your writing?

Roy: Early on as a student and then a fledgling writer I did a fair amount of workshopping with my fiction. From time to time someone would provide a useful tip, but for the most part I’ve always had great confidence in my own voice and tended to overrule suggestions and stick to my guns. I know what I want to say and how I wish to say it. Therefore I don’t overly concern myself with rules and guidelines, because for the most part I don’t see them as having much place in the writing process. I do believe you should be aware of them, if only so when you break them you realize that’s what you’re doing. But there are an infinite number of ways to tell a story and get your points across, and my focus has always been on figuring them out for myself rather than seeking advice on the best way to go about it. Does this sound arrogant? Perhaps it is. In order to bare your soul on paper and then lay it out to be dissected by strangers a certain amount of arrogance is probably required. If you are easily humbled you won’t stay in the writing business for long. If rejection and criticism tears you up, find something else to do with your talents. I may not get much input from readers during the writing process but do love to hear from and interact with those who have read my work. Patches of Grey has received numerous wonderful reviews, not only from reviewers with book blogs but also from bookworms who read it and posted their thoughts on Amazon or at, or who have sent me emails saying how much they enjoyed it and how thought provoking they found it to be.

Dee Dee: What is your latest book release? Do you have plans for another book or short story?

Roy: I am nearing the end of the first draft of my second novel – Matters of Convenience. An excerpt from it can be found on my blog - If I stick to schedule it should be in final form by year’s end. Sometime between now and then I’ll need to plant the seed for novel # 3. An upcoming project that I’m looking forward to is videotaping a reading from Patches of Grey. I am just about ready for my YouTube close-up. If it goes well, in addition to the print and ebook versions that are currently available for purchase perhaps I’ll produce an audio version of Patches as well.

Dee Dee: What do you want your legacy to be?

Roy: That I had something to say and chose not to keep my mouth shut.

Dee Dee: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. Continue to inspire. Be Blessed!

Roy's ten favorite things:

Restaurant: Olive Tree in Greenwich Village, NYC
Social networking site: Twitter -
Season – Summer
Favorite past time: Playing tennis
Elementary school teacher: My fourth grade teacher Mr. Moachio comes to mind. He wasn’t my best teacher. In fact, he was probably the worst and was fired several years after I was in his class. But memorable, that’s for sure, and I’m a big fan of memorable.
Color: I’ll say grey (with the English spelling) since it’s in the title of my novel.
CD: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
Dessert: Tres leches cake
Favorite place to relax: The beach, preferably in the Caribbean
City or state: “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.” ~ John Updike

Some links: - my web site - my blog - my novella Feeding the Squirrels - print version of Patches of Grey - Kindle version

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