Me at the Pen 2010

Me at the Pen 2010
© PEN American Center/Susan Horgan. All rights reserved. Please contact media@pen.org for usage and rights.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing tip: 10 things to do if you want to publish your novel

(I'm posting this on all of my blogs)

Going through my files, I found this list from my WebTV Webpage. Remember WebTV? It had to be written somewhere around 2000-2002.

Man, I was cocky back then. And sharp. Enjoy.

_____________________________________

So you want to publish your book . . . here's a list of 10 things you ought to do.



1) Sit down and write the book.

That's right. Sit down and write. Lots of writers talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. They want to live a writer's lifestyle (whatever that is). They are attracted to the writer's celebrity status (whatever they think that is). They are eager to puff their egos by seeing their names on a book jacket on a bookshelf at Barnes and Noble (and yes, that does puff one's ego). They desire to introduce themselves to strangers with a firm handshake and a hearty--"My name is FILLINTHEBLANK, and I am a writer." Cut the crap. Stop posing and get that book written. I have worked with too many clients (when I was editing books) that would hand me six or seven typed pages and say, "Here's where I've gotten so far, Tell me what you think of it." My answer would invariably be: "I think you are a poser. Go write. Come back when this has grown up." Writers write. And publishers publish manuscripts that are longer than six pages. Spend an hour every morning writing two pages. In six months you'll have your first book. It may not be great, but at least it will be finished and we can talk about it.

2) Copyright the book.

Now a few years ago, I would never have wasted your time or mine with this piece of advice. In fact, if you had asked me a question about copyrights back then, I would have told you not to worry about it. "No one is going to steal your book," I would have told you. "If a publisher really likes your writing, they won't steal it. The work is like the golden egg, but you are the goose that lays the egg. If they steal the work, they sell one book. But if they sign you as one of their writers, they can sell a series of your books. That makes more sense." Recent personal events, however, have demonstrated that people do steal a writer's work. Protect yourself. Enough on this.

3) Get another set of eyes to read the book.

Join a writer's group or sign up for a creative writing class at a local college and have someone competent and objective read your book. Listen to their advice on what works and what does not work with your book. As the author, you do not have to take all of their advice, but you should listen to it. This helps you to gauge how an audience will read your book--such information can be valuable when you make later decisions on what to cut and what not to cut. Writing groups and creative writing classes are also good places to help you tighten your prose and fix your grammar and clean up your typos. As writers, we often have a vision of the book in our heads that is quite different from the actual book that is written on the pages. We become blind to our mistakes. Worse yet, our hubris makes us unwilling to cut dull and longwinded passages. So get your book read by an objective reader or two and leave your ego at the door.

4) Find twenty to twenty-five publishers who might be interested in publishing your book. There are a couple ways of doing this. The first way is to be a good reader. If you are a good reader, then you already have many books on your shelves that are similar to the one you have written. Who published these books? Start writing that list. The second way is to go to a bookstore and pick up books that are similar to yours. Who published these books? You can go online and do the same thing. You can also go to a very important book called the THE NOVEL AND SHORT STORY WRITER'S MARKET and do the same thing. This is your target list.

5) Arrange the target list in order of most prestigious to least prestigious.

When you start sending out your manuscript you will begin with the publishers at the top of the list and work your way down. In the words of author Lynne Barrett told us in grad school, "Your manuscript, like water, will find its own level."

6) Write a MEETS hook.

Think about your book. Think about two other books (or movies) that it is similar to. Then write your MEETS hook. Your MEETS hook should sound something like this: "My novel, CHARITY GARNER'S BOYS is a story of rage, temptation, gangsters, and surprising compassion set in the high plateaus of depression era South Dakota [. . . include a brief description of the book . . . then finish with . . .] It is like BONNIE AND CLYDE meets THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

7) Get an agent.

Once you have tightened up the book, gotten your target list together, and written your MEETS hook, it is time to get an agent. Why do you need an agent? Because you need a friend and guide in the publishing world. Yes, there are writers who have gotten published without agents. They are not the rule--they are lucky. An agent will get 15% commission on your book, and he/she will be worth every penny of that commission. How do you get an agent? There are several ways to do this. Send out query letters to agents listed online or in books such as THE NOVEL AND SHORT STORY WRITER'S MARKET (there are many good books and online sources that will guide you through query-letter writing--do consult them). Ask another writer to introduce you to his/her agent--but expect to be turned down. Writers guard their agents jealously. Go to writer's conferences and take a course with the agent (s), who will read your manuscript and maybe sign you up for representation. Note: It is a good idea to go to writer's conferences regardless. Many authors have gotten their books sold or represented through contacts made at writer's conferences.

8) Beware of agents who charge a fee. Usually, agents do not charge a fee. Agents take 15% commission on advances and book sales. Think about it: if an agent charged even, say, $25 per manuscript as a reading fee, he/she could make a pretty decent living without ever having to do the hard work of actually selling a book. There are a few, very few, big name New York agents that charge a small fee--if you get a chance to work with one of these, pay the fee by all means! Beware of agents who solicit you--most reputable agents have more clients than they can handle. If an agent contacts you via phone, letter, or email, ask for a list of published clients. There are many writers out there eager to get into print and they are easy prey for predators posing as agents and editors.

9) Help your agent to sell your book.

Once you have gotten your agent, give her/him your plan for selling your book: the target list of publishers, your MEETS hook. The agent will likely modify the target list based on her/his contacts in the publishing world. The agent may also modify your MEETS a bit. The agent will also want to know what audience you wrote the book for: age, race, gender, level of education. You should be able to answer all of these questions. It is also likely that the agent, upon signing you up, already has a few publishers in mind for your book, publishers that he/she has worked with in the past and who are looking for a book such as yours. If this is the case, you have hit the jackpot. Just sit on your hands, and let your agent do his/her job.

10) If All Else Fails . . .

Should I self-publish? Maybe--but hold on there a minute. Did you join a writer's group? Did you leave your ego at the door? Did you edit and then really edit your book? Did you go to a writer's conference and hobnob with agents and publishers? Maybe you should enter your book in a few contests. Try that. If all else has failed, then maybe you should self-publish. Self-publishing is not a bad idea if you are the right kind of person. I hope to build another link in a month or two that addresses the issue of self-publishing with a greater thoroughness. For now, let me leave with you with a few tips. 1) Get a company that is inexpensive. The self-publishing companies that charge $5000 provide roughly the same quality service as the ones that are $750, $450, $250, or free. 2) Make sure your book is copyrighted. 3) Don't purchase any of their add-on services. They are a waste of time and if you need them, you can always get them cheaper at Office Depot. 4) If you plan to get rich on the book, prepare to have a professional marketing plan; in fact, you need to hire a professional publicist. This will cost you money, but it will be worth it. 5) Be prepared to travel to sell your book. 6) Be prepared to make deals with bookstore managers to stock your books. 7) Be prepared to work.

I have more to say on this, and I will on a new link.

Good luck

--Preston

The Three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar: Choosing names

Q: It's Sami again with another question. Could you tell me why the characters in the first half of your novel have no names?

A: Are you familiar with the fairytale the three little pigs? Tell me the names of the three pigs. See? Or the princess in Rapunzel.

Names are frequently left out in fairytales. Names are rare in parables and fables. Tell me the name of the prodigal son. The Good Samaritan, what is his name? The three wise men. I know, I know, popular tradition has them down as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar . . .

But mostly names are an afterthought in narratives that teach a lesson or whose stories are more important than the characters who act out the parts. There are notable exceptions of course. Disney gives us the names of the seven dwarfs, but the original versions did not. We know the names of Santa's Reindeer (if we can remember the song), but only Rudolph with his red nose stands out.

And we know the names of the twelve disciples--"The first Simon who is called Peter; Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee; John his brother . . ." and so on, but what does it add to the narrative?

Sure it makes them seem more real as actual people, and this is the way it works in real life--people have names. But I would argue that because of the distraction caused by the names, there may be less focus on the important lessons.

Later on in the list another James appears and a second Simon. In some versions the name "Judas" appears twice in the list.

For some of us the lesson cannot be seen at all. We get too caught up in the minutiae of biography.

Whose son was who? Where did he live? In the desert and was considered a madman? Oh, that was a different John. But I thought you said in another scripture that he was a fisherman. Oh, only his brother was a fisherman. So which Peter was the one that Jesus called the rock? And so on and so forth.

In the prodigal son, a fairly efficient parable, the lesson is the focus, not the names, but the relation between the two sons. Elder son and younger. Or a character's function, Father, Servant, Fatted calf. You see my point.

To demonstrate narrative structure in my creative class, I retell the tale of the two monks. Their names by the way were "Tanzan" and "Ekido," but to teach the lesson I call them "the first monk" and "the second monk." You may remember the story:

Two monks were on their way to a monastery when they passed through a village where everything was wet and muddy from the recent rains. The first monk saw a woman attempting to cross the flooded road and he passed her by.

The second monk saw the same woman and he lifted her up and set her down on the other side of the road.

At the end of the day when the two had reached the monastery, the first monk could not take it anymore, and he turned to the second monk angrily and said, "You know that we have taken an oath never to touch a woman, especially one as beautiful as that one you touched today."

And the second monk said to the first, "I left her at the water. Are you still carrying her?"

Now tell the story again with the names "Tanzan" and "Ekido" inserted. In which is the LESSON easier to understand? I think the answer is the one without names.

"Every Boy Should Have a Man" begins as a fable, turns into a fairytale, becomes scripture, and ends as a traditional prose narrative with Mikel the son of Mike on that bus ride to his father's mansion. There are elements of each of the other parts within each part, of course, so that in the fable section there is a traditional prose narrative told by the mother.

By the way did you notice how that phrase "Mikel the son of Mike on that bus ride to his father's mansion" sounds suspiciously like the way the King James Bible sounds? That happens many times in the book.

Enjoy these additional "cheats," Sami. Good luck with your research paper. Email me a copy of it when it's completed. I am honored to be worthy of research.

Thanks,

Preston

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lebron James, Sponge Bob, and the environment

I did not know that.

__________________________



"Lebron James Joins Sponge Bob on Eco Mission"

from NBCNEWS.com 7/2/2008

Akron--LeBron James has a new teammate who's just as popular. The guy has a few holes in his game. Oh, and he lives in a pineapple under the sea.

SpongeBob SquarePants won't help James win any NBA titles, but the Cavaliers' superstar has paired up with Nickelodeon, the home of SpongeBob and his ocean-dwelling cartoon chums, to raise awareness about the environment.

Beyond the global-awareness message — part of Nickelodeon's Big Green Help campaign — James is hoping to educate kids on the importance of exercise.

"We're trying to get kids out of the house,'' Cleveland's All-Star forward said while dressing in his trailer after filming the PSA, which will air in mid-July. "Get outside, ride bikes, play hoops. And in this, we're trying to save water and do other things that can help the environment. ... It doesn't take much to recycle a can or turn the faucet off.''

At 23, James is still a kid at heart. A big SpongeBob fan, the two-time Olympian is also a father of two young sons, and he understands the impact he can have on shaping other kids' lives.

"They are our future,'' he said as his 1-year-old, Bryce, begged for daddy's attention. "You never forget things when you're a kid, so every time I do something I like to have it involve kids. I was at my basketball camp earlier and the memories those kids made are going to stay with them the rest of their lives. What I do is kid driven. I don't do it because I have to. I want to.''

Political interests, as well In addition to being more socially conscious on issues like the environment, James has broadened his interest in politics, another sign of his maturity off the floor.

Two weeks ago, he was part of a group who had dinner in New York with Michelle Obama, wife of Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

"It was an unbelievable experience,'' said James, who took his girlfriend, Savannah, with him. "It was mind-boggling.''

James has no plans to campaign for any candidate, but he intends to stay up to date on important issues.

"I'm not so far into it. I don't feel I need to be hands on into it,'' he said. "You want to keep athletics and politics separate. I don't want to start getting up on panels or talking about Barack or (John) McCain. I'm aware of what's going on not just with the presidential election. You want to be aware of gas prices and other things. Being a father and being responsible for my kids, I want to know what's going on in our world.''

LeBron avatar part of green game

Nickelodeon, famous for kids shows where contestants get "slimed'' with a green, gooey mixture, found that kids — and their parents — wanted to know more about their world, too.

After getting feedback from folks eager to learn more about ways they can help the environment, Nickelodeon developed its Big Green Help initiative and launched it in April.

James is featured on Nick's Web site in a game where kids navigate a bike-riding LeBron avatar down an obstacle-filled dirt road. The animated hoopster delivers "green'' tips along the way on how to help the planet.

"We found that parents weren't sure what they could do,'' said Nickelodeon's Jean Margaret Smith, who overseas all the network's pro-social campaigns. "We're connecting the dots for them.''

As for connecting with kids, that's where James comes in. His easygoing personality and approachable manner, along with being one of the world's most recognizable athletes, has made him popularity with kids and adults.

Everyone seems to like LeBron.

"He's got a real charm and real connection with kids, and it is so genuine,'' said Smith, who noted that James gave his input into the game's design. "He's excited to be involved.''

Research Paper Writing Tip AAA: Allegory, Allusion, Archetype

Q: This is for a research paper that I am writing. I'm looking at the definition of "allegory" and the model they mention is the novel "Pilgrim's Progress." That also is one of the books the teacher suggested we use, but I just barely got through that novel and I don't think I understood it very well. I would like to use your novel to write my paper. I found it easier to understand than "PP" and I liked it so much I finished it in one day. Could you please explain your definition of "allegory?" How do you use them in "Every Boy Should Have a Man?" Can I quote you in my paper?

A: Flattery will get you everywhere, young man. Young woman? Sami? I am an English teacher myself, a professor actually, so I don't know how much I should tell you about my own novel, Sami, except to say thank you for reading and enjoying it. That's why I wrote it. To be enjoyed.

Hmmmmm. So how do I explain "allegory," give you a few juicy, quotable lines for your assignment, all the while withholding spoilers for those who have not yet read the novel? Am I up to the task? Let's see. Allegory.

*******************

Well, I see an allegory as the meat of one story laid over the bones of another. It must be eaten on two levels—the succulent meat above and the tougher bones and skeleton beneath.

While you’re enjoying the story above, you might feel that there is something going on here. This seems familiar. Have I read this before? Have I been told this? What is the nature of this bone that I’m chewing on? What is this marrow?

Chew that bone. Suck out and swallow that marrow, for therein resides the message.

It is often a religious one—sometimes political, sometimes a retelling of history. Its nearest literary kin is "analogy."

It’s a narrative paralleling another, more familiar narrative that is buried deeply, and thus perhaps forgotten.

In that way, then, the basic structure of "Every Boy Should Have a Man" is threefold allegoric:

(1) It is the creation story as told with giants—what the bible calls the "Nephilim." The famous giant Goliath is one of them, or rather related to one:

**"There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." (Genesis 6:4 KJV)**

Goliath was actually a mixed breed—half, angel/half man—and therefore he loomed head and shoulders above other men as a giant.

**“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” (1 Samuel 17:4 KJV)**

Thus, he had the proportions of a gargantuan human being.

Quite a few bible stories appear in the novel. In fact, among them appears a retelling of “Samson” as well as “Noah’s Ark.” A key one is “The Tower of Babel.”

The Nephilim is the archetypical giant being: fearsome, conflicted, of religious origin, and quite human.

**“Indeed, some among the educated say that mans are related to us. Some go so far as to speculate that we are descended from them. That they are an unevolved form of us. Or that from the mixing of their blood and angels’, came we.” (Every Boy Should Have a Man 45)**

If you miss this key allusion, the book is written in such a way that it won’t hurt your reading and enjoyment of the narrative.

There are many hints and allusions indicating that the giant oafs in the novel are angelic beings: their realm is above the biblical firmament; it can be reached by climbing the remnant steps of the Tower of Babel; they tower over normal humans; they call their god the “Great Creator”; their holy book is called “Great Scripture.”

(2) It is also a retelling that is scientific: paleontological; archeological; biological.

It is the history of human kind according to Darwinian theory. As evolutionary theory once upon a time did claim, no two species of humans ever existed on earth at the same time. They all proceeded single file down a line of evolutionary transformation that ended with us—homo sapiens.

Recently, however, there has come to light indisputable paleontological evidence indicating that there was a time on earth (20,000 to 30,000 years ago) when two types of humans occupied the same island off the coast of New Zealand.

The two types of humans are classified as the gigantic "homo heidelbergensis," which we have ironically nicknamed “Goliath”; and a smaller one "Homo Floresiensis," which we nicknamed “Hobbit.” The question in my book is what the two species night have thought of each other. Would each recognize the humanness of the other? If not, would one see the other as food?

(3) It is also a retelling that is much like a Fairytale. Fairytales. Ah. In the novel there are too many to count, but an important one is “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Rufus behaves in many ways like the archetypical trickster figure Jack, right down to the stealing of the small singing harp as well as making trip after trip to plunder loot from the oafs (to him they are giants). Also note that the novel’s main protagonist, the female man named Red Locks, calls Rufus a rascal as he rescues her by climbing down the remnant stairs (his beanstalk) to our world and all its woes.

All that being said, the novel should be read the way I hope you will read it: without considering any of the aforementioned literary technique and application. Read it for its beauty, the elegance of its narrative, its simple truths, its poignant scenes of action, of heroism, of hope. Read it for its great characters and its humor. Read it because you want to see what happens next. Read it because it is a page turner that you can’t put down. Later on after you go to sleep and you are haunted in your dreams by the questions raised by the book, read this humble English major’s analysis of it.

I hope this helps, Sami.

Thanks,

Preston L. Allen, 20 September 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Writing Tip: Writer's Block

Q: Writer's Block . . . blah, blah, blah

A: I've had at least a dozen questions in the last month about writer's block, so it's time to post my official response to it again.

Thanks,

Preston
___________________________

Writer's Block?
The question of writer's block comes up every time I teach a creative writing class, so I'm going to answer it for once and for all.

If you ever get writer's block, do what I do. Go swing a golf club.

Or go watch a movie. Or read a book. Or talk with a friend. Do something. Eat a pizza. Do anything. Just don't worry about writer's block. It goes away eventually, especially since it does not exist in the first place.

Here's the deal. If I commissioned you to write a play about a group of friends united by their love of fried conch, you'd go out and do it because, one, it's a job, and, two, you can write. Piece of cake. Your biggest problem would be doing the research on conch, but the actual writing would be a cinch.

On the other hand, if I commissioned you to go sit down and write a great play and I gave you no further directions, you'd sit on your butt and ponder suicide.

That sitting on your butt and pondering self immolation is what the layman calls writer's block. What do I write? What the heck do I write? My god, I have nothing to write about. My god, nothing is coming out of me. I'm blocked.

No you're not blocked.

Are you deaf? Can you not hear what your inner writer is really saying? I HAVE nothing to write about. Again, there is no such thing as writer's block, but there is such a thing as no assignment.

Writing is a job. Sometimes you have a boss. Sometimes you're self-employed. Either way, you've got lots of work to do. The writer with the boss (journalist, script doctor, ad person, jinglist, jingoist) never has writer's block. Heck, the writer with the boss has too much writing to do.

The self-employed writer, on the other hand, is her own boss, and now I think you see the problem. The self-employed writer has to do TWO jobs: write AND come up with the assignments. When she can't find an assignment, she says she has writer's block. The big lie. That's like a teacher saying he has teacher's block because it's summer and he can't find any kids to teach.

Follow the pen, my brothers and sisters. Follow the pen.

What the self-employed writer has to do, when he can't find an assignment is pick up the pen and write. Just write. It's your job, buddy. So write. Write anything.

"I can't find anything to write about. There is absolutely nothing to write about. The only interesting thing is that story about the dog and the necktie I was putting off to work on over the summer. Actually, that story is pretty good. It kind of reminds me of the way I used to write when . . . ."

And voila! Writer's block is gone, because it never existed.

The other thing you have to remember is that as a self-employed writer, you are not restricted to writing plays--you can write anything. So start following the pen, and maybe it will become an essay, a poem, a page in the journal, some crappy ten pages of ramblings about a mutt and a necktie, a play, a great play, whatever. It doesn't matter because you are your own boss, and thus, the only standard you set for yourself is that you find TRUTH in everything you write.

So . . . if you want to write more and feel less of that thing called writer's block that we both agree does not exist, then you must go out and get yourself a job as a writer (see list above in paragraph 7).

Or give yourself more structure as a
self-employed writer. "I am going to write two pages of dialogue in my new play every day for a month. Then I am going to write a page of synopsis of a future project every night." Then follow your rules. This rigor will work to trick the mind into thinking that you are answering to some boss who requires two pages of this or that each day or she will withhold your paycheck. There are other techniques like that, which you can find in every beginning creative writing textbook.

But, come on, it's all smoke and mirrors, really. You don't need that stuff. Structure. Groannn. Yuck. That's why you're self-employed in the first place! You hate structure. You want the freedom of writing only when it is fresh and original and novel . . . I think the word I'm searching for here is "inspired." You want the freedom to write only when you're inspired. INSPIRATION is your boss. INSPIRATION tells you what assignments to work on.

But sometimes when you sit around waiting for inspiration, you kinda feel like nothing will ever come. You kinda feel like you have writer's block. Here we go again.

Your problem is you want to have your cake and eat it, too. You want brilliant inspiration to flow from your pen, but you're too lazy to treat writing like a job and do it every day so that you get better at it and better at it until every time you pick up your pen the muses obey YOUR commands.

You want to spend months away from writing while you PLAY AT being a writer, in your smoking jacket, at those chic gatherings, where all the cool writers who, like you, have mastered the "writer's look" hang out--and then, finally, when all the parties have ended, you, with your writing muscles flabby from disuse, expect to just sit down and demand brilliance to flow.

Then when, surprise, surprise, it does not come, you claim writer's block.

That's not the way it's done, my brothers and sisters. If you want to be a writer, you'd better pick up that pen.

Every day.

And enjoy the pizza

--Preston L. Allen,

Writing Tip: How Many Drafts Does It Take?

Q: Preston, you are known for revising a lot. How do you know when you have revised enough?

A: After I revise many times, my mind begins to worry about typos and other errors I may have missed. So I revise some more.

After I revise many more times, my mind says this is great, this is publishable, excellent! But then after a few days I get anxious about how reviewers like the NY Times or Publishers Weekly or even Black Voices and the Feminist Review will feel about the book. I worry that they may not like it because they think that I am saying something or implying something that I am not. So I revise some more.

After I revise many more times, I read the manuscript and my mind says, the book is saying what it has to say. The book is saying what it needs to say. The book is saying what you want it to say, Preston. You've done it, kiddo!

At this point, I cease to be concerned about reviewers because I am no longer concerned about getting a bad review.

This is not to say that I want a bad review, but that a bad review does not matter because the book has been polished to the point where it is taking a stand. Its message is clear--if you dislike it, you are disliking it because you dislike the message not because I have written it so poorly that you miss the message or that you cannot understand the message. I do not write to be loved, necessarily. I write to be understood.


Good Question

Preston

Friday, September 6, 2013

Writing Tip:Humor

Q:How do you write so that your readers will laugh? Not at you but with you. You seem to do it so well.

A:I'm tickled by your compliment. It made me laugh. See? You can write humor.

But the serious answer is simple: Don't try. Just show people being people. In fact, let me post a short interview I did with Michele Jessica Fievre.



MJ: Where did the idea for Every Boy Should Have a Man come from?

PRESTON: I was in the Everglades up to my knees in swamp water for a class I was taking. I was wary of the alligators that were lurking unseen and unfriendly nearby, of the buzzing insects and creepy crawly things slithering past, of the swarms of birds singing above my head when the thought hit me—man is an animal too. Now this was not an original idea, nor was it the first time it had come to me, but never so forcefully and with such meaning. The alligator is at the top of the food chain in this bioregion, and though I fear him, my species occupies the link above his. We can hunt him, cage him, make of him an amusement in our zoos, or even a somewhat exotic meal. I remembered my childhood in Boston when I brought tadpoles home in my pockets, pulled them out, and handed them dead to my mother. I was not cruel. I did not mean to kill them. I was simply a child—but a child who occupied the link above the tadpoles. I did not mean to hurt them, but again I was a child of that higher order species. But who is above us? Who would make us pets? Who would make of us a meal? What would be the species of the child who brought us home dead in his pockets to give to his mother? What would be the species of the child who brought us home trailing after him on a makeshift leash to his mother and heard her exclaim, “Take that stinky thing out of this house right now!” What child with tears already welling in his eyes would plead to his mother, “But, Mom, every boy should have a man?”

MJ: Your books are usually full of humor. Can we expect humor from Every Boy Should Have a Man?

PRESTON: Yes. Oh, my, yes. The book is very funny, but deep.

MJ: Speaking of humor, tell us about where your appreciation for humor comes from. I’m curious about your models.

PRESTON: I have learned that there are many roads to the land of funny. But most of them start with this piece of sage advice: Don’t try too hard to be funny. People are funny enough already. Simply depict people doing people things in the way people do them and you will have humor. Look carefully at what stand up comics do. I learned this lesson way back in my Freshman Composition class from a textbook by Ken Macrorie, Telling Writing. Study his section on fabulous realities. But I already had a pretty good instinct for funny growing up in a home with five boys. We were funny. Funny as hell.