Jeanpaul Ferro interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Mar 21, 2016 1:23:05 PM
Jeanpaul Ferro interview with David Alan Binder
Jéanpaul Ferro is a novelist, short fiction author, and poet from Scituate, Rhode Island. A 10-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared on National Public Radio, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Asia Literary Review, Connecticut Review, Istanbul Review, Arts & Understanding Magazine, Saltsburg Review, and others. He is the author of All The Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009) Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011), nominated for both the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry. He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.
1. How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)?
Jéanpaul Ferro is actually pronounced the French pronunciation like Jéan-Luke or Jéan-Pierre. It confuses a lot of people, because I have an Italian last name. Many times people who met me for the first time start talking French to me and it can be quite amusing, because I understand a little Italian but zero French.
2. Where are you currently living?
I currently live along the sublime south coast of Rhode Island. It’s a beautiful forested area with emerald salt ponds and the most beautiful cinnamon colored beaches. On a clear day you can see Block Island off the coast.
3. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
That no matter how successful or unsuccessfully you may be in your art you have to continually create and refine your craft. Everything you write or sculpt or sing will make you better at your craft whether that individual piece is successful or not. You learn something valuable every time you create something else. And that lesson may be invaluable to you later on, because when you need it most it will come naturally, because you’ve already done it before.
4. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
I believe it is the sense of urgency I see in my writing. I don’t know where that comes from. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I guess. If I feel passionately about something it seems to bleed through in my work. I hear from a lot of editors about this urgency, even from the ones who may decide not to publish my fiction or poetry. I think this is visible even in my photography. Sometimes I feel editors are a little jittery about publishing a piece that makes them feel uncomfortable. But I tend to write about what I feel, so I can’t mute that sense of urgency.
5. Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?
My experience in publishing has been a long strange journey. I’ve had several books published throughout the years. Five books of poetry and one collection of short stories. But I have also written twenty-eight novels, all of which are yet to be published. My advice to other writers is to forgo self-publishing. There are so many venues for self-publishing right now that it is almost embarrassing. These books are generally terribly edited. Many of these venues heap undue praise on unaware writers in hopes of luring them into their web of zero sales. If you are not getting published in the traditional way there is a reason. Usually a writer is not polished enough. Also, just because you have a passion for writing does not mean you deserve to be published. If your work deserves to be published it will be. And the truth of the matter is there are no short cuts. No one is going to notice your work if you self-publish. In fact it usually has the opposite effect. The larger publishers give no credence to someone having self-published a book. It’s akin to writing a letter of recommendation for yourself. No one would accept that as a valid endorsement, but the lure of seeing your own work in print is so appealing that many people do it anyway, because they can’t stand all the rejection. The truth is if you cannot handle rejection en masse being a writer is going to feel like you are in hell.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
My collection of short poetry nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry, Essendo Morti – Being Dead, was published by Goldfish Press out of Eustis, Florida. My collection of poetry nominated for the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, and also the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry, called Jazz was published by Honest Publishing out of the United Kingdom. Honest Publishing is just tremendous outfit.
6. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
When you first start out having eBooks published is great way to expand your horizon and build an audience. In 2016 you certainly want an Internet presence. So make full use of the eBook publishing world. There are a lot more venues to choose from nowadays, much more than small traditional publishers; and I’m a huge advocate for e-publishing when a writer is just starting out.
When it comes to alternative verses conventional publishing it all comes down to the type of books you want write.
If you are going to commit to the commercial publishing world then your books are probably not going to fit into alternative publishing. My novels, for example, aim to be commercial. I have not had them published, because if you try and write a commercial based novel and all the big New York houses say no to that book there is no other outlet for you to get published in.
My advice to other writers is that they should try and start off in the alternative publishing world, build up a foundation and audience, and then try to tackle the conventional publishing path.
7. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
Do not enter contests that charge a fee and do not submit to literary journals that charge any sort of fee. It is a waste of your time and money.
Read. Read. Read. Find out what the top selling and most popular books of the year are. Read them all. That way you will see what the traditional publishers are looking for, what’s selling, and what the latest trends are. When you do this you’ll see that there is a lot more 1st person narratives than 3rd person. You’ll see the type of characters people are relating to. You’ll learn to spot the arcs that lure readers into novels. It is sort of like schooling yourself on the latest trends in the publishing world. After you do this then use that knowledge in your own work—not to copy, but to tailor your work toward what editors are willing to buy.
Also, you have to build up a track record in the publishing world. You can’t start off writing a novel and think everyone is going to want to publish it. You should begin by writing short fiction and learning what it takes to make a successful short story. If you cannot write a successful short story it is going to be difficult for you to write a successful novel. If you want to climb Mount Everest you should probably start off on a smaller mountain first.
8. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
I first sent my novel The Final Farwell around to about 500 agents back in 2004. I studied who was who and what each agent represented. 480 of those agents rejected my novel outright. 20 asked to read it. Of those 20 there were 10 who rejected the novel after reading the whole novel. The other 10 really seemed to agonize over whether they should represent me or not. One super-agent, who will remain anonymous, had everyone in his agency read my novel and they voted on whether they should represent me. I lost 7 to 6. The other 9 agents basically told me they loved my book and my writing, but their gut told them my novel wasn’t a best seller so they had to pass. Every single one of them told me not to give up.
Flash forward a decade. I wrote a new novel called Torchlight Parade. It was about an American who gets caught in Italy during WWII. After he loses almost everything he winds up being the man who kills Hitler in the Furor bunker in Berlin. I submitted this novel to well over 1,000 literary agents—big names, no names, and everyone in between. I still have that list of agents to remind me. I had around 60 agents ask to read the entire manuscript. 5 of those agents ultimately offered me representation. Shortly, thereafter I signed with the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. They represent National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward and Pulitzer Prize Winner Oscar Hijuelos. No one could ask for a more resolute agent than Jennifer Lyons. Through thick and thin she is always there for me.
My advice for acquiring an agent is this:
Understand that agents represent books. You need a great book in order for someone to represent you.
Second, you need to build up a portfolio of writing credits, awards and award nominations, and relationships with editors before shopping around for an agent. Sure, if you write the Great American Novel the first time out and it truly is amazing you don’t need any foundation, but that is rare. By contrast show an agent that you are not a fly-by-night wannabe, that you are truly committed to your craft, and that may get you out of the slush pile and onto their desk.
Third, you have to research the type of books every agent represents. If you have a historical novel and you reach out to an agent who only represents Chick-Lit then you are wasting their time and yours. Nowadays an agent’s websites will not only tell you what an agent is looking but also what they are not looking for. The Internet is a powerful tool. Use it to its fullest!
And lastly, never ask someone who has an agent to help you get their agent to read your book. An agent has to believe in your writing. And your friend’s agent simply may not be the right agent that is going to fall in love with your book. You have to do your homework and put in the effort as a writer before you can ever dream of trying to find an agent.
9. Do you have any suggestions or help for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Every writer should learn from my mistakes, because I’ve made them all over the course of the last 30 years.
Commit to being a writer! There are no short cuts. There is not going to be a block of time that magically opens up in your life that will allow you to write that great collection of poetry or that great novel. You have to make the time. It may be only an hour a day at lunch or before work. But those hours add up when you use them. And in the end you’re going to have to learn to write at the most inopportune times. You might as well learn to do it early on.
Learn from your mistakes. I’ve had really great novels rejected because of one or two small elements I refused to correct out of pride. I’m the writer. I’m the artist. I don’t need others to tell me how my book should be constructed. Well that sort of thinking is dumb and shortsighted. Don’t be an idiot like the younger version of me. If you put a flawed novel out to all forty New York publishing houses and they all reject it? Trust me. That book is never going to get a second chance. Make sure your work is polished and as near perfect as possible the first time around!
Get it out of your head that having talent is all you need. Writing is about structure, grabbing your audience by the neck, the flow of your narrative, and writing great characters. The only thing you can do with your talent is to make all of those things better. And no publisher or agent is going to take you on simply because of your potential. Potential never put food on anyone’s table.
Never quit. I was so let down back in the 90’s that I wasn’t making it as a writer that I quit writing for five whole years (1996 to 2000). The truth about this is I was getting published in magazines and journals regularly. Editors were encouraging to me. Literary journals that rejected my work often queried me to encourage me to resubmit to them again. But that wasn’t good enough. I needed immediate gratification. The truth is when I choose to quit writing those were years I could have wrote a great novel. I’ll never know. At a minimum I could have written prose that I could have learned from later on even in failure. So don’t ever give up!
Write for yourself. If you write a book you think others will want to read that book is going to fail. You need to write a book that comes from who you are. If the industry comes to you then it comes to you. If that doesn’t happen you gave it your all. Life is truly about how you are going to handle failure. It is about almost nothing else.
10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
The most surprising thing to me is that gorgeous writing and great books get turned down by publishers for any number of reasons.
One editor may love your writing style, but they can’t connect to your narrative. Another editor reading the same book might connect to your narrative, but they might not love your writing style. Getting published sometimes can be very arbitrary. And nobody is going to help clean up your novel because it has potential. Write your novel or poem or short story and then make it shine!
Also, getting a publishing contract is a lot like getting married. You may date some great people, but you want to be bowled over by the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. There wasn’t really anything wrong with those other people you may have dated—well, usually. Books are the same way. Editors, agents, and publishers want to be bowled over. That means a lot of great novels and books never see the light of day. This is a harsh fact. You need to embrace this, accept it, and then move on!
11. How many books have you written?
Wow. This is very strange to put down into print, because I never have.
I have written 30 books of poetry. 11 collections of short fiction. And 28 novels. 6 of those books have been published. And there are some pretty good unpublished books and novels in that portfolio. Some very bad ones too. I’m pretty sure I could win both a contest for best unpublished novel and worst unpublished novel. And in reality aren’t they both the same thing? A hundred-thousand people booing you is no different than a hundred-thousand people cheering you on. At least nowadays.
Thankfully, four years ago I signed with the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. We are currently shopping my 28th novel “Midnight City”—a novel that blithely tracks the unusual life of a young man trying to make it out in Hollywood.
12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?
Read what is currently being published. Know the trends. Keep up with what novels and work is having a huge impact in the industry. Don’t be afraid to write outside of your comfort zone. You can learn something from everything you write—whether it’s good or bad. Take writing courses if you haven’t studied writing within a university setting. Study the writing of other writers. Be humble. The next person who knows everything will be the first one to do so.
13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
To have really great twists in a story you have to subtly plant those seeds early on. You can do this by placing an object in a room, have someone mention something in passing, something whose significance isn’t revealed until later on. You can also put traits in characters that will make something have to happen in the story later. You need to think about these things before you start to write. Then you can weave them into your story from the opening pages.
14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
Longing and failure. These are the emotions that touch everyone. Most of my work is about this. I also tend to write topically. I can’t help it. There are too many important issues in the world that need a light shined on them. Strangely, this type of work is mostly desired outside the U.S. rather than at home. Maybe it’s too hard to look at when it is your own problems.
15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
I often send a note or press release to literary journals, magazines, and publishers who have published my work in the past. Many times they will give you some publicity because of that. I also post my work on different social media sites and also on my own website. I also ask other writers to write reviews of my work and send those around to different publications.
16. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
I would have studied art, literature, and creative writing instead of studying computer science and business. I would rather eke out a living doing something I am passionate about than having to find the time to do it in a secondary manner.
17. What would you like carved onto your tombstone? Or what saying or mantra do you live by?
That’s an easy one. The late, great Frank O’Hara said it all:
Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous.
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