Author Interviews, Blog, Sweet Romance Blog

Author Interview: Roger Stark, Historical Romance/ Biography/ Creative Non-fiction

Roger Stark

Historical Romance, WW2, Biography, Creative Non-fiction, 

Author of: They Called Him Marvin  

From Planning to Published

When did you start writing and why?

Author:  Several years ago while working as an Addiction Counselor I wrote two how-to books on recovery. I ended up self publishing them and have had a modest amount of success with the first, “The Waterfall Concept”  has some success. That process gave me a functioning knowledge of the process but I really had no plans or desires to write another book, on any subject.

And then I became friends with Marv Sherman.

Marv and Judy (Marv’s wife) had invited my wife, Sue and I to dinner, it was a sort of thank you dinner for some assistance I gave them when they went on a temporary work assignment (Marv is a veterinarian) to Alaska. Marv and I engaged in a rather emotional conversation about his father that he had never met. His father, Dean, was a B29 Airplane Commander during WW2, shot down over Nagoya Japan, captured and ……..(you will have to read the story to learn the rest.)

Marv’s knowledge of his father was staggeringly incomplete and he openly wept as he told me the story. He had avoided learning about what had happened to his father to avoid the pain the knowledge would bring to him. I felt a compassion for my friend overcame me and I committed to helping him learn of his Dad. That turned into a request to write the story and It was on.  

How long did it take you to finish your first book?

Author:  It took 8 years to write and publish TCHM. Much of that time was divided between research and re-writes. I knew little of the war and was shocked to learn the fates of B29 airman shot down over Japan, to say nothing of my shock at learning how the B29 were used against the Japanese people. During the Viet Nam War I was aware of vigorous condemnations of the use of napalm against the Viet Namese people. Turns out there was a good reason, they newly experience the horrors of fire bombing. Especially the fire bombing of urban areas without military targets. 

Marv had his parent’s letters from the war. Connie had kept everyone of Dean’s letters she received. The only letters from Connie he had were returned to her as undeliverable after he went MIA. Marv could not bring himself to even read the letters, he had attempted to transcribe them but that proved to be an emotional quagmire for him and he did not finish.  

What is your publishing process?

Author:  My process was certainly non-traditional. When I wrote “The Waterfall Concept” about 15 years ago I was a complete publishing novice. After finishing my manuscript I sent it to a few publishers for consideration, waiting for six months to hear back from them, I always got a similar reply, “Great manuscript, unfortunately, we are not interested.”

In my frustration, started to consider how to self publish. That is when I stumbled across Gorham Printing located just a few miles from me in Centraila, Wa. They specialize in helping self publishers, usually printing in small lots. I had to find my own editor and obtain an ISBN number, but they managed the formatting and printing process for me. I really cannot say enough good things about these people. They are incredible!

With several hundred copies of my book, I literally took off in the family car in search of a distributor. That trip did not go well. After lots of miles and lots of “No’s” I gave up and started for home. There was one more potential stop that I had written off because of all the other responses I had received. But a few miles north of Salt Lake City, I engaged in a rather lengthy sales conversation with the owner of Brigham Distributing. I could tell as the conversation wore on that the owner was weighing this opportunity in his mind, with it’s very low chance of much profitability. He startled me when he jumped up and said, “Sure we will distribute your book, do you have any copies with you?”

I could not unload the car fast enough, afraid he might change his mind. Brigham took care of creating the ebook, getting the Amazon listing, and getting bookstores know the book was available.

With all that in mind when I was finishing the “They Called Him Marvin” manuscript, I never considered anything but self publishing. I knew what hoops I had to jump through and it all seemed easier the third time through. 

How do you get critiques, betas, feedback, and edits?

Author:     The secret sauce for me were the writing groups at the Writer’s Attic in Portland Or. Great comrades as we each worked on our individual projects, reading and critiquing each other’s work, we all grew as writers. Many of the key elements of TCHM were developed in the those groups sitting around the tables giving feedback to each other

Normally I don’t respond well to criticisms of my writing (a serious pride issue on my part) but somehow in those groups, my defenses dropped and I could hear what others were saying. Perhaps that speaks to the trust we developed in each other, it was a rather remarkable experience, making these new friends and growing to love them. We could, after all, see right into their hearts by reading their writings.

Marketing

How do you get reviews for your books?

Author:   Reviews. They are quite the writers’s challenge when launching a work.  I thought I was being very aggressive about getting pre publication reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Being not very well connected in the writing world, I did not have a bevy of fellow writers to trade reviews with. I bought a few initially, used Netgalley, and some other like sources, gaining a few reviews but not in the quantity that I had hoped for. I turned to family (who cares that their last name is the same as mine) then friends, then in a desperation move, acquaintances, using a very loose definition of the word. A few friends talked their friends into helping out and by the publication date we had enough to launch.  

How do you promote your content?

Author: If you have any suggestions, I am all ears. This is where I made my biggest mistake in judgment.  I felt pretty good about marketing and promoting of my Addiction Recovery books . Well, what I learned back then, really didn’t apply to a book about a WW2 love story with a tragic ending. Suffice it to say I am still working on this part of my project. 

I did make a rather expensive mistake on Amazon advertising. In my inexperience I made a several thousand dollar blunder that netted me nothing, I still swear a little bit when I think about it.

I do like Book Tours obviously and feel they are well worth the money. Reduced price promotions of the ebook have raised awareness also. We have a constant Facebook presence and ad campaigns, Amazon ads are on the back burner for now. They have a place in my marketing plan, I am just not sure I know where that is yet. 

About Your Work

What do you want your readers to get out of your works? 

Author:      To remember and honor those that have given so much in our behalf. In TCHM Dean gave his all in service to his country, but it didn’t stop there, his wife and son went on giving the rest of their lives, deprived of a relationship with him. 

Marvin was a half orphan and struggled to figure out life. Some of his teenage exploits are both humorous and terrifying at the same time. He quit high school and in a moment of clarity realized that he needed some discipline that a place, like say the Army, might bring into his life. He was absolutely right about the Army and after his service he went onto college to become a licensed veterinarian. 

Do you recommend any programs, courses, or websites?

Author:   My experience is that there are local writer’s groups all over this country and if there isn’t one in your area the internet can bring one to you. For me writing was the main thing that helped me improve my skills. I wrote for a recovery magazine for several years, my editor towards the end of that work made the comment, “Your writing skills have really improved.” That was news to me! I thought I was just writing like I always did, my own eyes could not see the improvements. That shows the importance of another pair of eyes looking at your work. You don’t need to believe everything you hear, as we say in recovery, “just take what you like and leave the rest.”

What is your writing process, from idea to polished work? Pantster? Plotter? How long does that typically take you?

Author:    I am a rewriter! I long ago lost count of the chapter ones for TCHM. My brain can just see a better way to phrase a passage when I look at a written presentation of it. Ann Lamott in an article on writing gave us all permission to write a shitty first draft. (Her word not mine) That advice has served me very well, when I stopped trying to write the perfect sentence the first time through, the quality and quantity of my writing increased dramatically.

After I was about one half way through my manuscript, Marv came to me with a family history Connie had penned that had been lost to the family. The facts she revealed did not agree with the creative non fiction account I had conjured up. Which meant I wasn’t half way through my manuscript at all.

Struggles

What has been the hardest thing to overcome on your journey to authorship?

Author:  SELF DOUBT. I will say no more on the subject.  

Fun Stuff 

What do you listen to while you write?

Author:   There were three things I  listened to as I wrote. (I am listening to one of them now as I write this.) Disturbed’s version of “Sounds of Silence,” The theme to “The Last of the Mohicans” and Boston’s “Third Stage” album. All were on continuous tape and played at a very high volume.    

What is your favorite writing snack and drink?

Author:    I am not sure of the food or snack but I know such breaks involved Dr Pepper!