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My Interview with Dave Anderson

It never ceases to amaze me how many of our youth’s teachers decide to branch out and write novels.  Do you think spending most of your day with the audience you’re trying to reach with your novel helped?

Absolutely. In fact, that’s the main reason I decided to try my hand at young adult fiction. There are  a lot of great books out there aimed at teenagers, quite unlike the stuff I was forced to read when I was a kid, when the The Outsiders was about as edgy as things got. Young adult fiction is so diverse nowadays, and as a teacher, it’s interesting to see what my students are currently into. In my humble opinion, a lot of the best, most original stories being published are young adult novels.

The premise for Killer Cows is absolutely amazing, what inspired you?

Besides other authors of YA fiction I admire, like Gordon Korman and Jerry Spinelli, the main inspiration was B-movies. I’ve always loved that stuff growing up, the cheesy low budget sci-fi and horror flicks.  There was a movie from the early 70s called Night of the Lepus, which was about giant killer rabbits. Absolutely hilarious! I wanted to place that same ridiculous animal-on-the-rampage premise within the context of a YA point-of-view, with a little Star Wars thrown in.  To the best of my knowledge, it something that hasn’t really been done before, not in YA anyway.

Now that you’ve written and published one exciting YA novel, what’s next for you?  Are you continuing the saga or branching out to tackle other projects?

Well, for now, I like writing YA fiction. I’m currently trying to place my second novel with an agent or publisher, while finishing up my third. Neither of them are follow-ups to Killer Cows. I’d also like to try my hand at non-fiction, and have an idea or two which might be interesting. Something related to heavy metal music, which I love and know quite a bit about.

As far as continuing the Killer Cows saga goes, a lot of that depends on the success of the first book. I think it works as a stand-alone story, but I did leave the door open for a series, just in case. I have at least one sequel completely outlined, and would love to revisit these characters again, but only if there‘s an audience for it. To me, spending the better part of a year writing a sequel no one asked for is kind-of counter productive. I’ve been told by some writers that’s the wrong approach, that an author should pursue a book series anyway if that’s their ultimate plan. And from a creative standpoint, that makes total sense. At the same time, wouldn’t it be sad to write thousands of pages of a trilogy or series that no one ever reads?

Now that I‘ve finally managed to publish a book, my goals have changed, for better or worse. I’m still totally jazzed that Killer Cows is out there, but now my goal is to make my next book even better and more successful.  Don’t get me wrong, I still write because I enjoy it, and that should be the main reason anyone writes. But we also write because we ultimately want our work to be read. If that ends up being a Cows sequel, great, but I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket.

Have you considered writing another genre of fiction or do you plan to stay with scifi/fantasy YA?

To be honest, I’m not really a big fan of sci-fi/fantasy novels, and don’t consider Killer Cows a sci-fi story in the traditional sense. When I’m writing, I don’t really care about the genre. I just want to try and tell a good story. My second novel, Shaken, is totally different from Killer Cows. It’s an action/disaster novel, and much darker. The one I’m finishing up right now is a YA horror story, only really balls-to-the-wall with no emo vampires. The only thing the three stories really have in common is they could be described as ‘pulp fiction for kids‘. Maybe that could be my own little genre.

I know when I received the contract to have my book published, my family practically oozed with pride.  How was it for you?

My wife was pretty happy, but she was also so accustomed to me sitting at the computer for hours per day, I think the overall feeling was “Well, it’s about time.” To be honest, I was actually a little bit disappointed by most of the reactions from my family. Yeah, I got a lot of ‘good for yous’ and stuff, but for the most part, considering this has been a life-long dream and how hard it was to achieve, I was hoping people would have been more excited. No, I didn’t expect everyone to do cartwheels and bow at my feet, and maybe I shouldn’t assume that just because something is a big deal to me that it should be to others. Perhaps my own expectations were just too high.

Most of my family still haven’t read it, even though their approval means a great deal to me. Then again, my writing aspirations have never been a big concern of theirs, so maybe it’s unrealistic to assume they’re suddenly going to drop everything and read my book. I know they are proud of me, but what I really want is for them to read what I’ve done. Right now, with the exception of my wife, my niece and a few in-laws, no one in my family has really expressed any interest in the novel itself.

That’s okay, though, and I‘m not really that worked-up about it because, in the end, writing a book was something I did for myself.

Is there any advice you’d be willing to impart to aspiring writers?  What was the hardest thing for you to overcome?

Yeah, plenty. First, make sure that you‘re writing what you‘d personally be interested in reading, not what you think would sell and make you rich. If you write fantasy, it should be because you enjoy the genre, not because it is popular. There’s a good chance the only audience for your first novel is going to be you, because almost nobody’s first book is ever sold. That’s a good thing, too, because the first novel I ever finished was a piece of crap, but I still enjoy occasionally trucking it out of my desk drawer and going through it.

My second piece of advice would be to develop get used to rejection. Agents and publishers don’t owe you anything. They are a business, and just because they reject your work doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t write. It just means what you’ve written isn’t what they are looking for.  Publishers and agents are fickle, and are pretty specific about what types of stories they are interested in. Writers should definitely research who they are considering submitting their work to. In any case, do NOT give up! Rejection is part of the game, and overcoming rejection is, without a doubt, the hardest part of writing.

My last bit of advice would be to remember that signing a contract doesn’t mean the hard work is over, which I’m currently discovering. It’s up to you to let others know your book even exists, and this is especially true for new, unknown writers whose books are released by smaller publishers. I think a lot of writers think the publisher does all the promoting. That may have been true at one time, but not anymore. There’s a ton of self-promotion involved. I have literally spent hours per day (time I would normally spend writing) trying to set up interviews, book signings, contacting reviewers, libraries, readers and independent bookstores. Sometimes it’s fun, but it’s also hard bloody work, and occasionally very frustrating, especially if you don’t know whether or not it’s doing any good. And you have to go through this, because even if you’ve written the next Gone With The Wind, no one is going to care if they don’t know about it.

From the time you started planning your novel, to writing it, to holding it in your hands, what was the hardest part to get through and what part brought you the most joy?

Without a doubt, the toughest part was trying to find a publisher. It took longer to sell the book than it did to write it. There are so many good (and bad) writers out there trying to do the same thing, and it was incredibly difficult to even get anyone’s attention, especially since this was my first novel. Being able to write is one thing, but being able to get someone interested in what you’ve written is an entirely different skill altogether. It was through trial and error that I learned how to write decent query letters and synopses. During that time, Killer Cows must have been rejected by over 50 agents and publishers before I was offered a contract.

The greatest joy, besides holding the book in my hands, was when my wife read the book and told me she cried at the ending. That was big for me because my wife has always been my most brutally-honest critic, so her stamp of approval meant a lot to me. I’m going to cheat on this question and add that the other greatest joy is reading the reviews or opinions of people who don’t know me. It’s one thing to hear feedback from friends or family (who might simply be impressed you wrote a book at all), but it’s quite another to get feedback from someone who owes you nothing. I’m discovering that I don’t really care whether reviews are good or bad (though they are mostly pretty good). Besides, a bad review is better than none at all.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?

If anything, I wish I had started taking it seriously a lot earlier. I’ve been writing most of my life in some form or another, but only really got serious about the business of writing during the past few years. Now that I’m in my mid-forties, and am just now seeing a bit of success, I think about all those years wasted, when I never finished what I started, or went several years without writing a damn thing. I always had dreams of being a writer, but spent more time talking about it than anything else, and never following through on projects. I guess I just wasn’t mature enough yet.

What’s really ironic is the whole kid-with-flying-saucer element of Killer Cows was one of the very first ideas I ever had for a novel. I just never did anything about it until a few years ago. So it occasionally crosses my mind how many books I could have had published by now if I had only taken it more seriously twenty years ago. Then again, I’m a better writer now than I was then, so maybe it wouldn’t have been any different.

I noticed that you plan on implementing your novel into your teaching curriculum.  I have to ask, how cool is that?  I can only imagine what it would feel like.  Are your students proud?

It’s way cool, but wasn’t actually my idea. Personally, I worried about the whole thing being a big act of nepotism, but my principal and teaching partner thought this would be a great chance for kids to get insights from the actual author of the book they are reading. So Killer Cows will be the focus of a novel study class.

As far as my students go, I teach seventh graders, so reactions have been varied. That’s a hard age to impress with anything. Some kids have assumed I’m automatically going to be rich and famous (don’t I wish!). Some have been impressed, while others couldn’t care less. It’s a funny age group to be around all day. And since these kids are the intended audience of the book, they will be the ultimate litmus test to determine whether or not the book is successful…from a creative standpoint, anyway.

With a full time job teaching young minds, how difficult is it to find time to write new novels and find time to market your current book?

Extremely difficult. In addition to teaching, family obligations and marketing Cows, I’m also trying to finish up a master degree, so I don’t have nearly the amount of time I’d like to work on my own writing. Work on my current novel has slowed to a crawl, simply because of other obligations. It’s sometimes very aggravating because I know I could be producing a good novel every six months if given the chance. Ah, to be doing that for a living…wouldn’t it be great? Who knows…maybe someday.

  1. September 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Great interview! I love hearing from other authors and their inspirations. I wish the author the best on his next book!

  2. September 3, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Pretty much my experience. Keep up the good work. Please visit my blog and leave a comment. Thanks!

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