Q & A with JP Paul

December 21st, 2017

First, congratulations on your fine review @ Kirkus Reviews. Before I ask you a few quick questions, I'll copy the review for those who haven't read it.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A stylish family saga in which modernity comes to a small, old Southern town.

In his ambitious debut novel, Paul tells the story of the savvy, artistic Proctar family in Cane Valley, Florida. They find their sedate way of life disturbed when corporate interests and an ambitious technology company, Global Cybernetics, stumble upon their idyllic town and offer buyouts to local landowners. Although some see the influx of wealth as an opportunity, the family patriarch Max Proctar, a sculptor, is reticent, wary of the changes that the town’s growth will likely bring. His social standing and his land holdings in town command respect, but they also make him a target as outside forces begin to infringe on his bohemian way of life. In addition, Max must also face the return of his adult children, who struggle to reconcile their love for him with his curmudgeonly ways. The most compelling character among this cohort is Zara Proctar, an aspiring painter searching for her own path. The Proctars, a collection of witty, erudite aesthetes, resemble J.D. Salinger’s famous Glass family, but they also bring a Faulknerian Southern attitude and 21st-century concerns. Paul writes in a verbose, intelligent style that recalls David Foster Wallace. The narration is lively, but the dialogue sometimes bumps up against the limits of the believable; casual conversation includes comments such as “Isn’t this the century when workers thrive on independence and middle managers with antiquated cattle prods fade into irrelevance?” Still, although such remarks may strain credulity, they also lend the Proctars an indelible charm. This novel will be sure to please fans of family epics, and may also appeal to those with an interest in how technological and corporate culture are encroaching on personal lives in the 21st century.

A strong, stylish novel about one family’s battle to preserve its identity in the face of changing times.

I've known and collaborated with you for many years. I must say I think they nailed both you as a writer and the book, RATTLE. How do you feel?

Thanks, and yes, I'm thrilled that Kirkus seemed to enjoy both the nuances of the story lines and the stylistic decisions I made when considering the writing approach. To have a professional reviewer like Kirkus invoke references to great writers such as David Foster Wallace, William Faulkner and J.D. Salinger is heart-warming and humbling. I admire all three, something I won't consider lightly as I progress in my career. Simply overwhelming. Next question.

It's interesting that the reviewer felt that Zara Proctar is the most compelling character?

In November's Q&A at the time of book launch, I mentioned that I felt that the main female characters like Zara, Chloe and Lillian were pillars of the story. They're not the main characters, and certainly Max is the lead protagonist since much of the action and plot sculpting revolves around him, but I'm happy to see that Zara is getting her respect. She's a strong force throughout the book. It's important to remember that this family and story were envisioned as a series. There's plenty of time for Zara to glow in Part Two.

Kirkus feels your writing style is verbose and intelligent? Do you feel you're too wordy, possibly long-winded?

I'm not ashamed of verbosity, if that's what you mean. I don't read it as a criticism. To be compared to David Foster Wallace under any context is an astounding complement for me because he was a master contemporary writer who I admire immensely. Again, last month I mentioned that many years immersed in Latin America has influenced my style. One consequence of this is elaborate, lengthy sentences and layered descriptions. English teachers and editors warn students to be careful about using too many adjectives and adverbs. I guess I missed those classes! I love modifiers and descriptions that clarify. I mean, if this is what comes out when I'm constructing sentences, and if I feel the text is still fluid and approachable, then why go back and simplifiy it for the small minority of readers who just want to speed-read through a story? I've always mentioned that my writing isn't for everyone, that many from different backgrounds won't grasp my references, but I believe that a reader can engage with this book at different levels. For those who want to delve in the subtleties, they can. Others can fly through the story, if they prefer. I purposely made a novel that has many skins.

So you admit that sometimes your writing requires patience and time to absorb?

I guess, sure. I enjoy telling stories, but I also enjoy the craft of using words to paint stories. The latter intrigues me about the process, much as I've spoken about the types of novels that pull me along simply for the unique style of the writing. I prefer writers who challenge readers and tried to provide the same experience for my readers.

One last question, this one in regards to the reviewer's comment that your lively conversations may at times bump against the believable and strain credulity even while they lend the Proctar family indelible charm. Do you believe you went over the top in some passages?

Of course. That was the intent, and I'm ecstatic that it was mentioned.  I don't dumb down conversation, in fact, I abhor writing that does. Think about it. Two people in a room, no other action on the set. The focus is 100% on the conversation. You have the readers, or the audience viewing a play, concentrating solely on the dialog. I say go big rather than use simple banter to steer the action of a story. The conversations in RATTLE are the most important action -- and ultimately an important takeaway -- of the book. There's absolutely no reason for me to apologize for challenging a reader to think beyond the words. I respect my readers and know they're more than ready for it.

A major reason for writing this novel, as others have mentioned before, is to explore cultural dichotomies and challenge stereotypes. I wanted farmers who weren't bumpkins, creative street dwellers, corporate managers with heart, thieves with a pulse who weren't necessarily rotten to the core. And, in an age of Trump-fueled anti-intellectualism and slang-laden, dumbed-down conversations, I wanted to honor preparation and attention to form. I'm unabasheduly pro-education but my characters are still allowed to rise or fall in different occasions. If people have trouble with challenging writing, there are plenty of other options. I don't apologize for expecting more.



Why Rattle: When Even Wealth Misses the Itch?

This was the story that came to mind and was waiting to be written for over five years. It combines lengthy recent experiences in Jamaica and Florida that remain fresh in my memory. It also deals with corporate politics, the art world, dysfunctional families and various dichotomies such as rural / urban, rich / poor, developed / undeveloped nations and cultural peculiarities that many of us sometimes misinterpret. I think it's timely, given the recent political climate in North America. Beyond that, I've dealt with all of the above on a daily basis for the past thirty years. Rattle isn't cathartic, rather an attempt to explore some deeper issues within the guise of a compelling and humorous story.

There's a unique bouyancy to your writing. Clear and straighforward, yet often complex and melodic. How would you describe the voice or style of Rattle?

I believe it's current, conversational and fluid. I hate to say contemporary since that has weighted connotations of its own, more so in the visual arts world more than writing, I suspect. I don't want people to think that this book is overtly experimental or bizarre. I've been told by one editor who I admire that it is acrobatic and dizzying -- in a good way I think -- and aimed for the reader who prefers to engage with the writing and the life-like situation rather than escape to an unreal place.

I wanted the story to seem familiar and well-paced without being hectic. I don’t want to confuse readers but I admit it will certainly help if the readers reserve some time to get lost in the book's layers. I try to write as a reader, not a word scientist. I use humor when I think it works, drama where its intended. I’m not out to game readers. That said, I hope my writing makes people contemplate the issues that lay behind the story.

Some characters are regular Joes with huge upside, people working to build careers and create a better life for themselves and their community. They are fictional depictions of imperfect people who you might know or meet on any given day.  I've always enjoyed studying the human condition and strive for recognizable protagonists who are credible even if they're not pleasant or easily-accessible hero types. That said, I think my characters have plenty to cheer for. Some, albeit, after rough starts.

Rattle created a dilemma for me in the modern reading world. My work often has character arcs with difficult beginnings and positive endings. The protagonists may seem unlikable for many but they grow into better persons through the story. Balanced against the need for instant hooks to soldify the reader's engagement, it's difficult to set the protagonists properly in the first few chapters for the sake of the plot without the reader saying, "Wait a second, I don't like this character, or that one. Why should I continue reading?" I hope readers can get into the minds of my characters and see where they're going rather than let personality flaws dissuade them. I believe they are thought-provoking and worth getting to know. They better be since at least one sequel is in the works for release in 2018!


Updated December 21st, 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part II

Any other influences that helped form the work?

After discussing my work with numerous people, one theme that popped up frequently was my involvement with the visual arts and how it affects my writing. I think it's a valid point. Stylewise, I'm very aware of the use of contrast, form and negative space as well as the need to leave plenty of room for the viewer or reader to reflect from a personal standpoint. I don't serve every detail. I suppose in literary terms you would call this forcing the reader to delve between the lines. A few academics I chat with frequently have called it collateral interpretation. Sometimes what isn't written is equally important as what is. The late, great artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, explained it perfectly, "I cross out words so you will see them more: the fact that they are obscured makes you want to read them."

Literary purists may balk at this approach. I can safely say I'm not a purist. The same applies to musical similarities. Cadence, tone, spacing, beat and pulse are more important to me than grammatical perfection even though I don't go out of my way to botch sentences. I think this applies to all the arts. Perfection can be dull unless the creator is a skilled craftsperson. Besides, what is perfection? I'm more interested in fluidity and keeping the reader engaged.

What about Latin America. Can you reference this ?

Clearly there is the influence of living in a Spanish-speaking culture for much of my adult life. The Spanish language has fourteen general verb tenses instead of six in English. Castellano is lush and naturally rhythmic. It's verb-rich and utilizes much longer sentence construction with far less punctuation. This has clearly influenced my English writing and is a nice counterpoint to the clean, modern works of Hemingway and others. I talk to many people who question Gaddis or Pynchon or Foster-Wallace for rambling on and on. I usually respond by saying, "You think they are long and twisted? Try most of the Spanish writers and the magical realists!"

To be honest, I'm not fond of woodpecker writing, paragraphs with fifteen sentences of three or four words each. Too choppy, no flow. Get it. Don't get it. Perplexed. Next thought. :-) They say it adds tension. Maybe it does, but it also gives me a headache even if it doesn't pull me out of the story entirely. I think it will pass as a fad. People will look back thirty years from now and say, "Why so blunt, why was everyone in such a hurry? Were the authors nervous, insecure? Didn't they read Dickens?" Why talk in sound bites or write in tweets when you have an entire novel to flesh out your ideas and story? Call me strange, but I believe that well-constructed longer sentences are often much easier to read and can greatly enhance flow. I try for balance to control the pace and enhance readability.

What’s more important to you, the writing quality or the story?

Story and character development are generally what pulls most readers through a book, but I also love great writing and can wrap myself in the peculiarities of a writing style regardless of the story. That's not to say grammatical perfection or vocabulary Olympics. Both can produce stale, dated or derivative work. I enjoy surprising forms of expression, unique voices when you can tell immediately that the author is feeling no constraints from the vehicle nor preconceptions of the intended readership. Some writers have a special gift to be able to make anything read well. Contrarily, even the best stories can stall if the writing is either flat or blatantly over-written. Many great writers manage to get out of the way of the story entirely, imparting their style so subtly that it becomes integral to the book rather than serve only as that vehicle.

In the visual arts, I'm always looking for something unique or at least a fresh approach to an old style. Same in writing. I love rule breakers and enjoy a good literary puzzle even if the story stumbles out of the blocks.

What type of stories do you prefer?

I like slice-of-life stories, those events, circumstances or relationships that any of us might encounter at some point in our lives. How do we react? What decisions do we make? What can I learn from the success and failure of others?

I also want to be challenged. I like to be forced to think about the story's intent and the author's relationship to it. I want to explore the time and the characters beyond the surface. Many readers like to be whisked away to fantasy worlds. I understand that need for entertainment and escapism but I think we have plenty that can be accomplished as a global community right here on Planet Earth. I'm positive we can still get the world right if we work at it rather than run away from it. I'm both entertained and free to escape through realism.

The problem I have with fantasy genres is that they tend to recreate many of the same socio-cultural problems that already exist but wrap them into ugly monsters or pseudo erotica of incarnate shells. This creates unbelievable villains and heroes who often don't seem to carry sufficient credibility - in my opinion - for me to care whether they succeed or fail. I’d rather know how a human being, my neighbor for example, would react given a specific set of obstacles or pending decisions.  I question why so many fantasy writers hesitate to show the warts of real people and instead choose to dehumanize their characters so we don't take the criticism personally as a society.

That said, I enjoy a good speculative novel if it tackles bigger questions from which we can learn. Margaret Atwood, for example, is timeless and has dominated that genre for years.


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part III


I sense some similarities with a number of authors. Douglas Coupland from Vancouver is the first that comes to mind. English writer of Jamaican descent, Zadie Smith. Nick Hornby. "The Descendants" by Kaui Hart Hummings. Can you give your thoughts on these or similar books and authors?

Of the millions of books in print, I'm sure there are plenty. None that I recall are dead ringers but here are a few that have similarities:

Douglas Coupland's books have a similar voice even though the writing style is distinct. Doug is more experimental. I lived in Vancouver around the time he was publishing some of his early works. I also was front and center in the tech industry of the 80s and 90s that features in some of his works. I knew him vaguely from the art scene. Coupland deals with a range of similar issues from dysfunctional families, isolation, being misinterpretated, career disillusionment in our 20s or 30s, the changing age of technology and the corporate jungle. Nick Hornby also comes to mind in parts of that realm. I'd love people to eventually consider my work in their league.

Some say there is a similarity with some of the journalists turned novelist. Fallaci, Thompson, I'm sure there are others. As journalists, they rolled important, real world issues into more accessible novel format. My intent is similar.

Zadie Smith is half Jamaican, a child of a mixed family. Her treatment of multi-cultural issues and detachment parallels many of my experiences. My nuclear family is also multi-cultural and we've been immersed in diverse societies, for better or worse. This inevitably surfaces in the themes and plot of the book, as it does in hers.

"The Descendants" by Kaui Hart Hummings explores two cultures, American and Hawaiian. It deals with an inheritance issue, a single father and a confrontation with the late wife's lover. Mine is based in Florida and Jamaica and the battle is between a private landowner and a mega-transnational. I think, style-wise, both books are brash and unapologetic.

If you enjoy any of those authors, I think you'll enjoy Rattle. One reviewer who I've known for two decades says the voice of RATTLE is clearly mine but with touches of Colum McCann, Thomas Berger's "Neighbors" and Tom DeLillo's "Underworld." Another said some of my characters are "unlikable but magnetic" as those of Claire Messud or Thomas Bernhard. I'm honored to be even mentioned in such company. At the end of the day, I'm confident that the book and its characters will connect. Plaudits to E.M. Forster for showing the importance of base-level connection. More than one of my beta readers said "you gotta love Max," one of the main protagonists in RATTLE. Even the villain CEO isn't such a bad guy once you peel off the veneer. Another says the women characters shine. I tend to agree. They are strong, independent and determined, probably due to the phenomenal women I've been blessed to have in my own life. In many ways, the main female characters are three of the four pillars of the story even though they're in the shadows for much of the story.

Are there writers who you especially admire?

Too many to mention but I'll list as many as I can! I admire every author who has been published, gained an audience and enticed readers to come back for more. Some that come to mind are the late David Foster-Wallace as well as Douglas Coupland, Jay McInerney, David Mitchell, Paul Auster, Tama Janowitz, Tom DeLillo, Collum McCann, Michael Chabon and Paul Harding. I loved the challenges previously laid forth by complex authors such as Thomas Pynchon or William Gaddis, the intense critics such as Norma Klein, David Markson and Christopher Hitchens, or further back the complex imagery of Joyce or Faulkner. I frequent the same Uruguayan beach town where Martin Amis and his wife Isabel Fonseca wrote fine work for a few years and totally understand why they chose that setting to live and write for a few years. Some of the experimental Beat Gen writers who defined an era are fun to revisit, as are many of the LatAm magic realists who developed a platform that continues to be imitated in the region's art and literature through many generations.


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part IV


What do you see as the market for Rattle? How would you classify it in terms of genre?

Good question to which I have no definitive answer. if you've read any of my shorter works or previous articles about contemporary art or Latin America and the Caribbean, you'll see I'm not big on tight classification. I'd say my writing is a fusion of general, contemporary and literary fiction with a stylistic vantage point culled from years as a feature reporter who thankfully was given a long leash to write about feelings as well as facts, delving into cause and actions rather than just the effects.  It may appeal to everyone from blue and white collar to hipsters and tweed. This particular work features artists and bohemians, socialites, business people, technologists, social workers, restless world travelers and the poverty stricken. It's both plot and character driven and deals with numerous underlying tangents. Main characters range from their early twenties to their sixties so there's something for a wide range of age groups with which to connect. If you strip away the technology and contemporary references, I believe it depicts timeless struggles to make one's way even though it is rooted in a specific, recent period.

Those who enjoy being swept into unfamiliar international settings are exposed to the underbelly of a Caribbean culture that tourists rarely witness. At its core, Rattle is a family conflict that erupts due to a combination of internal communication problems and external forces. It's also a David versus Goliath saga arising from conflicting principles and financial implications rather than swords and stones. Opportunism, greed and survival at any costs are examples of ethical conundrums many of us face at one time or another in our lives.

The novel features plenty of sweat and tears both sad and joyful. Other body fluids are minimal. I suggest those looking for alien fantasies, steamy sex, shock or dead bodies can find better ways to spend their entertainment dollars. There's romance, but not in the typical form of misty-eyed dreamy disillusionment of the unattainable. There's suspense throughout the dual plot line. Tension is disturbing in that this story is ominously close to many of us and entirely plausible. I want people to think they could read this book and then walk outside to make something positive happen for themselves. As the title implies, people who rattle cages - intended or otherwise - will be particularly entertained. The subtitle, "When Even Wealth Misses the Itch" hints at one of the book's featured dichotomies. Outliers who feel they have no input can attach themselves to the voices of the main protagonists. I'ts both fun and serious, if that makes sense.

For me, reading boils down to three human needs: to learn, to be entertained and to be challenged. I try to offer all three for the reader. And don't forget, sometimes we learn as much by seeing what we shouldn't be doing rather than being told what we should. This is often an advantage of fiction.

Before Rattle, what have you published?

I'm hoping to redistribute "Crack/ed" as a novella. It was originally written around 2003. "Scenes from Below the Curb" was started before Rattle. It will  be coming out soon after falling off the planet due to other commitments. Both have been substantially rewritten. "Only Indigo" and "Take the Dance" have been stewing for years and will be released most likely in a short story anthology. I'm hoping to have another novel, The Harbinger Effect, out in the near future.  I'd like to release two of these works in 2018 and then we'll see from there. Due to early success of "Rattle," I may decide to release the hinted sequel first.

Most of my print journalism experience was at The Daily Journal of Caracas where I worked under editor Tony Bianchi as their western correspondent. I covered everything from the petroleum industry to arts & culture, sports, politics, hard news, education and themes of specific interest for the ex-pat English-speaking community.

Parallel to the DJ, I published dozens of investigative features for the Sunday Plus Weekly Edition with editor Sally Weeks. Works included the plight of small independent farmers, the extinction of remote tribes, tourism initiatives and plans to save South American freshwater lakes. I followed the medical team of Dr. Nancy Wexler in their search for DNA markers and a cure for Huntington's Disease. I scaled the Andes just weeks before the gondola I was riding in plummeted to the ground thousands of feet below. I plunged into contaminated waters to witness the devastation caused by underwater drilling and wrote an exposé on the abuse and corruption in Latin American youth soccer.

I've provided written work and editing services for websites related to visual arts, education and technology since the late 90s, published poems and have ghost-written numerous artist statements, portfolio reviews and marketing materials for visual artists since the 80s.

Your profile notes that you are an author of British, North & South American descent? Weren't you born in Canada?

Correct. Canada is part of North America. I was born to first-gen Canadian parents. All four of my grandparents were British. My mother's heritage has been traced all the way back to Myles Standish's ships that landed in Plymouth, USA. There's an English-US element as her family journeyed throughout the northeast before settling in what would become the province of Ontario. For most of my adult life, I've either lived in South America or was immersed in the Latin American culture through my wife's family even when we lived in the USA, England and Jamaica. Her parents treated me like a son at a time when I was searching for direction and a loving home. They accepted me for what I was. For most of my adult life, they were my strongest source of inspiration and knowledge. It's not a stretch to consider them parents.


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part V


When did you realize that writing was your calling?

That's a long story. I've always enjoyed writing but I was terrible in English during my first couple of years in high school. I could always write smoothly but I didn't read enough. I think it was a matter of feeling disengaged with the material. I was never thrilled with the classics as an active teenager who already had numerous extra-curricular and social interests. My grades were fine, never had to sit for a final, but I had other priorities besides academics. In my junior year, my English teacher let us pick major essay themes and our own reading lists to support them. Suddenly I began to identify with modern books/authors and actually read entire works rather than skim Coles Notes to write reports. In my senior year, some of our papers were graded by university professors. The feedback was very positive even though I was only seventeen. At the time I was a closet poet but was encouraged to share longer prose.

Writing has never been a problem. It was taking time to read classic books that didn't attract me. I couldn't identify with most of the stories and characters at all.

At one point I considered studying creative writing or journalism in college but again was put off by the mandatory reading lists for introductory undergrad courses. I also didn't have sufficient second language credits for direct enrollment into those faculties. Strange, I've since enjoyed reading most of the books on those lists -- without the pressure -- and I'm now fluently bilingual! I suppose I wasn't mature enough to deal with Shakespeare or Dickens or George Bernard Shaw until I was a little older than most. Now I love to revisit what I missed in the first round.

Throughout my career, I seemed to be the one writing most of the articles for the company newsletters, ad copy, proposals and tech manuals, that sort of clinical material. I was convinced I could write for a living but never seemed to be able to combine my work responsibilities with creative personal projects.

The real breakthrough came when I queried Tony Bianchi at the Daily Journal in Caracas about a half dozen articles I was prepared to write about Venezuela. He accepted all of them. Shortly thereafter, I starting working full time for the paper. Sally Weeks with the Sunday Plus gave me plenty of rope to investigate feature-length articles. I loved the work and learned plenty, but the 80s and 90s were tough periods for foreign journalists in South America. Pay was low and security was minimal. Being out and about covering luminaries in various fields presented me with numerous opportunities in the corporate market and the world of fine arts. With a family to help feed, I  followed the money while my writing reverted to part time for almost two decades. Nothing seemed to work since I wasn't truly engaged. Except for a few years working at the pinnacle of the Latin American art community, I've always preferred to be writing or producing visual art.

More recently, through blogs, forums and website contributions, strangers from all corners of the world convinced me that I should return to arts and literature full time. Here I am, onward and upward.

What would you say to readers who don't like your book?

Screw off!

No, seriously, similar to visual arts I think tastes and preferences are what makes the culture industries so vibrant. Some like Damien Hirst, others prefer Rembrandt. Some devour the entire 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, others can't navigate past its first paragraph. In a world dominated by 30 second video clips and 140 character tweets where a 1,500 word article seems like an unbearable anchor to many, I respect any person who still takes time to read an entire novel whether its mine or someone else's. We all have our favorites. All I can do as a writer is be as transparent and forthright about the nature of my books as possible and then deliver to the best of my ability. I listen to all criticism and suggestions.

Touch wood, my articles were usually well-accepted at the Daily and Sunday Plus. My poems and short works have received a few awards. I've never spoken to anyone who dislikes Rattle although I'm sure there are those for whom it is not their preferred genre. I don't do romance, or sci-fi or murder mystery, but that's not to say that my characters are heartless or don't speculate about the future or that my stories aren't suspenseful or entertaining for the reader. What I don't follow is a strict genre formula and see no reason to apologize for that. I understand that people may want to engage with characters in ways that aren't integral to my work. In short, readers are as diverse as writers.

To answer your question, I've been involved with the visual arts and writing fields for three decades. You learn not to take rejection personally. I can't name many books in the history of literature that were universally accepted on first release. Likewise with visual art. Few if any movements that started within the past 125 years avoided ridicule upon original introduction. Melville sold only 400 copies of Moby Dick during his lifetime. Now it is universally accepted in most schools and included in every all-time Top 100 list. I'm not comparing myself to Melville or any other authors mentioned in this interview, but I've learned not to take initial falures as personally as I did when I was younger.

What's the worst thing about writing, in your opinion?

In my case, I'm a people person. I love to observe, learn and converse with others. Writing is very solitary. With a wife I adore, two wonderful sons and a dog yearning to be outdoors, I need to find equilibrium between family and writing since both make me what I am. I also regret that I haven't allotted nearly enough time for my close friends. I don't believe in external inspiration but I definitely need to spend plenty of time with other people in order to ensure the integrity of my stories. Finding time for everything that matters to me is still a work in progress.


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part VI


What is most important to you: financial, popular or critical (literary) success?

I think every author dreams of having their work praised by everyone, from academia and literary critics to family, friends and the general readership. Very few writers produce novels to become wealthy and even fewer achieve it. Critical success to me would be touching a nerve, compelling people to read and think, making them want to read something else I’ve completed. For instance, do reviewers and readers enjoy my approach to telling a story as much or more than another approach? Success for me is having people appreciate my effort and come away convinced that their time reading my work was well spent. If that leads to new sales and allows me the time to concentrate on future works, I'm humbled by the appreciation.

What I'm not concerned with are the opinions of the amateur criterati who insist on comparing every new 21st century book to 19th century rubrics. Or the grammar gurus who miss the intricasies of a solid story due to their preoccupation with word choice and punctuation. I believe this whole Web 2.0 schtick has gotten out of hand with everyone pretending to have an expert opinion about everything. Books are nuanced creations. No book is perfect for everyone. I always try to look at the positives in books I read rather than set forth to trash novels just to prove that I'm a more astute reader than the next person. Not that it matters much since the literary/academic field and the mainstream/commercial readership inhabit two different planets anyway. I enjoy what I do. Any form of achievement or appreciation is welcome... if and only if I've earned it.

To date, have you had fond experiences in the world of book publishing?

Hot and cold. Subjective taste and market trends seem to carry far more weight than I expected. The truth is, publishing is a buyer's market where supply far surpasses demand. How many football players play in the NFL? How many movie scripts make it to the big screen? How many excellent buskers never catch a break or a paid musical gig? It's tough to reach the pinnacle of any industry. I firmly believe that quality will eventually find its share of the market, but good work continues to fall through the cracks in all fields, not just writing.

In visual arts, one can look at paintings or photos in a few seconds and get a very clear idea of the artist's talent. Musicians can become famous overnight for a three minute song. Conversely, it can take days to read and analyze the potential of one book. There are no shortcuts in publishing. This also explains some of the herd mentality. Find a formula that works and everyone jumps on board. Same with readers. Most don't have time to research what book they want to buy so they tend to stay close to the best seller lists, the book club recomendations or suggestions that their profs and favored reviewers advise them to read. There's nothing wrong with this. It simply illuminates the mountain which aspiring authors must climb.

I've spoken to authors who say they've spent almost as much time on their two-paragraph query pitch and one page synopsis to literary agents or publishers as they did on the novel. That to me is a sad waste of human creativity, as is the importance of a catchy cover image even though we've all been drilled for years not to judge a book by that cover. It's the reality of the industry. Initial impression is critical, especially in online bookstores where your work sits alongside millions of others. I don't see an alternative. If an author can't succinctly express the essence and value of her writing in a few words or sentences, how can anyone else?

Fifteen minutes of fame? Hardly. In the book biz, new authors are lucky to get fifteen seconds.

The problem I see going forward -- not only for me but for all writers -- is the lack of breadth made available to readers. It's a chain reaction. If we assume that certain genres and formulae sell much better, writing becomes too generic as authors chase those markets rather than maintain personal integrity for their own work. Editors and proofers will modify to acceptable reading standards rather than offer alternative styles. Agents will pick titles that appeal to the broadest possible readership or the hottest markets. Publishers will choose from a narrowing window of look-alike work rather than gamble on outliers. That, coupled with the almighty thirty second hook, makes certain types of story and character development much less attractive to publishers who can't afford to make many mistakes with the books they choose to publish. The irony is that many publishers dream of finding that unique voice or story. However, the farther authors stray from the norm, the less likely they are to pass the broad appeal test!  And good luck to any author who doesn't fit nicely into one of the staple genre cubicles ... I say to myself while peering into the mirror. They are no enemies in the publishing field, but it sure as hell isn't an easy business.

How do you think the Internet and technology will affect book publishing going forward?

I think it will be similar to visual arts. More people will be involved since it's much easier to publish and initiate an online presence, but the overall quality won't necessarily improve. Nor will more people be able to make a decent living on their writing. The total pie may grow, but the slices will be smaller for all but the top few percent.  Just as there will always be museums and a gallery tier-class structure for visual art, there will always be publishing tiers. Gatekeepers aren't going away for the simple fact that many readers rely on them to make selections easier. I think we'll see many more small indies and boutique presses come and go, and Amazon will continue to flourish since they have both the best economy of scale and excellent customer-first services.

As for digital reading, I believe we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. The time I have for pleasure reading each day has already risen exponentially after I bought a tablet ereader and a smartphone with a decent size  screen. 15 minutes here and there during pauses, breaks and lengthy waiting lines adds up really fast. Since I live on a continent that is 99% non-English speaking, selection of printed books in my native tongue is scarce. Being able to purchase ebooks online from all over the world is a godsend for me and most northern ex-pats.

Printed books will probably exist at least for another couple of decades. After that, all bets are off for all but collector or specialty items.

Serialized publishing and the proliferation of short works has returned. Shortening attention spans and fragmented lifestyles will most likely affect the length of novels, if they haven't already.

Ebooks will explode now that the pricing models make sense. I understand that much of the cost of publishing a book is in editing, prep and marketing. That's fine. Everyone needs to make a profit. I don't expect ebooks from major publishers to be significantly cheaper than printed versions, but definitely they should be lowered by the non-incurred costs of printing, shipping, storage and returns. Let's say on average about five dollars cheaper than paperback versions. When I go to Amazon or B&N and see an ebook listed at a higher price than the equivalent printed version, I cringe. There is nothing, absolutely unequivocally nothing, that can justify this. I have no problem paying 15 dollars for a paperback or 10 for the same work as an ebook. I think these pricepoints can work for everyone involved.


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part VII


 Why did you wait so long to publish Rattle?

I've been writing most of my life and have written upwards of three hundred shorter pieces and articles that were published since the 80s. Only recently did I get the overwhelming need to flesh out and publish longer works. I had a deal worked out with a company in Venezuela back in the early 90s after they read some featured works in Sunday Plus. It unfortunately went bankrupt during the early stages of the CAP and Chavez turmoil and was never able to publish my works. After leaving the country to avoid the crumbling situation, it took many years to recover some early printed manuscripts from those early days. The same thing happened recently when the matriarch of the Uruguayan publisher who I associated with passed away after a short but valiant battle with the Big C word.

Part of this is situational. I've lived in about sixty homes and moved internationally thirteen times in the past thirty years. There was always something else I felt I should be doing in spite of my desire to concentrate on novels. Finally, I reached a point when I had the time and the ideas. Best way to attack that was to finish the bloody books! I'm now concentrating on my writing career for the foreseeable future. In the past decade I've taken some earlier ideas and worked through some kinks. They could be completed relatively soon.

There's also the experience level. I know there are many young people producing great books as early as their twenties. In my case, I'm dealing with adult themes from an adult's perspective. I couldn't have completed them twenty or thirty years ago with any conviction. I don't believe you can fully comprehend the fine art, education or corporate worlds until you've been immersed in them for extended periods. Likewise, in the case of Rattle, I lived in Jamaica for a couple of years and still have many Jamaican friends. It's impossible to understand their culture by spending only a couple of one week vacations in an all-inclusive hotel. I needed to live there to actually understand them, conversing with them one to one. Watch them. Since I'm writing close to the surface of reality, I feel I needed to experience a part of their lives before I could write about it with sufficient integrity.

You've been involved with many different industries. Why go back to writing?

If I look back at my career in technology, journalism, visual arts and education, the one constant that led to success in these diverse fields was the ability to express myself. While I think I have good visual and verbal communication skills, it was my writing that opened many doors and consistently received the most positive feedback. It's also what I enjoy most.

My English is better because I learned to speak Spanish. My references and sources are amplified through travel and diverse experiences. I'm no longer as naive as I once was. I believe all of these improved my writing and my stories. Let's call the rest of those tangents part of my life apprenticeship. My time in other fields wasn't wasted. If anything, those experiences helped facilitate my writing.

Look at it this way: If people spend entire lifetimes doing nothing but writing, what can they actually write about with any authority? Wasn't that Thoreau's premise? For me, it's all about balance.


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.

Q & A with JP Paul - Part VIII


Would you consider self-publishing?

Not only did I consider it, I embraced it 100%. I've worked with digital technology for decades. None of the mechanics of self-publishing phase me or the team I work with. I've always worked diligently to promote myself, my own work and that of others. What I decided upon was something we like to call group publishing, a collaborative method where we work as a unit to utilize each other's strengths. Artfronts Associates is only part-time for me but they have professionals who dominate the areas I need help with. This includes editors, beta readers, graphics layout designers, not to mention field specialists for research and marketing specialists for promotion. Artfronts Associates has essentially created an in-house publishing firm that offers almost everything you'd need and often get from the traditional publishers. Combining those skills with the ease of publishing through Amazon and other indie service providers is a perfect scenario for many aspiring writers, especially for foreigners. It's defniitely more costly and time consuming for those unfamiliar with the process. The good news is you maintain all rights for all publications for eternity.

Why is publishing different for foreigners?

Glad you asked. In today's publishing circuit, the hefty book advances and multiple-title contracts are reserved for established authors, with the occasional exception. Advances for newcomers are minimal plus authors are expected to participate heavily in self promotion. I had initial conversations with two publishers with editors willing to take on Rattle and would have gladly signed with either. The deciding factor for the marketing departments was that I was not based in North America to participate in tours, seminars and readings. As I am transitioning from visual arts to literature, my social platform for written works is also tiny, plus my local market isn't even English speaking! All considered, we mutually agreed to pass for now. Thousands of international writers faced with the same issues make the same decision every year.

My group is still pushing me to look for a larger publisher for RATTLE with wider exposure in the English-speaking world. We'll see how it goes with Amazon distribution before deciding on the other releases. I plan to be involved in marketing regardless of how, where and by whom my works are published. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm a people person. I love to be out and about. For a foreigner like me, that involves amplifiying my internet presence since frequent international travel to North America is expensive. Even though I've been actively writing online material for two decades, I need to ramp up current exposure.

This of course brings up the question I'm often asked, "Why does an author need a major publisher if they've already developed a large online following?" The simple answer is that publisher services all have major value to an author. Editing, career management, connections, access to reviewers and distribution logistics are very important. Nobody refutes the prestige of being represented by a notable imprint. But yes, unless there's some financial commitment to your work from a publisher, I think over time most authors can build a network of professionals to help them while they maintain 100% control of their work.

I believe Rattle warrants a wider readership than I can muster on my own. Most authors feel the same about their works, otherwise none of us would bother given the time required to complete a novel. That said, have book, will travel. Some say that the best marketing for a novel is the next novel. That's why I'm planning to release a few works over the next two years. I fully expect my time will be divided between promotion and production. What profession is any different? Whether it's trad or self-pub, the works will get out there.

What's next?

Every time I put dates on my future plans, I miss them due to more career tangents and our meandering family path. I've been helping some friends build a visual art gallery so I haven't had much time for my own work. That, along with my role with the CPF Foundation, have kept me busy, as has my role as a stay-at-home parent to raise our youngest son. I'm still putting final touches on Scenes From Below the Curb for release in 2018, with Harbinger Effect sometime soon thereafter but not necessarily in that order. I also have a couple of other shorter pieces on the go that I may decide to publish as e-shorts. I expect to remain very busy for years to come!


November 2017:   Questions were culled from conversations and correspondence with author JP Paul.