Interview with Aiken Avery, author of The Disaster Tourist

Ahoy there, blog readers! (Yes, that nautical greeting was deliberate–you’ll understand why in a moment.)

The Disaster Tourist by Aiken AveryIf you follow me on Goodreads, you may recently have seen my ecstatic review for a book called The Disaster Tourist, which takes place on a round-the-world cruise and is one of my tippy-top favorite reads of 2013. But I wasn’t content merely with reviewing it and gushing about it to friends. I just had to hunt down the author, Aiken Avery, and lure him over for an interview at this here blog.

Luckily, hunting him down wasn’t too difficult, since Mr. Avery and I were college classmates (where we both studied creative writing with Ernie Hebert). And even more luckily, he agreed to share his insight and wisdom about travel, writing, travel writing, and today’s publishing options for literary novels. Hooray!

Here’s a blurb about the book itself, and my interview with the author follows. (Also, since this is a blog usually devoted to children’s literature, I should probably insert a disclaimer here that this is most definitely an adult novel, complete with strong language, queer content, and all that good stuff.)

About The Disaster Tourist:
When foul-mouthed RG boards the S. S. U. Sea for its fall semester voyage, she does so with her usual intentions: knock people down a few pegs and hopefully score some hot chicks along the way. But intentions and itineraries don’t always sync. Part international romp, part descent into madness, The Disaster Tourist follows a crew of sometimes thought-provoking, often ridiculous characters as they circumnavigate the globe on a cruise ship turned floating college. RG’s plans to corrupt her lovely, wholesome Midwestern classmate Dottie fail when she turns out not to be the simple beauty she seems. The two forge an unlikely partnership—straight with gay, principled with radical—as the climate on-board, and in the various ports of call, grows from silly to paranoid to downright dangerous. In the end, The Disaster Tourist strives to capture what it means to be an American abroad in the 21st century.

Tara Dairman: Welcome, Aiken Avery!

Your debut novel, The Disaster Tourist, takes place in so many different locations—Japan, Vietnam, China, and India, just to name a few—and you write about them so evocatively! Here are a couple of my favorite descriptions:

India was like an ice cream cone with every topping imaginable—not just ice cream ones but pizza toppings, too, salad toppings, cereal toppings, and then handfuls of dirt and sh*t thrown on for good measure.

The poor—which, from what they could tell, was everybody—subverted physics in order to balance great loads of merchandise on tiny carts and rickshaws and bicycles, Pisas of metal tins, breaching whales of straw baskets, to name only ten degrees of the surrounding three-sixty.

I was wondering how you carried out your research on these locations for the book. I believe that you’ve been to most or all of these places yourself—did you go back to journals or photographs? Rely on memory? Or did you need to look to books and the Internet to bring yourself up to date on these destinations?

Straight from the old photo album: Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

Straight from the old photo album: Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima, Japan

Aiken Avery: I definitely appealed to my old photo albums for detail. I come away from a trip with a general sense of the place, but detail gets lost just because of the overwhelming abundance of it—especially in crowded places like China and India. In years past, writers might have needed to shell out for plane tickets to these places or bury themselves in books at university libraries (which I’ve done plenty of myself). Now, without the benefit of photographic memory, we have the Internet to help flesh out descriptions.

I’ll admit, it felt a bit like cheating, but I definitely made use of Google Earth! I could zoom in on a locale like Ho Chi Minh City and click on the icons for other people’s photos, a great feature of theirs. What does the Rex Hotel look like these days? What would a typical street scene bustling with locals look like? Now we have a wealth of evocative imagery and information right in front of us on our laptops. So yes, I’ve been to all of the countries in the book—authentic experience is still top dog—but technology helps to fill in the gaps.

TD: Follow-up question: Did you have any trouble separating your own, real-life experiences in and opinions of these places from those of your characters in the book?

AA: Like most people (I assume…), I leave a place with all sorts of conflicting feelings about what I’ve just experienced. Is India dirty and stinky and wretched in a lot of ways? Absolutely. Is it also a beautiful, diverse, fascinating place? Of course. I would go back and travel around it for a year if I was able (still barely scratching the surface). So I actually found that it wasn’t all that difficult to voice these varieties of opinions through characters; they already cohabitate, bickering in my head.

A scene on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India

A scene on the Ganges river in Varanasi, India

The really interesting question is whether or not I had trouble separating my real-life experiences from those of my characters. Fictionalizing real events, adding new people, contexts, twists—which I did often when writing this book, having gone on a study abroad program similar to The Disaster Tourist‘s “University of the Sea”—can change your memories of those events, or even replace them with the new ones to an extent. I don’t mean to say that I’m incapable of separating fiction from reality! I just mean that taking actual events and attaching meaning to them—in the way that the very deliberate process of writing always does for bare reality—can often place the fictional event even above the real one in importance. I now value my experiences much more because of what I was able to cultivate from them, if that makes any sense.

TD: Here’s another quote from the book that I loved, describing the main character, RG.

She could feel the claws of her personality climbing up the walls of her skull to predetermined places—a large, articulated crab getting into position—and then it was only through its eyes, the lenses of this refracted self, that she was able to see and act.

On paper, RG, might turn some readers off; she’s snarky and manipulative (not to mention doggedly, unapologetically anorexic). But I was completely charmed by her—just like many other girls on the ship are, and I’m sure many readers are, too. How did you come up with this complicated character—and did she take any turns over the course of the book that surprised you?

AA: RG is an amalgam of a few different people I’ve encountered: a solitary and obsessive exerciser from my college days (never knew her, but found her compelling); the beleaguered adopted daughter of relentlessly well-meaning Brahmin parents in Cambridge, MA (where I did a lot of private tutoring); and my own “Negative Nancy” inner voice. RG is a minority and a Devil’s advocate in every possible way, and as such, I risk alienating people who start reading and can’t handle her! Trust me, I worry about that.

But the intention was always for her to change, to soften and wise up over the course of the story. Really—without giving too much away, I hope—she was always meant to become more and more like her “silver linings” friend in the story, Dottie, while Dottie grows more and more (to RG’s horror) like the old, bitter RG. To say “the characters took on a life of their own” would be cliché, but yes, they changed in surprising ways—unpredictable even to me—as I slowly discovered what their motivations should be. I guess my long-term writing strategy is “plan, but in pencil.”

TD: You write such beautiful (and often twistedly funny) descriptions and observations. Here are a few of my favorites:

Her jokes were like puppies head-butting the gate to get out and play.

He’d been crying like an old man—which was to say that his eyes were completely dry over a low, trembling voice.

To go abroad, even to sail to the other side of the world, is to be taken for a walk on a leash—and then, inevitably, brought back home again.

This makes me curious about your writing process. Do the words just tend to just come out this way for you in the moment, or do you do a first draft more focused on plot and focus on the language later?

AA: I can’t say I’ve never written a passage and then thought of an improvement—either to the plot or to the language—later on. An advantage to undertaking big, novel-length projects is that you have as much as a year or two for all of the best “improvements” to occur to you, sometimes well after the first draft. But for the most part, I focus on the language and the tone as I’m writing for the first time, not later. I’m glad you liked the head-butting puppies comparison—I came very close to ditching that one!

TD: You self-published The Disaster Tourist as an e-book rather than pursuing traditional publishing. Can you share what led you to choose this path, and how it’s working for you so far?

AA: At the time I was writing my first novel (a yet-unpublished Civil War story), self-publishing was basically taboo. In most cases, doing so meant that you had tried traditional routes and no agent or publisher would touch you, so you must have written a dud. The only recourse for duds was self-publishing. I used to go so far as to say that I would rather not publish at all than self-publish.

However, as I was writing my second book, the Kindle was introduced, and e-books really took off. Opinions both in the industry and among laypeople have shifted pretty dramatically on the subject of self-publishing, so a writer no longer has to pray for a big publishing house to discover his needle status in the haystack of the “slush pile.” He can be much more proactive about getting himself noticed: by taking the book to market himself and by proving, sometimes in a big way, that customers are indeed lining up with dollars in hand. I’m still learning the ropes, but I hope my marketing campaign will do just that.

Well, Aiken, I’m with you in hoping that many, many readers discover this incredible book!

To that end, here are a few links where you can purchase The Disaster Tourist:

Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * Google Play

You can also find the book via the iBooks app on iTunes–and other digital formats (including optimized for laptop, if you don’t have an e-reader) are linked on its Facebook Page.

Thank you so much for this interview, Aiken Avery! And readers, if you end up reading The Disaster Tourist, please let me know–I’m dying to find some more folks to discuss it with. :)

A second helping of Gladys!

So, the last week’s been a little busy, and I didn’t get a chance to share some exciting news here. Just in case you missed it on Facebook and Twitter, here are a few hints.

Harry Potter 2alcott-little-men-bookcover

thebabysittersclub_2claudiaandthephantomphonecall_thumb

Yup, my first middle-grade novel, ALL FOUR STARS, is getting a sequel!

I think that this calls for some bold purple font. Hooray!!!

Here’s the announcement in official Publishers Marketplace lingo:

ALL FOUR STARS author Tara Dairman’s untitled sequel, again starring intrepid food critic and gourmet chef-in-training Gladys Gatsby, as she is banished to a tasteless summer camp and finds a brand new nemesis, again to Shauna Rossano at Putnam, by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (World).

And there is a longer announcement here on my literary agency’s website.

Many thanks to my terrific agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, for writing up those lovely announcements and for making this deal happen along with my fabulous editor, Shauna Rossano, with whom I can’t wait to work all over again!

So, in case you’re curious, here are a few more details I can share.

1) As the announcement said, the sequel is currently untitled…and I expect it to remain so for a while. (Honestly, we had so much trouble coming up with the title for the first book that I will put off thinking about titling book 2 for as long as my publisher lets me get away with it!)

2) The sequel is currently slated for publication in the summer of 2015, one year after ALL FOUR STARS hits the shelves.

3) I’ve known what will happen in the sequel for a while now, and am currently in the midst of drafting it. Of course, little things are changing along the way, but overall my outline has been a pretty good beacon of light through this process.

4) There will be some new characters in the sequel! Interestingly enough, two of the most important ones are mentioned in the first book, but never quite make it into a scene there.

5) Telling you #4 is kind of silly, since unless you are my close personal relation or my critique partner, you haven’t even read book 1 yet.

6) Then again, who reads this blog other than my close personal relations and critique partners? So maybe item #4 will create more of a stir than I thought.

Well, that’s the sequel news! I’m so excited to be writing a series, which is what I had not-so-secretly hoped would eventually follow from my first book deal. I’m just thrilled that the folks at Penguin seem to love Gladys as much as I do, and want to see more of her story out in the world.

Cover ideas, book 2 obsessions, and more

I’ve got a new post up today at EMU’s Debuts called “Obsessing about book 2.” Because, ya know, worrying about the book that’s actually getting published just isn’t enough. :)

Speaking of that book, many people have been asking for updates recently, so here’s what I’ve got.

1) The book is still scheduled to come out in Summer of 2014. I don’t have an official release date yet.

2) My editor and I are still trying to come up with the perfect title. I’ll keep ya posted!

3) I recently finished a second round of edits on the book, and am feeling good about how they turned out. I imagine that there will be some more tweaking before the text is set, but for now, I’m pretty happy with where things stand.

4) My publisher is starting to think about cover designs, which is very exciting, and my editor asked me to share a few of my favorite MG covers. I have no idea whether they’ll end up influencing the ultimate design, but they are pretty so I thought I’d share a few here, too!

I love the nighttime cityscape and the silhouetted boy. And the title!

I love the nighttime cityscape and the silhouetted boy. And the title!

I love the new Harry Potter cover--Hogsmeade by night!

Oooh, the new Harry Potter cover–Diagon Alley by night!

YUM.

YUM.

So, it seems that I am a fan of nighttime scenes and the color blue. Which probably means that Gladys will end up having a bright pink cover, but you know what? That would be fine. Pink is actually a really important color in the book, and also, MY BOOK IS GETTING PUBLISHED NEXT YEAR, so what do I have to complain about? :)

Choose Your Own Adventure Giveaway!

Yep, I’m still finding ways to celebrate the fact that my debut middle-grade novel, The Delicious Double life of Gladys Gatsby, is getting published. (When you have a two-year wait for publication, you need to stretch the fun out as long as you can!)

This past weekend, my husband and I threw a little “Tara has a book deal!” party. It was to be our first party in our not-so-new-anymore abode, and when I mentioned our plans to my mom on the phone she said “Do you know enough people in Colorado to have a party?” Funny, I was wondering the same thing myself.

Luckily, several guests did show up (including my wonderful agency-siblings Jean Reidy, Laura Resau, and Jeannie Mobley!) and we had quite a nice time. I probably should have taken some pictures with them or something (you know, as proof for Mom), but of course I only remembered to take pictures of the food.

Now, how to extend the party even farther? Much as I wish I could bake strawberry cupcakes for the entire world (hm, remember this fiasco?), I think I’ll go a different way and give away…books! Books from my new publisher, Putnam!

And, actually, I meant to do one of these giveaways to celebrate signing with my agent in January, but I never quite got around to it. So I’m going to make this a double giveaway, and also give away books written by fellow clients of the fabulous Erin Murphy Literary Agency!

I’m calling it the Choose Your Own Adventure Giveaway, because TWO lucky winners will get to choose which recently-released or forthcoming book they want from one of these lists.

Putnam books:

The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine (MG)
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958.

Legend by Marie Lu (YA)
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect.

Deadweather and Sunrise (The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1) by Geoff Rodkey (MG, releases 5/29)
Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy.

The Vindico by Wesley King (YA, releases 6/14)
The Vindico are a group of supervillains who have been fighting the League of Heroes for as long as anyone can remember. Realizing they’re not as young as they used to be, they devise a plan to kidnap a group of teenagers to take over for them when they retire–after all, how hard can it be to teach a bunch of angsty teens to be evil?

 

EMLA books:

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats (YA)
1293. Caernarvon, north Wales. Ten years into English rule. Life is good. If you’re English.

We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson  (nonfiction)
The little-known story of the 4,000 black elementary-, middle-, and high school students who voluntarily went to jail in Birmingham, Alabama, between May 2 and May 11, 1963.

The False Prince (The Ascendance Triology, Book 1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen (YA)
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (MG, releases 5/10)
Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided.

 

 

To enter, just leave a comment on this post. But you can also earn up to six extra entries by doing the following:

1)  “Liking” the Tara Dairman Author page on Facebook
2)  Adding The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby to your to-read list on Goodreads
3)  Following @TaraDairman on Twitter
4)  Signing up to follow this blog by e-mail (use the button in the top right corner of this page)
5)  Tweeting and/or posting on Facebook about this giveaway.

Sample Tweet:
Win free YA and MG books at @TaraDairman’s Choose Your Own Adventure Giveaway! http://bit.ly/I9S9uj

Sample FB status update:
Win free YA and MG books at Tara Dairman’s Choose Your Own Adventure Giveaway! http://taradairman.com/2012/04/25/choose-your-own-adventure-giveaway

Just let me know in the comments which of these extra things you’ve done, and assuming it checks out, I’ll give you credit! (Clarification: And if you already liked/followed/subscribed/etc. before this contest, you still get the extra entries! Just mention them in your comment. Thanks!)

The contest is open until midnight EST on May 1, and I’ll announce the winners the next day. International entries are welcome. Good luck, and thanks for playing!

The Top Seven Things People Ask When They Find Out You Have a Book Deal

It’s been about two weeks since my debut middle-grade novel, The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby, sold to Putnam, and I can’t deny that the experience has been pretty sweet so far. I’ve spoken to my brilliant new editor, Shauna Fay, who fought to acquire the book from day one, and I love all of her editorial suggestions. I’ll probably be getting her official “editorial letter” sometime in the next couple of months, and I’ll work on revisions over the summer.

Anyway, as I’ve broken the good news to family members and friends, I’ve noticed that the same few questions keep popping up again and again…and they’re not necessarily the questions I would have anticipated. If you’d like to know what they are–and what my answers are!–I invite you to read on.

Just as long as it doesn't have a scary face in the sky, I'm cool.

1) What will the cover look like?

The number one thing people seem to be curious about is the cover, and they’re pretty disappointed when they find out how little control I’m going to have over it. I mean, I assume that if I really, really hate it I may have some sort of veto power, but I’m not expecting to have much creative input when it’s conceived. Will it be drawn or photographed? Girly-looking or gender-neutral? I have no idea at this point, and probably won’t for at least a year. Which takes us to question #2…

2) Why is your book not being published until 2014?

Most people have asked this rather politely—with the notable exception of my elementary-aged writing students, who squealed with shock and disbelief when I told them it was going to be a two-year wait before Gladys (which they’ve already read) was in bookstores. One of them now threatens on a regular basis to track down my editors and give them a piece of her mind (Shauna, you may want to screen your calls for an irate 11-year-old).

But it’s a valid question. Why such a long wait? There are a lot of factors that go into deciding when a book will be released, but I’ve been explaining it this way: Publishers release new books in two major “seasons,” fall and spring—like how new collections are released in the world of fashion. My editor thinks that Gladys will stand out more as a spring release (apparently, a lot of big-name authors—like my buddy JKR—release their books in the fall). And since lead times for editing/designing/marketing books are long in publishing, Putnam’s spring 2013 list is pretty much all sewn up. Hence, it’s spring 2014 for Gladys.

Yeah, it’s a long wait. But the good news is that that means we won’t have to rush through the editing process, and there will be lots of time for distributing advance copies to reviewers before the book hits the shelves. Not to mention that it gives me a good amount of down time to work on my next book before I have to shift into promotional mode. Which brings us to question #3…

3) OMG, you’d better get cracking on that sequel!

OK, that isn’t really a question. But a lot of people do assume that the next book I work on should, obviously, be the sequel to Gladys Gatsby. Surely my publisher is chomping at the bit for a book 2, right?

Not exactly. While there are certainly some debut authors who get two- and three-book deals, most publishers want to test out their first-timers with a single book. Then, if it sells well, they’ll sign you up for a couple more in the series.

I’ve already outlined book 2 and my editor and my agent are really enthusiastic about it, so I have high hopes that I will get to write and publish it down the road (you know, in 2025 or thereabouts). But, my dear readers, it seems that that whether that happens will be in large part up to you…so, if you want to see a sequel, make sure you buy plenty of copies of Gladys 1! I’m sure that everyone in your family will want their own copy to, um, dance around the maypole with (or whatever it is that you do for fun in the spring).

4) Will your book be hardcover or softcover? Will there be an e-book?

Yes, yes, and yes (as far as I know). My publisher has bought all of these rights, so I assume that it will be hardback and e-book first, with a paperback printing following sometime down the road. The publisher has also bought audio book rights, so who knows, maybe there will even be an audiobook! I nominate Stephen Fry to read it. :D (Yes, I understand that my protagonist is female and not British, but I know he can pull it off—it’s called acting for a reason!)

5) Did you get an advance?

Or, as one friend of mine put it, “Do publishers even pay advances to first-time authors these days?” Thankfully, yes, they still do. No one’s actually come out and asked me how much I’m getting (well, except for a couple of close family members whom I would have told anyway), but if you’re wondering what the usual range is for first-time authors, agent Rachelle Gardner has a good post about that.

6) Can I be in the movie?

I’m actually surprised by how often I get this question—quasi-facetiously from adults and very earnestly from kids. They don’t even ask “Will there be a movie?” or “When does the movie come out?” but jump straight to “Can I be in it?”

Well, from your lips, dear questioners, to the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s ears! Film rights have not been optioned (um, yet!) for the book, and they may never be. Even if they are, that’s no guarantee that a movie will ever be made—hundreds of options on books are bought every year, and very few of them ever actually make it to the big screen.

So, you can cross your fingers, but don’t hold your breath. Of course, I think that Gladys could make a great movie—or TV series, even—but I’m a little biased. Anyway, the end of the book has a big scene at a Broadway theater and another at a crowded restaurant, so if those scenes ever are filmed, and you REALLY want to be an extra…well, here’s hoping!

7) I can’t wait for your book tour!

Again, not a question, but it’s interesting how many people think that every author gets sent on a nationwide book tour by their publisher. I can’t blame them, because I used to think this, too.

The truth is, only the highest-profile authors get sent on all-expenses-paid book tours these days. Which doesn’t mean that I can’t go on my own mini book tour; it just means that I’ll probably be organizing it (and paying for the travel costs) myself.

I’m lucky enough currently to have a pretty flexible working schedule, so if that continues, I’ll definitely plan to do some readings/signings in Colorado (where I live), New York (where my family—and Gladys!—lives), Indiana (where my husband’s family lives), and hopefully Boston and DC (where a lot of my friends live) when the book comes out. Hey, maybe I’ll even throw in a west coast leg with San Fran (where my aunt lives), Seattle (where some family and friends live), and Portland (where Powell’s Books lives!). It’ll all depend on, you know, time and money. But trust me, wherever you live, I’d love to come visit your town–bonus points if I can sleep on your couch and eat your cereal in the morning, too.

***

So, have any of these answers really surprised you? And do you have any burning questions that I haven’t addressed? Just leave’em in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond!

Do the Happy Waddle

Greetings from Indiana, where I am having a wonderful time getting to know my tiny new niece and nary a green vegetable has passed my lips in three days!

I posted about this on yesterday Facebook and Twitter (and if you have a subscription to Publishers’ Marketplace, it’s possible that you saw it there), but I figured I should put a quick note up here, too, to share that…

I have a book deal!
Yippee!!

The Delicious Double Life of Gladys Gatsby will be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Books. This seems particularly fitting, since parts of the novel were drafted in Argentina and South Africa, two countries that feature lovely penguins of their own.

A Magellanic penguin from the Valdes Peninsula, Argentina.

My former favorite penguin--the jackass!--near Cape Town, South Africa.

My new favorite penguin.

Here’s the deal announcement that appeared in PM (click on it for a more readable size).

The whole process could not have gone more smoothly for me, thanks to my fabulous agent Ammi-Joan Paquette and my wonderful new editor, Shauna Fay, whose notes have already made the book so much better. :D

We’re kind of remote at the moment and my internet access is limited out here, so I’ll have to save all the details for another post next week. In the meantime, feel free to join me and Gladys in a virtual happy penguin-waddle dance!

(Addendum: If you’d like a little more info about the book, check out this announcement at my agency’s website.)