Wednesday 12 February 2014

Interview with Stephen Gallup Author of What About the Boy

 1. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your blog, and your aspirations and your hobbies!!
It’s safe to say that I’ve always been a writer, starting in elementary school when I used to produce stories to entertain my friends. After college I found my way into technical writing as a profession, because I had a peculiar educational background that combined literature and the sciences. (I definitely didn’t need familiarity with Chaucer and Shakespeare and Joyce in order to do tech writing, but along the way I’d acquired a knack for expressing ideas more clearly than most scientists and engineers.) Consequently, I’ve spent most of my adult life creating documents about subjects like aerospace and mobile telecommunications. I saw that! You’re yawning already! But that’s how I’ve paid the bills, and actually the material has often been fascinating. I’ve worked on everything from draft plans for interplanetary missions to user guides for trendy new cell phones.
On the side, fulfilling an urge to be more creative, I wrote occasional features for newspapers and sent off short stories to small literary presses. Then after a few years life gave me my real subject, in the form of a child who needed an enormous amount of help. That adventure prompted me to write my memoir, What About the Boy?, and subsequently to blog about it. Also, these days when I read someone else’s work, I take time to enter a sometimes-lengthy reader review of it on goodreads. That’s an exercise mainly for my own benefit. Having developed a sense for what works and doesn’t work in creative writing, I like to apply it in every example that crosses my path.
None of this makes me an “established writer.” Here I am nearing the latter end of my career and I still have no clue of how one attains true recognition (i.e., commercial and/or critical success). On the other hand, the real payoff for me remains the joy of creating a piece of writing in which I can take pride.

2. How you first got involved in with blogging/writing, are you an imaginative person?
Every kind of writing I’ve done has, in one way or another, been a process of taking a concept or an experience and figuring out what is important about it. Sometimes the process feels almost like writing a lab report! So I see myself more as someone who endeavors to think clearly, and to show my thinking so others can follow it, rather than as being very imaginative. I do very much admire writing that’s based on a truly original concept. But I also admire writing that, like Philip Roth’s Everyman, remains firmly grounded in the unexceptional reality of daily life, and simply enhances our understanding.

3. What do you find most challenging about blogging/writing about your topic?
On the surface, the topic of my personal writing is the story of what my family did when we had a child with serious developmental problems. The challenge is getting past people’s tendency to think that I’m writing only to give advice or perspective to other parents in the same situation. For example, I’ve got lots of friends who are very serious about writing and reading books but who have not read WATB and don’t pay attention to my blog. Evidently that’s because disability is not an issue in their lives. Also, Barnes and Noble insisted on displaying the book with how-to parent guides about ADHD and autism and Downs, and it’s really not that kind of book at all.
This is frustrating. I do write specifically about disability and health care and family dynamics, but I see my real topics as being broader. Disability means a limitation on one’s options in life—one’s freedom. That limitation becomes much worse, and more pervasive, in a system in which providers act like gatekeepers, instead of enabling people to do better. People limit themselves, too, in their reactions to hardship and frustration. These are my real topics.
In trying to explore them, I’ve also found myself writing online about music and movies and even about blogging itself. I’ve occasionally resorted to poetry and flash fiction. In short, I don’t see myself as a niche writer, and that assessment is supported by the fact that many good responses to my book have come from people who don’t even have kids.

4. Tell me about some of the people you have met while working on your blog?
Probably the most interesting relationships formed along the way have been with other writers in mutual-feedback situations, such as critique groups.
Some of those folks I’ve only met online, via websites where people share their work and offer constructive suggestions. One of many extraordinary writers I met that way is Kate Kasserman, a lady in illinois who writes and self-publishes first-rate fiction (sometimes under a pseudonym) but makes absolutely no attempt to promote it or let the reading public know it exists. She just doesn’t want to jump through all the hoops, and having done my share of jumping I can’t blame her. In fact, I admire her choice.
I also participated in a couple of local critique groups, which met on a regular basis in people’s living rooms. One memorable writer I met that way is Patrick McMahon, who was polishing his own memoir when I was working on mine. Discussing successive drafts of your work with people like this is an enormously educational experience. There’s absolutely no substitute for it.

5. How would (someone) describe your blogging/writing style?
I have never been a disciplined writer. That is, I don’t sit down to write at a certain time every day, and in fact most of my personal writing occurs only after being sparked by some random thought or impression.
Another characteristic of my writing is a difficulty in getting out of Edit mode. As soon as I begin to scratch out a rough draft of anything, my internal editor begins questioning my word choices. I go back over each sentence and worry whether it’s graceful enough, and clear enough, and complete enough. This is a necessary part of writing, but it gets in the way when the main objective is simply getting a basic idea down on paper.
Both of these traits have prevented me from writing more than I have in my life, and I don’t necessarily recommend them.

6. What do you do when you are not working on your blog?
I’m a family man, occupied primarily with giving my two younger kids a good start in life while striving to continue doing right by my older, disabled son.
Music is an important part of life for the younger ones. One of my regrets is not sticking with music when I was a kid, so as long as they remain interested I do everything possible to help them move ahead in that direction.
As for my older son Joseph, incredible as it seems I still find myself, after all these years, battling to secure some of his basic rights. I remain astonished by the failure of doctors and other caregivers to do their jobs

7 .Where do you see yourself blogging/writing wise in the next 6 months, and 5 years down the road?
What About the Boy? was published in the latter half of 2011, and a huge part of my energies since then have gone into sustaining its launch. This has meant blogging about it on my own website and contributing related posts and articles to magazines and other sites (along with a huge number of radio interviews and other such activities). That process has forced me to continue thinking about what I say in the book, and as a result some of my views have continued to evolve slightly. It has been a good use of my time, even though I often suspect that nobody’s listening.
Future writing is likely to have less specific connection with my book. One way to expand public awareness of a first book is to continue producing others. That should be a goal of mine, although there are no other big projects in work just now. Every so often I write bits of narrative, some of which I post online. I may put some of my better efforts together in an ebook and make that available. Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.

8. What networking do you do that you feel helps your blogging/writing business?
Like most writers, I have a Facebook presence for my book, and every so often I tweet about my writing. Apparently there are readers who discovered What About the Boy? in that way. Those channels feel pretty low-key, however. The main thing is just being online and tuned in to what’s being said in general regarding topics related to my writing. For example, when I see an relevant article or a discussion and feel that I can add value with a comment of my own, I step in and mention my book as a shorthand way of introducing myself. When this is done on a ongoing basis, I think people may eventually notice and want to learn more.

9. How do you keep coming up with material/content for your blog? Many people struggle with coming up with different articles/posts and they only have one blog.
The conventional wisdom is that bloggers need to be generating fresh content on a regular basis. I see disagreement as to how often that should occur, but it makes sense that visitors won’t bother coming back unless they can expect to see something new.
The only way I can come up with new material is to remain alert to what is happening in the world and to look for the significance of what’s happening in my immediate surroundings. Occasionally I post a very simple comment, but usually it’s closer to being a formal essay. And generating that sort of thing on a regular basis is not easy. A local weekly newspaper has reprinted two or three of my blog posts, and at one point they offered to take me on as a regular contributor. I felt flattered but didn’t pursue that, because I didn’t think it would be possible to generate enough material.

10. What’s your strategy with your blog in general?
Mainly, I write when the mood strikes, and then I consider whether anything should be done with the result. If it’s a fit for my blog, that’s where I put it. If it’s more of a mainstream or fictional narrative, I may post it on readwave. Sometimes I decide to keep it in my back pocket until a good use suggests itself. I short: not much of a strategy, but I try to stay active.

11. Any specific tips you have for newbie bloggers who want to make it in the blogosphere?
Look carefully at what other people are doing. And in that context ask yourself what kind of online presence you want to have. For example, some people bare their souls more completely than do others. Don’t forget that anything you put online is potentially going to be out there forever, even if you wish you could recall it.

12. What would you prioritize? Content? SEO? Traffic? Readers?
In a waiting room the other day I happened to read an article by a political journalist in Time Magazine. He didn’t say anything I disagreed with. He didn’t say anything at all! The piece was just filler, designed to take up a page of text. As a result, I don’t feel inclined to read anything else by that writer. Time gets lots of traffic and readers, and they probably don’t need to worry about SEO. But based on this, they might give extra thought to providing meaningful content.
At the other end of the spectrum, in my writing I try to say something that will convey something of value to whoever reads it. Theoretically, if it truly did have potential to improve people’s lives, the traffic and readership would follow. Either that theory doesn’t hold, or the quality of my writing could stand further improvement.
I guess SEO and traffic are key to success in the short term, but ultimately my vote is for content.

13. What’s the best thing a blogger can give to his readers?
Readily accessible information or insight, preferably conveyed in a way that stimulates them to stop and question their assumptions. If you can pique them to the point where they want to share it with their friends, then you’ve really accomplished something.

14. A lot of people are interested in blogging/writing for the money earning potential. What are some tips for people interesting in making money from blogging/writing? What are some realistic expectations in regards to what can be made?
Whatever you’re doing, the first step to making money is not to lose money. I’ve written a number of blog posts about the phenomenon of being targeted by people selling get-rich-quick schemes. There must be a lot of start-up bloggers who find those pitches attractive, because a bunch of people produce them. Writers and bloggers are promised an unconventional trick for generating buzz via social media, or optimizing a book’s Amazon sales page, or improving SEO. Having heard my share of promotional webinars, and having taken the bait more than once, I can say with assurance that the product behind the pitch tends to be expensive and absolutely not worth the money, and sometimes they don’t even follow through with everything they said you’d get.
I think being consistent in providing interesting content on numerous related forums can result in a gradual increase in a blogger’s following. I honestly don’t know how that translates into income, unless you’re advertising, providing links to Amazon as an affiliate, and/or selling something directly. I’m not doing this for money, so I can’t say anything more specific.

15. What motivates you most in life?
On a daily or hourly basis, life seems to be a matter of engaging with whatever challenges are immediately before me. At that level, success and fulfillment come simply from negotiating those interactions and moving on to whatever’s next. In the long run, that activity seems unimportant, but it’s still worthwhile if the experience has been mostly pleasant and maybe someone has been helped along the way. One of my mottos is that the pursuit is sweeter than the prize, which means the act of just doing all this stuff, all the time, is its own reward.
Then of course there are the occasional big undertakings, such as the writing and publication of What About the Boy? or indeed anything that requires lots of focus and sustained effort and is outside the envelope of what I’ve done before. Proving to myself that it can be done and done well is motivation aplenty. The thought that such a project could also be of interest to others makes me that much more determined to give it my best shot.

16. What has been your strategy for creating visibility to yourself and your blog?
When What About the Boy? was launched, I wanted to do everything professionally. That meant hiring outside expertise for things like publicity. I started with a publicist who had me mailing scores of advance copies of my book to newspaper and magazine reviewers all over the place. He also lined up a bunch of radio interviews and coached me on how to handle them. Actually, most of that effort was unproductive. The only reviews of my book were done by people I selected myself and contacted directly beforehand. The radio interviews were very stimulating adventures, but I don’t have evidence that they led to any sales of my book.
When the first publicist’s contract ran out, I tried a different publicist, who knew less about the business than he did. Unwilling to believe that this was all that was available, I tried one more. This last one put me in touch with a film producer who expressed interest in making a movie of my book. If that project goes into production, it could be a home run in terms of visibility. Thus far, however, the lesson to draw from my experience is that a low-budget approach makes more sense from a business standpoint. One’s writing is more than just a business, but enough money can be involved that you have to try and keep that perspective.

17 What was the most challenging moment in your blog content development process and why?
I launched and ran my first website 15 years ago and did all the HTML and javascript by hand back then, but my skills were no longer current when the time came to create a blog for my book. So I hired a software developer who designed WordPress websites on the side. Unfortunately, he had a day-job that pretty much consumed all of his energy. I was still having urgent problems with my site, and days would go by when he couldn’t look at it. Finally, in desperation, I found somebody online who could resolve my immediate problem, and then a coworker mentioned a friend who has since been a perfect resource.

18. Everyone has a favorite/least favorite post. Name yours and why?
One post that comes to mind is titled “The Power of Words.” Originally I wrote it as a guest post for another website. I thought later that because of its message it might have merited a larger forum, such as a magazine, but the people who had it seemed very appreciative. Then abruptly they went offline. When I realized that had happened, I reposted it on my own site.
I had an epiphany about my family history when writing this piece, which I drew on later when asked to write a screenplay of my memoir.

19. Name some of the bloggers whom you look up to and why?
I have to mention Robert Rummel-Hudson, who is the author of Schulyer’s Monster, another parent memoir about a disabled kid. First of all, he had been blogging for a long time before his book came out, which meant he had a ready-made platform of fans who were anxious to read it. And as he continues on a regular basis to post little glimpses into his life, those followers continue to give him encouraging feedback. I remember once he put up a simple anecdote about a failure of the printer attached to his computer—and within hours he had 30+ comments. Frankly, I’m jealous. My blog posts never get that kind of response.
A very different kind of blog is Instapundit, run by a law professor named Glenn Reynolds. What he has is primarily a high-traffic portal (with minimal commentary) to news of the day, but he also focuses on personal interests such as reported medical advances, and if you have a book on any subject he’ll post a link to its Amazon sales page. He did that twice for me, as well as for some friends I sent his way, and the spikes in sales were astonishing.

20. What is the story behind the name of the blog?
Fatherspledge” comes from the subtitle of my book. My original thought was simply to go with “A Father’s Memoir” as the subtitle, but the publicist wanted something that conveyed more information, so we ended up with “A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son.” Then Fatherspledge was simply an available domain name.
As for the main title of the book, “What about the boy?” comes from a song in the rock opera Tommy, by The Who. It occurred to me because when I used to take my son to doctors they seemed to want to talk about everything except the patient in front of them.

21. Your connection with any Blogger Network like Indi blogger or Writeupcafe or any other and the experience?
Although I have a profile on Blogger, I’ve had no formal involvement with blogger networks. Perhaps I should investigate!

22. Which genre do you feel gets the raw deal?
Maybe all kinds of writing are unfairly judged by some people. Certainly, memoirs have their detractors, who may not like the lurid aspects of some well-known examples, or who look at ghost-written memoirs by celebrities and see them as garbage. Likewise, although self-published books aren’t exactly a genre, they too get dinged as a group because of the poor quality of some examples.
We know it’s wrong to generalize, but given the quantity of books to choose from we have to do it anyway. There are undiscovered gems within every genre. We in the reading public need to spread the word whenever we find one.

23. Which one plug-in would you suggest all bloggers to have?
I like a WordPress option called the All in One SEO Pack, which among other things provides a field in which I can fine-tune the blurb that appears if the URL of a blog post shows up on Google or Facebook. I also strongly advise using anything available to keep out spam comments and trackbacks.

24. Five adjectives that describe you.
Methodical, focused, calculating, independent, optimistic

25. What book would you say has made the biggest impact good or bad on you?
I’m tempted to say Tarzan of the Apes, which I read as a third-grader, because that’s the novel that made me love reading. It’s not great literature, but for me at the time it was great fun. As an adult I went out and located a copy of the same edition that I’d had as a kid. Just wanted to keep it on my shelf as an old friend.

26. Do you get easily provoked by positive/negative comments??
It’s only fair to be receptive to negative comments, at least with regard to something I’ve written. If the feedback is fair, it becomes a learning opportunity. And fair or not, everyone’s entitled to an opinion. A writer should want to be aware of the range of opinions his or her work inspires.
As I said above, I write online commentaries about the books I read. I know that authors frequently feel upset or indignant when they see a less-than-glowing reader review on Amazon; and not wanting to give offense, I have occasionally refrained from saying what I truly thought of a newbie’s book. Maybe that’s a weakness on my part, because the true purpose of such reviews is to help other readers decide if they should spend money and time on the book. So far, my memoir has attracted one bad review, and naturally it disappointed me. It would have meant more if the person had said what she’d been looking for that the book did not provide. But once a piece of writing is out there in the world, people can and will do what they want with it. A writer who cannot bear that probably should think twice before publishing.

27. Do you plan to write a book, as every bloggers dream it is?
As a young adult, I did nurture that dream, without having a plan for how to proceed. Then, for a great many years while my son Joseph was growing up, I had a more focused idea of what that book would be. I’m glad to say the dream is now reality.

28. Are you a judgmental person, do you prefer to take sides instead of standing neutral?
If a dispute is none of my business, I keep out of it. If I have an opinion in the matter but am not directly affected, I might monitor what others are saying, simply to ponder the arguments they’re making. If I see it as a threat to myself or my kids or kids in general, or the future of my country, I do weigh in. Far too many issues of the third kind have arisen in the last few years.

29. Your collaboration with other bloggers, are you much into social networking, tell us everything about it?
I tend to dip my toe into various networks, at least on a short-term basis. Currently I’m participating with a Facebook group called Clean Indie Reads. Everybody there is very supportive and friendly. I’m reading and of course writing reviews of some of the books the other members have published. I’m also a staff reviewer at the readwave site, which means every week I get to see and comment on new contributions from people all over the world. I do think writers have always needed to be in touch with their contemporaries, to have a sense for new trends and moods.

30. What genre attracts you the most and which genre you avoid?
For a long time I said memoir was my genre, because I was simultaneously writing a memoir and studying the best examples I could find. At the moment, I feel pretty much done with it. I enjoy good examples of almost any genre--historical fiction, sci-fi, thrillers--and anything that involves a lot of introspection or speculation and that also brings a story to life in front of me. Two outstanding titles are We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, and Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger.
I tend to avoid most of the fantasy being written these days, especially anything having to do with vampires and wizards and that sort of thing.

31. Your Views on Contests and increasing plagiarism?
[Please see response to #33 below on contests. I haven’t encountered plagiarism and have nothing to say about it.]

32. Words for me and my blogs Desire v/s Destiny and Blogger Interviews and my Website
I like your format, in which topics are listed as easily-scanned bullet points, with the details a single click away. At one time or another everyone needs to land a good job, and then hopefully grow in it, so surely the subject has wide appeal. The posts I’ve read are short and easily digested. The writing quality is uneven, but I haven’t seen anything I would disagree with. On the other hand, on the subject of interviews at least I can think of further tips that no one here is offering (such as how to react when it turns out an interviewer hasn’t read your submitted material and was expecting somebody different) (that happens). Thinking about this reminds me that many years ago I self-published a little book titled “Get the Job You Deserve.” I’d forgotten all about that project!

33. On winning the Award/s, Are they really necessary.
Early in 2008, I happened to see an item in the newspaper about an upcoming literary contest. One of the categories was “unpublished memoir.” Since the first draft of my memoir was just coming together at the time, I decided to go ahead and send it in. To my utter astonishment, it won first place. That was the point at which I seriously began thinking that I might have written something of publishable quality. Later that year I began the long and daunting process of contacting literary agents and publishers to see if 
anyone wanted to take it on.

I suspect that some writing contests may exist primarily to extract entry fees from the participants. But based on my experience, awards can be a good thing. Had I not won, What About the Boy? may never have seen the light of day. And if I may end with a bit of bragging, I reentered the same contest four years later, this time in the “published memoir” category, and (with different judges) won again. That validation of the end product meant a great deal to me.

Rahul Miglani (The Interviewer) : This is one of the best interviews I have conducted with detailed answers , I am sure people will love this interview of yours ,Blogger Interviews is glad to have you here ,We wish you all the best for your book and future endeavors

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