Interview with Author, Stephen Gallup on his latest book:
What About the Boy? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son
Q: What inspired you to write What About the Boy? A Father’s Pledge to His Disabled Son?
It seems to be inspired by your life events, was it difficult to write about something so personal?
Alfred Kazin said that “the writer writes to teach himself.” I hadn’t heard that at the time, but an effort to make sense of a very difficult and confusing situation led me to begin journaling. I wasn’t thinking about publication at all; I simply wanted to get my thoughts organized. And, as it turns out, I put quite a lot of energy into organizing them, and exploring meanings and motives and my observations of what other people in similar circumstances were doing. Yes, the life events I wrote about were sometimes painful, but also sometimes very uplifting. On one level, the act of writing about them was cathartic, and probably helped keep me sane and healthy.
Q: How long did the writing process take?
I began writing about this when my son was a baby, and he was 23 years old by the time a complete manuscript came together. Obviously, I wasn’t writing all that time! I was, however, living self-consciously, in the sense that I was prepared to record anything significant that happened—any conversation, any flash of insight. Much later, when I began thinking that this might be of interest to others, I deleted an enormous amount of material, in order to sharpen the focus. Then, having the advantage of years of perspective, I began juxtaposing my current outlook with the viewpoint I’d had at the time the events occurred. I remain satisfied with the end result, but as time passes my thinking continues to evolve somewhat. Sometimes I still want to go back and work on it.
Q: Is there anything you didn’t expect along the way in the writing or publishing process?
To be honest, the biggest surprise was winning “Best Unpublished Memoir” in the San Diego Book Awards competition. Early in 2008 I happened to see a call for entries in the newspaper, and I submitted the draft of WATB just to see what would happen. There were three finalists, and at the award ceremony they called all of us to the stage. When they gave my story first place, I was so shocked I couldn’t even speak. However, that provided the encouragement I needed to pursue publication. Without it, the story might still be in a drawer.
Q: What are your thoughts about traditional publishing vs. self-publishing?
Over the years I’ve become suspicious of gatekeepers. That’s one result of the experience I write about in this book, because at one point my wife and I were essentially supplicants, begging a medical community to give our son’s problem the attention we knew it warranted. They had other priorities. A writer with a manuscript is in a similar position when approaching agents and publishers. The literary quality of what that writer has produced is far less important to them than whether they think it will sell. They seem to equate selling potential with whether the book is very similar to something that’s already succeeding. And if the writer is not somewhat famous, that is, if the writer does not already have a “platform,” they can’t get excited. So there needs to be another avenue for unknown writers who have created something significant. The main caveat is that, since self-published authors are writing for the same public, they are obligated to shoot for the same level of quality that people to expect to find in any book.
Q: Was the local writing community helpful? If so, how?
I am a big, big believer in critique groups, or at least groups where the feedback you get is both honest and constructive. In the latter stage of polishing WATB, I participated in two. The first was chaired by a local literary agent who was so extraordinarily critical—of everybody who showed up—that it became amusing. I absorbed key lessons from her, but the chemistry or the dynamics there weren’t right. Then I found my way into a group specifically for memoir writers, chaired by Tom Larson (who was launching his book The Memoir and the Memoirist at about that time). Not only Tom, but everybody in the room had valuable comments on the drafts I brought. Also, the experience of critiquing the others’ work was equally valuable in terms of forming a sense for what works and what doesn’t.
Q: What advice (thoughts, ideas) would you offer to the aspiring writers out there?
- Don’t hurry the production process. Take your time, not only to check for errors but also to ensure that you are saying what you mean to say and that you won’t be misunderstood.
- At some point, you have to rely on others to help bring forth your vision, but delegating does not mean abdicating. Whether you’re dealing with a book designer or a publicist or anyone else, try to stay on top of what they are doing for you.
- Know that there is a vigorous industry of people selling dubious advice. I’ve written several blog posts on this topic. It’s good to be aware of ways to promote your book (for example), but think twice before paying for aggressively marketed shortcuts to success.
- Remember to take pride and satisfaction in the work you do!
Q: Where can we purchase your book?
What About the Boy? is available both in print and in Kindle/Nook formats. So you can get it either from Amazon or Barnes & Noble as well as other online sellers. Local bookstores can order it. The downtown library has copies, too. There’s also a possibility that one day you’ll be able to see a movie version. A producer currently has it in pre-production.
Stephen Gallup has worked for many years as a technical writer. His greatest strength is in sorting through complex and often confusing subjects to expose the basic issues involved, and to show why those issues are important. In addition to his award-winning memoir, What About the Boy?, Steve has written a screenplay, short stories, numerous well-received essays, and even a poem or two.
When not writing, Steve has attempted, with remarkably limited success, to learn how to play the violin and speak Chinese. He enjoys listening to music, seeing new places, and bragging about his amazing kids.