Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Unread - Interview with Paul Greci

Paul Greci is a supercool guy. I met him through Twitter when I started talking about random mountain stuff like baking potatoes in the woodstove and skiing to my car to go to town. Paul is sympathetic to my strange mountain lifestyle, he lives in Alaska where things aren't always easy, but he loves the outdoors and where better to experience it! Just wait until you read about his bicycle riding. Now that's dedication! Paul is also a great supporter of writers, sharing his knowledge and expertise when needed. He's certainly helped me before. Paul is a full-time writer of Young Adult novels and is represented by Jennifer De Chiara. He's my next victim on The Unread...

You were a teacher for fifteen years. What sorts of things did you learn from the kids that made you decide to start writing?

I taught English in an alternative school for at-risk teens. I discovered YA fiction while searching for books that my reluctant reader students would actually read, and I fell in love with the genre.

My students were also reluctant writers so we started writing scenes using characters from the novels we were reading. I figured if the characters were already developed my students may have less resistance to writing. Plus, I wanted to make it fun.

So, we’d all write these scenes and then read them out loud. I’m the kind of teacher that participates in the things I assign so I wrote, too. And, I loved it.

(See, I told you he was supercool.)

What types of stories do you write?

So far I’ve written wilderness survival stories, and edgy school stories that have a touch of humor. I have five WIPs. A couple of those I might end up mining for parts, but for now they are intact.

How did you get your agent?

I met my agent at a fund-raiser for starving artists. No, wait. That was a dream I had.

Actually, I sent Jennifer a query letter.

But really, how I got my agent is that I kept rewriting my novel. It took six weeks to write the first draft, then about a year and a half to revise it to get it into querying shape.

(That is a great example of how important revising is!)

Why did you choose to go with Jennifer De Chiara for representation?

I chose to sign with Jennifer because out of the five agents who offered representation I felt like she best understood my writing. She made it clear that she wanted to represent me and not just the one book of mine she’d read. She has a really great reputation, she’s a talented editor, and she doesn’t give up. She totally believes in people going after their dreams. And, she’s fun to work with.

(Five offers! Your book must be awesome!)

How has having an agent changed your writing life?

Having an agent has changed my writing life in a couple of ways: I run ideas by Jennifer before starting a new project. And, I think I’m more motivated to write well. I mean, here’s this amazing person who has offered to work with me on building a writing career. I want to give her the best writing I can. I feel totally fortunate to be in partnership with her.

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What’s the easiest?

The hardest and easiest parts of writing change for me. When I don’t have an idea for a new story, coming up with an idea feels like the hardest part. When my wrist and thumb rebel from too much keyboard time, or my neck turns to cement, or my eyes ache, the physical act of writing feels the hardest. It constantly changes.

Do you think living in the wilds of Alaska gives you a different point of view than most people? Does this make its way into your writing?

Living in Alaska definitely makes its way into my writing. Two of my five WIPs are set in Alaska. All of my mistakes and misjudgments and close calls in the wilderness are good fodder for stories.

(Well now, that makes me wonder about these wilderness survival stories even more! Eek!)

You have a spot for your computer on your treadmill, how the heck did you come up with this awesome contraption?

My treadmill desk was inspired by pain.

After I left my teaching job to write full-time, my body started rebelling against the countless hours of sitting.

I used to ride my bike to and from work year-round, even when the temperatures dipped to forty below. And, I’d participate in gym class three times a week. Over the years I injured my shoulder playing dodge-ball, cracked a rib playing touch football, pulled various leg muscles, jammed my fingers… the list of injuries goes on. But staying at home and writing was pretty brutal.

A physical therapist suggested a treadmill desk. I had a treadmill because I’m kind of an exercise addict, so I took a piece of plywood and cut a pattern with a jigsaw so it would slide right on. I was pretty amazed that it fit as well as it did. Usually things I build don’t really come out the way I think they should and this actually did.

I spend about half of my writing time walking very slowly and typing. The other half I’m often slouched in a glider-rocking chair by the wood stove with my laptop, basically cancelling out all the good-posture-points I’ve earned. I figure as long as I don’t have a negative balance I’ll do okay.

Can you run and type at the same time?

That sounds like a pretty scary combination of activities. Although I don’t have a cell phone, I’m guessing it’d be like texting while driving, and there’s a law against that.

(Hee hee. I imagined that the faster you ran the faster you could type, whipping up stories at great speed like some writing superhero! Okay, enough of my fantasies, back to Paul's interview.)

What are you working on now?

I just finished a first draft of a YA adventure story set in a post-oil era, global-warming-affected Alaska. It’s still what I’d call realistic fiction even though it is set a tiny bit into the future.

How far would you go to get your book published?

You know, although I definitely obsess about having a book going on submission, I try to tell myself to remember what I do and don’t have control over. I have control over my writing, not how other people respond to it.

So, how far would I go? I think I’ll just keep on writing regardless of whether I get published, but hopefully my writing will continue to improve if I keep pushing myself, and an editor will fall in love with one of my books.

(Well, you should get major points for riding your bike in forty below temperatures, imho.)

If you could live in any book, which one would it be and why?

I never know how to answer this question. But today, I think I’d choose Tuck Everlasting. To be able to travel through time with your family sounds pretty cool. There was something about the combination of magic and realism that sucked me in to the story. Mostly, I read realistic fiction but Tuck Everlasting has stayed with me for years and years and years.

(What? You've had to answer this question before? Maybe I need a new end-of-interview question. And yup, I would have probably drank the water too. It would be so hard to resist!)

Thanks for having me here today, Heather. This was fun!

Thank you, Paul! I was so glad to finally get to ask you some nosy, in depth writing questions! :-)

You can find out lots more about Paul and his Alaskan adventures at his blog: Northwriter. You can also follow Paul on Twitter. He's very nice to talk to.


  1. Loved the interview. Paul has helped me too. He's always ready to give advice to help other writers.Paul, I love the story about how you got your agent. I could read about it again and again. I also love reading about his Alaskan adventures. That way, I can pretend I am on those adventures. I see it all through his eyes. Thanks for interviewing Paul, Heather. I'm going to have to get DH to make me a contraption for my elliptical. (^_^)

    Have a super weekend.

  2. Wow, what a fascinating interview. Both Paul's life and his novel sound riveting. Good luck to him!

  3. I really enjoyed the interview! Thanks for sharing!!

  4. Great interview. Thanks, Heather and Paul.I never read a summary of your new book before, Paul! I love it. I can't wait to read it someday.

  5. I'm so glad you guys enjoyed the interview. Hopefully we'll all be enjoying Paul's books someday soon!

  6. Thanks for this interview, Heather and Paul. It was great!

  7. Great interview, guys! LOL about typing while running. And I liked Paul's answer to how his life has changed now that he has an agent - running ideas by someone before working on them? I'd like to have to try that.

  8. hahaha, starving artist auction. Too funny!
    Yes, awesome interview. I love the almost zen-like approach Paul has to writing and not getting too anxious. I can see he'd be awesome at teaching.
    So happy I found your blog. New follower!

  9. Thanks Alissa & Ishta, and thanks for the follow Terry! It's good to meet you!