Randal Greene: Path to publication
Randal Eldon Greene is the author of Descriptions of Heaven, (Harvard Square Editions, November 22nd 2016), a novel about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death. A native of the northern plains, Greene grew up in small-town Nebraska and later attended the University of South Dakota where he earned his Bachelor’s in English and Anthropology.
Greene believes the world of literary arts is an active and thriving place, and he wants to get his hands in the ink. He is a volunteer judge of fiction at HeartAndMindZine.com and is always seeking opportunities to collaborate with other artists. His first four short stories were published under the name R.E. Greene in 2010. His short fiction has since appeared in publications in both Germany and the United States.
In his spare time, Greene likes to cook, study eclectically, or relax with a book in his library. When not in his library, Greene can be found hanging out with the coolest middle school teacher in the world, who also happens to be his girlfriend.
What is the key to writing a good book?
There are so many things that I’m tempted to say: Don’t fear descriptive language, ask if this couldn’t be told better in the third person, find where you placed textual soapboxes and get rid of them.
However, I think the key to writing a good book is actually writing it. Don’t wait for the muse. She’ll come more often if you’re in the act of writing—much less if you spend all your time waiting for her. And, the truth is, you don’t need her to write a good book. You need to write to write a good book. But, she is, of course, always welcome to sit with me at my writing desk.
Your book comes out soon. Will you provide any deals when it’s out?
My publisher sets the prices, but we are planning or currently doing giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon, and my website, as well as with any book bloggers willing to host a giveaway. I think we’re just trying to get as many free copies into the hands of readers as we can afford.
Anyone interested should follow (in the links below) to make sure you don’t miss out on a super-amazing special prize (and I’m talking about more than just a signed book, though that will be a part of it).
What is your book about?
It’s about a linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death.
A linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death—news of an unknown creature in the New Bedford Lake coincides with news that Natalia’s cancer has returned.
On the shores of the lake in a strange house with many secret doors, Robert and his family must face the fact that Natalia is dying, and there is no hope this time. But they continue on; their son plays by the lakeside, Natalia paints, Robert writes, and all the while the air is thick with dust from a worldwide drought that threatens to come down and coat their little corner of green.
A lament for what is already lost and what is yet to be lost, Descriptions of Heaven leaves only one question to be asked: What’s next?
What inspires the title Descriptions of Heaven? It’s different for a lake monster novella.
Okay. This is a short book. But, it’s a dense book. It’s about language, morbidity, loss. On the most obvious level, this book is about Robert looking at the inevitable loss of his world, that is, his wife. On a deeper level, this book is about how we, as humans, are going to deal with the loss of the world we know as the last vestiges of nature are consumed and, if not consumed and built upon with highways and houses, then destroyed by climate change, polluted water, oil spills.
What language are we going to use to talk about this when our biomes have all shrunk to nothing and vanished? What words can we use for a thing that we haven’t truly seen yet, only glimpsed at a distance, seen prophesized on TV or in books? How do you describe Heaven? How do describe a monster in the deep and muddy lake?
What challenges did you face while writing it?
I suppose the biggest challenge was time. I was working full-time—evenings at a call center. Trying to write in the mornings when you’re not a morning person is not the easiest thing in the world. But, I’m glad I learned to do it because I still write mornings, which allows me have a bit of a nightlife where I can do more things I enjoy, like cooking and reading.
Another challenge was the language. Robert—the main character—is a linguist, and he has quite the vocabulary. It was a fun challenge creating a character a hell of a lot smarter than I am.
What inspired you to write it?
I had a terrible bout of insomnia one night and was still unable to sleep the next day. I ended up lying on the couch in the living room, watching a marathon of some monster hunter show on Animal Planet. In one of the episodes, the cryptozoologists went looking for evidence of a lake monster. But, it wasn’t the Loch Ness monster. In my memory, they showed a map of the world with little lake monsters to indicate all the freshwater bodies in the world where supposed lake monsters dwell. There were a couple hundred at least.
This inspired the last line of the novel. The next day—after some sleep—I began work on the story. I thought it was going to be a short story at most. But, the themes of the book I was working on then got absorbed into Descriptions of Heaven. Thus, this book became my debut novel instead of the one I was struggling with for several months beforehand.
Do you have a specific revision process?
Because I write by hand, the first draft I type up on the computer is also my first revision. I’ll revise on the computer a few times and then print and mark up a paper copy. I often put aside a story for months at a time before coming back to it. Even flash fiction. Part of it is wanting to approach the story with fresh eyes. Part of it is that I’m simply busy with other writing projects.
Do you have scenes you removed sitting in a file somewhere? How did you decide what needed to be removed?
Every time I do a major revision, the manuscript gets a new file. “Descriptions of Heaven-d1,” “Descriptions of Heaven-d2,” and so on. And, yes, the original manuscript was longer than the published one. In large part, this is thanks to Martine who, as editors are want to do, suggested a hefty trim here and there.
It’s already a short work, so I didn’t want to take out anything that could be left in. If I took it out, it was only because it could be said better with fewer words or because what was being said was already stated elsewhere. There are spots of thematic repetition as Robert works through his sorrows, but if something is said twice in a row in two different ways, one of those ways is probably better than the other, and the better way stays while the other way leaves.
What do you do aside from writing? Is being an author a full-time job?
It’s been a full-time job for a couple of years now. After college, I landed a fairly lucrative position in a call center but quit when two factors converged. First, I was transferred to a department that was not a good fit for me (It involved working with video game support—not my cup of tea). Second, while still in training for this position, I started working on a novel. The idea for this novel had been gestating for about seven years.
After a couple of weeks, I realized this book wasn’t a false start, so I quit my job. But I still needed money, so I didn’t quit working altogether. Instead, I sought employment I hoped would allow me to write while at work. I applied at almost every hotel in the Siouxland area. I was honest about my desires in my first interview, and this manager looked at me and gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Work two days a week, only Saturdays and Sundays, sixteen-hour shifts.
That’s an awesome job, or sounds like it anyway. How long have you had that job? Do you have plans for the future or is this where you want to be?
I’ve worked weekends at the hotel for two years (two years this coming October). My boss tells me that even if I get as popular as James Patterson, I’m not allowed to quit working weekends.
So, your girlfriend is a middle school teacher. Have you written anything middle-grade?
I wrote a reader’s theater play called Humpty Dumpty Goes to the Beach for Libby’s middle school summer class, which always holds a “Books on the Beach” day. It was a big hit with the kids both this year and last year. In the coming spring, we’re planning on putting the play up on this excellent online resource for educators called Teachers Pay Teachers.
Does Libby read your work, too?
Yes. She helped edit Descriptions of Heaven. She’s quite good at catching clunky sentences and suggesting rewrites.
It’s awesome that your girlfriend is so supportive. Sometimes, it can be hard to live with a writer. Is she your only editor?
Libby has become my first reader after a piece is complete enough to warrant another pair of eyes looking it over. For some things, like “Come Light,” my latest short story published in Unbroken Journal, she is my only reader. Descriptions of Heaven, as my first book, had a lot of readers—likely more readers than a novella really warrants. But, I know a lot of writers who were excited about it and were more than happy to provide feedback. How could I say no? All of their advice and suggestions helped shape Descriptions of Heaven into a better book.
These readers, though, all came before my main editor for Descriptions of Heaven. Martine Bellen—a poet and librettist—was the actual editor of my book. She did the work that only a real editor can do. Rewrite this. Move this. Cut this whole passage. Frustrating and purifying. Of course, there were places I didn’t make the change she suggested, but almost always, she was right when she said that a particular line or passage needed to be looked at again.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the publication process?
The biggest challenge has been marketing, which includes getting reviews, interviews, and the book entered into contests. I expected even a small publisher to be more involved with the marketing aspect of selling a book—that’s how they make money, right? Apparently, even if it’s in the best interest of the publisher to do something, if it’s not in the contract, don’t expect them to do it. I’ve had to take care of all the marketing aspects of Descriptions of Heaven. Sure, they provided a long (and often outdated) list of places to try submitting my book, but it’s taken up all my time, easily over eight hours a day, for the past couple of months. I’ve run out of advance copies of the novella, so I’ll get a break from this aspect of publishing for about a month. But, as soon as the book is out, I’ll be back at it. Though, I hope to be able to divvy up my time more heavily on the writing side. I have a more manageable list I’ve made for what to do and when to do it once the book is for sale.
Of course, there’s so much when it comes to book design and distribution, which I am incredibly happy that I don’t have to learn because Harvard Square Editions is taking care of that. The learning curve has been steep enough. I can hardly imagine wanting to tackle everything or—gasp!—paying someone for it.
On a related note: Finding support for traditionally published authors, whether with a small or large press, has been challenging. Most of the advice available from websites, bloggers, and online communities has to do with self-publishing. And, while sometimes the advice is helpful, most of the time it is not. Advice such as make an awesome book cover and set the price low are not aspects of the book that I can control. So one of the challenges of a traditionally published author in a time when self-publishing is in vogue has been sorting through the ruck to find the few gems of useful marketing advice.
Is it ironic that, with little peer support, I’ve felt just as do-it-yourselfer as the actual do-it-yourselfers? I’m thinking it’s not really ironic because no matter how we publish our books, we are all DYI folk when it comes to the core of the publishing industry—we are all doing the writing ourselves. The rest is just finding the right route to bringing those words to the readers of the world.
Find out more about Randal or follow his writing journey