I love your bio! The first time I read it I knew I wanted to be your friend. 🙂 I’m intrigued by your history in acting and TV, and also quite jealous of all your travels! How do you think your varied background informs your writing?
As I suspect is true for most writers, I pick up a little bit of inspiration everywhere. The advantage to having worn a lot of hats and seen a lot of places is that each one opens up a new realm of possibilities to explore, and new worlds you might not have known existed. I’ve brainstormed book ideas based on jobs I’ve had (I once worked as a temp for the American Medical Association, and later wrote an adult thriller about…a temp working for the American Medical Association; and I’ve got a YA plot in my back pocket about a struggling teen actor trying to survive in Hollywood) and after living in Finland for four years, I developed a few ideas I can’t wait to explore for young adult thrillers with a Nordic setting.
For all of that, however, the fact is that after traveling to over thirty countries (!!!) I ended up setting my debut novel in my hometown!
Your debut, Last Seen Leaving, was one of my favorite books of 2016. It’s such an effective mix of thriller and coming-of-age story. How did Last Seen Leaving come about? What was your debut publishing journey like?
THANK YOU SO MUCH! The year I wrote Last Seen Leaving, I had read a number of really excellent missing persons titles, and I had an itch to try writing one of my own. I’ve always loved that subgenre of detective fiction, where someone vanishes and the central question that begs answering isn’t so much “whodunit?” but “what happened?” But I could never come up with a plot that felt whole and supportable enough to tackle. At the same time, I was also kicking around the idea of writing something to contribute to the growing (and much needed) body of YA literature addressing LGBT issues—only I couldn’t quite figure out what my angle would be there, either. And then one day I tried fitting the two half-ideas together, and immediately I came up with the concept for LSL!
In terms of the path to publication, I actually got ridiculously lucky. I finished the manuscript in November of 2014, sent it out to agents the first week of December, and had my first offer of representation two weeks later; I signed with my agent in January of 2015, LSL went out on sub, and sold in the first round. In so many significant ways, it was a huge whirlwind—only six months elapsed from my writing the first words of the first draft to my signing the publication contract—but in other ways, it was actually a long and often discouraging process.
Last Seen Leaving was the fifth manuscript that I ever submitted to agents seeking representation. I wrote my first one in college, knowing not the least little bit about what I was doing, and tried again and again in the years following, gradually honing my skills and getting a little better at figuring out how to craft an effective pitch as I went. So although LSL’s individual journey happened startlingly fast, it was the culmination of years and years of trying. In the end, it really is proof that perseverance pays off!
Many Pub(lishing)Crawl readers are working on their own manuscripts and looking forward to that first book deal. Can you share the best advice you were given when you were still an aspiring author? How about the worst advice?
I actually think my best and worst bits of advice were one and the same! In short: Don’t write to popular trends, because you can’t predict them; write the book that’s in your heart.
It is good advice! The thing about a literary trend is that by the time you’re able to recognize it, it’s probably already reached its saturation point, and publishers will have moved on, seeking what’s next. Furthermore, Last Seen Leaving wouldn’t exist (and I wouldn’t be writing this now!) if I hadn’t taken this particular advice to heart. I really feared, when I first sat down at my computer, that my premise would be a hard sell. There’s way more YA out there now than ever before that speaks directly to LGBT issues—but the market is still in the earliest stages of allowing those novels to be about more than just LGBT issues, and I feared that agents and editors would simply not embrace what I was trying to do with a thriller that hinges in part on the main character’s struggle with his sexuality. But I needed to write this story, so I decided to take a chance on it…and, clearly, it was the right call!
The reason this also kind of feels like bad advice, though, is that while trends are hard to predict, publishing is a business, and agents and editors are necessarily looking for properties that are marketable. It’s really hard to pour your heart, soul, and precious time into writing the Novel That Is Close To Your Heart only to have nothing but rejections come back. Plus, it really is important to understand what the trends are, and how they’re affecting the overarching thrust of YA! From narrative structure to motifs to syntax, there are a lot of elements—secondary to plot—that spread throughout all subgenres because of what novels are really popular with readers.
What other kinds of books can we expect from you in the future? I, for one, can’t wait to have more Caleb Roehrig books on my shelf!
I’m blushing! And it’s interesting you should ask this question, because I am just now starting on revisions for my second book, scheduled for publication in 2018—a young adult thriller about a boy who has one night to solve a grisly crime that implicates someone he cares about. I’ve also just inked a deal with my publisher for two more titles to follow that one, the first of which will be a sort of Action/Adventure retelling of Hamlet—with an LGBT twist! I don’t want to give away too much about the plot, but it’s one I’ve kicked around for years, and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with readers.
Oh my gosh I’m so happy you have another thriller on the way, and that Hamlet premise is EVERYTHING I want in a book! (I may sneak into your house and steal your drafts… bwahaha!)
Last question–You’re on a pub crawl with all your favorite authors, (both living and dead.) Who’s there and what’s everyone drinking?
Okay, so! Raymond Chandler and Sara Paretsky will definitely be there—drinking whiskey, talking crime fiction, and no doubt arguing over which distiller makes the best bourbon; Sue Grafton and I will bond over an excellent Santa Barbara County chardonnay (and if the word “chardonnay” automatically makes you wrinkle your nose, you have obviously never had a good SB County chard) (and you need to fix that problem immediately) while I pick her brain about her brilliant Kinsey Millhone novels; and Agatha Christie will be our crafty chaperone, sipping sherry from one of those fancy little cups, and making sure we don’t get into too much trouble.
That sounds like an incredible night out–can I come too???
Thanks so much for this interview, and for coming on board with us here at PubCrawl! I can’t wait for you to share your wisdom and ideas with our wonderful readers!