Welcome to my Writer’s Block! Today I’m here with author Byron Suggs. Mr. Suggs is with me today to discuss his book Rockapocalypse, a book which I consider a very compelling read. Based in the south, Rockapocalypse lays out some interesting and thought provoking ideas about life, death, and the mysterious area in between. Today, I ask him about his background, his books, and his drive for success.
Byron Suggs’ bio reads:
Primarily a writer of southern fiction, Byron’s first novel, Rockapocalypse: Disharmony of Justice, is a tale of youthful dreams, adult peril, and Divine intervention by a few deceased Rock n’ Roll icons. His second novel, Cold Currents, a southern literary mystery/thriller, is in the hands of his agent. He is currently working on his third novel, Bone Whispers, (a follow-up to Cold Currents), and a collection of short stories for future publication.
His short works of fiction have appeared in publications such as Aries: A Journal of Arts and Literature and Black Heart Magazine (e-zine).
A child of the sixties, his first viewing of The Wizard of Oz shaped his outlook of the world and erased any boundaries that could have stunted his imagination. He believes that a good tale should take you on an exhilarating adventure and leave you a bit more enchanted after you turn the last page.
*Byron is represented by Joyce Holland of The D4EO Literary Agency.
S. M. Nystoriak: Where do you hail from? Did that have an impact on your writing career or genre?
Byron Suggs: Well, Susan, I’m not sure geographically where I originated, or under what specific circumstances, but I was slapped into this world in Johnston County, N.C. It’s a little more urban now, but back then Johnston County was about as deep in the corn, cotton and tobacco as you could get without turning into a boll weevil. As for my writing, I would be a fool not to acknowledge the influence this area has had on my work. Not all of it, mind you, but a good amount for certain. Rockapocalypse, and my second novel, Cold Currents, while two very different books, were both loosely set in my hometown. My latest book will be no different, as it follows up with the characters developed in Cold Currents. My short works tend to stray away from that concept more often than not.
S. M. Nystoriak: Some of the scenes you describe are so eerie. The 60’s in the south is far from where and when I grew up, and I was curious if you personally witnessed any of what you wrote about first hand.
Byron Suggs: The only thing in Rockapocalypse, from a “did it actually happen” perspective, was the KKK cross burning scene in the opening chapters. When I was growing up, the KKK, while nothing more than a small contingent compared to its past numbers, was still a very real presence in the rural South. My father took me to see this ‘ritual’ when I was maybe six or seven years old. It wasn’t always held in secret because those who belonged to it felt safe behind their hoods and robes. My father wasn’t associated with the KKK, and I think his intention was to educate me on the complexities of human nature. As for the whole of the book’s scenes, most of them, with the exception of the supernatural elements, were very much a part of my life growing up. The ‘eerie’ effect is part of what a writer creates by taking normal things and visualizing various perceptions for the reader, whether they be creepy, sad, horrific, fantastical, or just slightly skewed from the commonplace.
S. M. Nystoriak: A compliment: I like how you incorporate items of the day into your novel. For example, the Astro Pop! How many of us remember those dangerous things? I was taken back to my own upbringing in the 70’s and 80’s. And, I know firsthand how dangerous those things could be!
Byron Suggs: Thank you, Susan. I’m a firm believer of accuracy in detail when writing setting and scene. For me a good tale incorporates fact and fiction in a finely crafted mix so that the readers can find comfort and familiarity not only in the characters, but the world in which we place them.
S. M. Nystoriak: I thought that the way you incorporated the multiple points of view was fantastic, as well as the time jumps. Was that the way you initially envisioned the book, or was that a decision you made later on in the editing process? Either way, it was well done!
Byron Suggs: That whole process could be a book of its own! The original manuscript was a very linear tale in terms of structure. It was a fine story, and I was very proud of it. But I failed to draw much interest from agents and publishers with that version. I came close, though. One agent liked it but couldn’t classify it within genres, so she passed on representation. Sadly, she was the only agent who showed any interest beyond the standard “it doesn’t fit our current needs” rejection. Then a small publisher read a partial and liked it enough to request I submit it to her publications board for consideration. When the smoke cleared (long story), they rejected the manuscript. At this point, I was in full “mule” mode. What confused me the most was the conflicting feedback: everyone who read it seemed to like it, but nobody was willing to take a chance. I believed in the story and refused to park it in the Bottom Drawer of Failed Dreams. I actually became angry at myself, as well as the system and process that I’d obviously failed to understand. By this time I was already a few chapters into writing Cold Currents, but the whole deal with Rockapocalypse hardened my resolve to the point that I set Currents aside and began re-inventing Rockapocalypse. The original story, with the exception of the beginning and ending, became the back story. I sat down and told myself “Go outside the box. No constraints. Challenge your ability, and more importantly, challenge your reader.” Two months later I sent the new version to the same publisher who had rejected it. Two months after that we signed the contract.
What I discovered during that process is that I write much better when I visualize the story as a movie. The same principles used in writing a screenplay should also be used when writing a novel. When you do this, all the crucial elements of ‘story’ fall into place: plotting, voice, characterization, credibility, and especially pacing. Of course, this is only my opinion. But it works for me.
S. M. Nystoriak: I know from personal experience about how difficult it can be to convince an agent to take a chance on an unknown. I think it’s fantastic that you had the courage to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and reinvent the novel. The end product of Rockapocalypse is quite compelling, and I can’t imagine it without the different points of view. What you say here is very encouraging!
Byron Suggs: Well, courage is often confused with stubborn determination. In my case, writing is something I want to do for a living. You cannot succeed if you don’t put your heart and soul into your dreams 100%. Possessing a passion for what you want is essential. It comes across in your work. It comes across in your personal and profession relationships. But most importantly, it keeps you moving forward day in and day out regardless of the rejection.
S. M. Nystoriak: I know you have written other books. Are any of them released yet? What can we expect from you in the future?
Byron Suggs: Rockapocalypse is the only one published at this time. I wrote a murder/mystery thriller called Cold Currents while I was rallying Rock through publication. Cold Currents landed me my first agent and is now on submission. My current work in progress is a follow-up to Cold Currents. I have a short story on submission and hope to have a short form collection ready for publication next year.
S. M. Nystoriak: Tell us a bit about your path to representation. Was it years in the making, or did it happen relatively quickly? Did you do any self publishing?
Byron Suggs: Ah, the journey to representation. Where do I begin? I guess in terms of time, my journey was relatively short compared to some. All said, finding representation took me three years and two books. Remember, Rockapocalypse was acquired directly by a publisher, but I spent about six months trying to find an agent before that happened. The process for Cold Currents was a bit shorter at four months. I learned a lot about the literary agent process between the two.
Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth: Write a good book. Don’t rush it. Craft it as finely as possible. Test drive it with beta readers. Tweak the rough spots, but use caution in revision if your gut tells you it’s working. Understand the difference between “subjectivity” and “constructive criticism.” Test drive it with another set of betas. Fine tune it. Do the down-n-dirty editing it needs. Set it aside for a week or two, then spend a day without distraction and read it all the way through. If you’re happy with it, then you’re ready to shop it to agents. If not, return to step one. Understand the Numbers. When you know your book’s as good as you can get it, do your homework and select a dozen agents that are currently looking for books in the genre your work fits. Do your homework on writing query letters (hint: much like books, queries need to grab their attention from the onset and hold it), and draft one that’s tailored to each of the agents you’ve selected. Follow their query guidelines to the letter and submit. Now, here’s where I may differ a bit in method from others: one week later, submit a dozen more. And do the same a week after that. Here’s my reasoning: publishing is a tough business. The competition is stiff. No matter how good your book is, without adequate exposure you may never be “in the right place at the right time.” Once you have a good book, it becomes a numbers game in my opinion. That’s my philosophy. The only drawback to my method is the fact that if you land an offer and accept, common courtesy dictates that you notify the rest that you’ve accepted representation elsewhere. Technology will ease your pain, though.
S. M. Nystoriak: And, coming from someone who does not have agent representation yet, I am very curious about the author/agent relationship. What can you tell us about that, from your perspective?
Byron Suggs: First and foremost, any agent you go with has to have a passion about your work. You’ll see it in their correspondence and hear it in their voice if you speak over the phone. Also, and I can’t emphasis this enough, do your homework on the agency and the prospective agent. Know what kind of support you’ll be getting from both. Ask your agent questions like “How many clients do you have?” or “If I signed with you, what’s your game plan to get my book on submission?”. You want to know if they’ll be proactive on your behalf. If they have fifteen clients already, then you’re less likely to get the attention you deserve. As far as my own experience, my agent was very enthusiastic about Cold Currents. She was also knowledgeable about the craft and had written several books herself. Her client list was a little heavy, but a few months ago she cut that down to what I felt was a manageable number. She sends me emails every few weeks listing the publishers she’s submitted my manuscript to, as well as their response if they turn it down. (Even with an agent and a good book, you’ll continue to experience rejection to some degree.) Those rejections, while painful, are very educational as to how the publishing houses vet out acquisitions.
S. M. Nystoriak: There is such a music connection in ROCKAPOCALYPSE! As a musician myself, I love that! Are you a die hard Rock-n-Roll fan, or is your musical interest varied? I would love to know what you have (or would have) on your iPod!
Byron Suggs: Music has always been a part of my life. And I don’t say that from just a “recreational” mindset. To me, music can define a feeling, moment, or place, in a very powerful way. Not to put other creative forms down, but out of all of them, which one can trigger a strong memory in a matter of seconds? Can a book or a painting make an old man suddenly start playing air guitar in his boxer shorts and reminiscing about a party he attended thirty-two years ago? Or the girl he met at that party? What I tried to relay to the reader in Rockapocalypse was that the 60’s and 70’s were the most explosive years of creativity in terms of music that we’ve seen in modern times. Many cultural changes influenced that creativity. One hit wonders were not only popping out like PEZ, but they were good! The lines of musical classification became a little blurred and the result was fab-tabulous!
As for my own taste, it’s been rather eclectic over the years. I was a pop music kid into my early teens, a rock n’ roller from there into my 20’s, embraced some of the eighties sounds as well as country music in my 30’s, and by the nineties I was too involved in work and family to put much interest in the music scene. These days I mostly listen to country and occasionally switch over to the old rock stations. Once in a while I’ll hear a current band (I’m not sure how to define bands anymore) do a tune that catches my imagination. But regardless of my “old man” musical taste, the songs of the 60’s and 70’s will always spark my imagination and transport me back in time. And for the record, I don’t own an iPod, nor can I listen to music while I write. I have enough of it cataloged in my head as it is…
S. M. Nystoriak: Thank you so much for taking part in my Writer’s Block author interviews, Mr. Suggs. I wish you every success with your writing career! For those who wish to learn about Byron Suggs and his books, please see the following links:
Publisher Website: http://www.written-world.com/WWC/book_rock.html
Amazon (short URL): http://tinyurl.com/8j95ums
Barnes and Noble.com: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rockapocalypse-byron-suggs/1112799802?ean=9781938679018