Author Interview – Geoff Rodkey


Photo from http://geoffrodkey.com

 

Geoff Rodkey is a writer who has found success not only writing novels, but also selling screenplays (including Daddy Daycare, RV, and The Shaggy Dog). When I first read DEADWEATHER AND SUNRISE, I was impressed by Geoff’s easy humor and ability to craft a fast-paced, relentless middle-grade adventure. Rick Riordan called it “Lemony Snicket meets Pirates of the Caribbean,” while Booklist called it “pure fun.” Kirkus Reviews writes that “Egg’s first-person account is compelling, and the dialogue and vivid setting, as well as the full cast of quirky characters, make it easy to get lost in this adventure.”

 

Image from http://geoffrodkey.com

 

Most recently, Geoff published STUCK IN THE STONE AGE, a comic novel for middle-grade readers. I’m thrilled to share our interview below–Geoff had some great perspective on the industry, and I found his comments on sustainability and building a career especially fascinating, especially when much of the advice for writers is geared more towards breaking in. Don’t forget to check out all the ways you can follow Geoff below!

 

1. What is some of the best advice you’ve received about writing/publishing?

I started my career a screenwriter. After I sold a script to a studio for the first time (it was the third one I’d written—pretty much nobody’s first book or script sells, because it takes time and a lot of trial and error to learn the craft), I met with a producer who told me that selling a script to a movie studio was like joining the NFL. When I asked what he meant by that, he said that at any given time, there were only a few hundred people doing it.

Eventually, I discovered screenwriting was similar to the NFL in another respect, too: the average career was only about three years. Selling a script was hard—but continuing to sell scripts over a period of years (not to mention getting them made into movies, which was a whole other challenge) turned out to be much, much harder.

Now that I’ve been publishing books for a while, I think this is largely true of the book business, too. The raw numbers are much more forgiving—in any given year, there are a lot more books published than there are movies produced, so there’s room for many more professionally published writers—but I’ve found that sustaining a publishing career over time can be even more challenging than starting one.

Business-wise, some things do get easier—hopefully, once you’ve found an agent, you’ll be able to stick with them over time. But that’s not necessarily true of editors and publishers. Having a track record can be a double-edged sword: if your first book doesn’t sell commensurate to the publisher’s expectations, it can actually be more difficult to sell the second one. And having published a book in a specific genre and tone can lead pretty quickly to pigeonholing—i.e., you become known as a writer who does a particular kind of thing. If that thing isn’t in demand, it can be tough to sell another book in that style; and it can be even tougher to reinvent yourself, write something completely different, and then persuade editors to consider you in a different context.

The creative challenges involved in sustaining a career can be even more daunting than the business challenges. First novels (or screenplays) can be viscerally exciting—both for the writer and the audience—because in a lot of cases, they’re written by people who have a story they’re so passionate to tell that it gets them over all the hurdles of fear, procrastination, lack of time to write, inability to find an agent, etc.

Say you’ve got a story in you like that. After you’ve gotten it down on paper, what do you write next? Maybe you’ve got a second story that you’re equally passionate about. But do you have three? Five? Ten? Once you’ve skimmed the cream off the top of your creative tank, how do you regenerate it?

Some writers are so bursting with creative imagination that this isn’t a problem. For the rest of us, it is. And there aren’t any easy answers. If you’re writing as a career, every time you finish a book or a script, you have return to a blank page and start over again.

I’m in that position now: I’m just starting what’s either going to be my tenth book or my twenty-sixth (twenty-seventh? -eighth? I lost count) screenplay. It hasn’t gotten any easier, although I’m slowly learning to be a little more patient with the uncertainty.

 

2. What is some of the worst advice you’ve received about writing/publishing? 

Going back to my experience as a screenwriter: after I sold that first script, I had another meeting, this time with a prominent agent. He pulled out a copy of Variety, opened it to a list of the top-grossing movies of that week, and told me, “Study this list. For each film, ask yourself: why did this work? Why didn’t this work?”

Then he went down the list. This was in the fall of 1997, and Air Force One was on top. He said, “Air Force One: people want to see Harrison Ford kick ass as the President.” G.I. Jane had come out and flopped; he pointed to it and said, “G.I. Jane: nobody wants to see Demi Moore in a crewcut.” Then he got to The Full Monty, a small-budget movie that had dramatically overperformed and was still bringing in audiences months after it was released.

He said, “The Full Monty: fluke.” Then he moved on to the next big-budget thing.

Twenty-plus years later, I’ve realized that the best, most satisfying stories are the flukes. On the one hand, it’s good advice to suggest that a writer be conscious of the market for their work. On the other hand, if you pay too much attention to what’s selling and what isn’t, your creative imagination will suffer a slow, suffocating death from within. Over two decades, almost all of my best work has come when I’ve had an idea I loved enough to pursue it without thinking too much about whether it was commercial.

I’ve also written things that I liked just fine, but I wasn’t truly passionate about—I was writing them primarily because I thought someone would buy them. Some of those did just fine commercially, but they also bled me creatively a little bit, making it that much harder to connect with whatever source of inspiration it was that led to the ideas I really, truly loved for their own sake.

I don’t know anything about the genesis of The Full Monty (which, despite its low-budget beginnings, was so successful that it wound up spawning a Broadway musical)—but the concept (laid-off blue collar workers decide to become male strippers even though they’re less than ideal physical specimens) and execution are both offbeat enough that I suspect the story came about not because somebody thought, “this will be a massive, multimedia hit that generates huge piles of money!”, but because they had an idea they loved enough to write even though it wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer commercially. On paper, G.I. Jane would’ve been a much safer bet.

The best ideas are almost always the ones you’re passionate about regardless of the marketplace. Even if they don’t sell, they’re likely to be creatively satisfying in a way that replenishes your creative tank rather than depleting it. Writing them also feels less like a job than an act of emotional fulfillment—and trying to get paid for your writing is such a dicey thing anyway that most of the time, professional or not, you’re much better off writing the thing you love over the thing that you think might get you paid.

Of course, the best place to live is inside the overlap in the Venn diagram—the story you’re truly excited about creatively, that you ALSO think might be commercially successful. But it’s not always easy to find those.

 

3. What is something that surprised you about your career path?

My primary audience, in both film and books, has been children. This was largely an accident, and I’m chronically conflicted about it. But apparently not conflicted enough to write a book for adults yet. (I’ve written a lot of screenplays for adults, but none of those got made into movies.)

 

4. What is a common misconception that you encounter about writers or publishing?

That you can’t make a decent living as a writer. You can; it’s just really hard. (See questions 1 and 2.)

 

5. What is one book–fiction or nonfiction–that you would recommend writers pick up?

I’d recommend Stephen King’s On Writing, but everybody does that. So instead, I’d recommend Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. It’s probably 75 years old by now, and it’s a how-to guide for playwrights—but I found it invaluable as a beginning screenwriter, and the lessons I took from it are equally applicable to novels.

 

Here are the ways you can connect with Geoff!

Visit his site.

Find him on Goodreads.

Follow him on Facebook.

Follow him on Twitter.

Follow him on Instagram.

Sign up for his newsletter.

 

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