Tell our readers about your work
I’ve written four novels: Children of Mother Earth, about a man who leaves his wife and business to live in a modern-day commune in the White Mountains of New Hampshire; Bobby’s House, which tells the story of what happens in a nice neighborhood when a drug-dealing biker moves in; The Auctioneer, about a small-town handyman and auctioneer dealing with a cheating wife and a knack for rubbing people the wrong way; and my latest, Rock Star, which is about a retired rock star living a quiet life in Maine who is reluctantly drawn back into the spotlight.
I’ve published three books of Maine humor. About fifteen years ago, I wrote a fictional letter from a guy in Maine to his brother in Florida, written in heavy Maine dialect. I did it to get a laugh from my sister, who lives in Florida but grew up here. I ended up writing a series of letters and saving them in a file. Then, in 2011, I decided to publish them as Lettahs From Maine. I’ve since followed that up with Mowa Lettahs From Maine and Lettahs to Celebrities.
I also write short stories. In 2010, I began submitting my stories to literary magazines. For the first couple of months, all I got were rejection letters. Then, in one week, I had three of my stories accepted for publication. In fact, my first novel, Children of Mother Earth, is an extension of my first published short story. Over the past four years, I’ve had fourteen of my short stories published. I don’t write as many short stories now because I’ve been focused on writing novels, but I hope to write a few this year.
On top of all that, I write home improvement articles for Demand Media Studios, and my articles have appeared online at eHow, SFGate, and ModernMom. I’m also a home expert writer for Redbeacon, and I write a monthly guest column for my local newspaper, The Sanford News.
What was the first book you ever read that you really really loved?
Way, way back, when I was seven or eight, my father bought me What Happened at Midnight, Book 10 in the Hardy Boys series. It was the greatest thing in the world, better than television or movies. I begged my father for another Hardy Boys book, and eventually ended up reading over fifty of them. The Hardy Boys books are really responsible for my lifelong love of reading.
The first book that ever really stuck with me, that I can still remember a great deal of, was J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit. I read it in junior high, those years when our minds and bodies are changing, hormones are churning, and everything is absorbed with a heightened sense of awareness. The Hobbit is actually on the list of books I hope to read this year.
Who are your favorite authors now and why?
My tastes tend to be pretty mainstream. Stephen King, of course. I think it’s a law in Maine that everyone list Stephen King as a favorite author. I didn’t like him, at first. I tried to read The Shining when I was in sixth grade and it really scared me. I discovered that I am definitely not a fan of horror. Or science fiction, for that matter. But I really like his books now. I think I sometimes enjoy his blue-collar settings and writing style more than I enjoy the stories. The Dead Zone is my favorite of his books, and I’ve read most of them. I still haven’t finished The Shining, and can’t foresee a day when I will.
Another Maine author that I love is Richard Russo, for much the same reason that I enjoy Stephen King. Russo is great at describing regular people living in blue-collar towns. His novel Nobody’s Fool was one of my favorites. I just wish he was as prolific as Stephen King.
I’ve recently read a couple of books by Carl Hiaason that I really enjoyed. Very witty. I’ve always liked John Grisham. He may be the best at writing a good, fast-paced story. And I have to mention J.K. Rowling, because the Harry Potter books are among the best ever written. My wife and I are reading the first one to our seven-year-old son and he loves it almost as much as we do. I’ve also read her recent book written under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym and it was pretty good.
Mark Twain is a favorite, with a wit that me and nearly every other writer of the past hundred and fifty years would love to have. I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn almost every summer.
How have you progressed as an author?
I feel that I’ve improved a great deal as an author. Before writing Children of Mother Earth, I wrote three short novels that should really be destroyed. If anyone ever wanted to embarrass me, they could publish those novels. And honestly, I can see the improvement in my writing from when I wrote Children of Mother Earth to my newest, Rock Star. Like Elmore Leonard, I think I’m getting better at leaving out the parts that people skip.
What do you feel are the strong points in your work?
A writer friend once told me that my stories and writing style are reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen songs because I am very good at creating interesting stories about ordinary people. I’d never thought of it that way, and I took it as a huge compliment. There’s no fantasy or science fiction in my stories. I write about ordinary, small town people, and I think I develop the characters and settings quite well. Also, I’m pretty good at writing humor, whether writing an entire book of it or sprinkling it throughout a novel. So I would say those are my strengths.
Outline or wing it?
I never outline. I rarely begin writing a short story or novel knowing how it will end, or even in which direction it will go. I had an idea of how Bobby’s House would end, and I have an idea of how the novel I’m currently working on will end. But as I write, I’m constantly finding new characters or storylines that I hadn’t even considered ten pages before. It’s very fun, and very exciting. I do write notes so I can keep track of names, characters, backgrounds, etc., but that’s as far as it goes. For me, the story really does take on a life of its own, and I think most writers know what I’m talking about when I say that. I come up with an idea, usually a setting or a situation, and I just feel it out for about ten to twenty pages, kind of like sticking out your tongue to taste a new food. Once I begin to get a feel for the characters and story, I really dive in, and it’s exciting to see what happens along the way. So there’s a long answer to a short question.
What do you feel are the pros and cons of different publishing arenas – self pub vs indie vs mainstream?
Because I’ve only self-published, I don’t know much about mainstream publishing. I think that even if you go through a publishing house, you still need to network and market yourself. The benefit of having a publisher, I think, is that most tasks are taken care of for you – editing, cover art, etc. – which leaves you with more time to write. One thing I like about self-publishing is that I am in control of everything, including the cover art. But on the other hand, handling every aspect of publishing a book is time consuming, time that could be better spent writing. So I guess each individual writer just has to decide what works better for him or her.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever heard?
Find your own voice and write what you know about.
What do you think about being a writer in Maine?
I think it’s a great place to be a writer.
During the summer, the beauty of Maine is inspiring. And the winter is so bleak and dismal that there really is nothing else to do but write.
It can be both challenging and exciting to be a writer in Maine, because there are so many great writers here. In fact, our state may be best known not for its natural beauty, but for being home to the world‘s most famous author. Several years ago, I was in London, trying to explain to a group of Brits where in the United States I lived. As soon as I mentioned Maine, they nodded excitedly and said, “Oh, that’s where Stephen King lives.”
What are you working on now?
A novel about a Maine man who goes on a week-long hunting trip, during which he begins having doubts about his marriage. While he is away, his wife wins the lottery. I’d love to tell you how it ends, but I really don’t know yet.
Gary Sprague can be found on Amazon, facebook, Twitter, and Blogspot.