Friday, September 16, 2011

Chatting with Keith Cronin - Debut Author of Me Again

Miracles can be damned inconvenient. That's what thirty-four-year-old stroke victim Jonathan Hooper learns when he wakes up after spending six years in a coma. Everyone calls Jonathan's recovery a "miracle," but since nobody had expected him to recover, his sudden awakening becomes an awkward intrusion on the lives of his family and friends. To make matters worse, Jonathan doesn't even recognize these people. The stroke has wiped away most of Jonathan's memory, while the coma has withered his body.
In short, Jonathan's not the man he used to be - whoever that was.
The only bright spot for Jonathan is Rebecca Chase, a young woman he meets in the hospital's long-term recovery unit. A stroke has drastically changed her personality, making her a stranger to her husband. Gone is the vivacious trophy wife, replaced by a shy, awkward woman with a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing.
Constantly reminded how badly they fit in, Jonathan and Rebecca find much in common with each other as they work on rebuilding - and rediscovering - their lives. But while Rebecca copes with her husband's frustrated attempts at "fixing" her, Jonathan finds mounting evidence that the man he used to be was not necessarily a very good man. And everywhere he turns, Jonathan keeps discovering more secrets that his own loved ones are keeping from him.
A steadily accelerating story exploring the irony, humor, and opportunity that can accompany personal calamity, Me Again follows the intertwined paths of two people forced to start over in life: one looking for his place in a world that has moved on without him, the other struggling to navigate a relationship with a man who wishes she were someone else.

Since first meeting Keith last winter, I've looked forward to reading his debut novel Me Again.  Keith's a nice, interesting, very funny guy and I had a hunch that I and other people would enjoy learning more about the writer behind the book.

Here's what his website bio says: 

Author of the novel ME AGAIN, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers.
He is also becoming informally known as "the title guy," having provided the title for Sara Gruen's blockbuster Water for Elephants, as well as Susan Henderson's HarperCollins debut Up from the Blue.
Keith is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed, named one of Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for the past five years. His fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from Indiana University, and earned his MBA at Florida Atlantic University. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

Now here's part one of what Keith says about himself and his work:

MS: Me Again is your debut novel. According to your website, you've written shorter fiction before, but it looks like you're primarily known as a musician. Has writing a novel been a long-held dream, or is this a newer trip on your creative journey?

KC: Back in the late 80s I toured with the Pat Travers Band, and Pat and I were both big readers, often loaning each other books to help pass the endless hours spent on the bus. Pat was always telling me I should write a book, but at the time I didn't feel I had a story to tell. I mean, I knew I supposedly had "a way with words," but I didn't know what to say with those words. It wasn't until the late 90s that I started getting serious about writing fiction. But I got very serious indeed, and ended up devoting the next ten years to learning the craft and the business, with the goal of becoming a published novelist.

MS: The description of Me Again is so different and intriguing. What moved you to write this particular story?

KC: I'll admit, at first it was just an intriguing "what if?" premise, making me curious to see what my characters would do. For many of us, the occasional desire for a "do-over" in life is a pretty universal thing, whether we're at a point where things are going so badly that we want to start over, or we're wistfully wondering what our lives would be like if we had made some different choices or taken some different paths. But in Me Again, I forced the issue, giving both of my characters a do-over that they never asked for.

But as I got caught up in the writing, I became far more focused on how my characters would feel under these circumstances, and it was their emotions that in turn drove their actions - all while I sat back and watched. I learned a lot while writing this book: both my characters and I made some major emotional discoveries along the way. That's the power of fiction, but I'll admit this was my first time tapping into that power so directly.

MS: I'm sure you've learned that it's unique for a man to write a book that's characterized as women's fiction. Is there a story behind that, too? Did you set out to write women's fiction or is did you realize that's what you had when finished?

KC: I really don't tend to think in genres - I'm an EORAW (Equal Opportunity Reader And Writer). But I did consciously set out to write a book that women would be interested in reading. For one thing, I believe there are more women reading fiction than men, and that they are more open-minded about what they read. But I was also at a point in my life where I felt ready to tackle some pretty intense emotional issues with my writing, viewed through a lens that seeks the positive - or at least the funny - side of even the darkest situation. I was hoping that this sort of world view might lend itself to some compelling and emotionally substantial storytelling.

When Five Star announced they wanted to acquire my book for their Expressions line of women's fiction and romance, I was a little surprised, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Although my first-person narrator is male, the main female character in my book goes through a major transformation, which I think is one of the essential components of good women's fiction.

MS: What's been the biggest challenge? What's the most important thing you've learned? Anything you wish you'd done differently?

KC: One of the biggest challenges is staying positive and focused in such a daunting pursuit. You hear so many more no's than yes's in this line of work, and it's easy to become bitter or jealous, but that's such a waste of energy. The key is to keep your eyes and ears open, and learn from your experiences, even if the lessons you're being taught seem illogical or unfair. That old "Serenity Prayer" comes to mind:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

 That last part is tricky, though. Many aspiring writers become downtrodden and desperate, and begin to assume that they can't change certain things, when in reality they probably could change them if they tried. I'm always a little skeptical when I start hearing "that's the way it is in this business," or "that's the way we've always done it." So I'm definitely trying to approach my writing career from the driver's seat, not simply along for the ride. Obviously, I'm not alone in my thinking, as witnessed by the revolutionary changes we're starting to see in publishing, particularly with e-books.

As far as things to do differently, I think I could have worked even harder to understand how genres are perceived by the decision makers in this industry. I mean, even though I may not care about genre, you can bet the editorial and marketing departments of all the publishing houses do care. So rather than buy into the popular advice of "just write the story that's in your heart, and it will find its way to success," I think it's more realistic to look for how your passions and storytelling instincts intersect with the current market, and try to write something that aims for that point of intersection. Easy as pie, right? Next I'll explain how I would handle cold fusion and solve world hunger.

Check back tomorrow for part 2 of the Keith Cronin interview where we discuss cold fusion, world hunger, handling a dual career and other interesting topics.  In the meantime, check out Keith's website to download an excerpt of Me Again.


KarenB said...

Sounds like an interesting and intriguing book written by a very thoughtful guy. Now when can I get to the bookstore?

Robena Grant said...

This is a fabulous interview, Mary, and Keith. Thank you.

I like your insights into life, and the publishing industry, Keith. Especially your take on writing not the "book of your heart" and putting it out there hoping it will find its place, but researching first what best suits your voice and your writing style.

Will ponder these comments and be back tomorrow. Today I pick up my copy of Me Again. Hope I don't stay up ALL night reading. : )

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

Hi Keith -
I always enjoy your comments on argh & cherry forums. Your book is on my next amazon buy list. Can't wait to read it.

As a writer I love to read the thinking behind a writers success. Thanks for sharing!
(Clever Cherry)