Friday, December 6, 2013

From School Principal to Thriller Writer--The Grassroots Journey of Andy Rose

In 1967, Andy Rose started working as a fifth-grade teacher in the impoverished Lower East Side of Manhattan. The children in his classes were predominantly illiterate and presented many learning issues.  Andy immersed them in daily readings of literature, used humor and passion to motivate them.  He found them wonderful to work with--their spirit was indomitable--and thirteen years later, he became principal of the Norwood Public School in Bergen County, New Jersey.  He served as its chief school administrator until 2009.

During the last decade of Andy's career, he read the works of Nelson DeMille, Dan Brown, and John Grisham. Their thrilling novels provided welcome escape from his 24/7 responsibilities as leader of a public school district. When he retired, images and stories about teachers and school children filled his mind. Characters and an inner city school setting began to emerge. It felt natural to write about schools and to portray teachers, instead of James Bond, as heroes.

But a major obstacle:  Writing fiction was very different from writing reports for a Board of Education, press releases, and analytical articles for local newspapers.  

Andy came to one of my writing classes at the Hudson Valley Writers' Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY., and the rest, as they say, is history.   

His debut novel, Lily's Payback, was published in 2012 and just won an honorable mention in the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival. 

Andy Rose:  To be honest, I would never have completed my project without certain insights and strategies, critical in my learning curve.

First, in my writing classes I learned about how to create a journey for my characters.  I read the work of Joseph Campbell and his study of myths across different cultures and centuries, as well as A Writer's Journey by Chris Vogler, who adapted Campbell's insights for scriptwriters in Hollywood.  Both writers taught me how a hero's journey evolves.  And my teachers are certainly heroes on a journey! 

Mary is a big proponent of this truth:  creativity flows randomly, not sequentially.  A very different concept for me--but I loved it.  She encouraged me to start writing scenes, get my ideas down on paper, without worrying about where they would fit in.  These "islands" of writing could be numbered or titled, to keep track of them as they accumulated, but the job of putting them in sequence came later, she said.  

This freed me!  I wrote over sixty scenes involving the four teacher characters in my story. 
The next revelation was the three-act "W" structure.  Mary teaches this structure in her classes on storyboarding.  Once I had determined the key twists and critical points in each act, I could begin to arrange my 60+ scenes in order on the "W."  The plot of Lily's Payback came together fast! 

The story is about murder, of course:  Lily's twin brother is murdered, and she enlists the help of three teacher colleagues at her school.  They pursue justice, confronting local police, the FBI, NYC mobsters, the CIA, and even the Russian Mafia.  The story, as I worked more on it, evolved into a crime thriller--but with heroes from the unlikeliest of places, the teacher's lounge!                              

I grew to love my characters.  Already on chapter 20 of a sequel, A Lesson to Die For, I'm now working with six teachers as my new main characters.  They deal with the daily challenge of uplifting students--plus fighting a principal who brilliantly involves the parental community but is personally flawed by insatiable womanizing.  His Achilles heel threatens to bring violence and tragedy on himself and the teachers.   It's certainly keeping me busy! 

Marketing a Debut Novel--What I Learned
Once you publish your book, the work continues.  Marketing Lily's Payback has been a different kind of hurdle for me. 

Here are the steps I decided to take:

1.  A book launch at a local bookstore near my hometown in Bergen County, New Jersey, which more than seventy-five people attended.   

2.  Author talks and presentations at local libraries, including one at the Norwood Public Library which was covered by a reporter from the local newspaper.

3.  Motivational talks on how to ignite your dreams--and where I tell my story of becoming a writer.  Libraries and community centers have responded very well to this new program.  I believe everyone has stories to tell.  As I share my own experience, detailing how others can tap their histories and imaginations to put pen to paper, I encourage the listeners to conceive, plan, finish, publish, and market a book of their own. Of course, I offer to sell and sign copies of my book after each presentation.

4.  My wife and I devoted three weeks visiting states south. We drove to Lorton, VA, and connected with the Amtrak Auto Train to Orlando, FL.  We also visited Florida before driving north to Savannah, Charleston, Charlotte, and Williamsburg, VA.  In each community, we visited libraries and local bookstores. We stayed at various hotels and frequented local restaurants. It was amazing how many people we met and came to know. People enjoy sharing stories. By the time we returned to New York, we had sold 52 copies of my novel.

5.  I love my book so I advertise as I drive.  I went to a local printer and purchased two magnetic signs of my book cover with a few key words, then placed a sign on each side of my car.  I try to park in spaces that are well lit and highly visible.  I'm always surprised how many comments I get from passersby. 

6.  Social media is now more popular on the Internet than pornography (I read this in a news item!). I have a presence and am active on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Pinterest.   

7.  I keep educating myself via subscriptions with various PR/marketing experts such as Tina Cook, Dana Lynn Smith, Joanna Penn, and Denise Wakeman; they offer free newsletters that contain tidbits of free marketing advice. 

Writing a book requires learning the craft and sticking with the process.  Promoting your book once it's published demands time, effort, and confidence in what you're offering.  I spend part-time effort in marketing my books but I also read to keep learning.  Researching locales, cultural backgrounds, criminal histories, police procedures, medical conditions, and a variety of related topics keeps my mind active. I choose authors who are much more experienced than I am.  I listen to how people actually talk to learn dialogue skills.  I imagine "what if?" to keep my imagination busy.  

In the end, writing is a deeply personal journey.  I love my characters and cherish the time I spend with them.  Unleashing my imagination is exhilarating.  Portraying teachers as heroes is meaningful to me, since I spent so many years as one!  

As one of my characters asserts, "It's all about love!"

Click here to check out Lily's Payback by Andy Rose.

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