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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Joel Samberg talks about the inspiration behind his book, Weinerface: Stories, and his creative writing advice.
Written by JJ Barnes
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am a magazine columnist (Connecticut Magazine), regional journalist, novelist, playwright, and passionate dreamer.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Probably when I was a kid. Since my earliest days, so much of what I witnessed, overheard, read in the news, learned in school, or simply wondered about I turned (in my head at first) into books and plays and movies and TV shows. I don’t know why. That’s just the way it was.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I wrote a screenplay when I was 13 years old (a musical western, no less) and sent it to MGM. I turned professional at age 17 as a stringer for my local newspaper.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first book was a nonfiction assignment from a publisher (it was the publisher’s idea, not mine), and it took about 10 months to complete. That was back in 1998.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
My latest is a book of short stories. Now, I have been writing short stories for decades, and this book, Weinerface, comprises 35 of them, some of which I first drafted two decades ago, others two or three years ago, and a number of them just quite recently.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Weinerface: Stories?
As previously noted, I think of stories all the time. Some are simple, highly-focused ideas not necessarily fitting for a full-length novel. Others are just a little too quirky for a major work of fiction. A book of short stories seemed to be the perfect outlet for these stories.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Weinerface: Stories?
When to stop. (That’s a problem many authors have, though in this case it has nothing to do with plot, scenes or dialogue the way it does for others, but merely when to put a cap on the number of stories.)
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
As there are 35 stories, there are 35 protagonists. In about a third of them, real life inspired them. Almost a dozen of the stories are based in some measure on something that happened to me or to someone I know. I really did go to junior high school one morning convinced I would be beaten to a blood pulp by a bully who I had insulted the day before, just like Aaron in “Weinerface,” the title tale in the book My daughter really did fall asleep once where she shouldn’t have, like the girl in ‘Molly in the Morning.’ When my parents met, Mom thought Dad was rich and Dad thought Mom was rich, although both were poor, just like Jacob and Rachel in ‘Manhattan Moon.’ There’s a time-tested writers’ maxim that goes “Write what you know.” I guess that’s what I did.
What is the inciting incident of Weinerface: Stories?
I was compelled to write Weinerface for two reasons. The first is that I want to share with anyone I can the literary musings that often take over the greater part of my days and nights. The second is a hope to do my little part, as small as it may be, to help us weather this storm called Life on Planet Earth. My thinking is that while Weinerface may not actually un-shake this already shook-up world, maybe it can provide a short diversion for a little while.
What is the main conflict of Weinerface: Stories?
It’s more about what-if questions than conflicts. For example: What if you met someone who invented a machine that recorded your most embarrassing dreams on video? What if a popular boss got fired simply for mentioning a Viagra commercial? What if someone stole all your clothes during a lunchtime picnic in the middle of the workday? What if you stumbled upon a tree with a button that actually paused time? What if you needed to admit something to your spouse that you really didn’t want to admit? What would you do if you were convinced the world was going to blow up in a week? What if Hitler made it into heaven?
Did you plot Weinerface: Stories in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
If a story is not loosely based on a real-life event, then it is based on an idea sparked by a random sighting, a comment that was overheard, an extrapolation on a what-if scenario, or an expansion of a conversation with a friend.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Weinerface: Stories need?
Between the publisher’s review, an independent online editing service, and the assistance of a number of beta readers, the book had several editorial passes to try to get it in the best shape possible.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Read a lot. John Steinbeck, Pearl S. Buck, Howard Fast–natural writers of that ilk.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am currently working on final edits of two novels, Remember Me to Herald Square and Jackie Jester, and will then start a new one called My Several Pearls.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I write to share. As long as a few people are willing to engage, and better than that end up enjoying the experience, then it is well worth the effort.
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