Saturday, September 19, 2009

TAKE TEN: Author Gary Kaschak

They say three times at anything is the charm, but for author Gary Kaschak, the first two times weren't that bad, either. The Binghamton, NY native has seen three of his titles published, the latest one (LIFESTONE) being chosen as Conversations Book Club's Book of the Month for September 2009 and as a Reader's Choice Selection. Currently a resident of Cedarbrook, NJ, Kaschak is not content with letting others dictate his future. He has taken his writing career in his own hands and seen remarkable success in the process. In this exclusive interview, he talks with Cyrus A. Webb about the diversity in his life and work, how a book report on one of his novels opened up new doors and why he thinks good writers are made from readers who do their homework.

Here is their conversation...

Gary, thank you for talking with us about your writing career. The new book, LIFESTONE is your latest title, though you have released two books before it. Is it like the first book with every release when it comes to your feelings about how it will be received?
I think the first book,(Hands That Break...Hands That Heal) like
everything else we experience for the first time, had a magical feel
to it when it was released. Just running my hands over the cover and
turning the pages and seeing my name on every page was thrilling. I
don't recall ever wondering at first if people would like the story
itself, I was so tuned into the "experience" itself. As time went on
and that initial feeling began to dissipate, my focus turned to the
content and its acceptance, and as sales and circulation of the book
increased, I received many cards and letters from readers of how I'd
moved them. With that first novel, I did choose ten people to read my
manuscript before it went to print, and asked for real feedback on
what they'd thought of the story, so I had a good idea based on that
small readership of how that book would be received. I've kept that
same policy for both The Hole To China, and Lifestone, choosing
different readers to critique before sending it to print, as well as
leaning heavily on my mentor and writing coach, Mark Orrin for guidance.

It seems as though you have a diverse background of interests. How
much does that influence what you choose to write about?

I'm mostly influenced by unlikely heroes rising above their problems,
and somehow, whether through faith or the circumstances of life and
how they adapt to particular problems, they somehow prevail. Movies
like Rudy and Hoosiers and Forrest Gump just get to me every time. TV
shows like Touched By An Angel and Highway To Heaven have totally
taken me in the direction of my writing. I'd always been drawn to
underdogs and kids and adults who'd been bullied or persecuted and
have found it difficult to fit in socially or have been shunned by
society because they are different. I've seen enough of it in my
lifetime, both from personal experience and afar, and I really feel I
can help in some small way to make things better with these fictitious

As someone who has written three books I have to assume that you are
a reader as well. If I had met you five years ago, what would you have
been reading and would you have thought that you would be where you
are today?

I'll take you back almost 10 years ago when I'd decided to write Hands
that Break, and I recall as I began writing the story, that I needed a
better sense of style, and the best way for that development was to
read, read, read. So I decided to read 100 books in a years time,
choosing a wide range of authors and topics both fiction and non-
fiction, and when I'd accomplished that goal, and did read 100 books
in a year, I was ready to write. I might add that in that experience I
learned to be extremely patient with myself, and that through that
process I developed a style of writing that is both descriptive in
nature, and timely with dialogue. As for what I was reading five years
ago, most likely, Wicked, by Gregory Maguire, which I absolutely
loved, but mostly historical novels like, Rise To Rebellion by Jeff
Shaara, John Adams by David McCullough, and Cold Mountain, by Charles
Frazier. I love American history, and much of what I read revolves
around characters and events that shaped the early years of our country.

LIFESTONE is a book that skips across time as well as into the lives
of very real characters. What inspired the storyline and how is this
different from what you have done in the past?

My drive home every day takes me past a college on one side of the
road, and a cemetery on the other side. I'd traveled this road 15,000
times or more over the past 20 years, and had never thought until this
one day that the idea for LIFESTONE would come to me in a flash. When
the idea first passed through my mind, and my mind began to churn out
ideas, I knew I was onto a good story, and immediately gave it the
LIFESTONE title. As to why a college and a cemetery gave me the idea
for the story, it would have to be broken down into two parts: The
college represents both the current and future of the story, and the
cemetery represents the past and the future, each part so reliant on
the other for closure. LIFESTONE is quite different from my prior
works, in that the first two books were written for a young-adult
audience, and LIFESTONE for a more mature audience.

Being an author is one thing, however promoting the book is something
totally different and sometimes just as challenging. What has the
process been like for you when it comes to marketing yourself and your

At first I didn't know what to expect being self-published, but
quickly found out that it was totally up to me to market myself and my
novels. I contacted several groups that I'd thought would be
interested in my story, but found many doors closing and very few
opening due to the self-publishing stigma, and the fact that I had
very little credibility other than a few cards and letters from
satisfied readers. My big break came when a 7th grade student from St.
Stanislaus (Lansdale, Pa) read both my books and turned them into his
teacher, Bonnie Marino, as book reports. When she'd read his reviews
and the contents of the stories, she contacted me and soon I was
invited into her class to speak to the kids about my writing. Soon
after that, we began an essay contest which has blossomed into an
annual event at the school. That one incident gave me the credibility
I'd needed to move the books into new hands. and I'd sent out
proposals to several hundred schools across the country, and, did
relatively well with that endeavor.

Social networking websites are a tool that many authors including
yourself are using. How have they help you in getting the word out?

Having my own website has been the key. Now when I reach out to groups
about my novels, there is clearly a definitive place for perspective
readers to go to check me out. No longer do I have to spend any money
on mailing out proposals, and with time being so precious in our
lives, the website has been one of the best decisions I've made
regarding the marketing of my books. I'd recently added a Facebook
account and several other social-networking websites, but finding the
time to really get into them has been a challenge.

With your experiences in writing and publishing your work, what
advice would you share with aspiring writers or even new writers?

There's so much advice to give on this subject. First of all, if you
decide to write a novel, take your time and enjoy the process, and
don't ever rush yourself to finish a chapter. Let the story grow, and
let is show though your writing. Get to know the characters as if they
are real people. If you can afford it, and you are serious about
getting published, find an editor who will guide and direct you in
ways you may not see at first. Know the rules of the writing industry.

Subscribe to magazines like Writers Digest which will serve to help
you in so many ways. Think positive when your work has been completed,
but know full well there will most likely be rejection from agents and
Publishers. I have stacks of rejections, and to this day I still have
no representation for my work. I've followed all the rules, but there
are no guarantees in this business, and not a soul owes you anything
for being diligent in writing great queries, novels, etc. Write for
yourself and your message, and not for monetary means.

What's next for you?
As for my writing, I have several ideas at the moment, and I'm trying
to decide which one to do next, but I'm leaning towards writing a
religious comedy where the Devil gives his legions of demons a well-
deserved two week vacation (first time in the history of Hades!) from
tempting others, leaving the world open to what happens when there is
no temptation in our lives. It will be light-hearted, but still has a
ways to go in the developmental stage. Currently I'm marketing
Lifestone as much as I can, and am working on an essay scholarship for
African-Americans based upon Lifestone, and have contacted a few
schools in our area regarding this idea. I have no doubts this will be
well-received, and I'm looking forward to helping out worthy
individuals who need financial help the most as they move onto college.

Thanks again, Gary, for a great read. One of the things that I got
from your book is the power of understanding the past and appreciating
the lessons it teaches when we open ourselves up to it. How can our
readers find out more about you online?

Please go to If you'd like a signed copy of Lifestone, or my other books, send me an E-mail. I'd love to hear from you.

(NOTE: Author Gary Kaschak will be a guest on Conversations LIVE! Radio on Sunday, October 4, 2009 @ 6p.m. CST (7p.m. EST/4:00p.m. PT). Listen by clicking here.)

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