Friday, September 25, 2009

TAKE TEN: Author Sean Gardner

 If there are women who still believe that men don't read or like to communicate then they haven't met the likes of Sean Gardner. A big fan of sports growing up, Gardner has always been known for pursuing what he wanted to do. Originally form Baltimore, MD, he now calls Los Angeles, CA home, and it is there that he has penned his first book EXCESS BAGGAGE.

Doing away with the stereotypical ideals of manhood, the book allows you into the thoughts and motivations of men who find themselves in challenging situations while balancing the day-to-day aspects of their lives. Does the author think books like his will bring the sexes together more to discuss issues they face? What was more difficult, the writing of the book or the marketing that came later? Gardner talks about this and more in this exclusive interview with Cyrus Webb of Conversations Magazine/Conversations Book Club. (Note: Sean Gardner was a guest on Conversations LIVE! Radio on Tues. Sept. 22, 2009. Listen to the interview here:

Congratulations, Sean, on your book EXCESS BAGGAGE. It is definitely a great read for readers of both sexes to enjoy. Before we get into the story, tell our readers a bit about yourself.

For anyone that knows me, they'll tell you that I'm a very positive person. On one side of my family, I'm just two generations removed from sharecropping. My father was first in our family to attend & graduate from college, so I think this inspired in me the belief in our ability to improve our personal circumstances, whatever those may be. It's through these individual efforts that we lift up our community as a whole. To the extent that I have these throw-back values, I'm all about this notion that our collective success really is dependent upon our being our "brother's keeper", rather than the hyper emphasis on individual materialism that is put forth today by the mainstream media.

When you look at the finished product of your book are you surprised that you are now an author with a book available nationwide?

No, I wouldn't say "surprised" necessarily. For me, the words that come to mind more frequently are "awed" or "humbled". It is an amazing thing that people want to buy and like something that was once just a thought in my head. That God blessed me with the ability to turn this idea into something that I could share with the world and have it be well-received is mind-blowing. I know some people think I say "thank you" too much, but that's how I feel. I really am blessed.

If I had grown up with you what would have been your interests and are those who have known you most of our life surprised at your writing a book?

Growing up, I was a big sports fan and participated in pretty much everything. I played football, baseball and basketball, with basketball becoming my greatest childhood love. Like the characters in my book and the rest of us in the real world, I had my share of family and personal "issues" coming up. Sports saved my life from addiction, crime and violence that I might not have otherwise avoided. For example, I lived in ATL during the "Atlanta Child Murders" and subsequently in urban areas of Baltimore, New Jersey and Los Angeles as heroin and crack cocaine flooded into our neighbors & replaced alcohol as the drugs of choice for a new generation. Sports allowed me to turn away from such temptations because as an "aspiring" pro athlete, I didn't want to put anything in my body that would not allow me to run faster or jump higher.

I think some might be surprised by my writing a book because they were not aware of my interest in or gift for the written word, especially given my intense love for sports at that time. However, those that knew me wouldn't be totally surprised because I've always been a person that did what I set out to do. Some of my friends were told that I "wanted to write" a book.

Sean, for our readers that haven't read the book tell them about the general premise of the story.

Excess Baggage is a story about redemption from whatever holes in our soul that might have developed during our childhood. Rather than beat the reader over the head with the blunt message about the importance of confronting our shortcomings, he or she gets to "live" vicariously through the experiences of 2 couples that are busy juggling professional careers, their social lives and other responsibilities; as they try to connect with their one true soul mate. These characters are valuable because they remind us that communication is at the core of the difficulty in establishing relationships, especially new ones. And our communication is affected by past experiences that we bring to any interaction with someone that we're romantically involved with. Some of these experiences are good and can help a relationship, but some are bad. That's the reason for the title, Excess Baggage.

To add flava' to the story, this message is set upon a "canvas" where an attorney falls in love with a witness during a high profile trial in which the opposing side has vowed to win at all costs, including murder, in one story. In the other, an advertising director falls in love with a record exec only to have their relationship interrupted by the appearance of a mysterious and dangerous person from their past. The stories are linked by the guys, who are long-term friends and share a common childhood tragedy. The ladies also have more in common than they would like to share. Before the tale ends, the quartet must re-examine their priorities in order to save their love & their lives.

Alot of authors find the writing process to be a great deal easier than the marketing aspect. What about you?

Yes & no. I think that it's really a matter of perspective. When you're writing your masterpiece and you're fighting against the blank page, that part of the process feels like it's the hardest. However, once you're done and working on marketing your work, you discover a new definition for "hard." There's definitely a lot of truth to the idea that marketing is harder than writing. It may have something to do with the perception that work that does not come from one of the big publishing houses is of lesser quality. Aside from being untrue, it is a strange paradox, given how difficult major houses make it for non-celebrity first-time authors to get a deal. I think the good news, though, is that this perception will continue to change, especially as publishing company restructure and seek more ways to be profitable. Eventually, authors will be evaluated by the quality of their work, not where they're coming from.

Have you been surprised that your book has gotten the attention of men and women?

No, not at all. One of compliments that I receive most often is that these characters are so real, they seem like people we all know. So, the men in story are both easy to relate to in terms of their motivations, behaviors and dialogue.

As you probably know, Sean, most book clubs are made of mostly women. What do you think we can do to get more men to reading and discussing the books they have read?

(laughs) That's a great question. Fortunately, the economy is helping us with this one already. As couples look for more cost-effective entertainment, I think we're seeing a lot of couples getting back to the things folks did in ole' school courting like grabbing a basket of food, a blanket, some wine, a good book and are heading to some scenic location to read to one another.

In terms of men reading on their own, it's a matter of perception. 1) We're socialized to be breadwinners, so men are suppose to be out figuring a way to make more money to provide for their loved ones, not reading a book. And 2) we seem to be going through a period where definitions of manhood and masculinity are shrunk down to fit into the perception of a "thug." This is especially true for younger people. Unfortunately, while it is portrayed as the whole or complete emotional make-up of a man, this is not true. It is only one side of our complexity. We have to educate our community on the importance of embracing the diversity of our character, as doing so allows us to live richer lives. Also, since we all have limits on time & resources, books allow us to improve our own lives by learning from the experiences of others, without having to go through such trials & tribulations ourselves.

What do you hope people get from EXCESS BAGGAGE?

We will all be in a much better place when we understand that before we can truly love others, we have to be able to love ourselves. Sometimes, in order to do this, we have to forgive past shortcomings. And it's okay to do that.

Sean, now that you have one book under your belt you have the experience that many aspiring writers dream of. What advice would you give them?

Writing is all about the power of revision. Too frequently, people tell me that they could never write as good or that they gave up because whatever they were writing didn't seem perfect. Well, it rarely ever does the first time you get in on paper. Like the characters in my story, I was really busy with life, work and responsibilities when I wrote this book. I wrote it mostly "in-between time" and "in the meantime" for three years. In that time, I revised it several times, in addition to having it edited. So, I tell every aspiring writer that the world is waiting for your unique voice. Don't quit! Just get your idea(s) down on paper first, before you evaluate them.

Thank you for your time. How can our readers find out more about you and your book online?

Thanks for having me. It's been a pleasure. The book is available on and Barnes & Noble's website. However, the best place to get update info about me, promotions and my calendar are at my website, 

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