Today marks my inaugural Tête-à-Tête with author Dominic Peloso. His thoughtful and revealing answers will certainly tempt you to add his books to your TBR list. Let the writerly discussion commence!
Please provide a one sentence synopsis of your book.
First World Problems in an Age of Terrorism and Ennui is the existential struggles of a gen-x would-be revolutionary/terrorist who is frustrated that he can’t find a greater purpose or a cause worth fighting for.
Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
I used to work in an office with a coworker who was an arrogant jerk for many reasons. And he claimed to be a great novelist. He would ask people around the office to read his manuscript and tell him how great he was. He never talked to me because I didn’t have a PhD and was therefore beneath him. I figured one day he’d be so desperate for more praise that he’d finally lower himself to asking me to read his book. I thought it’d be funny if when he did that I handed him my manuscript and told him to read that! Every time I thought I couldn’t finish my novel I’d hear him bragging in the hallway and that would get me going again.
So basically I wrote my first novel, City of Pillars, out of sheer spite. When it was published I dedicated it to him for being “a constant source of inspiration.”
It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite novel and why?
My favorite author is Jack Kerouac, because I find that his best works are very inspirational. They make you want to throw the book down and exclaim, “why am I sitting here reading a book, I should be out climbing mountains and living!” I’m also a fan of Kazuo Ishiguoro, because of how is able to make what’s unsaid so much more important to the novel than what is said.
I don’t think that my writing is particularly reflective of what I read though. I tried to make my first novel, City of Pillars, sound like Thomas Pynchon, but I don’t think I succeeded. I tried to make First World Problems sounds like Don DeLillo, but I think it came out more like J.D. Salinger trying to sound like DeLillo.
What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
I don’t have a blog. Mainly because I don’t think that I have anything particularly interesting to say that isn’t already contained in my fiction. Also, it’s a bit pretentious for me to ask a reader to care about what I had for dinner or what I think of the new Batman movie. If you enjoy my work, great and thank you, but once you are done with it go out and talk to your friends or create your own art or something, don’t waste your time listening to me ramble on about nothings.
That being said, I do have an ongoing mixed-media photography / poetry sort of thing called Tiny Ghosts. It’s an attempt to tell a complete story in only two sentences and two photographs. There’s a new one posted each week. I suppose in some ways it is a “comic strip” but in other ways it is not anything like a comic strip. If you have read my novels and for some reason still want to see something new from me on a regular basis, you can go there. A new one is posted each week.
Are you traditionally published or self-published?
The first two novels were published by a small publisher, The Invisible College Press (ICP). They actually contacted me. After my first novel was completed, I sent queries to some agents and publishers, but received zero interest. I didn’t care all that much, so instead of trying harder I just made it into a pdf and put it online for free (this was 2000, before ebooks existed). I got an email from ICP months later. They were trying to set up a new niche publishing house that published nothing but conspiracy oriented novels (again this was prior toThe DaVinci Code so this was not a big field). They claimed they didn’t have many submissions because they were new, and found my book online. I was wary at first that it might be some sort of vanity thing, but they didn’t charge me anything.
Because they were so small they couldn’t really advertise and so sales were minimal. I wrote my second novel, Adopted Son, hoping to parlay my publishing credit into a deal with a larger publisher, but again, my half-assed efforts at querying agents/publishers were met with silence. I gave up on Adopted Son for years until ICP offered to publish that one also.
I had made three print collections of the Tiny Ghosts comic strip, and I just published those myself because the only people who were going to buy them were coming through my website anyway. So I learned a bit about formatting books from that.
When First World Problems was completed in 2006, I tried again to find an agent or publisher, but zero interest. I tried again in 2011 and I got a few nibbles from agents, but in the end none offered to take on the book. So just to get the thing off my mind I self-published it though the same made-up imprint that I used for the Tiny Ghosts comics (Dark Mountain Books).
Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
Wow. I have no good advice. I never figured out how to market books. To be honest, I’m super shy, so I could never actually do a book signing or a radio interview or anything like that. I don’t even like photos of me circulating. I tried a bunch of things to help sell my books online, but they almost always result in people yelling at me for being a spammer or promoting my own work or just yelling you suck shut up. I don’t have any friends that are writers to bounce ideas off of, and I’ve found that most online forums and newsgroups for writers are filled with pretentious twits only interested in promoting their own stuff (myself included). I can’t really deal with them. I am also completely baffled how online advertising could possibly sell books, so I would advise people not to do that. I must have spent $500 on Google ads without getting a single sale.
With First World Problems I decided to find some book bloggers who might review it. I eventually contacted 150 of them. So far, not a single one has offered to review the novel. Oh well.
One last thing, my suggestion is that if you want to sell lots of books, pick the right genre. YA vampire romance novels will sell like hotcakes even if they are terrible. Literary Fiction sells poorly, and 90% of the people online that are exposed to it will hate it because it doesn’t have enough sexy teen vampires in it.
Describe your writing background.
I don’t have any writing background. I have three MS degrees in science majors, plus a JD. None of that is particularly relevant to writing though.
I spent ten years working for the US intelligence community in jobs related to weapons of mass destruction and counterterrorism. I now work in Alaska doing environmental law. That is also not particularly relevant to writing.
As I mentioned above, I’m super shy and could never participate in a conference or a workshop where I’d have to actually talk to people face to face. That just isn’t going to happen.
I think that the best way to learn how to write is to read. And don’t read crap, read good books. If you do that you’ll start to get a feel for voice and flow and characterizations. The more you read the better your writing will be.
What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I don’t like to do a lot of outlining. I usually have a beginning, and ending, and a few milestones. I like to create characters and let them basically tell me where they want the story to go.
I am generally a pretty disciplined person, so I don’t set deadlines for myself or anything. I work when I’m inspired to do so. I usually don’t have any goal in mind after the book is finished, so I’m never in a hurry to complete it.
As I said above, no, I don’t participate in any collaborative review. I have a hard time saying anything bad about anyone else’s work, so I wouldn’t be a good partner anyway, no matter how awful it was I’d just say it was great.
I am a believer in Kerouac’s philosophy of not heavily revising a work. I think that if you start listening to everybody you just end up massaging your story into mush. Small-scale editing is required of course, to make sure the grammar is correct and the language flows, but I don’t make major changes once the words are on the paper. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius was a masterpiece of language, and Dave Eggers admits that not only did he not edit most of it, he never even read parts of it a second time! I do more editing than that.
Part of the problem I think is that only you, the author, knows what you want the story to be. First World Problems is at its heart a tale of bystanders, who experience events from the periphery but aren’t directly affected by them. I gave it to one person to read and he demanded more action and explosions and wanted the main characters to get actually involved in a terrorist cell. Maybe that would be a “better” story, but it isn’t the story I wanted to tell. And I’m telling the story I want to tell, so listening to people who don’t get that isn’t helpful. I know one writer who wrote a YA book set in the 1980s, which is when she was a teen. A ‘professional’ editor told her that wouldn’t sell and made her rewrite it to set it in modern day. I haven’t read the result, but I fear that it’s lost its author’s special voice, all in the name of selling more copies. I don’t like that.
What future projects can we look forward?
Right now the only thing that I’ve got going on is the ongoing Tiny Ghosts site. I helped write the screenplay to a movie called Ultrasonic. The director is looking to get funding for a new movie. If that comes through maybe I’ll write another screenplay. I have some ideas.
Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?
Despite what you may think, First World Problems is not autobiographical, other than the fact that I did live in DC at that time, and I was at the Pentagon on September 11. You can read a bit more about it here.
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