Sunday 8 May 2011

'Perfect Score' - An interview with author Susan Roebuck

Today, I am delighted to be able to chat to Sue whose book ‘Perfect Score’ is published by Awe-Struck Publishing.

If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a bit of background to the story:

Feckless, exasperating Alex Finch is a rich, handsome and talented singer/songwriter who longs for two things: a career as a professional rock singer, and to have his love for Sam Barrowdale reciprocated. But drifter Sam's two aims are simply to earn enough money to pay his sister's medical bills and to hide from the world his reading/writing and speech disability. At this time the word "dyslexia" is generally unknown so to most people he's just a "retard". From the severe knocks life's dealt him, Sam's developed a tough outer coating and he has no time for a spoilt, selfish guitar player.
Despite his defects, Alex's love for Sam never wavers and when Sam unexpectedly disappears, Alex begins a somewhat bungling quest to find him, only to discover that Sam has a fearful enemy: Alex's powerful and influential yet sociopathic uncle.
As Alex spirals downwards towards alcoholism, many questions need answering. Just why did Alex's evil uncle adopt him at age eleven yet deny him any affection? And what's the mystery behind Alex's father's death?
Both seem to face unbeatable odds. Are they doomed to follow separate paths forever? 

Catherine:  Welcome Sue and congratulations on your success with ‘Perfect Score’.

Sue:  Thank you, it’s great to be here.

Catherine: ‘Perfect Score’ explores the complex relationship between Sam and Alex and doesn’t flinch from confronting difficult situations and darker sides of human nature. It’s quite an intricate weave. How much planning did you do before starting to write your first draft?

Sue: LOL. No, I’m afraid I winged it all the way through which might explain why there are twenty-seven versions of “Perfect Score”! I paint like that too – dab a bit on, rub it out, paint over it, rub it out…you get the idea. The thing is, like my pictures, the plot suddenly all came together in a rush and I sat back and wondered how on Earth that happened!  I wish I could do it differently but I can’t. And my next novel’s going the same way. I suppose I’m just a terribly disorganised person.

Catherine: Why did you choose e-publishing and what was it about Awe-Struck Publishing that felt right? 

Sue: I’d never considered the e-publishing route because at the time (probably around 2008/9) of the submission process I was contacting all the big-houses and agents, certain they were going to snap me up. Of course that didn’t happen so I started contacting the American market where there seemed to be more opportunities with small publishers. I sent out some “pitches” (as they’re called in the States) and then two small presses contacted me on the same day. I found the submission circuit very dispiriting, almost inhuman in a way. I know agents and publishers are inundated by unsolicited submissions but there must be a better way to reject someone (just don’t ask me, because I have no idea of a solution). I chose the larger of the two presses and have never regretted it. It’s true the author must do a large part of the marketing – but so do authors from the big houses nowadays. I worked with the company’s art department so they could produce the cover and had a fabulous editor (Marie Dees) who went through my manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. We had an excellent relationship and I still keep in contact.  At no expense to me, “Perfect Score” was released as an e-book on the date Awe-Struck Publishing had scheduled and, now, it’s being released as a print edition. If I have queries or doubts I can contact them easily and I’ve always received quick replies and I can also say that I’m a published author – so what’s there to dislike about it?

Catherine: Those of us who have read ‘Perfect Score’ are looking forward to your next book. What are you working on now? 

Sue: It’s on its way. But due to my erratic way of working, it’ll be a while longer. Currently it’s entitled “When the Moon Fails” and it’ll be another suspense but this time with a character from Norfolk, UK and another from Alaska, USA. They’ll converge on Portugal for their own reasons, although both are searching for something different. They seem perfectly suited, but they follow their journey in parallel and never meet up (or do they?) Again, corruption and cruelty in this world will raise their ugly heads as main themes, as well two wounded people trying to find their worth in the world. Oh! And there’ll be a female bullfighter who is bad – oh very bad indeed.

Catherine: I’m definitely looking forward to that!  What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get their story published? 

Sue: Believe in yourself and let your confidence shine through in your submission but don’t, for goodness sake, brag or say you’re sure you’ve written the next best-seller. Do your homework: make sure the people you’re submitting to are interested in the type of work you’re selling. Get those first three chapters polished so they shine, but don’t over-edit because you can lose your voice that way. Try and decide when enough is enough.
I had my first ms professionally critiqued. It cost me over a hundred quid but it was well worth it because I had no idea if it was any good or not. But when this stranger sent word back to me and said it was, “outstanding” I cried like there was no tomorrow. I’ll never regret spending that money.
Be professional and polite. Don’t try any “swings and roundabouts” or hanging from chandeliers because it doesn’t impress anyone.
Go with your instincts in your story. If you think something isn’t quite right, I can guarantee it isn’t – so change it until you’re satisfied it works.
Try not to let rejection get you down. Take it on board and look to the future. Someone will pick it up – I had two on the same day in the end!
Start marketing your book before it’s published – get people interested so they can share your good news when release day arrives.

Catherine: That is really helpful advice, Sue, many thanks for sharing it with us. Now something a little more lighthearted:  If you had your own TV chat show and could interview 3 people (living or dead), who would they be and what would you want to talk about?

Sue: Nice question! OK – number one: Charles Dickens so I could find out where he got his writing Voice from and whether it was anything like his own speaking one.
Two: A corrupt politician (ahem – I’m not mentioning names and I don’t live in the UK, so don’t try guessing). I’d only allow him to answer every single question I put with ten words maximum. I’d have a big boot hanging above him that would stomp on him if he lied.
Three: Osama bin Laden to find out what on Earth he thought he was doing, if he had any conscience pangs and what he felt when he discovered there wasn’t a palace and a harem of virgins awaiting him in the after-life.

Catherine: Thank you very much for joining us today, Sue. Where can we find out more about you and, crucially, where can we find your book?  

Sue: Thank you Catherine! What lovely original questions you’ve asked, I’ve enjoyed answering them.

“Perfect Score” is here:

From 11th May it’ll be on Amazon in print and Kindle, but I don’t know the link yet. (Watch this space!)

Because “Perfect Score” offers two points of view, here are two short excerpts, one from Alex’s POV and the other from Sam’s.

Here’s a bit of ditzy Alex (from the beginning):

Bongo drums. How the hell did a guy like me, with straight As in
acoustic guitar and piano studies, end up on a stage playing bongo drums
for chrissakes? I had a reputation to maintain and being wild, woolly, and
wicked just ain't easy with those things wedged between your legs.

“It'll be a blast,” Jamil, who came from Arabia or someplace, had
said. “We'll conjure up the spirit of the shifting dunes, the limpid oasis.
We'll sock it to the judging committee—they've never seen anything like
this before. We'll be a first in the Academy's history.”

Damn straight. I'd been in half a mind to do something more
traditional along the lines of Floatin' Cornflake followed maybe by The
Lady Came from Baltimore with some pretty nifty acoustic guitar riffs.
But Jamil had pouted and lifted irresistible soulful eyes.

“You got great rhythm,” Jamil winked at me now, and I flashed a
bright grin back.

“If you reckon that's good, wait 'til you see my rhythm when the
action really gets started,” I sparkled. He raised his dark eyebrows in reply
which made me shiver in expectation.

While I slapped the drums with the knuckly part of my palms in an
attempt to sound like a lumbering camel, I admired his dopey, dark beauty
and his arm muscles rippling as he picked away at the strings on his oud.

He half closed his eyes and looked sultry. “Come on Alex, you're a
nomad, constantly on the move in mesmerizing, undulating, never-ending
sand.” He upped the plucking and created a sound like a pebble in a tin
can which was anything but mesmerizing. The vibration unhooked the
banner hung over the stage and Verdigris Music Academy—Graduation
Talent Contest wafted delicately to the ground where it lay in a heap.

Yeah, we were nomads all right, dressed like fatheads in tunics and
towels. We hadn't rehearsed, we weren't in harmony, and we had no idea
what either of us was doing. Jamil said improvisation was the name of the
game, that's how they did things where he came from, that's how they
captured that special tone. Special tone, my ass.

And here’s a bit of Sam:

“So, what do you want to hear? I can play anything,” Alex said.


“Well, how about something by Simon and Garfunkel?”
“Garfle and...?”

Alex strummed a chord. “Never heard of them? I thought they were as
famous as Jesus Christ. Never mind, perhaps you never heard of him
neither. Okay. Let's try someone else.”

He tried out a couple of chords, his head down, concentrating and
then settled in. The drifting lyrics and melody sent Sam into a dream. He
watched Alex's fingers stroke the frets, captivated by his long slim fingers
and neat nails on the strings.

Wasting time.

As the last chord echoed and faded, Sam blinked. “Did you w...write
that? It's good. Time w...w...wasting time.”

“Yeah right. And the fact nothing's ever gonna come my way. That's
not my song, old buddy, that's by Otis Redding, died a few months ago.
You not heard it?” He strummed a lower register. “Now if you want to
hear something by me, here's just some music—no lyrics yet. But this is
mine. Listen.”

He started out with a lazy scale, descending, tumbling and then
swelling. To Sam, who knew as much about music as he knew about the
Swedish Royal Family, the sounds that shimmered through the night air
were stunning, a kaleidoscope of notes that rippled rainbow-like, sparkling
into his mind.


Sam blinked and realized Alex had stopped with his hand in midair.
He was looking at him curiously.

“What?” Sam asked, his mind a dazed fug.

“You looked like you were focused somewhere between here and
there. Like you were watching something. What was it?”

“The pattern in...intri...cate?”

“Intricate pattern?” Alex took his hands from the instrument and sat
straighter. “Where?” He looked at the sky.

Sam sighed. He'd goofed up again. “No. I didn't see any...” He started
to get to his feet.

There’s another excerpt on the publishers site: