Thursday, September 15, 2011

Up Close & Personal with Stephen Gallup, author of What About the Boy? A Father's Pledge to His Disabled Son


The book trailer for WATB is available at

The book itself has been made into a screenplay, which is in preproduction.

Regarding that dream of meeting Mark Salzman, I suggested an interview with him at bookblogs, and it sounds like one has been scheduled.

Hopefully they'll include some of my questions. There's always a way!

PATTI SAYS: Way to go Stephen!!!

Where do you call home?

I've lived in San Diego since 1983, and had close ties to Southern California all my life. For all practical reasons I have to call this home. However, I spent the first half of my life in North Carolina and Virginia and will always consider myself a Southerner at heart, even if I subsequently move to some other place.

What is the name of your most recent book and if you had to sum it up in 30 or less words, what would you say?

What About the Boy? was released in September 2011. For my elevator speech, I ask a rhetorical question: What would you do if you had a little baby who was in great distress, and who the doctors were not helping? My memoir shows our family's response.

Do you have plans for a new book? 

WATB occupied me for a great many years, and crowded out any other creative efforts. However, when it became a done deal this year, I arranged to go to the University of Iowa for a couple writers' workshops, hoping to get a little boost toward writing something new. That was a good move. I'd been there once before, and liked it, but this time the workshops were even better. I met some great people and came away with the first complete short story I'd written in decades. At this point, I can't claim to have plans for another book. But I hope to come up with one. If so, it'll be fiction. Writing is still what I do, and I've gone about as far as possible with memoir.

What or who inspired you to write?  And how long have you been writing?

I don't know where the initial impulse to write originated. Very, very early in life, just past the stage where kids draw pictures, I was coming up with little stories. That continued off and on into my early adult years, when I began sending manuscripts off to big-name magazines and quarterlies. My teachers had always been encouraging. Peter Taylor, for example, who was sort of a mentor to me at the University of Virginia, assured me that I would definitely be published. But it wasn't so easy out in the real world. The big guys and the mid-level guys sent only rejection slips, or at best kind notes that meant the same thing. Small literary and college journals did accept my stories, which I guess fulfilled Taylor's promise. And I also did some freelance writing for newspapers. I probably needed some maturity before producing anything of significance. Then life intervened in the form of a seriously disabled child who needed my help, and I changed my focus. I began journaling about the experience of finding ways to help my son, and then, over a period of a couple decades, those notes began to take shape as a memoir. Finishing that properly involved getting some guidance, primarily from a critique group headed by Thomas Larson. WATB owes a lot to the feedback they provided.

How did you come up with the title?

For a while, the working title was EXPECTATIONS, and that was meant to contrast the sky-high expectations Joseph's mother and I continued to have for him against the lack of any expectations from the rest of the world. WHAT ABOUT THE BOY? came to me out of the blue one day and I knew immediately that it was a keeper. I lifted it from the rock opera Tommy, although the connection is pretty loose. I chose this title because it refers to the fact that the adults in the story have their own agendas. Doctors suggest counseling for my wife and me, rather than exerting themselves to try to help our son. Other providers are interested in him only to the extent that his response validates whatever model they've accepted. We, his parents, are his only advocates, but we too are limited to our own perspective. We're not immune to being side-tracked into battles that don't have a direct bearing on his problem. "What about the boy?" brings the focus back where I think it belongs.

Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

If I could pick only one living writer to meet and really get to know, it would be Mark Salzman, who wrote two first-rate memoirs, Iron and Silk and Lost in Place, and followed up on that with some excellent philosophical novels. He and I share interests in subjects like music and the Chinese language, although he's done more with both than I have.

Do you prefer ebooks, paperbacks or hardcover?

Believe it or not, I have yet to read anything in ebook format. I did recently buy a Kindle for my daughter, but she very selfishly refuses to let me try it out. She's probably afraid I'll keep it. So at this point I can't say how I'd vote on that. But generally I think paperbacks are perfectly satisfactory. They're more convenient and almost as durable if treated reasonably. Going hardback just adds to the cost.

Are you a self published (Indie) Author?

Yes. This was not the original plan. Back in 2008, I launched a major effort to line up an agent and a publisher, and there was just enough encouraging feedback to inspire me to keep trying. However, as we all know, the industry and the economy in general was entering a new era, with many unknowns, and on top of that I too was an unknown in that I didn't come with a huge existing platform of guaranteed buyers. So nobody was willing to take a chance on me. The obvious next question was whether I myself was willing to take the chance, and that was easy to answer. I believe in the importance and relevance and quality of what I've written. I found a publicist who could also advise me on the various stages of production, finding a distributor, all that sort of thing. Promotion is my responsibility, and it doesn't come easy--but it would be my responsibility regardless of who was publishing this. I'm glad to have had more control over the process (choice of paper, for example). At this point, I'd say going indie may be the best choice, even when writers have a choice.

Have you ever read a book more than once?

Oh, I do that all the time, for books I enjoy or admire. Sometimes, years pass between the first and second reading, as in the case of the Faulkner novel I just finished. At other times, when I get to the end I go straight back to page 1 and start over, which I did recently with Madeline McDonnell's collection of stories. I always see more the next time through, even with light reading. A couple years ago, I read some old pulp fiction by Edgar Rice Burroughs that I'd loved at about the age of 10 or 12. This time I saw shortcomings in terms of the literary quality, but it brought back a lot of fond memories, almost as if I were revisiting my boyhood home.

Is there a particular movie that you preferred over the book version? 

Hmm, there are some movies that I think are every bit as good as the books they're based on. Examples that come to mind are The Accidental Tourist and The French Lieutenant's Woman. Purists might object, but I'd probably put the Lord of the Rings trilogy on a par with Tolkein's books. OK, I just thought of a movie that beats the book: Jaws. If you've never read the book, don't bother. But Spielberg took that third-rate source material and created something iconic.

What book are you currently reading and in what format (ebook/paperback/hardcover)?

I'm just starting Lake Charles, a mystery by Ed Lynskey (who in the interests of disclosure I should say shared an office with me many years ago). It's a paperback.

What book do you know that you will never read?

Well, The Audacity of Hope would be high on that list. I tend not to have patience for anything that's overtly political, even when I agree with the slant. When I don't agree, and doubt the author is writing in good faith, it would be a chalk-on-the-blackboard experience. 

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and why?

I mentioned Madeline McDonnell above, and want to do so again. So far, she has published only a very slim collection of stories, but I'll be very much surprised if more does not follow. Her characters are complex, perhaps a little nutty, and the situations that evolve are fascinating. I'd say she is this generation's Ann Beattie (who was another mentor of mine long ago). If you want a healthy dose of humor with your fiction, by all means try Roland Denning and Matthew J. Dick.

Who designed the cover of your book? 

Credit for the front cover of What About the Boy? goes to Deborah Bell, a graphic designer based in Florida. I told her I wanted something that suggested a maze, because the book is ultimately about the experience of being lost, with no reliable guidance. She came up with several alternatives, all of which had appeal. A focus group seemed like the best way to pick the best, so I sent the preliminary images around to a whole bunch of book-oriented friends to get their feedback. As it turned out, the vote was pretty evenly split, so I had to make the decision after all.

What are your thoughts on book trailers? Do you have a book trailer?

I haven't heard that trailers do much for sales, so I suspect they're often vanity things. However, if the quality were professional and the idea were catchy, a trailer might go viral. I like the trailer for The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is on amazon, and there have been one or two others that prompted me to go ahead and order the book. Coming up with a trailer for WATB was not a high priority, but I do have one in the works. Check back in a few weeks to see if it's on -- and let me know what you think of it.

What are your pet peeves?

I tend to become annoyed with sloppy writing, by which I mean writing that shows no sensitivity for grammar and logic. I think most of us generate sloppy writing in the early drafts, and that's perfectly all right. It's more important to get the thoughts out there, and to accomplish that you really do need to turn off that internal editor. (One reason I've published so little in my life is that I have trouble turning it off.) But once the content begins to take shape, a writer really needs to change gears and reconsider every claim, word and punctuation mark. Getting honest feedback from other readers is important, also, to uncover assumptions that might need to be clarified or supported or just done away with. I could name commercially successful, mainstream books that exhibit sloppy or self-indulgent writing, and I hate them. It's more disappointing to find it in self-published/indie books, because we need to be really serious about quality if we expect to be taken seriously.

Where and when and how do you prefer to do your writing?

Don't emulate my habits! I'm not very disciplined at all. I write when the urge to do so becomes overpowering. Once, years ago, I wrote a short story with a pad on my lap while driving through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. If you promise not to tell my boss, I have also done some decent writing while sitting through meetings in conference rooms. With that story long ago, the Muse was speaking, and it ended up getting published in pretty much the original form. However, usually what I put down on the first go is very rough. It's just a process of preserving ideas and images and sounds so I can come back later and try to polish 'em up. The first cut tends to be an illegible mess, full of marginal notes, with arrows and insertion points, scrawled on anything from an envelope to a legal pad. Then, assuming I still like it later--and haven't lost it--I type all that into a Word file. Later, when I'm away from the computer, more ideas might come out of the blue, in which case more chicken-scratching ensues. After several iterations, what I have is much longer and more complicated, and then comes a struggle between trying to whittle it down to what's important and wanting to continue adding more. 

List 3 of your all-time favorite books?

Fiction: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon

Memoir: Alex: The Life of a Child, by Frank Deford

Biography: Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, by Alan Pell Crawford

And of course there are many more...

List 3 of your all-time favorite movies?

The Accidental Tourist (William Hurt and Geena Davis)

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp at his best)

The Red Violin (had to pick one that involved music!)

Again, there are so many others. I also admire a lot of those Pixar creations, such as Monsters, Inc. (Oops, did I just cheat and vote for four?)
To win a copy of Stephens ebook please follow Stephens links below and leave a message about this blog on his facebook page. (One lucky winner will be notified by email so please leave your email address in the comments box below.  Winner will be drawn on the 15th of October)

Is your book in Print, ebook or both? Both

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me and allowing us a glimpse into your writing word. 


No, thank you, Patti! 
Patti says: You are very, very welcome :)
Image of Stephen Gallup
Stephen Gallup grew up in North Carolina and Virginia. He studied at NC State University, earning a bachelor's degree in the life sciences, and then at the University of Virginia, where he received a master's in English.
Although he remains a Southerner at heart, he now lives in California with his family.
Beginning in 1977, he worked in various roles in technical communication in the aerospace and wireless telecommunications industries, with projects ranging from proposals for satellite launches and feasibility studies of space missions, to user guides for trendy new cell phones. In the early years, he wrote occasional short fiction on the side, and features for newspapers.
Gallup's life changed dramatically with the birth of his son Joseph in 1985. Upon learning that there was a problem, he applied his energies to a pursuit of answers that he felt certain must exist. After a year of… Read more

1 comment:

  1. Patti, thank you again for this interview and now for tweeting a reminder that it's still online.

    A few updates: The book trailer for WATB is available at .
    The book itself has been made into a screenplay, which is in preproduction.
    Regarding that dream of meeting Mark Salzman, I suggested an interview with him at bookblogs, and it sounds like one has been scheduled. Hopefully they'll include some of my questions. There's always a way!


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