INTERVIEW and GIVEAWAY
by JD Spero
Out of 10,000 submitted entries, Catcher’s Keeper was one of only 500 quarter-finalists (top 5%) in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest. The annual contest publishes and promotes winning manuscripts by unknown or unpublished authors.
Catcher's Keeper is currently on tour with Enchanted Book Promotions. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
What if Holden Caulfield was around when John Lennon was shot?
In 1980 John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman, who believed he was Holden Caulfield, narrator of the classic The Catcher in the Rye. After the shooting, Chapman remained on the scene calmly reading the book, which he later offered to police as "his statement". Catcher's Keeper asks the question, "What if Holden had met Chapman, learned of his plan, and tried to prevent the assassination?"
Alden’s words nag like Monday morning’s alarm clock: …you stole my journal…published it behind my back. Not only do these words prove I’m an asshole, but now this MD guy knows it. I stare down at the book in my hands, my name screaming off the cover in bold, Times New Roman. On the back cover is a photo of me. I’m leaning against a tree, grinning smugly with my arms folded. You know who I see in that photo? A prick who should get what he deserves, even if it’s delivered by some overzealous fan. I can picture it all unraveling: an image of me flashes on the screen, my hand blocking the camera, the caption scrolling: Who’s the real author?
This fucking book. Measly. Insignificant. And yet—it’s spurred all this bullshit. I should burn every last one of them.
I turn back to the cover to hide my face—from Alden especially.
Alden eyes me through slits. “MD doesn’t care about you. Waste of time.”
I shove the book under my arm. “So, his plan is to…?”
“He’s still zappy for the book. Maybe he doesn’t care how it got published. Fiona’s worried he’s going to leak it to the press. Your plagiarism. But he wouldn’t need my help for that.”
“What would he need your help with?”
Alden shrugs. “The only thing that came up on the train…the only plan we talked about was getting John Lennon’s autograph.”
“What does that have to do with the book?”
His eyes flicker to the map above the doors as the train slows down. “Next stop is ours,” he says.
Like a shot, Alden is on the platform, and then bounds up the stairs two at a time. As soon as we come into daylight, he lights up a cigarette. It hits me: daylight. Damn! I pound the book with my fist and catch up to Alden.
“This isn’t going to work, Alden. It’s the middle of the day.”
He keeps walking. I wave the book in his line of vision.
“Alden, this all takes place at night. In the middle of the night. It makes no sense to go to the Edmont now. The damn Lavender Room won’t even be open.”
He stops, sucks on his cigarette, staring at the traffic. It seems colder here, more windy. I’m shivering, waiting for him. I almost ask him for a cigarette just to warm my hands, but—
“We’re not going to the goddam Edmont.” And he picks up his absurdly fast pace again. I work my stride into a jog, wishing I had a hat. The kind with flaps on the sides to keep my ears warm. I smile inwardly, remembering the kid in the book like he’s an old buddy. I look at Alden weaving his lanky body through the sparse crowd. His hair is an uncombed mop, and his worn jacket falls at the hip of his ripped jeans. He looks like a big kid. But laugh lines are hidden beneath his scruff, and his eyes have a depth and an honesty reserved for Buddhist monks or tribal elders, reminding me what I already know: This kid has been through something. Nothing is more important than protecting him now, my little brother. I have to make things right.
Once I started reading Catcher's Keeper, I couldn't put the book down.
With each of her narrators, the author creates a real sense of character that is hard to resist, and the writing is top-notch. JD Spero does a spectacular job with dialogue and moving the story along to the very end.
Even if you are not a huge fan of John Lennon or The Catcher in the Rye, the book is still very enjoyable, as the story centers more around the idea of family than any iconic figures.
I can't wait to read more from this author!
Interview With the Author
Hi Johannah, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Catcher’s Keeper.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
Although it is adult fiction, I believe students of The Catcher in the Rye would absolutely appreciate this spin-off. Readers from various age groups and demographics have responded favorably to the book so far.
When asked whether one should read Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye prior to reading my novel (which happens a lot), the answer is no. Catcher’s Keeper is not a sequel and stands on its own. Readers who have never read Salinger have not felt they were missing anything.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Years ago as a student teacher at Andover High School, my mentor handed me a VHS tape of an old Dateline video that featured Mark David Chapman’s fixation on The Catcher in the Rye and its influence in his murder of John Lennon. Every subsequent year I taught The Catcher in the Rye, I would play that video for my class - and found myself equal parts enthralled and horrified with the tragedy again and again. This book was born from that fascination of mine - how a novel could move someone to act in such an extreme way.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
The idea for this novel came first, but I also couldn’t help but wonder what Holden would have thought if he knew what his words triggered. One of my writing teachers once said it is sometimes easier to outline your novel from the "crisis" backward. In order to place Alden (Holden) where Lennon was shot, I had to publish the report he wrote in the mental clinic (his journal aka The Catcher in the Rye) and somehow have him meet Mark David Chapman. As the book evolved, it no longer became about this incident, but how three siblings had to overcome serious familial issues.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
Without a doubt, it was portraying a believable Mark David Chapman. Initially, I had been swayed by my own bias and created an already-guilty Chapman. Something I definitely had to fix. I took the advice of character-building expert, David Corbett (The Art of Character), which forced me to do what I had been avoiding and, frankly, dreading: Get into Mark David Chapman’s head. Understand him. Know him. I read Jack Jones’ Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon in just two days. It was disturbing, to say the least. Haunting. From here, I completely revamped the MD [Mark David Chapman] that appears in Catcher’s Keeper.
Fascinating! How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope to evoke an emotional reaction in my readers. I’m also eager to hear from academics, specifically American literature experts who know The Catcher in the Rye as well as I do. I hope they would appreciate the many Catcher references, and I hope they would find my characters believable.
How long did it take you to write this book?
I wrote the first draft of this novel in just three months. Of course, this was just getting down the bones. The plotline was pretty solid, but my characters were thin … and passive. I gave it to a small group of readers and got some good feedback. After a few rounds of revisions, I hired an editor for a professional manuscript critique. That’s when the real work began. It was especially tricky because it’s written in three voices, and I had to treat each of the three characters as a protagonist in his/her own right. Each character has his/her own conflict, etc. When those revisions were complete, I hired a copy editor. A well-edited manuscript is crucial; and even the best of writers need an objective eye to zap those pesky typos. From start to finish, it took about two years to complete - which is actually extremely fast. Prior to this I’d been working on a previous manuscript for over six years … and it’s still not ready.
Wow! What is your writing routine?
It varies. I’m a mother of three young boys (one not yet in school) - which is a full-time job in itself. It’s hard to fit writing time into normal life.
When my boys used to nap, I would use that time to write. Sometimes I get up at 4 or 5am to write. My little one now goes to pre-school two days per week. I use as much of that time as possible to write. On weekends, my husband often sends me to a coffee shop for a few hours to write while he takes the boys for special daddy time. For this novel, I was so anxious to get it down, I would wait until my entire family was asleep before sneaking down to my computer where I would write until 1 or 2am.
How did you get your book published?
Wow - this is quite a story! Although I had some positive feedback from agents, I wasn’t having any luck in signing with one. When my book made it to the quarter-finals of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, I decided to publish it myself through Amazon and CreateSpace. My experience with them has been extremely positive and the actual publishing process was extremely simple (almost too easy!). It’s almost like attaching a document to an email, and - voila - you’re published! The important thing was to get my manuscript absolutely perfect prior to uploading because it is published exactly as is.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Read everything! Newspapers, classic literature, tabloids, poetry, try free ebooks in different genres, etc. You never know when inspiration is going to strike. That said, write what you know and what you’re passionate about. Your story will have to sustain you through several rounds of revisions and edits and rereads and then marketing … Love your story!
Nurture your craft. I took an online class on creative writing a few years ago, and I hate to admit this, but at the time I didn’t think I was going to learn anything new. Boy, was I wrong! I learned so much! I still use techniques I learned from that class. I know now, I always have something to learn.
Don’t give up! And don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s amazing how generous other authors have been in offering help as I published my debut novel. And it’s my pleasure to help other writers whenever I can.
That's great, Johannah. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love spending time with my family. Whether it be snuggling on the couch to watch a movie or riding our bikes for ice cream, as long as I’m with my boys (including the hubs), I’m happy!
I’m also an avid yogi. I love to read. I enjoy live theater. I love to experiment with cooking (recipes are for inspiration only)! In the winter, you can find me on the ski slopes. In the summer, we divide our free time between Lake George, New York, and Salisbury Beach (near where my husband grew up in Massachusetts).
What does your family think of your writing?
My knee-jerk response would be: They are so supportive! And of course, they are. But …
I just asked my eight-year-old this question and he said he liked that I was a writer because I might become famous one day. My six-year-old has written nearly a dozen picture books himself, and has a true gift for storytelling. When I’m working on the computer and my three-year-old wants to play, I say, "I know. Mom is boring." To which he will respond, "You’re not boring! You’re beautiful!"
My boys know Mommy is a writer. They recognize my book without having to look on the back cover for my picture. It’s nice for them to have something to point to.
That's wonderful! Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I had a pretty idyllic childhood. I was born and raised in Lake George, New York - one of the most beautiful places on the planet! My mom was a teacher at a local school and my father was a well-respected lawyer in town. They provided a unique balance in parenting that enforced high expectations while instilling unconditional love and trust. I had one older brother, with whom I’m still close. I am a lucky girl.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I was a late bloomer when it came to reading. My mother, a high school English teacher, would try to encourage me to read, read, read … but I always felt drawn to put pen to paper and create my own words. If I had known then that reading would make me a better writer, I would’ve taken her advice. But alas, what tween wants to admit Mom is right?
In seventh grade I caught on to Lois Duncan and I couldn’t get enough of her books. When the movie of I Know What You Did Last Summer came out several years after I read the book, I felt so protective of the story - as if I’d written it myself. I actually refused to see the movie because I didn’t want to taint my memory of the story. Silly, right?
Not at all. I'm sure we've all felt that way about certain books and movies! When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When asked how long I've been writing, my standard answer is: "Just over a decade." But truth be told, I have been writing ever since I can remember, filling childhood journals with poems and existential, prepubescent musings.
Did any specific life experiences influence your writing?
I didn’t consider being an author until my late twenties, when I had gotten in on the ground floor of a web design firm in 1996 and thought I’d make millions by the time I hit thirty. That didn’t happen. But the experience was so tumultuous, I started writing about it as a way of catharsis. That became my first novel (unpublished), entitled Giddy-Up, Start-Up. I may go back to it someday.
Salinger, of course. Also Jodi Picoult, Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, Gillian Flynn, Khaled Hosseini, Jenna Blum ... There are so many that have touched my writing; it’s hard to list them all!
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Because this is my first published book and it’s relatively new-to-market, I’m sure the type of feedback will evolve. But so far the consistent, resounding feedback has been: "I can’t put it down!" To which I think: "Success!"
Fantastic! What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m currently querying a completed Middle Grade Magical Realism manuscript entitled Play for Payne, which is about a young piano prodigy who becomes seduced by a magic potion that gifts athletic prowess. The struggle she endures addresses timely issues such as staying true to yourself in the midst of heavy peer pressure. It also addresses performance-enhancing drug use that has been so prevalent in the news lately.
I am just starting to outline another novel, which has an element of mystery … and a very cute hedgehog.
Sounds good. Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Johannah. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
Johannah Davies Spero was born near a pristine lake in the Adirondacks and has lived in various cities such as St. Petersburg (Russia), Indianapolis, Dallas, and Boston. She has pursued her love of narrative through degrees in English literature, Russian language, and teaching -and has worked as an actress, a yoga instructor, a web design entrepreneur, a freelance writer, and a high school English teacher. She lives in the Northeast with her husband and three young sons.
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Catcher's Keeper (US/Canada only).