by JD Spero
JD Spero, the author of Catcher's Keeper, stops by for an interview and shares an excerpt. 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 The annual contest publishes and promotes winning manuscripts by unknown or unpublished authors.
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 book, Catcher’s Keeper.
What initially got you interested in writing?
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.
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.
How did you decide to make the move to becoming a published author?
Although I had some positive feedback from agents, I wasn’t having any luck in signing with one. After months of rejection in the query process, I was still optimistic and strong-minded. This was not the first manuscript I had queried, but it was the first I thought was truly a winning concept. I was determined to get it out there.
In March 2013, while on vacation at my parent’s house in Florida, I got word that Catcher's Keeper had made it into the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. I knew right then that this was a major turning point for my writing career. Only 5% of the 10,000 submitted entries make it into the quarter-finals, which was enough validation for me to commit to publishing my book - no matter how much further I made it in the contest. I was neither surprised nor discouraged that my journey in the contest ended there. Rather, I immediately got to work on publishing it myself.
What do you want readers to take away from reading Catcher's Keeper?
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.
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'sKeeper is not a sequel and stands on its own. Readers who have never read Salinger have not felt they were missing anything.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Recalling the life-cycles of my five completed manuscripts (4 still unpublished), I realize I have a mini-blues episode each time I finish a first draft. I’m happiest when I’m actively writing - creating a story out of nothing. I look forward to the next scene with as much fervor as I used to anticipate 24 episodes. I play it out in my head, write it quickly, and read it the next day, reveling in its purity. Building from the scene before, laying a foundation for the next chapter, feeling a build lift me like a giant wave. This is the best way I can describe it. Although it may not sound familiar to other authors, this is my reality of writing.
Dorothy Parker once said, "I hate writing. I love having written." Respectfully, Ms. Parker, I would have to disagree.
Revising is a chore. Launching is a roller-coaster. Promotion is stressful. Writing a story organically is the sweet spot for me, so I always have a new project in the works.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
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 5 a.m. 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 2 a.m.
The biggest challenge in writing Catcher's Keeper was, without a doubt, 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 ofCharacter), 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.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
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. A solid critique partner is priceless. Writing groups can help give you motivation. Try publishing shorter pieces in local press while pushing on with larger pieces. That instant gratification can be so helpful.
Don’t give up! Keep writing. 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.
If you go the self-publishing route, invest in a good editor. I decided to publish through Amazon and CreateSpace. My experience has been very 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. A flawless manuscript is key. A good editor can not only help fix typos but also ensure your story works. As Mark Coker of Smashwords says, "A good book sells itself."
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
People have asked me about aspects of my bio which have piqued their interest. When I was 13, I was cast in an Equity production of Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs at the Lake George Dinner Theatre. Six days a week from June until October - which required dismissal from school for matinees - I became "Laurie". It was a tremendous experience. I so value my time on the stage as a child, as it has helped shape who I am as a person and helped my confidence in public speaking. This experience, however, convinced me I did not want to become a career actress. It became a job and no longer fun for me. I found other creative outlets.
Another thing people ask about is my experience living in Russia. When I was in high school, I participated in a two-week exchange program with a Russian family. I became very close with my host sister and pledged to study abroad and live with her in St. Petersburg. I did - without knowing a lick of Russian. After living there six months, I placed in Junior-year Russian language at my college - turning it into a second major. I returned to Russia (closer to Siberia) to hone my language skills by volunteering at an orphanage the following summer. That experience was eye-opening … and stayed with me for years. I transformed my observations into a novel (unpublished) entitled Orphan Butterfly. I would move forward with publishing this piece, as I had worked on it for over seven years, but ultimately felt the story itself was too dark.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or to find out more about your work?
My website contains a teaser about my next book!
I am currently booking school and book club visits (live or via Skype), so I’d love to hear from you. Fill out the contact form on my website or contact me through my Facebook author page.
Follow me on Twitter.
Sounds good. Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Johannah.
Thank you so much!
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.