Friday, September 7, 2012

A Song Apart by Jeffrey H. Baer: Interview & Excerpt

 
Rising pop singer Shannon Kistler never expected to see college student Kevin Derow on a Manhattan street wearing her concert shirt. But she offers gratitude in her own way, leaving her biggest fan in shock. When the two teenagers meet again six days later, Shannon slips Kevin her phone number, and the unlikely romance begins.

Soon they find they have several things in common: lonely childhoods, a passion for music, and making unpopular choices about their own lives. The public cannot take Shannon seriously as a teenaged recording artist, but she risks her sudden success by making some public mistakes after breaking into a soulless music industry with unusual ease. Meanwhile Kevin loses the respect of family, friends and coworkers over the girl he idolizes-and unwittingly blows the lid off a payola scheme devised by Shannon's record label, threatening her career and possibly his own freedom.

A Song Apart revolves around two young people from distinct backgrounds who choose to follow their hearts rather than their peers and find a greater reward at the end of their paths.
 
 

Review by Sophia Flynt
“Kevin is just a normal kid minding his own business when he happens to catch the eye of his dream girl. This is no ordinary crush, this girl is the biggest sensation in music since Brittney Spears (I’m gathering). Shannon Kistler is a celebrity, sure, but she’s also down-to earth and she and Kevin connect. What follows is a friendship turned romance that faces unusual conflicts and threatens to tear them apart at every turn.
 
I genuinely enjoyed this story. Mr. Baer is an excellent writer and storyteller, and I found it to be an extremely easy read. The dialogues were real and funny, and felt authentic. I liked how I was able to picture everything that was happening, feel the city scenery, and imagine the characters as they were – and not once did I feel bogged down by an overabundance of needless descriptions. To me this is a sign of a great writer, one who can paint the scene perfectly while utilizing word economy. I recommend this book not just to music or romance fans, but to anyone who has ever been young and dreamed of bigger things…and to have those dreams come true.”


 
 
   



The Public Be Damned

Someone tapped my shoulder as I waited for the light to change on the corner of 23rd and Park. “Excuse me,” said a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman from today’s Political Science class at Manhattan University. “Your name is Kevin, right?”
I nodded.
“Why are you wearing that shirt?”
I glanced down at the image of Shannon Kistler on the front. “Oh–I like her.”
“Why?” She winced.
“Adam liked Eve, Romeo liked Juliet, Anthony liked Cleopatra…it’s a tradition, I guess.”
“But her music is juvenile.”
“So I’ve heard.”
The streetlight changed, but my classmate stared at me as we crossed Park Avenue. I walked up 23rd Street to the bus stop at the Flatiron Building, my backpack full of newly purchased textbooks. Halfway up the block, a guy in a three-piece suit who talked on a cell phone glanced at my shirt as he walked toward me. “Wait a second,” he muttered. “Man,” he snarled at me, “I can’t believe someone like you put on that shirt.”
“And I can’t believe someone like you got off your phone to tell me so.”
He frowned and walked away as I continued toward Broadway. At the Flatiron Building I stood in my usual nook, watching for my express bus home. The sidewalk was practically empty, but I caught the attention of a curly-haired guy, maybe a year or two older than me, strolling toward Union Square with a friend. The guy tapped his friend’s shoulder and pointed at me, but I waved him off before he yelled at me.
The traffic on Broadway was as thin as the pedestrians on the sidewalk. The other Staten Island-bound express buses stopped by the building regularly, but my wait for the X12 was always longer for one stupid reason or another. I already spent a whole year waiting for many things, including the bus, and I knew that wouldn’t change any time soon, especially with everything I still had to learn about accounting before I got my BBA.
An early September breeze blew through my hair as a black limo stopped at the light on 22nd Street. I couldn’t guess who was inside–a bridal party, a foreign dignitary, or a corporate big shot. But I was hypnotized by the long car, watching it roll down Broadway and onto 21st Street after the light changed.
“Excuse me,” a black man in a parka and a wool hat said, “you got any change to spare?”
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, you don’t gotta be sorry, okay? You don’t got it, you don’t got it. That’s all. You don’t gotta be sorry for nothin’. People always getting’ into trouble ‘cause they sorry for stuff they can’t control, and we got all these world problems because people do a lotta shit they sorry about later. And that uses up a lotta energy, you know? They can use that energy to do other stuff.”
He clamped a hand on my shoulder, to my horror. “Look, man,” he continued, pointing, “you a young guy. You don’t need none of that shit, okay? You don’t gotta worry about nothin’ but the rest of your life. You got lotsa time to do whatever you please, and bein’ sorry ain’t gonna help you. So you don’t got the change, you don’t got the change, and that’s the way it goes. You don’t gotta be sorry about it, okay? Don’t be sorry. You got it, don’t you?”
Yeah. I’m sorry I apologized. I nodded slightly, trying not to roll my eyes.
“Yeah, you get it.” He smiled, showing off his yellow teeth. “You get it. You a good guy. Go get yourself some nice pussy.” He slapped my shoulder and marched off.
Oh, no, you did NOT use the P-word on me…
“Hey, mister,” a girl’s voice yelled, “you got a nice shirt on!”
“Thank–YOU!! HOLY SHIT!!” It was Shannon Kistler herself, calling to me from the limousine sitting at the light a few moments ago. She laughed, ducked inside and rolled up the window. I snatched my backpack and chased after her, but the heavy textbooks slowed me down, and she made a swift getaway.
Two minutes later an X12 finally pulled up. “How you doin’?” asked the driver after he opened the doors.
“Hanging in there, thanks,” I fumbled, paying the fare.
“School started again?” he asked, pulling away from the curb.
“Yeah,” I muttered.
“You don’t seem happy about it.”
“I had a long day.” I would’ve said why I really didn’t seem happy, but he’d never buy it.
“Well, pick a seat and take a snooze,” he said. “You look like you could use it.”
“I’m way ahead of you.”
He chuckled as I grabbed a window seat and followed his advice.

 

Hello Jeffrey, Welcome!  I’m pleased that you could join me today and tell us some things about your path to authorhood.  So, let’s begin.  First off, tell us about your current release.

A Song Apart is the story of Shannon Kistler, a rising pop star who rode her debut CD to astonishing success, and Kevin Derow, a college student and Shannon’s unlikeliest fan. Since they’re both teenagers, their life choices come under fire from people around them. Shannon hears it from a spiteful media while Kevin encounters hostility from family, friends, and even an occasional stranger who can’t stand her music. Nevertheless, Kevin and Shannon fall in love and change each other’s lives for the better while finding the courage to be themselves.

Tell us about your next release.

Right now I’m editing The Strickland File, a novel I wrote over a decade ago–and boy, did it need editing. Based on previous experience, it’s about a college graduate coping with politics and adversity at his new job. To be clear, I didn’t write The Strickland File to get revenge on anyone, but to connect with the public via a story the “average Joe” can identify with, like A Song Apart.

What is the hardest part of writing your books?

Ten years ago I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is high-functioning autism that affects social skills. It answered a lot of questions about my childhood and troubles finding steady work, but that’s a different matter.

Writing in itself isn’t a struggle, but sometimes I have a tough time expressing myself exactly the way I want. People who read early drafts of A Song Apart, for example, claimed my writing was vague and unclear, as if I threw words on the page and expected readers to figure out what I meant. Some professional editing cleared that up, but then other readers asked me why Kevin and Shannon act as they do in the story. I wasn’t sure what they meant until I read a detailed analysis of the characters in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd in a how-to book, and then I realized they meant deeper character motivation. I fixed that as well, and hopefully that won’t be a problem for future novels.

How do you describe your writing style?

Economical, among other things. One might think since I’m an ASpie, I tend to overstate a lot of things in my writing. But if I prefer to read novels that get right to the point, then I would write such a novel as well. Of course, that means spending a lot of time editing, but the results are well worth the effort. Although some of our most respected authors relied on extensive description to establish their unique styles, I don’t always have the patience to read those passages. Editors tell hopeful writers to take out what doesn’t move the story forward anyway–which also explains why A Song Apart has no explicit sex. ; )

How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?

I find the plot and characters develop themselves, actually. I never start a story without a basic idea of what to write about, but I get other ideas as I write and during downtime. Editing, to me, is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, so there’s an element of fun to it.

Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?

I split time between 70s pop, the music of my childhood, and old school R&B, my favorite genre nowadays. I like to sing, so I have to make sure I don’t type any lyrics into a manuscript.

Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?

First and most important, be yourself in your writing. Don’t just write what you know, write what you want, and NEVER let anyone talk you out of it. Your subject matter may not match what’s on the New York Times Bestseller List, but it doesn’t mean readers can’t enjoy and be moved by it. It’s safe to say you won’t be happy sounding like someone else.

Second, don’t be afraid to consider publishing your own book. A Song Apart was rejected by agents 336 times (337 if you include the phone rejection). I wasn’t upset, but I was still frustrated enough to check out CreateSpace (Amazon.com’s print-on-demand service) and eventually sign with them. I chose CreateSpace because Amazon backs them up, but similar companies provide different services. If you choose to self-publish, research the companies carefully. Some of them aren’t as interested in your book as they are your checkbook.

Third, if you’re lucky enough to get an agent, put in a good word for me.  ; D
 

 
My childhood was like a lot of other childhoods--difficult. I was quite advanced for my age, as everyone discovered when I was able to read the Times Square message boards at age two--out loud, no less. My grandparents told me how surprised the pedestrians were to see me read; I was too engaged to notice, or else I'd have passed the hat around.

Unfortunately, the other kids weren't surprised. In fact, they were downright offended and often reminded me as much. The worst of it came in junior high school, when the entire grade hated my guts without knowing why. Looking back on it, though, I should've thanked those kids for giving me all that attention.

I realized I could write in seventh grade when our English teacher asked us to write an essay about a famous woman. Since I loved pop music, I chose Roberta Flack as my essay subject, but I was out sick the day after I handed it in. When I went back the following Monday, a girl in my class said "Gee, thanks, Jeff. We all really wanted to hear about Roberta Flack." It seemed the teacher was so impressed with my essay, he read it to the class, and my classmates had yet another reason to consider me persona non grata.

My so-called "bad reputation" followed me to high school. Suffice it to say Graduation was the happiest day of my life.


In April 2002 I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is high-functioning autism that affects social skills. It explained why I was socially inept as a child as well as why I couldn't find and keep jobs on my own. No big deal--the diagnosis helped me accept myself as I am. There's no cure or treatment for AS, but I find Paxil frees up the rigid thinking that comes with autism--and I'm a more well-rounded person for it.

I live in Coney Island with my wonderful girlfriend Karen, whom I've known for 22 years.

 



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