Tuesday, September 18, 2018

0 Patrick Flores-Scott, author of AMERICAN ROAD TRIP, on making the decision you are going to get published

We're thrilled to have Patrick Flores-Scott stop by to talk about his latest novel, AMERICAN ROAD TRIP.

Patrick, what was your inspiration for writing AMERICAN ROAD TRIP?

I was upset about what was going on in our country after the 2008 economic collapse. The government planned a big fat bailout for the banks whose greedy policies caused the collapse, while working folks who were the victims of those policies were losing their homes and jobs...and there was no bailout planned for them. At that time, I’d also been listening to a series of stories on NPR about soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and the problems they were facing reintegrating into life back home.

I had a lot of questions and I decided to channel them toward a novel. What if one family had to deal with all of those big issues of the time? What might it look like for a teen who is trying as hard as he can to be successful, while his family is crumbling under the stress of the times? What might hope and humor and creativity and romance look like in this situation? As these questions led me toward a story, I knew that I wanted to continue exploring what it means to be from South King County, a culturally and economically diverse area near Seattle where I had taught middle school, and where Jumped In, my first novel, was set. But I also wanted to bust out of the confines of Jumped In. For me, that meant that at some point, this book had to get out of school and out of town and hit the road. It meant that both parents would still be in the picture, still fighting to make the best of things. It meant that no one would die. It meant that my protagonist would get the chance to fall in love.

How long did you work on AMERICAN ROAD TRIP?

I started writing American Road Trip in the fall of 2009. So it will be about nine years from beginning to publishing. A lot happened in those years. Jumped In (which I started in 2005) didn’t come out until 2013, so there was still a lot of revising to do on that book. I wrote a short story published in the anthology, I See Reality (2016), and whenever I’d send American Road Trip out, I’d work on other projects. There were a couple starts of novels that didn’t go anywhere, and a first draft of a new novel I have high hopes for.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

From the very beginning, I had a vision—maybe a strong feeling?—for what American Road Trip could end up being. But I didn’t have a draft that matched that vision for a lot of years. Early on I’d give it to people and there would be a lot of post-read blank stares, like, I’m not sure this thing you’re working so hard on is actually a thing.

I kept on tinkering and working away, but for a long time, I think the strong feeling of what the book could be, seeped in to my perception of what the draft actually was at the time. And there was a pretty long period where I basically quit seeking the feedback that I truly needed. This is not normal for me. Usually I am pretty relentless when it comes to badgering my go-to readers. I didn’t reach out, maybe because, in my mind, my current, draft-of-the-moment…was amazing. The upshot was I’d send drafts to my agent and editor and those drafts were not ready for prime time. And that slowed everything way down.

I guess I learned that stubbornness of vision works…but only when combined with a pretty regular outside-reader/critique/revision cycle to check in and make sure that the work I’m doing is actually getting me closer to a draft that matches my vision.

What do you hope readers will take away from AMERICAN ROAD TRIP?

Big hope: When readers put down American Road Trip for good, I hope it happens after they’ve turned the last page of the book. I hope they feel that it was entertaining and worth the hours they spent reading it.

Bigger hope: So (spoiler alert), there’s a road trip in this book. But the title is really about ups and downs of the American experience in 2009. There are questions that I hope get asked and I hope readers go in search of answers, questions like: Why did we go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why are we still at war? How can we better support veterans? How can we better support families of veterans? How can we better support families dealing with mental health issues? Why did so many people lose their homes and jobs at that time? What was done to help them? What does it say about a society when young people are the ones making some of the biggest sacrifices? Etc.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

I was a teacher working with struggling middle school readers when I began writing Jumped In in 2005. I hoped I could write a novel that my students, who struggled to make it through a book, could enjoy. It was my first try at a novel. I was driven to get that book published even though I didn’t really understand what that entailed. I did understand the hard work part. I got a lot of feedback from friends and co-workers and that beginning stage of writing was more fun than anything.

When I finished the umpteenth revision and felt that I couldn’t do any more, I went into a public library teen section and started pulling books off the shelf. I’d look at cover art, blurbs, the flap synopsis…and if I found a book that had a similar world—a similar feel—to Jumped In, I’d read a few sentences or pages to see if it was true. I didn’t stop until I found Blood Brothers, by S.A. Harazin. I figured whoever represented her might be receptive to Jumped In. So I went online until I found that her agent was Steven Chudney. I queried him and he liked my book. He had me do some revisions and after that, he started sending it out to a few editors at a time. I got some good critical feedback in my rejections so I’d use that to revise and then he’d send it out again. There were a few cycles like that. It was slow process but the strategy really worked. The book kept improving and after almost two years, it finally sold.

For me the challenges came once I went from being a guy obsessed with writing a book, to a guy trying to sell a book. The stress of waiting to hear if a book sold, the stress of waiting for editorial feedback, the stress of waiting for reviews…. I enjoy coming up with ideas and drafting and revising. I thrive on all that. I struggle with waiting.

Christy Ottaviano, my editor, was set to get the first look at American Road Trip. She read a few drafts over a couple years before the book was up to snuff and she made an offer in May of 2015.

What’s your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I write in the early morning before everyone else wakes up. I cordoned off an office-like space in the cave that is our unfinished basement. I have a nice old heavy-as-heck Steelcase desk that was left in the house when we bought it. I have a cozy old chair and a DIY stand-up desk made of unfinished plywood and two-by-fours. I bought an old monitor from Salvation Army I’ve got that mounted at the stand-up desk at eye level and oriented in landscape mode so I can see an entire page all at once when I’m writing. I have that monitor hooked up to an old white MacBook with zero wi-fi capability. I drink a lot of black coffee. I do listen to music when I’m writing new drafts. It’s usually jazz, but if I’m in my head too much, questioning too much, I’ll listen to loud hard stuff with lyrics. When I’m revising, I usually can’t have any music at all. When I’m writing a new draft and finding myself editing too much, I’ll write on the ancient Underwood typewriter I inherited from my grandmother.

After I drop my boys off at school, I’ll put in another couple hours at the beautiful Ann Arbor District Library branch that’s close to our house.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

There is no magic involved when it comes to getting published. But if you want to get published you need to make the decision that you are going to get published. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen. But it puts you in the game.

When you go to an SCBWI national conference, there are thousands and thousands of people participating. It feels overwhelming and you picture yourself in competition with these folks and you might feel that your work is somehow less important because the volume of folks who want to get published is seemingly infinite. You think, What makes me more special than all of them?

The answer to that question is that you are not more special than the rest of them. Your ideas are awesome. Their ideas are awesome. You are capable of writing an awesome novel. They are capable of writing an awesome novel.

The difference is that you have decided you are going to get published and that means you are going to do the things that people who get published do. (No sweat if you bail on this process at any point. There is nothing saying you have to spend thousands of hours of life in this amazing world, locked in an office, pounding a keyboard in the dark. There are more healthy pursuits. However, if you can’t help yourself and you need to do this like you need food and air and love, here are two simple—maybe obvious?—but essential starting points:)

First, set up a writing routine.

It doesn’t really matter what it is. I have heard of successful, published authors who only write during vacations. That’s their routine and they stick to it. And it works for them. There are others who write every day before work. When I was teaching full time and trying to write my first book (while starting a family), I realized that if I write for one hour (ish), two nights during the week, and then I also had one long (three or four hours) weekend morning of writing at a coffee shop, those three sessions would be enough for me to keep my writing momentum moving forward. It doesn’t matter how you go about it. Just set up your routine and let relevant friends and loved ones know that this is what you’re doing now. They will think your dedication is cool. Don’t kick yourself if you miss a session here and there. Just get back at it and keep on going. And know that this routine will have be adjusted time and time again as your life changes.

Next, include others in your process.

You need to ask readers to read your writing. And hopefully, these people are the kind of folks who will tell you things like, “I loved how you started your novel. But I found myself itching to scroll through my Twitter on page eight. So I put your book down and I scrolled through my Twitter. And then I never picked your book up again and that was three weeks ago.” You then need to be the kind of person who responds by saying, “Good to know. I’m going to revise and get the draft back to you and see if I can keep you off Twitter through page 10.”

Getting feedback can be a painful, emotional deal at first. But I’ve come to learn that waiting for feedback is actually the hard part. The process of hearing a reader tell me that my story isn’t working has become very normal. And the process of me asking the reader questions that might help get to why my story isn’t working is just something I have to do to improve my story. It’s just part of the work. The great thing is that asking those questions of a less-that-satisfied reader can lead to the most inspiring conversations. And that inspiration is the fuel that leads me to the next better draft.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a book about a kid who gets released from juvenile prison and immediately has to confront the life that lead him to commit his crime in the first place. They story mostly takes place over one wild, sleepless weekend.


American Road Trip
by Patrick Flores-Scott
Henry Holt and Co.
Released 9/18/2018

With a strong family, the best friend a guy could ask for, and a budding romance with the girl of his dreams, life shows promise for Teodoro “T” Avila. But he takes some hard hits the summer before senior year when his nearly perfect brother, Manny, returns from a tour in Iraq with a devastating case of PTSD. In a desperate effort to save Manny from himself and pull their family back together, T’s fiery sister, Xochitl, hoodwinks her brothers into a cathartic road trip.

Told through T’s honest voice, this is a candid exploration of mental illness, socioeconomic pressures, and the many inescapable highs and lows that come with growing up―including falling in love.

Purchase American Road Trip at Amazon
Purchase American Road Trip at IndieBound
View American Road Trip on Goodreads


Patrick Flores-Scott was, until recently, a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, was named to the 2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, a Walden Award finalist, a Washington Book Award winner, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies, and a Bank Street College Best Books of 2014. He is currently working on his second book, American Road Trip.


Have you had a chance to read AMERICAN ROAD TRIP yet? Do you have a writing routine that keeps you moving forward? Do you ask readers questions to help improve your story? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Jocelyn, Halli, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

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