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Interview with Historical Fiction Author Douglas Carlton Abrams

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Douglas Carlton Abrams is a former editor at the University of California Press and HarperSanFrancisco. He is the co-author of a number of books on love, sexuality, and spirituality, including books written with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar, and Taoist Master Mantak Chia. He is the co-founder of Idea Architects, a book and media development agency, which works with visionary authors to create a wiser, healthier, and more just world. In his life and work, he is interested in cultivating all aspects of our humanity —body, emotions, mind, and spirit. His goal in writing fiction is to create stories that not only entertain, but also attempt to question, enchant, and transform.

The Lost Diary of Don Juan is his first novel and is published in thirty languages around the world. He lives in Santa Cruz, California, with his wife and three children.  You can visit his website at www.lostdiaryofdonjuan.com.

Welcome to Beyond the Books, Douglas. Can you tell us whether you are published for the first time or multi-published? Can you give us the title(s) of your book(s)?

This is my first time publishing fiction. My book is called The Lost Diary of Don Juan.

What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

My very first finished novel was The Lost Diary of Don Juan.

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

I actually didn’t have any rejections. I have a wonderful agent who was able to sell my book and get me a two-book deal very quickly.

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

See above.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

Atria, a division of Simon and Schuster. I have a wonderful agent who got me a very nice advance and a two-book deal with them.

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

I was ecstatic, as you can imagine. As soon as the contracts were signed, we had a “Don Juan” party with all of our friends and family. We dressed up in 18th century costumes, drank sangria, ate tapas and gazpacho and celebrated.

What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I did the normal book events around the US and in Europe for the foreign publishers. I hired a publicist and got on as many radio and TV shows as possible. I also hired a separate internet publicist who spread word about the book on the net in many different ways – blogs, social networking sites, ads, etc.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

Absolutely not!

Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

My next book will come out in the fall of 2009, which will be the second in my two-book contract. I am working on the new novel now, and although I have cut the number of drafts in half from when I wrote The Lost Diary, it is still an embarrassingly high number. I think I am now up to draft number twelve.

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

While my publisher accepted The Lost Diary very quickly, it took me five years to write, research, and revise the book. When writing a novel, especially a first novel, be sure and learn your craft. This is my first finished novel, but I have started and stopped a couple of novels before this. As a professional editor, I knew they weren’t good enough to be published. They were my practice runs, so to speak.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

Accepting myself irrespective of my fame and fortune – or lack thereof.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

I actually run a literary and media development company that works with visionaries to help them create a wiser, healthier, and more just world. I have also co-written a number of non-fiction books. My fiction writing is an outgrowth of my profession in publishing.

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

I have definitely combined the best of both worlds. Writing nonfiction is like walking; writing fiction is like ballet. Nonfiction writing requires clarity and fluidity; fiction writing requires the conjuring of an entire world and the approximation of life itself. I have been interested in the issues of love, passion, and spirituality for many years. I have had the privilege of working with a number of great spiritual masters on nonfiction books that address these issues, and many of their insights informed my fiction. I am particularly interested in the power of fiction to transmit perennial wisdom and to address the inevitable questions of being human, such as how we live in the flesh but give wings to our soul.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

As a person I see myself as a better husband, father, friend, and human. As a writer I’d like to be in conversation with even more readers around the world, offering stories that help us to live with greater joy and meaning. I’d like to successfully straddle the divide in modern literature between plot-driven commercial fiction and character-rich literary fiction. Can’t we have heart-racing, entertaining stories with living, breathing, three-dimensional characters?

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Start with a question, not an answer. Ask yourself a question you desperately need to know about life, create a fictional world filled with real characters and discover the answer. Novelists are scientists of the human imagination.

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2 Comments

  1. Tracee says:

    Great interview! My favorite response was to how do you see yourself in 10 years – what an excellent answer!

  2. ccmal says:

    What a wonderful way to celebrate your book deal! Best of luck on your tour.

    Cheryl

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