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Interview with Stephen Masse, author of “Short Circus”

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About Stephen V. Masse

Stephen V. MasseStephen V. Masse was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He wrote his first novelat age 13, handwritten into a school composition book.

Educated at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he studied creative writing, and was author of a weekly newspaper column, “Out of Control.” His first novel for children, Shadow Stealer, was published by Dillon Press in 1988. Short Circus is his second novel for children.

In addition to children’s books, Masse has written A Jolly Good Fellow, winner of the Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, as well as honorable mention in the 2008 New England Book Festival for best books of the holiday season.

The Interview

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Stephen. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

A: Multi-published sounds impressive, but I’m not as multi-published as I’d like to be.

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

A: My first “book” was The Rehappening, penned into a composition notebook at the age of 13, while I was indentured for the summer at a golf caddy camp. It was not published, although I imagine if I die famous, somebody may dig it out of a box in my attic and use it to dampen my fame.

Q: 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?

A: My first published book was Shadow Stealer, about an Indian boy who could make fire by dancing. It was rejected by every publisher of children’s books and half the literary agents in the United States between the years of 1977 and 1988. Finally Dillon Press surprised me by accepting it for publication, and I was paid a whopping $300.00 advance.

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

A: Rejections made me feel rejected. But having been in the business now for over 30 years, I’ve obviously spent more time overcoming rejection than worrying about it. Three rules for overcoming rejection: 1) Become a better writer, 2) Hire two good editors, and 3) Self-publish.

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

A: Dillon Press of Minneapolis was my first publisher. They were acquired by MacMillan Press shortly afterwards, and my book went out of print. I chose them because they were publishers of children’s books and Shadow Stealer was a children’s book. But ultimately they chose me, and I became a legitimately published author.

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

A: I felt cautiously optimistic, and the celebration was an extended-family party where I sold books at a discount.

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

A: I sent copies of the book to area newspapers and asked for reviews and interviews. I got neither.

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

A: Yes, I would self-publish after going through at least two editorial work-overs, and be extremely cautious of book companies that provide all kinds of promises about “press releases,” big-name reviews, and other highly paid promotional services that deliver nothing. None of these companies has any connections in major review circles, nor do they get any of the promised radio or TV connections, much less any other publicity. Once they get your money, their work is finished. Better to go through a book production service which offers fulfillment as well. They’re not perfect, but you’ll save a ton of money.

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

A: Yes, I published A Jolly Good Fellow in 2008, which had been rejected by every publisher in the United States as well as a few in Canada and UK. Within months it won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards for best regional Fiction, New England; and also honorable mention in the 2008 New England Book Festival. I published Short Circus in 2010, which had also been rejected by every children’s book publisher in the United States. My growth as an author is realistically tied to my financial ability to continue writing, which is better than most but still much less than I would like.

Q: 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?

A: The biggest mistake was in trying to get approval for my work from people who were in the book industry for their purposes, not mine. My habits of seeking approval/permission were considered the polite way to do business in the publishing field. With the Internet, publishing has become a much more democratic industry, so begging for approval and wasting time are no longer options.

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

A: So far, the Silver Medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

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

A: Probably a big-time movie actor, for the adventure.

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

A: I never chose the writing profession, it chose me. No matter what else I do in my life, writing is always a part of me.

Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?

A: Older and with less hair, but hopefully with a few more successful books on the market.

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

A: Keep the day job, and save money for good editorial services and self-publication.

About Short Circus

Short Circus

Twelve-year-old Jem Lockwood has been fatherless for four years and finally gets a Big Brother, but just as the best summer of his life is about to begin, he discovers that Jesse Standish’s rented house is about to be sold. Jem does all in his daring imagination to make Jesse’s house unmarketable, and the neighborhood unfit for prospective buyers. This three-ring circus romps with with Jem’s boyhood friends and older brother Chris, all recognizable kids who share in the rough-and-tumble delight of living in a northern Massachusetts city whose newspaper is delivered by kids on bikes, where kids play in the streets, and the local convenience store is owned by the family of Jesse’s girlfriend, Andrea. Sadly the city’s swimming pond has been sabotaged, and the city has to close it to all recreation after two boys are injured. Jem is sure he knows who did it, and helps carry out a plan to punish the evildoer.

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