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Saturday, 6 April 2013
Author interview with Armen Pogharian (revisited)
Back in February 2013, I interviewed author Armen Pogharian for my interview-only WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s author Armen Pogharian. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Armen. Please tell us something about yourself, and how you came to be a writer.
Armen: I don’t come from a typical writing background, in fact quite the opposite. I have an engineering degree and spent most of my professional life in the high tech industry. I did a fair amount of technical writing, but other than some marketing spin, nothing you’d really call creative. After making some career decisions that left me with more free time I decided to try and connect with my creative side.
Morgen: Me neither, unless you count being a secretary for 20+ years creative? You write children’s books, was there a reason to choose this genre?
Armen: Yes, my children are tireless readers, but they showed little or no interest in writing, which bothered me. All of the writing advice I’ve ever read tells you to write about something you know and love. My own love of reading began when I started reading fantasy and science fiction stories in sixth grade. Maybe it was just my inner engineer efficiency surfacing, but I decided to try and solve both problems at the same time and write the types of stories that I thought would energize my children and interest me.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Armen: My first book, Misaligned: The Celtic Connection was published in August 2012. I briefly toyed with writing under a pen-name or perhaps just my initials, but decided against it. My name’s pretty unique, and I thought why make it harder for my relatives to find my work. :)
Morgen: Absolutely. And you’re easily Googleable which is important these days. What age group do you write for?
Armen: I like to think of my market as YA, but I’ve had readers as young as eight and quite a few adults. The sweet spot is probably somewhere in the 10-14 age group. That’s not to say older teens won’t be interested, but I’ve purposely avoided heavy romantic themes and focusing on classic coming of age issues. Those things are present, but they add texture to the story rather than drive it.
Morgen: Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Armen: I was an avid Science Fiction and Fantasy reader. Some of my favourite authors include Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuinn, Piers Anthony, and Arthur C. Clark. Their primary influence is more on my subject matter rather than my writing style.
Morgen: Do you think it’s easier writing for children than adults?
Armen: Since I haven’t written anything specifically for adults, I’m not sure I can really answer that objectively. While I believe it’s important to write to your audience, you need to be careful not to write down to children, especially in the YA market. I try to write something that challenges them without boring them. It’s a rather fine line that I’m sure I’ve crossed.
Morgen: If 8-year-olds and adults like your writing then you’re doing something right. Do you get a second opinion on your stories before they’re published – if so from adults, children or both?
Armen: Feedback is like gold, it’s hard to have too much. I’m blessed with children who are bibliophiles and are quite comfortable sharing their thoughts with me, including telling me what doesn’t work for them. I also have a small circle of adults with whom I’m very comfortable sharing ideas and works in various stages of completion. I don’t always heed their advice, but I do listen.
Morgen: I used to run a red pen critique slot but have since set up five online writing groups where I give free critique (and encourage readers of the sites to do the same). I always say to the providing author that it’s just my opinion and don’t expect them to agree with everything but everyone needs a second opinion. Do you have any tips for anyone thinking about writing for children?
Armen: Once you identify the sub-genre you want to write in, read a few books in that genre. If you’re going to submit to publishers, especially the smaller ones read a few of their books first so that you know what they like.
Morgen: Absolutely. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Armen: I’m with a small publisher, Synergebooks, and all titles are initially released as eBooks, with some following in print roughly 12 months later. Misaligned: The Celtic Connection came out in August of 2012 as an eBook and will go print later this year. Its sequel and the first book of another series will also come out this year, but only as eBooks. I’ve just recently purchased an e-reader. While it hasn’t converted me, I do enjoy reading on it, especially at night.
Morgen: Most people still prefer paper but love having a choice. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters?
Armen: I like all of my characters, but I don’t tend to gravitate toward the principle protagonist or antagonist. In Misaligned: The Celtic Connection, I really like the way Detective Sergeant Lucy Martin (from London’s Metropolitan Police, Antiquities Division) turned out. I’ve even noodled around several ideas for a book featuring her as the protagonist. Nothing’s gelled yet, but I haven’t given up.
Morgen: Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Armen: My publisher needs to approve both the title and the cover, but it’s a very collaborative process. I suggest a few titles and we banter them about until we come up with something we both like. For the cover, I send my ideas to the publisher, who assigns an artist to work with me. We go through a few iterations and when we’re happy, we submit it to the publisher. I think it’s hard to underestimate the importance of both the cover and the title, especially as a new author. It doesn’t matter how great your writing is, if you can’t get them to open the cover, they’re not going to read (or buy) your book.
Morgen: That’s very true. What are you working on at the moment?
Armen: I’m actually working on three things right now. I’ve just finished writing the sequel in the Misaligned series, and I’m going through the last of my feedback. I’m also doing some prep work with my publisher on the print edition of The Celtic Connection. Things like the back cover and adding a few extras that didn’t really make sense in the e-book. Finally, I’m in the early stages of outlining a second book to my soon to be published series, The Warders. So I’m not actively writing, but still lots of things to do.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Armen: When I’ve got an active work in progress I try to write every day. I’ll even set mini-goals, such as writing 1000 words or finishing a chapter to help keep me motivated. As for writer’s block, I don’t know any writers who don’t suffer an occasional bout of it. If I can’t plough my way through it, I’ll put it aside for a little while. Sometimes a short nap does the trick, other times it takes a few days, but eventually I find my way through it.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Armen: I wrote the first Misaligned book by the seat of my pants, and I really enjoyed the freedom to follow my moods, but it took a lot of editing to get it done. I used an outline for the first book of The Warders, and it was definitely a much more streamlined process. I started Misaligned’s sequel with an outline, but wandered off the straight and narrow pretty quickly. I think there’s just something about that series that won’t be pinned down by my attempts at organization.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Armen: I do a fair amount of research, especially for Misaligned, which includes a strong historical component. I think it’s very important to be historically and scientifically accurate, at least for the baseline of the story. I believe that a realistic foundation gives me more freedom to create the fantasy aspect of the story. Even with a story like The Warders, which is a high fantasy, I did a lot of research on sailing ships of the middle ages to make those scenes more realistic. Sometimes I stumble onto something unexpected during my research that ends up in the story. That happened in Misaligned where I added a bit about Monarch butterflies to a scene. Strictly speaking it wasn’t necessary to move the plot, but it added color and depth to the scene.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Armen: I think the whole cycle of submission and rejection can be quite difficult. I haven’t counted my rejections lately, but I’m sure between agents and publishers over the last several years I’ve been rejected more than a hundred times. Fortunately my dating career left me well prepared for rejection, and just like dating, it only takes one yes to make it worthwhile.
Morgen: <laughs> So you don’t have an agent… yet.
Armen: No, despite spending a decent amount of time trying to get one. Initially, I was quite bummed about it, but now that I’ve got one book published and another two under contract, I’m fine without one. I may be missing something, but at least for now, I’m okay with that.
Morgen: I’d never say never. Do you do much marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Armen: I do, but like many new authors, marketing is something I struggle with doing well. Most of my efforts have been through social sites like Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. I’ve also done a giveaway in support of another author’s book launch as well as things like my email tagline, blog interviews, and talking to lots of people. I think LinkedIn is really great for meeting other authors and learning what works for them, but I haven’t found it to be a great way to reach my target audience of 10-14 year olds. I know they’re all over the internet, but reaching them can be tricky. I mean, what mother wants their 12 year old daughter interacting with a middle-aged man through FB? I know a lot of authors have had success sending out announcements to as many FB groups as they can, and that’s what a lot of marketing guides tell you to do. I’ll admit that I occasionally do that, but it’s not something I’m comfortable doing. I’d rather increase my sales by making a stronger connection to likely customers than by spamming lots of people in search of a few customers. It’s probably the long and slow way to build my brand, but it’s what I’m more comfortable doing.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Armen: Whether it’s working through a plot, creating characters, or even doing research, I really enjoy the process of writing and creating a story. As much as I like the researching and learning, I don’t think I would be a very good non-fiction writer. One of the reasons I began writing was to connect with my creative side and I like the freedom of writing fiction. I’d like to write a historical fiction novel, but I’m still a little intimidated by the level of research needed to pull it together. As for least favourite, I’d have to say how long it takes to get things done on the business side. Quite a few people now respond in a matter of days or a week, but many still plod along with three and four month response cycles. That would be alright if they gave meaningful feedback, but it’s rarely more than a form email.
Morgen: Frustrating, isn’t it. I try to reply to all my emails within a couple of weeks but sometimes it’s quite a bit longer (depending on how much time it takes to deal with it). There are only so many hours in the day, even mine. :) Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Armen: There are lots of them, really too many to list here, but here’s a quote I recently heard that struck me as something I wish I had said. “If we have data, let's look at the data. If all we have are opinions, let's go with mine.” ~ Jim Barksdale.Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? :)
Armen: Outside of writing, my wife and I own several franchised Great Clips hair salons. We both also volunteer coach the local YMCA swim team several nights a week and I coach my younger son’s soccer team. I still swim two to three times a week, and while I no long compete in meets, I do keep track of my workouts. My goal for this year is to swim more than 500,000 yards, or about 300 miles. I’m also a very occasional painter, just basic landscapes for now. Other than that, most of my time is spent with my family at kids’ activities or bopping around local events. We like hiking, cross-country skiing, and reading together. Basically, I’m a pretty boring guy.
Morgen: Almost I mile a day? Wow. I’ve swum a mile twice (from memory: 132 length of a 25m pool), back in my teens / twenties, and I thought that was an achievement. :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Armen: There are quite a few out there, but if you’re looking for an e-publisher or maybe some other service through the web, I highly recommend Piers Anthony’s internet publishing site (http://www.hipiers.com/publishing.html#publishers). Lots of candid information about publishers and other service providers, it’s where I found my publisher.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Armen: I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, but not on Twitter yet. I’ve got mixed feelings about their value. They’ve got great potential to help writers reach their audiences, but you have to be careful to avoid spamming people. You want to create a connection to your readers, but that can be difficult, especially for YA and Middle Grade authors. My internet communication efforts probably reach far more adults than children, but if you think about kids on the internet, that’s probably not such a bad thing.
Morgen: I think whatever networking you do must be a step in the right direction but it’s easy for them to take huge chunks of time. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Armen: For so many years the major publishing houses controlled our reading options. They built large complex organizations to ensure higher quality works, but they left a lot of good material on the table. As their grip on the industry unravels changes are coming for everyone in the value chain. Some of the players are struggling, I’m thinking about brick and mortar retailers, and people entrenched in old publishing relationships. For others, the changes bring new opportunities. Some of the obvious winners are the new e-retailers, i.e., Amazon, who’re becoming the readers’ new trusted or at least primary source of information. Writers will clearly have more control over their work and better access to more customers, but they’ll also have to do more work for themselves. As an optimist, I’d like to think that’s a good thing. As a pessimist, I worry that we could end up like musicians, but without the live performance avenue.
Morgen: Budget cuts in the arts have certainly meant less going on where I am but the bigger towns / cities still have great events and there are literary festivals and writers’ workshops / conferences so still a choice, but then I’m lucky being in the UK; nothing’s too far away. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Armen: I keep putting off creating a website or even a Facebook page, yeah, I know it’s internet marketing 101, but it just never seems to be at the top of my list. Until I get that done, the best place would be my publisher’s page (http://synergebooks.com/bio_pogharian.html). I’ve also got pages on Amazon (www.amazon.com/Armen-Pogharian/e/B009GLPJ96/) and Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16052099-misaligned) that offer additional reviews and info about what I like to read.
Morgen: I create blogs from £50 / €60 / $75. :) Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Armen: No, I’d just like to thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with everyone who follows your blogs. I’ve done a few of these types of things and I must say that you’re very well organized.
Morgen: Oh, thank you very much. That’s very kind of you to say so. Thank you for joining me today and all the best for your sequel. Perhaps an author spotlight when it’s available? :)
I then invited Armen to provide an extract of his writing…
Duncan O’Brien walked up the Prestons’ steps and rang the bell, just like he did every school morning. He and Penny and were best friends, but this year they only had two classes together, both with new teachers. The first was science with Mr. Myrdin, who also served as the class counselor. He was tall and grandfatherly with thinning grey hair, pale blue eyes, and a nose that was a bit too large for his face.
His hair seemed to have a mind of its own. It started each period neat and orderly, but throughout class individual strands would defy gravity and stick out at odd angles. Several students turned it into a game, betting on how many hairs would escape. Mr. Myrdin never made the connection between his unruly hair and the occasional sighs from the losing students. The other constant in his classroom was the faint smell of lemon, from his ever present mug of Earl Grey tea.
According to Mark Chapman, who thought everything was a conspiracy of some sort, Mr. Myrdin was a genius scientist from England who just finished working on some top secret codebreaking computer system at the Monroe Institute. The real reason the school hired him was to install undetectable software on the school computers to track the students’ every move. Penny didn’t see how someone who looked like her grandfather could be a computer hacking genius, much less why one would work as an eighth grade science teacher.
He wore a strange silver ring with five different colored stones set in a pentagon shape. Gene Shoemaker, always one to ingratiate himself with the teachers early, asked about it. Mr. Myrdin replied that it was a family heirloom. Penny noticed that he absent-mindedly twisted it whenever he was in deep thought.
And a synopsis…
When the Shadows from her nightmare attack her in the cafeteria, eighth grader Penny Preston panics and unknowingly creates a trans-dimensional rift. The rift banishes the Shadows, but instigates a food fight ending with the cafeteria and the principal dripping tapioca. Summoned to the counselor’s office, she fears suspension, but instead discovers that she is misaligned. She exists in more than three dimensions. Misalignment gives her special abilities, but unless she immediately begins training she risks losing her sanity. She agrees to secretly train with her counselor and his friend Master Poe, an exile from the seventh dimension trapped in a raven’s body. In training, she learns that she is the key to preventing higher-dimensional beings from entering our universe. If she fails, they will gain god-like powers in our dimension, treating us like cartoon characters existing solely for their entertainment. Together with Simon, her multi-dimensional cat, Penny struggles to save her relationship with her best friend, protect her universe, and uncover her connection to Celtic myth.
Unlike many authors, Armen was not an early reader. He can honestly say that he didn’t voluntarily read a book until he finished The Hobbit in sixth grade. After that reading became a vice and he ravenously devoured science fiction and fantasy stories. He earned a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he was an Honorable-Mention All-American swimmer. Serving as an officer in the USAF, he worked on top secret ‘Area 51’ projects, where he never saw a single alien (dead or alive). He later spent a decade in the high tech and biotech industries. Now he writes stories that mix elements of science and history with a healthy dose of fantasy. When not writing he can be found swimming, reading a book, or enjoying the outdoors with his family. He lives outside of Rochester, NY with his wife and three children.
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