Interview with Author Josh Hanagarne

Dunce Two and One: Interviewer and Interviewee

[Josh and I go WAY back.  We met in college in an English class we both stuck out in (for reasons both savory and un-).  We were pleased and surprised to discover that we shared uniquely similar outlooks on life, ladies, and literature.  Oh, and scrawny guys who think they are tough; especially of the cheesy arm-tattooed variety.  Watch out!  We’ve had many adventures together (road trips, concerts, women, bon fires, howling at the moon, this blog), but that is only the beginning.  There will be lots more insanity to come!]

[I wanted to do this interview because, though Josh and I interact regularly over e-mail and blog post, and semi-regularly over the phone, there were a few questions I wanted to ask him directly, and I thought some of his responses might be interesting and informative to a lot of you.  Josh has a book coming out next year, and I wanted to know more about the process that led up to that awesome (can we say understatement?) event.  I’ll let him get into the details.  But if any of you are curious about the process, or would like any advice or information, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us or comment below.  Josh has had a lot of success, has learned  a lot about the industry, and is very good about providing funny, insightful, and timely responses.  And I…do a pretty good job of pretending to know what I am talking about.  No matter what.  So without further ado…]

Dunce Two: Josh, you have a book coming out next year. On a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being pretty excited, and 10 being super duper excited, how excited are you?

Josh: At least a 10. And there’s a lot of fear, anxiety, joy, and sleepless nights mixed up in there as well. Those are also tracking at about a 10.

Dunce Two: Anything you’d like to tell our readers about the book?

Josh: It’s going to be a while until it comes out, , but I’ll give you the broad strokes. Unless the publisher changes things on me, it’s a memoir called The World’s Strongest Librarian. It’s a really weird book, as you know, since there’s a chapter about you in it.

It’s about libraries, books, faith, losing faith, Tourette’s, kettlebells, the situation between you and I,  and the first crush I ever had. It’s about my mom and a Navajo reservation and the worst math test I ever took and a fearsome Air Force Tech sergeant with autism.

Training: 30 lbs lighter than today

And all the weird strength stuff.

You know, that sort of stuff.

Dunce Two: How much do you write a day?

Josh: I only work on the book for 30-60 minutes a day. That got me through the majority of the first draft. Now I’m spending most of that time revising. I spend at least that much time writing on the blogs or on other projects each day.

Dunce Two: Where is your favorite place to write?

Josh: In a recliner with a laptop. In America.

Dunce Two: When did you first decide you wanted to write this book?

Josh: I wasn’t trying to sell this book. An agent approached me based on the librarian blog. “Do you want to write a book?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Sure!”  This was good and bad. Because I hadn’t been chasing it, there wasn’t a lot of pressure on me. It also meant I wasn’t incredibly focused since I hadn’t been thinking about the book for very long, meaning, not at all.

Then I had to figure out what the story was, how I wanted to tell it, and hope that the agent and the editors agreed with my ideas. They didn’t, not at first, and two long years crept by before the big moment.

Dunce Two: Is it true, what they say, that chicks go crazy for writers? How’s that working out for you?

Josh: Oh, I wouldn’t know. Ask when the book is actually out. I get hit on by men way more than women. It’s my Stonehenge smile, I suppose. I’m pretty big. I had a guy tell me recently that he thought it would be fun to be pushed around by me. I did not indulge his unsavory desires.

Dunce Two: Way to exercise some restraint!  Moving on, what was the most intimidating part of the book deal process for you?

Josh: For me, so much of it is tied into the tics. For anyone just getting here, I have an extreme case of Tourette’s Syndrome. Stress makes it worse. More visibility makes it worse.

My first thoughts were:

  • A book tour is going to make this worse–what if I can’t meet all my obligations because I’m a hooting, slobbering fool when they need me to go out and promote? Or, is it going to get so bad I’ll actually injure myself?

Other than that, I wasn’t smart enough to be intimidated by the process because I love to write and thought that it would all come very easily. It didn’t.

Dunce Two: I understand that you actually self-published another book, The Knot, prior to this. What are your feelings about self-publishing? Do you think there is still a stigma about self-published books? If so, is it deserved? Why or why not?

Josh:I think self-publishing is great. It gives people a chance to get out there and hold their book in their hand. It makes it easier to publish crap, but it’s not like the bookstores are overflowing with masterpieces.

One of the nice things about cyberspace is that you can create your own market if you know what you’re doing. For people who can’t get the attention of a publisher, they can create their own following and use it as a talking point with houses down the road. It’s not easy, and it might not work for everyone, but it’s a luxury that wasn’t always there for the trying.

I never planned on doing anything with The Knot until I had a bunch of readers. Then I thought, What the hell? Let’s see what happens.

What happens is that a lot of people wanted signed copies, despite the fact that I openly admitted that the book kind of sucks. I had fun writing it. I’m proud of it–it was the first long project I saw all the way through.

It’s a mess, but I love it. I just can’t exactly recommend it unless you are desperate to have a memento from me.

Dunce Two: If you could have any job in the world, what would it be, and why?

Josh: I want to speak and write. That’s what’s going to happen.

Dunce Two: Who are your literary inspirations?

Josh:  My inspirations are invariably those I couldn’t ever figure out how to imitate. Cormac McCarthy. David Foster Wallace. Salman Rushdie. Steven Pressfield. Erik Quisling. Melanie Rae Thon. Some Faulkner. Geoff Dyer. Robert Anton Wilson. Nabokov. Ray Bradbury. Lewis Carroll.

And I’ve always loved Stephen King because when I read his books I can tell how much he loves to write. That’s a feeling I’ve always wanted when I sit down to work.

Dunce Two: How has being a librarian impacted your writing? Your worldview? Your philosophy?

Josh: Besides the obvious access to books, and the immersion in the profession as part of the memoir, it’s just an extension of who I think I’ve always been. A dabbler. Someone who knows something about a lot of things but doesn’t know everything about anything. A reader. An asker. Someone who can’t ever get bored.

I value curiosity and compassion above all things. Surprisingly, the library gives me all I could ever want of both.

Dunce Two: What’s next for you, writing-wise? Other-wise?

Josh: I’ve got one more chapter to write in the book. Then I’m going to start traveling as part of a longer project. It involves lifting some really heavy things in other parts of the world. We’ll see if I can get publishers to bite later on.

I’m going to be marketing like a fiend over the next 15 months until the book comes out, so that will cut into my writing time a bit.

I’ll be blogging here and over on World’s Strongest Librarian. My book club picks up about 50 members every day, so that might start to take more of my time based on reader responses.

Nothing else really matters

Other-wise: I just want to be a good husband and dad and friend. I’m getting more and more opportunities to speak, which is one of the the only things I love more than writing.

I’m still trying to figure out how to help other people with Tourette’s. We’ll see what happens there.

I want to be challenged, so I’ll keep finding ways to keep myself lively and interested and making progress.

Dunce Two: If you could tell aspiring writers out there one thing, what would it be?

Josh: Keep writing. It’s very easy to feel like you’re writing when all you’re actually doing is thinking about writing or you’re reading and “researching.”

Stop telling people you want to write a book. Write the book. If you wrote one paragraph a day for the next year, you’d have a big pile of pages to start fiddling around with.

If you can’t make your project cohere, just keep your fingers moving. Philip Roth calls this “collecting pages.” In other words, write the pages, figure out if they go together later.

There are many parts of the process, but if words aren’t regularly appearing on a page or a screen, you’re not going anywhere.

And don’t expect the publishers to come to you. If you can’t get their attention, build up a following, then go back to them and make them notice you.

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