Monday, May 23, 2011

An Interview With The Little Introvert That Could (aka Allen Zadoff)

SVP: You’ve been called the Little Introvert That Could. What’s your secret?

I moisturize.  Actually, that doesn’t help much.  I think the key is accepting my limitations, even leaning into them a little. For example, I’m not great with social networking.  When my first novel Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have was published, it was suggested I get on Twitter.  I checked it out and saw that people who were good at it were tweeting a dozen or more times per day.  They were funny and real, they were carrying on a conversation as part of a community. I could see what they were doing, but I couldn’t do it myself. So I was thinking, “I’m dead. I can’t tweet. I’m dead.”  As if Twitter were oxygen, right?  But then I thought, instead of trying to be a Twitter black belt, what if you just participated at any level?  So I instituted Tweet Tuesdays.  I’d send one tweet on Tuesday.  That’s it. It sounds ridiculous, right?  But instead of doing nothing, I was doing something.  I was in the game.  It’s a lot easier to go from one tweet to two than it is to go from zero to a hundred a week.

SVP: When did you first realize you were an introvert?

I was very shy in the womb. I hardly spoke to anyone. When I got out, the trend continued. As a kid, I was most comfortable in my room, watching TV, reading, listening to music.  In my book My Life, the Theater, and Other Tragedies, the hero is a techie who hides up in the lighting grid and watches the world go by down below.  People want to know where my inspiration comes from. I was that kid looking out his bedroom window at the neighbor kids playing, and I was afraid to join them. I can’t say why.

SVP: In what ways has being an author met or exceeded your expectations? What were some big surprises?

The young adult community is very welcoming to new writers. I was quickly embraced as part of a community of authors, readers, booksellers, librarians. People are passionate about their YA! That was a surprise. I was also very lucky in that my publisher and editor, Elizabeth Law at Egmont, was a fantastic tour guide. If you know her, you know she’s a delightful voice online and she has an amazing ear for story. What you don’t see is how she brought me into the fold, introduced me around, helped me find my way. She’s been a supporter, coach, and mentor, as well as a fantastic artistic collaborator.

Jealous! Allen got to have drinks with Lawsy!!
SVP: How has being a published author challenged you? Or did you know full well going in that publicity and promotion was part of the expectations?

Before I was a YA novelist, I published an adult memoir called Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin. I knew from that experience that promotion was a part of being an author, but I didn’t realize how big a part it really was.  I come from the world of TV and film, and in those places there is a machine in place to promote things.  But being an author, at least at the level I am an author, is more like having your own little theater company.  You have to invite people, hand out postcards, sell the tickets, create a mailing list, follow up with people for the next show.  You’re basically creating a community. Otherwise the show opens, and there’s nobody there. You’re sitting alone in the theater thinking, “I did all this work. What happened?”

SVP: Did your life B. P. (Before Publication) involve extroverted activities?

Of course it did. To tell the truth, I’m an introvert with a taste for extroversion.  I really enjoy people. One of my favorite experiences was when I went to a friend’s wedding out of town, and a whole bunch of our mutual friends were staying in the same hotel.  I was on vacation for the weekend, but I was surrounded by people I knew.  I felt like a flower who had just discovered the sun. It was glorious.  It also gave me a deeper insight into my introversion. While it’s a natural part of who I am, it’s also influenced by fear and a feeling that I’m not safe.  When I feel safe with people, I relax and have a great time.

SVP: If your life BP did include extroverted activities, how did those prepare you for the demands of a promoting author?
Many people who know my work know I’m in recovery for an eating disorder going on fifteen years now, and long before I was published, I had many opportunities to talk to people about what it’s like to be a man with food and weight problems. Without knowing it, those experiences were helping me prepare for being an author. The difference is that in that forum, I’m talking to people who have had similar struggles with food. We’re not strangers because we share a common problem.  When it comes to promoting my books, it feels a bit like I’m talking to strangers. I’m still learning how to be comfortable with it. 

SVP: What are your three favorite promotional activities or ways to connect with readers? Your least favorite? Any embarrassing disasters you’d be willing to share with us?

Let’s start with embarrassment. That’s like mother’s milk to me. My novel Food/Girls won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, and I was at the SCBWI conference to accept the award. It was in a banquet hall with something like a thousand people in the audience.  I’d written a three-minute acceptance speech the week before, but I got the award the year Sid died, so there was a lot happening to honor him.  First, Lisa Yee spoke about Sid’s life, then they showed a film about Sid, then Paul Fleischman, an amazing poet and Sid’s son, talked about what he learned from his father.  Then Paul introduced me.  As I was walking up to the stage, I thought, “I’m not giving this lame speech. I’m just going to speak from the heart.”
That’s quite a leap for an introvert!

So I walked onto the stage, thanked Paul Fleischman, looked at the audience of a thousand, and started to speak off the cuff. Now I don’t think anyone who was there saw anything bad happening, but the truth is I got about a minute into my acceptance speech, and I had absolutely no idea what I was saying. I was sweating and in trouble. I was thinking, “Why didn’t you give the speech, you idiot?”

SVP: In your newest book, MY LIFE, THE THEATER, AND OTHER TRAGEDIES, the main character, thinks “the best way to live life is behind the spotlight.” That sounds like an introvert to me! Is being an introvert and coming to terms with that a part of his character journey? In what way does being an introvert inform your writing?

Life/Theater is about a boy learning to come out from hiding and be seen in the light. It’s a perfect metaphor for the introvert’s journey, and it’s no coincidence that it’s me who is writing it. It gives me a lot of joy to write about shy, awkward, and uncomfortable characters who find the courage to be themselves in the world. That’s what we’re all trying to do, isn’t it?

So doesn't that interview totally make you want to read his book? His voice and humor and humanity came through so loud and clear that it made me want the book right this minute. I was also struck at what a great example he is on working within our own limitations and strengths. Thanks for sharing your insight with us, Allen!

Aaaand, for a really cool opportunity, Elizabeth Law is offering a 30 page mss critique over on the Cynsations blog! If you haven't read about how she and Allen do the editorial dance, then get thee over there at once. It is most illuminating--and hilarious, as one would expect.


Becky Levine said...

I loved FOOD, GIRLS... Definitely want to read Allen's latest. Great interview--so true about where we feel safe. I think it's why I DON'T feel introverted around writers. :)

Sherrie Petersen said...

I love this interview! FOOD, GIRLS cracked me up and I know I'll enjoy this new one as well.

I watched you give that speech, Allen, and trust me, you sounded great. In fact, that's what inspired me to buy your book. That leap made a fan out of me :)

Allen Zadoff said...

Wow, Sherrie. That's deep. A reminder of all the great things that can happen when we stretch.

And thanks, Becky!

Gerri Lanier said...

* Thanks, Allen, for sharing your interesting experiences! It's wonderful that you mustered up the nerve to just speak from your heart at the SCBWI conference. Gives a lot of hope to introverts, like me, who wonder if one can step up to the plate, in order to express true feelings. * Best wishes....

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

"But then I thought, instead of trying to be a Twitter black belt, what if you just participated at any level?"

I think that's true of so many activities. We may think that if we can't participate just like the most proficient and most famous among us--what's the point? But we each have our own unique contribution to make.

Fun interview! I've heard these books recommended before, and they're on my TBR list.

Elizabeth Law said...

Allen was in town last December and we grabbed a bite. At this point we had met in person a handful of times, and I had worked with Allen on his two YA novels. He said something during the meal about being shy and I replied “You know, I don’t really buy the ‘shy’ thing.” Because sure, I knew his inner world somewhat from his writing, but the person I worked with was always professional, funny, friendly to everyone at Egmont, good at speaking on a panel or from a podium, good at supporting other writers, picked up the phone when he had questions to ask me (something some writers avoid), seemed to make friends easily at the SCBWI and other places, had done plenty to support his own career, had sent out newsletters promoting his books and his work as a writing coach, etc etc. How was I to know he was shy? Truly, I hadn’t guessed.

I mention this because it underscores something I say a lot. It's not how you feel that makes a difference out there, it's what you do. So take a deep breath and go out and support your books and tend your career. (It will get less painful if you keep at it, too.)

liz michalski said...

I'm late to this, but wanted to say that Allen comes across as so warm and genuine in this interview. I've become an instant fan!

Wild About Words said...

I've had the pleasure of meeting Allen in L.A., reading his wonderful work and being with him on an award committee. He's smart; he's funny and he's one talented and classy dude!

David Guion said...

LOL at the comment about being an introvert from the womb! Thanks for the reminder that doing a little of something beats holding back in awe of "everybody else," who of course does it better that I can imagine doing myself. That's an easy trap for me to fall into.

Jerry said...

Very helpful guidelines. Being an introvert myself, I could really relate to your article. Naturally, I would prefer to go to the dentist rather than have to interact in a room full of strange people. It's not that I'm afraid, I just have my mind made up to be uncomfortable. It's all about mindset. I believe this type of hang-up requires a lot of practice in creating positive networking experiences. Social media can be a great outlet for introverts. I did find some other free informational tools that could be of help at:

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