Monday, August 29, 2011

Please welcome Keith Cronin

Will you tell us about ME AGAIN, the characters and the plot line?

ME AGAIN is the story of two young stroke victims - Jonathan and Rebecca - who meet in a hospital. Jonathan has been in a coma for six years, and has lost his memory. Rebecca's personality has been radically changed by her stroke, making her a stranger to her husband. They are drawn together by how badly they fit in, and by the fact that they each understand what the other is going through. Ultimately they've got to decide what's more important - who they used to be, or who they can become. Although the book explores serious topics, there are a lot of funny moments. I'm going for kind of an "American Nick Hornby" vibe, with a mix of serious emotions and self-deprecating humor.

What inspired the novel? What was the seed for the story?

ME AGAIN grew out of an unfinished short story that I had abandoned and forgotten about. But I keep all my files, and one day I was idly re-reading some drafts I hadn't looked at in a couple of years, and I really fell in love with the voice in that story fragment. So I started thinking about how I might expand it into a larger story.

There were a couple of main inspirations. The Tom Hanks movie Castaway left a big impression on me - I thought that the incredible effort he made to get home only to find the world had moved on without him was just unbelievably heartbreaking. So I put Jonathan in a similar position, having him come out of a coma from which he was never expected to awaken, only to face a group of family and friends who had already made peace with the idea of him being gone forever. And to make things even harder, I took away his memory, but gave him an oversized conscience. He feels guilty about not remembering these people, so he tries to disguise that fact, and pretends to recognize these strangers who seem to know him all too well.

My other main character's situation was inspired by a real life scenario. Years ago, I had a friend whose sister had a stroke - a young woman who was recently married. The stroke changed her personality dramatically, leaving her young husband confused and alienated. I always felt that was such a heartbreaking, seemingly no-win situation, and the thought of it haunted me over the years. So when I began drafting ME AGAIN, I put Rebecca in a similar predicament. At the time I didn't know how major a character she would be, but ultimately Rebecca's conflict - and eventual transformation - become the climactic focal point of the book. That's what's so exciting about fiction: you never know where it will take you, or what it may teach you.

How did you write it? Over a long period, or did you have the story in mind?

As far as having the story in mind, I was basically fleshing out a "what if?" premise, not really sure where it would take me. And because I am an overly ambitious idiot, I began working on ME AGAIN while I was also in grad school working on my MBA, and working a fulltime day job, and spending many weekends on the road touring in a band. To say I was stretched thin would be an understatement, and in the long run it probably slowed down the process of completing the book. There were also times when Real Life intruded and halted the book's progress entirely, but then when I'd return to it, it would seem more fresh and new to me, so maybe that was not entirely a bad thing. All told, it took about two and a half years to complete.

Tell us about your writing background. How did you start writing novels? What was your journey to publication?

Both my parents were journalists, so writing is in the family DNA. But I didn't start to get serious about writing until my late 30s. I took a job as a technical writer, writing computer manuals, and discovered that some of my coworkers also dabbled in fiction. That made me curious, so in the late 90s I started studying the craft of fiction, and made several abortive attempts at writing a novel before I wised up and decided to start by taking smaller bites. I then shifted my focus to short stories, and managed to publish a few. But in my heart I wanted to write book-length fiction, so I finally finished my first novel, a mafia comedy, and secured a major agent around 2005. I had some nibbles, but ultimately the book went unsold, so I went back to the drawing board.

I started ME AGAIN in 2006, and began querying agents in the summer of 2008. I got another major agent, but pitching the book during the awful economy of 2009 was an uphill battle, and she finally gave up on the project. I was ready to throw in the towel myself when an online acquaintance from Backspace - a discussion forum for writers that has been my most valuable resource for many years - reached out to me and offered to refer me to Five Star, with whom she had published her first novel. I was in "what the hell" mode, so I sent them my manuscript, not thinking much about it. Next thing you know, they made an offer! I think sometimes you have to let go of something before it can actually happen for you. I would just like to get a little better - and a lot faster - at knowing when to let go!

What are you working on now?

I'm in the early stages of a modern-day, rock n' roll re-imagining of a classic 19th-century novel. But I'm one of those people who doesn't like to jinx a work in progress by revealing too much, so that's all I can tell you!

Your website tells of your other creative talents. Tell us about yourself.

Ever since seeing The Monkees on TV as a little boy, I wanted to be a drummer. So I followed that dream, and immersed myself in drumming at an early age. I was playing professionally by the time I was 14, and went on to study music at Indiana University. From there I embarked on a roller-coaster music career that has taken me from cruise ships to theme parks, from biker dives to giant arenas. In the late 80s I toured with guitar hero Pat Travers, and in the 90s I connected with E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and I played in his own band for the past 15 years, until his death this summer. Working with Clarence was an amazing experience, and through my association with him I was also able to perform and record with Bruce Springsteen. I still can't believe Clarence is gone, but am immeasurably grateful for the amazing experiences I had while touring with him.

Where can readers find your books?

At the library! Five Star specializes in selling beautifully made hardcover books to libraries, so if you want to check out my stuff without spending your hard-earned money, try your local library. (And if they don't have ME AGAIN, please ask them to consider ordering it.) But you will also be able to find my book at your favorite online booksellers, such as Amazon or IndieBound (a great site that will direct you to independent bookstores in your area). The book should be available the second week of September.

I'd like to add that 25% of everything I make from ME AGAIN is being donated to the American Stroke Association. Stroke is the third leading cause of death, and the leading cause of adult disability. My hope is that my little what-if story can do something to help change that, while still managing to entertain people on airplanes and beaches.

Links for additional information:


Video book trailer:


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Keith and Rebbie,

What a fascinating interview! I enjoyed reading it very much. Keith, you have an exceptionally interesting background. I'm certain a lot of people would enjoy hearing you speak. Also, your book sounds wonderful. I'm not sure it should be categorized as "women's fiction" though. I think it's more of a literary novel for an audience of men and women. I hope you get lots of publicity and great reviews.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

What a wonderful interview! As a writer, I love knowing how a story evolved and what pushed the author. As a reader, the inside scoop really makes me vested in the story even before I begin.


Alice Duncan said...

Wow, what an interesting plot premise, Keith. Sounds like a fascinating book!

Brenda Hill said...

Enjoyed the interview, loved reading how the book evolved. It sounds wonderful!

Maryann Miller said...

Enjoyed the interview very much. I especially like where you noted how leaving things alone for a while can be a good thing. Also like the point you made about letting go. Sometimes I think our desperation can give off bad karma.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Rebbie: Thanks for interviewing Keith. His upcoming book sounds like a great read, and big congrats to him for donating part of the proceeds to such a worthy organization.

Deni Dietz said...

GREAT interview. GREAT book. Thanks, Keith, for both.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

great interview!

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