This installment of Debut Author Interviews is with writer Orest Stelmach, whose debut thriller, THE BOY FROM REACTOR 4, released on March 19, 2013 from Thomas & Mercer. Neil McMahon, New York Times bestselling author of Dead Silver, called Stelmach’s book “a top-notch, fast-moving thriller with gripping authenticity from Stelmach’s knowledge of politics, history, and crime in Eastern Europe and America.”
What is the book’s genre/category?
It’s a thriller.
Please describe what the story/book is about.
THE BOY FROM REACTOR 4 is about woman on the run from the mob in New York City escapes to her ancestral homeland in Eastern Europe and meets a boy from Chernobyl who holds a secret that could change the world..
Where do you write from?
I live in Connecticut and spend summers on Cape Cod. I love writing in a public library. It’s like an office but there’s no rent or co-workers praying for my demise.
Briefly, what led up to this book?
I wrote five thrillers over ten years that were never published. My short story was chosen for the MWA anthology, VENGEANCE, in 2011. My luck turned for the better from that moment. I love the MWA.
What was the time frame for writing this book?
This story occurred to me in 1995. It was so important to me, I didn’t want to write it until my craft was sufficiently developed. I figured I would write it once I was a published author. But that never happened. In 2009 I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to tell this story more than anything else in the world. I wrote it in twelve months, fifteen years after I first thought of it. It ended up being the story that got me a three-book deal.
How did you find your agent (and who is your agent)?
My agent is the fabulous and ferocious Erica Silverman, of Trident Media Group. After hundreds of rejections to query letters introducing my earlier novels, I changed tactics. I went to conferences and networked. I met agents personally. I obtained references from writers to their agents. I forged personal relationships. None of that worked either. When I finished The Boy From Reactor 4, I went back to the query process. Multiple agents expressed interest. Erica’s father had been one of a handful of English authors published in the former Soviet Union. The story struck a chord with her, and her passion resonated with me.
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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
The allure of the story trumps the quality of the writing. A poorly written yet compelling story can sell. A well-written story that bores the reader is unlikely to sell.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
I dealt with adversity. I absorbed critiques, deflected rejections, and pushed aside feelings of hopelessness. I never stopped writing. I never stopped trying to learn and improve my craft.
On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?
I would have attended writers conferences and gotten critiques immediately. I would have tried to find a published author I admired who was willing to read pages as soon as I’d written my first novel.
Did you have a platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?
I had a partial platform in place. I had expertise in my book’s topic and setting, but I didn’t bring an audience. Toward that end, I did a year’s worth of work in social media before my book was ever submitted to publishers. I had an attractive website and a substantial social media following that suggested it was a platform in the making.
Best piece(s) of advice for writers trying to break in?
Most writers shouldn’t self-publish until they’ve written at least three books and have been rejected by at least three hundred agents. These are subjective numbers, but you get the point. Rejection has its benefits. Writers are delusional about their work. It is almost always not as good as they think it is, no matter what on-line reviewers say. Rejection encourages self-evaluation, revision, and improvement. It also breeds stamina, the primary prerequisite to success.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, but I went to kindergarden speaking only Ukrainian.
I recently finished writing the sequel, The Boy Who Stole From the Dead, and have begun writing the third book, The Boy Who Glowed in the Dark. There’s got to be a vacation up ahead, but I can’t see it. Stamina, indeed.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Notes to the First-Time Novelist.
- “How I Got My Agent,” by Novelist Holly LeCraw.
- Literary Agent Interview: Jessica Sinsheimer of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Write Now, Edit Later.
- Do You Need 1 Agent or More Than 1?
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
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