Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Launch: The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin

I'm delighted to introduce debut author Josh Berk, and his new book (already making waves) THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. I love the title and the cover, and Josh is a hoot.

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your novel, THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN. It sounds hilarious! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thank you! The story does have a lot of wise-cracking in it, even though it is a mystery and the inspiration was a sort of eerie/scary dream. I woke up remembering a dream about a kid reading lips on a school bus. I don't remember why it was scary, just that I woke up thinking about reading lips on a school bus and feeling freaked out. So I started jotting down ideas about why the kid might be freaked out and decided that a field trip where a classmate went missing seemed sufficiently creepy. And then I started pulling things from my own life -- a deaf kid I knew years ago, a field trip I once took to a coal mine (I do live in Pennsylvania after all), and an episode of "My Super Sweet 16" I had seen. I thought that the sweet sixteen party and the coal mining setting and the deaf narrator might all make a cool book somehow. The book has changed a LOT since the first draft, but that basic germ of it came together very quickly.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

While studying to become a librarian, I took a course in Young Adult literature at the University of Pittsburgh. This was 2004. I had always been interested in writing and had published a few things -- poetry, newspaper articles, essays -- but never really thought about writing a book until I started reading YA. The class was really great -- we read so many fantastic YA books, but it was Rob Thomas' RATS SAW GOD that made me think, "Hey, this really feels like something I would like to try to do." It was funny and wild and it captured my own feelings as an adolescent. I felt like trying so I wrote two YA manuscripts around that time that went nowhere. Then I wrote DARK DAYS. I wasn't quite sure of course, but I sort of felt I was onto something as soon as I started it.

Can you describe your path to the publication of THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN? When will the book be available?

The book was sold in November of 2007 and it hits the shelves February of 2010. That seems like a ridiculously long time, but it's not all that uncommonly long (maybe a bit longer than average). But the path to publication for me began with finding a writing friend to bounce ideas off of and help me through the various steps. For me I was lucky enough to have this be Cyn Balog, who herself has become a successful YA novelist! I met her when I was working on the second of my two never-published YA books and she gave me a lot of tips about what was good about my writing, what needed improvement, and what happens next. I knew nothing about querying agents or any of that stuff and she was really a huge help!

Then I signed with a great agent (Ted Malawer) and he was great in getting my manuscript ready for sale and ushering me through all the ups and downs of submitting to publishers. I'm also part of The Tenners, which is a group of 2010 debut authors and they've been a great help too for moral support and generally being awesome.

Can I repeat this part again? The book comes out February 9, 2010. Haha.

And yes, it is out now! Given how long it can take to produce a novel, do you have any advice for beginning writers?

I think it's best to focus on the writing almost exclusively for quite a long time. I'd say don't even think about landing an agent or getting a book deal or learning "how the business works" until you've written a few book-length projects just for the fun/learning experience of it. Also any writer should definitely read a lot! And maybe consider working for a newspaper. Lots of newspapers hire freelance writers and it'll be a good experience. You'll learn about how to remove your ego and get out of the way of a story. Also working with editors and deadlines is good for your future. I had a great time working at a paper before I jumped into fiction and it really helped my writing.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I still have the day job, a pressing deadline, and two small children so my main goal is to make it through each day without a nervous breakdown. My future plans include a day where I can pick which movie to watch and possibly experience a five-hour stretch where no one cries or pees on the floor. Also maybe to become an award-winning author and possibly get the band back together.

That's a lot to carry! In the midst of all this do you have any new writing ventures underway?
Right now I'm revising my second YA book. It will come out from Knopf in 2011! It's similar to DARK DAYS in that it's a mystery with a lot of humor, but I think it's different in a lot of ways too. The basic hook is that a high school forensics club stumbles across a real corpse and gets sucked into a murder investigation. But it's funny I swear! Mark your 2011 calendars. Do it.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE DARK DAYS OF HAMBURGER HALPIN?

I have for more information & for too much information.

Also you should totally be my facebook friend:


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interview!

Josh- I think that any day I can say no one has peed on the floor is a good one. I have a lot of good days. Good luck!

"I think it's best to focus on the writing almost exclusively for quite a long time."

Great advice. I think a lot of people put the cart before the horse, so to speak, and start worrying about an agent when they're a few chapters into their first novel. I know I clung to that for a little while, before deciding to polish up my mad skillz first.

Janet Fox said...

Exactly! I talk to so many new writers who think about publishing before they've really honed the skills. Josh's story is so good to hear - and look at the great result.

Thanks for commenting!

Vonna said...

Both books sound great, Josh! Good luck!