I recently reviewed The Before Now and After Then by Peter Monn (you can read my full review here). I really enjoyed this debut and I’m hoping Peter has intentions to release more books! This interview is part of an Author Spotlight feature, which also includes a great giveaway – more information on that at the end of this post!
R: Introduce yourself and tell us a little about you, what do you do when you aren’t writing/blogging?
PM: I’m 42 years old but I still feel a bit like I’m 18, probably an aftermath of being born during the Watergate hearings and the premiere of Rosemary’s Baby. I live in Indianapolis, Indiana, with my husband, Alex and our three dogs; Dunken, Tucker and Boo Radley. I got clean and sober when I was 22 and have been sober ever since. For thirteen years I worked as a residential counsellor to teenagers with drug and alcohol problems and left to open my own private practice. Also, my husband and I run an online magazine which focuses on celebrity interviews and daily music and style posts. Of course, I also have a personal blog where I post all the stuff I like and dislike and all of my crazy thoughts about the world.
When I’m not writing/blogging I’m usually reading, watching TV and movies or driving around listening to music and drinking Diet Dr. Peppers with my best friend. I’m still extremely active in my recovery from addiction so that’s a huge part of my life too.
Other side note facts about me: My favourite meal is mac and cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches, I’m obsessed with night-swimming under full moons and carnival lights, I love to cry at sad movies, and I am equally obsessed with old school country, electronic dance and punk music. My all-time favourite movie and book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and I firmly believe in UFO’s.
R: That’s quite the intro! I enjoy “weepies” too. This is your debut novel, what inspired you to become a writer? Do you feel you’ve always had a story to share?
PM: It’s funny how a small part of your life suddenly becomes a huge symbol later on – when I was little, my mom took me to the library every week. She let me check out as many books as I wanted and she never teased me for checking out 20-30 books, even though she knew I would never read that many. She always read to me late at night and my dad always made up stories and read books.
Both of my parents had great imaginations and were the perfect parents for my high fantasy childhood. I can remember smelling the books and feeling the smoothness of their pages and always wanting to be an author. I would tell my mom that one day I would have a book with my name on it and now I do. It’s surreal and quite humbling. My mom passed away six years ago but I know she would be really proud of me, even if she thought the book was crap.
R: Trust me, I’ve read it, and it’s not. Who are some of your favourite authors, or your favourite books, and why?
PM: Oh wow, this constantly changes for me because I seem to go through phases of what I like to read. For example, right now I’m reading super-easy mystery and suspense novels because it takes me away from my own writing process. When writing, I try not to read anything too similar to my own style.
My all-time favourite author is Stewart O’Nan. Every one of his books is completely different from the next and he weaves a story unlike any other writer I know. He is truly an artist. His book The Speed Queen is probably one of my favourites as well. I love John Green and David Levithan. Lynda Barry’s cartoons and her book Cruddy are wonderful. I also love Wally Lamb’s books, especially She’s Come Undone. Chuck Palahniuk, Jay Bell, Ellen Hopkins and so many more.
This year, I’ve loved reading Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira and The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. David Levithan’s Two Boy’s Kissing and Every Day have been two of my favourites as well. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Brent Hartinger. I read and listened to his entire Russel Middlebrook series in one week. He’s absolutely amazing and I feel honoured to call him a friend.
R: The Before Now and After Then tackles issues such as bullying head-on, we’ve seen in your guest post that bullying was something you suffered personally, how have your personal experiences shaped you as a person, and as a writer?
PM: I actually just wrote about this on my personal blog in a post called The Art of Bullying. Growing up was really hard. I was bullied from about five years old all the way until I graduated and I think even up until today to some degree. I don’t look at it as a pitying thing, I just think it’s a burden in life which has made me a stronger person.
It has definitely affected my writing because I think I’m an extremely sensitive writer, who maybe is too overprotective of his characters. In my blogging, I think I’ve learned to just share my own experiences and people relate to that. Real knows real. I literally live out loud and anyone can find everything there is to know about me. I talk openly about being gay, being abused, being an alcoholic and addict in recovery, my bullying and my marriage. I do that so hopefully someone, even if it’s only one person, doesn’t have to go through some of the same things I have, although I feel like that’s a contradiction because I am who I am today because I went through those things.
But, it’s the reason I put my email out there everywhere, so if anyone needs to contact me for advice or help they can find me. I’m not big into hiding anymore. I was too lonely and afraid for too long.
R: I think that’s a great sentiment, and quite a brave thing to do really. For those who aren’t familiar with The Before Now and After Then, introduce Book Geeks to it in one sentence.
PM: The Before Now and After Then is a simple love story woven between the fabric of life, grief and tragedy, and soaked up with hidden menu Starbucks drinks and sung to a perfect soundtrack.
R: Where do you get your inspiration for your stories? And how much of The Before Now and After Then is inspired by real-life events? Which character is most reflective of you?
PM: Thank you for asking this because after all of the interviews I’ve done, I’ve never been asked this before. The Before Now and After Then was originally supposed to be my experience in high school modernised for today’s reader, but that’s not what it ended up being. Danny kind of took over the story and I had to stay true to what he wanted to tell. That being said, much of the book is inspired by true events, or maybe, feelings.
I guess people would probably think I’m most like Danny but in reality I think I’m much more like Rusty. He’s definitely more romantic like me and sees life the same way I do. While writing the book, Danny felt like a kid brother who was lying next to me on the couch coaching me through his story. Honestly, there were many nights that I literally felt like he was in the room with me. I think there’s a part of me that is like Alex too. It was totally deliberate that I made Danny have an uncle that was a famous author.
I honestly find the inspiration for my stories in the most interesting places. Currently I have about 20 different book ideas scribbled in chicken scratch inside of notebooks. Mostly, I get ideas while I’m driving around listening to music. It’s extremely therapeutic for me.
R: I’m glad you haven’t been asked that before, sometimes asking the questions is harder than answering them! How do you know when your books feel “done”? How do you recognise that time when you are completely happy with them?
PM: I actually wrote the rough draft of the ending of The Before Now and After Then before I even started the book, so I knew where I wanted it to end before it started. As I neared the end, I knew Danny’s story was coming to a close and I really had a hard time letting him go. I even talked to my publisher a few times about not feeling like his story was over but knowing that I needed it to end. I never wanted the book to be 600 pages. It was all supposed to take place in a very short period of time.
R: It is a longer contemporary read, but the events of the book (no spoilers) make it feel much shorter. Book covers are very important to Book Geeks, tell us a little about the inspiration behind your book cover.
PM: We’ve really taken a lot of criticism for the cover of The Before Now and After Then. For some reason, many readers don’t like it. Blue was my first choice but after books like The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder I didn’t want it to look like I was trying to imitate what was already out there and successful, so we went with a bright green. It’s the same colour I imagined for Rusty’s backpack, which plays an important part in the book. I wanted something simple and I wanted to convey the idea of a mix tape but I also wanted it to look amateurish and somewhat like a teenager would draw the cover and write the title.
It was also deliberate that it is a “B” side of a mix tape but that seems to be missed on a lot of people, haha! I’ll let readers find out why the “B” side is so important to the overall theme of the book, but ultimately the “B” side represents the future. I liked the idea of asking my readers “What’s on your B side?”
R: I really liked that aspect of the cover. There’s an “ahh” moment in the book when the cover makes sense for the story. What is your favourite part of the writing process?
PM: There were a few parts for me – that I would be re-reading while editing and change a few things and just sit back and actually cry or laugh and feel an emotion from what I was reading, almost as if I hadn’t written it. That was the best part; being able to enjoy my own writing. I have to also say, writing those words “The End” felt really good too! This book was such a cathartic experience for me as a writer.
R: Weigh in on the eternal debate – eBook or hard-copy?
PM: I read both, but definitely hard-copy. Nothing like a great used paperback.
R: Do you prefer to type stories on a computer, or hand-write in a notebook?
PM: I write notes in a notebook but I always write my stories on a computer.
R: What is your favourite word?
PM: Les haricots verts. I think it means green beans in French. It’s the only word I remember from taking French in high school.
R: Which 5 fictional characters (books, TV, film etc.) would you invite to a dinner party?
PM: Hmm… Let me really think about this. OK, Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird is a definite. How about Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Danny and Rusty from my book, The Before Now and After Then? I know that must seem like an extremely arrogant answer but I’d really like the opportunity to have dinner with them and get to know them better.
R: Which do you prefer in books – contemporary or classic?
PM: Definitely contemporary. I especially love southern writers from the last twenty years. I think there are so many new, creative and innovative ways to write and tell a story that I really like reading something that takes me by surprise or seems ingenious. I think to be a good writer today means to write with intention and tell a story that moves someone.
R: What is your favourite non-fiction book?
PM: If You Have to Cry Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone. Perfect book for learning how to discover yourself. I also loved Will There Really Be a Morning; The Autobiography of Frances Farmer. It made me fall in love with angst and sadness.
R: Do you prefer the hero or the villain?
PM: Oh, I’m always for the hero, although I do love a good villain turned hero. I was watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1000 or something (I love horror movies) and they turned Leatherface into the hero at the end. It was really endearing. I know how sick that sounds, but that’s actually ingenious writing to turn a horrible serial killer into a loveable character. But yeah, I always fall in love with the hero or the underdog. I’m a sap for a happy ending even though I’m a realist. In fact, I just finished reading E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and I was so depressed by the end of it I felt like I needed to watch Roseanne reruns for the rest of the night. Oh, that’s someone I would love to invite to dinner. Roseanne Conner!
R: I’m really looking forward to reading We Were Liars, it’s made such an impact on the blogosphere. And I was a huge Roseanne fan when I was younger! When you read, or write, books do you believe in book monogamy?
PM: I used to, but lately I’ve been getting all of these book recommendations and people sending me manuscripts for review suggestions that I’m kind of overwhelmed. But, I can’t imagine a better way to be overwhelmed than by reading. I’ve really had to learn to put a book away if I can’t finish it though. I’m not going to love the same books as everyone else and everyone loves different things.
Recently, I put down two bestselling young adult books because I just couldn’t get into them. I felt so bad, but it really helped me with people reviewing and reading my books. It prepared me for the fact that not everyone is going to love what I write, but that doesn’t mean it’s personal. But typically, if I’m reading a book and I’m really into it, I don’t read anything else. Also, I’ve been listening to a ton of books on Audible. I’m literally obsessed with Audible.
R: I used to find it difficult to put books down too, and talked about it here. The struggle is real! I’d love to know what those two books were! Off record, of course! What are you currently working on that we can look forward to?
PM: I’m currently finishing Surrender to Technicolor, which will be released Spring of 2015 from Pen Name Publishing. It’s a book I’ve actually worked on for over ten years. It’s the story of three teenagers who escape from a drug treatment program and go on a wild road trip in search of their personal meaning of home, all told to the backdrop of The Wizard of Oz.
I’m also playing around with a sequel to The Before Now and After Then, which we may release as a novella, depending on how people respond to Danny and Rusty. I don’t feel like their story is over yet. Actually, I know it’s not over yet.
I will also continue to post daily on my personal blog and on our website. We have some really exciting celebrity interviews coming up and some really cool opportunities in the future. I’d also like to get back to posting regularly on my YouTube channel.
Other than that, I plan on reading, catching up on my TV shows, and eating a ton of mac and cheese!
Links for readers to find out more about Peter Monn and his work:
Pen Name Publishing have kindly offered Confessions of a Book Geek readers the chance to win a $10 Giftcard to either Amazon or B&N, an eBook copy of The Before Now and After Then and two autographed/self-messaged postcards from the author! (International).
I’d like to thank Peter and Pen Name Publishing for the opportunity to review this book, for being interviewed for Author Spotlight and for providing the giveaway for Book Geek Readers!