Thursday, June 14, 2012

Q&A with debut author JACK APFEL: A Girl in the Dumpster

To view my night at THE READER'S LOFT with Jack click HERE

Q.  What inspires your writing?

A.  Mostly I am inspired by the drama and humor of ordinary life. No vampires in my fiction. No zombies. No spies. No spontaneously combusting humans. Characters’ problems and how they deal with them is my main concern. I love plot, but for me it has to grow out of the realistic interactions of human beings. In my book even the interactions of various characters with the baby— who has no dialog and very little body language—tells a lot about the character.

Q.  What is your favorite thing about being an author?

A.  I love the writing process itself; coming up with sentences and changing them around until they seem just right, looking for the right word, coming up with a plot point that just ties everything together, writing a paragraph or a chapter that I enjoy reading. Oh, and having someone else enjoy what I’ve written.

Q.  What is the toughest part of being an author?

A.  Self promotion. It does not come naturally to me to promote myself or my book, to blow my own horn. I like telling stories about writing/selling the book, at signings and such, but hard core go-out-and-get-‘em marketing is a challenge. Much rather sit at the computer and make things up.

Q.  If you could not be author, what would you do/be?

A. I would have to be some other kind of creative artist. I’m compulsively creative. I’d compose music (which I do sometimes now, but would be better at if I devoted as much time to it as I do to writing prose); make furniture or sculpture out of wood; draw and/or paint.

Q.  What would the story of your life be entitled?

A.  Always An Adventure

Q.  What is your favorite book of all time?

A.  That’s a toughy. I tend to go through phases with books. I went through a John Grisham phase where he was my favorite and a Dave Barry phase. Contemporary fiction, for a while, then biographies of writers.  But of books I’ve read more than once or would like to, I’d have to say Straight Man or Nobody’s Fool, both by Richard Russo, are favorites. And my Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. That’s the book in my house with letter tabs worn off, the binding taped up with packaging tape, the pages yellowed and worn. It’s the only non-text book I remember writing things in the margins of. Love my dictionary.

Q.  Which character from ANY book are you most like?

A.  Bishop "Blackie" Blackwood in the novels of Andrew Greeley. He’s short and bespectacled, unobtrusive, intellectually curious, loved by dogs and small children, always able to figure out the solution, whether it’s in one of Greeley’s mysteries or in his more expansive novels about the Church and the clergy. That’s how I’d like to see myself, although Blackie is much more self-assured and has much greater faith than I do. And, of course, he’s not married.

Q.  What character from your book are you most like?

A. Evan Isley, the self-ordained store-front  preacher. He’s the least colorful character in A Girl in the Dumpster and that fits me. We share many of the same struggles, trying to figure out who we are, trying to figure out what is the right thing to do, trying to keep our impulses in check. I made Evan tall so you can tell the two of us apart.

Q.  What is your favorite season?

A    Late summer/early fall in Wisconsin

Q.  Tell me something funny that happened while on a book tour or while promoting your book(s).

A.  This was not exactly while I was promoting my book (except that I seem to be promoting it 24/7) but it is related. I was sitting in a waiting room while my wife was in surgery. A woman who was working in that department, and whom I've know for some time, came into the waiting area and spotted me sitting there. She came over and started telling me how much she loved the book and such. (This is the same person who sent me a card saying how much how much she liked it, the only official fan mail I have received to date.) We chatted on about the book. I asked if she would write a review for Amazon for the book, things like that. We talked for maybe five minutes, then all of a sudden she bolted off, remembering that she had come into the waiting area to inform some anxiously waiting soul of how their relative or whatever was doing in surgery.

Q.  Can you explain the inspiration behind the cover of the novel?

A. When it came to the stage in production of the book to design a cover the publisher’s person in charge instructed me to go to this image site and pick out two photographs from which the graphics people would design a cover. There were over 300,000 pictures on the site that I could choose from. I spent a long time looking at them, browsing by categories and all that. But the more I looked the less interested I became. After all of the work I’d put into the book I just couldn’t see using a picture “off the rack.” So I asked my wife's niece, Dana Sterzinger, a talented young artist, if she would be willing to do the cover and she accepted.

        I toyed with the idea of just using a painting of a dumpster, but that seemed too obvious. And there are too many characters in the book, too many relationships, to show all of them on the cover. So I thought a picture of the buildings on the downtown Candlesberg block where much of the story takes place would be a good cover. I went through the manuscript and gathered up all of the details mentioned about these buildings and sent them to Dana. (For those into trivia:there are two other buildings mentioned in the book as being on that block that do not appear on the cover.) When I saw the drawing of the buildings I thought she had made them up out of thin air. I only found out after publication that she used buildings in the city in which she lives for models. 

        The cover is actually two paintings combined on Dana's computer, the buildings and the sky. I love the sky and it is all Dana. I have the two original paintings hanging over my bed and I still can't figure out how she did that wild sky. 

    So the inspiration for the cover was shared. It was my very basic concept, the buildings in the story, but the true art was all Dana’s.

Q.  Are you working on something new?

A. Yes. I’ve got a concept that I keep coming back to, some characters, various situations for them, a possible ending. I’ve just started the actual writing but hope to have at least a first draft by the end of the summer. My first book took so long to write a first draft—about nine years—that I really want the next one to go much quicker. I’m not getting any younger after all.

Q.  Anything you want to say to followers of this blog or those that are just stopping by?

A.  Thanks for reading down this far.  Thanks for reading in general. And thanks to Emily for giving attention to me and my book.

 A Girl In The Dumpster


November 28, 2011
One night in the small town of Candlesberg, Wisconsin, a homeless woman approaches a dumpster in search of food. She finds instead a mysteriously mewling bundle. Reaching inside she discovers a patch of matted hair, a tiny ear, a smooth little shoulder. She knows what to do-if only she can conquer her compulsion to drop the newborn and run.

Anne Hedlin is trying to get to sleep in her apartment above her resale shop when she is startled by a banging from the shop below. Anne's solitary life is transformed when she takes in the homeless woman and the baby she finds at her back door. In its first week, the newborn also profoundly touches the lives of Anne's shy teenaged niece, a storefront preacher and his wife, a successful divorced realtor, and the realtor's teenaged daughter, Angie.

Angie's life has become a dumpster of a different sort. She has taken nearly every drug her nominal boyfriend Jake has offered her and in return given him what he wanted--sex. Now the consequences of her choices are crushing in on her and she sees no way out.

With complex characters and surprising twists author Jack Apfel has given us a compelling story of how lives can be knocked off their seemingly inevitable trajectories by an unexpected event, like someone finding a girl in a dumpster.

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Emily, AKA Mrs. Mommy Booknerd

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