Friday, July 24, 2009

When The Waiter Rants, The Readers Rave

Have I got a treat for all you aspiring writers out there. He's been called the voice of 2 million waiters. Many of you know him as the writer of the popular blog Waiter Rant which in 2006 won a Bloggie Award for Best Writing in a Weblog. He was published by Harpercollins, working on his second book right now. The paperback edition of Waiter Rant is available now with all sorts of extra goodies. Usually I ask authors if they want to do an email interview but this guy wanted to do a phone interview. A first for this blog! Please welcome to the blog New York Times Bestselling Author: Steve Dublanica!

When Steve called me, I admitted that I still had about forty pages left to read of his popular book. "I die at the end," He jokes, catching me off guard.

"I guess that means there's no chance for a sequel, huh?" I ask.
"No," he continues, "There is. In the second one I get resurrected."

You can't beat his humor. From there, the interview started.

First off, when did you start Waiter Rant? I just subscribed.
I believe that was April 2004.

I got to tell you, I really like the fact that not only do you go through all the crazy customers you had to deal with but how it’s also an evolution of how you’re getting your writing career off the ground.
The thing was, when I started Waiter Rant I had no interest in being a writer.

I read in one chapter how you were writing something, showed it to a friend, he said it wasn’t good and you decided not to write. Give us more details on that.
Yeah. I think I was in college and I was writing a detective story. I wrote several chapters of it. And it just came out. It probably wasn’t good, y‘know, to be honest. But his opinion meant a lot to me and when he said it wasn’t very good I just shelved the whole idea. A better response from someone in a mentoring position would’ve been needs work but keep at it.


These Iphones suck.

I know. My brother has one and he can’t get internet on it.
Oh, they’re great time wasters. When I was at the DMV getting a new license, it was a lifesaver but if you have to make a phone call it’s a disaster.

They do everything but phone calls.
Yeah. So with the story, that was it. I never really wrote anything again until I started blogging. People always said to me, Dublanica can you write this report or a letter? They knew I wrote well. But I never looked at it, in any way, shape or form as a means of supporting myself.

In the book, you said that you are reading a lot of Phillip Marlowe stories. Who wrote those and is his stuff good?
Phillip Marlowe was a fictitious private eye written by a guy named Raymond Chandler. Chandler was an interesting fellow. He was a drunkard. He didn’t start writing until he was about 44. He worked for an oil company. He came back from England after World War I. Real mama’s boy, lived with his mother. He married a woman who lied about her age. She said she was ten years older than him when, in fact, she was twenty years older. So he was duped. But his wife was really beautiful when he met her. She was at the tail end of being gorgeous and pretty quickly she became an old woman. So he was drinking, he was womanizing and he got fired. He didn’t know what to do, y’know, he had no money. So he started writing what were called dime magazines or pulps. He wrote detective stories and he learned to write while doing this. So desperation made him write. He turned out to be, naturally, a very talented person. That worked very well for him. Then he came out with his first book in 1938. He wrote about seven books. They are the standard by which all detective novels are written.

So, would you say (not entirely) that you’re kind of following in this author’s footsteps? Not with the woman, or the oil or the drinking or any of that but as establishing yourself as someone who had it tough but made it out alive?
(Laughs.) Sometimes I feel that way. I mean, now I look back and think I never really had it that bad. But the interesting thing about Chandler was he started not knowing anything. He didn’t know anything really about writing. He did it, really, as a way to save his bacon. He never anticipated the success he was gonna have. But his stuff is literature. Pick up one of his books. The Big Sleep is really his finest work. A real great book.

I’ll be sure to pick it up.
It also tells you that you don’t have to worry about how old you are when you start writing. Because a lot of focus of writing today is like wunderkinds. “Oh! This 19 or 22 year old wrote this book.” But sometimes age gives you a perspective that you can have. Like, Frank McCourt just passed away, right? He taught writing for years and never wrote a book! He didn’t do it until he was in his early sixties. He finally got the distance that he needed emotionally from his childhood to be able to write about it. So sometimes age is a real blessing. I was old enough, at that point, to make sense of what I was doing and write about it. Yeah, people shouldn’t get discouraged if they’re in their forties or fifties or at any age for writing because you can do it any age.

Yeah. There’s always that mystery as to what the right timing is or it has to be a “ Am I ready to do this?” moment. “Or should I practice some more?”
Well, one of the great things about blogs is you get enhance to write everyday with some regularity. It helps you hone your ability to write. Also, the feedback you get from comments; people will tell you if it’s lame or good. That helps you out. It helps your confidence.

Definitely. I used to blog on Myspace until it’s popularity sunk. I went to open up a blog to inspire people to write, to get them excited about this stuff as much as I am. I think the first five posts, I just started bitching about how hard it is to write. But then I found the voice for the blog.
Yeah. I think the thing that people should know is that writing is very hard.

I was bitching about it to a friend of mine. My friend was like, “Would you rather be waiting tables again?” I said of course not. But when you leave that life behind, you have all this new stuff to worry about. You have deadlines and every writer has a time when they just can’t write. “I can’t write for shit today,” you’d say. But then you have to work through that. It’s a very lonely job. It’s a tough job. I think it’s very fulfilling but the thing that is the most fun is when the book comes out. You enjoy that. Then you have another book to write and you start worrying about that. There’s always something about writing that is not fun. That’s part of the deal.

Yeah. That’s the work that goes into it. You try to explain to people that you can’t write because of a block and they ask what the block is. You end up saying, “Well, I can’t describe it. That’s why it’s called a block!”
(Laughs again.) What I have learned is if your head is too full of stuff (family, jobs, relationships, money), if that stuff consumes your headspace that makes it very hard to write. A couple weeks ago, I was having a really tough time. And I just put down the work and sat to figure out the situation. Then I resolved it. Then I was writing again. That’s part of it.

A writer once said, “I love writing . . . I just hate the paperwork.” What’s your favorite quote about writing?
There’s a great story I once heard. There’s a guy who was like an award-winning poet. He had a son. The son was very intimidated to do what his father did, writing poetry. Finally, he starts writing poetry, he shows it to his dad. His dad looked at it. From the looks he was giving, his dad knew that his son had talent. The dad then said, “Well, congratulations. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.”

Yeah. All writers get that. We love the parties, we love the recognition, we love holding the book in our hands. What we don’t love is sitting down and actually doing it. It is boring at times. One thing I think is true about myself is if I think I’m writing great stuff and am high on it and I think it’s really great and I think “I’m so good at this” and stuff . . . I’m writing shit.

When you spend a lot of time on something, it’s usually shit. But if you spend five minutes on something . . . For example, I wrote the prologue to Waiter Rant in five minutes. Everyone was like, “This is really good.” It’s amazing what works and what doesn’t. When I sent in my manuscript, I was fortunate not to have a lot of editing. One chapter I thought was really great and my editor was like, “Nope, it’s gotta go.” But I was like, “Man, that’s two weeks worth of work!”

What would you say is your favorite chapter of the book? Also, is it safe to say that you picked, out of the hundreds of posts, your favorite stories to go in the book?
I would say that 80% of the book is original and 20% is recycled materiel from the website. I never talked ill of my co-workers on the blog but with the book I was a little more forthcoming about their foibles as well as mine. Favorite chapter? I don’t think I have a favorite chapter. I can tell you my least favorite chapter was Paupery. That was the one I was getting most critical about and that was a chapter that went through a couple revisions. Never quite happy with it. That was my least favorite. And every girl I dated since then was like, “Oh, you like lap dances.” Wait! I think my favorite chapter was the fourth of July one. I wrote that one in the last 100 pages of the book when it was serious crunch time.

In that fourth of July chapter I was really feeling for you. You were inside the restaurant and that nice couple let you go outside to watch the fireworks. In 2003, I was working at Blockbuster, which can be hell too, and I had to work on the fourth of July. I thought, “This is ridiculous. Who the hell rents movies on the fourth?”
Social retards.

Exactly. So I couldn’t see the fireworks because I was trapped inside but I could hear them popping.
Yeah. It’s annoying. If you like fireworks, it sucks.

I love this book. I can’t wait to finish it. Each chapter you get at least one laugh out of me. One line in particular I have to ask you about. Because when I read it in that mother’s day chapter . . . I lost my sh*t. I just have to ask if it was originally written by you. The line is: Not taking mom to a restaurant on Mother’s Day is like Ebenezer Scrooge pistol-whipping Tiny Tim on Christmas morning. Was that all you?
Yep, that one I made up. Didn‘t steal it. (laughs)

In the Russell Crowe and me chapter, you were in danger of losing your anonymity with your blog at the time right when you were finalizing your book deal. Did you think Russell Crowe would tank the deal?
I didn’t think Russell Crowe gave two shits about me either way. I wasn’t so worried about that. My worry was my job was at stake. And I really could not work on the book until that whole thing was resolved.

How did it feel becoming a New York Time Bestseller?
The paperback edition just came out. I write about that at the end. New afterward too. But it was unbelievable! The only thing I wanted from my first book was the ability to write a second. I didn’t think I would go on Oprah or sell enough copies. My sales goal was very modest. But it came as a complete shock. It took a couple weeks for it to sink in.

Do you plan to write fiction anytime soon?
I’d like to. Traveling is a lot of fun with my second book but you have to do a lot of research, keep your notes in order; it’s laborious. It would be fun to just sit down and make it up.

Maybe you can get back to that detective novel you always wanted to write?
You got to write what sells. Graham Greene is a great example of this. In the morning he’d write entertainment to pay for his amphetamines, which he would take on a daily basis and then he’d write more serious stuff in the afternoon. The Power of Glory, which I think was self-published at first, turned out to be a masterpiece of literature. I have to figure that out yet and I’m a one book at a time kind of guy. I really can’t focus on two things at once. Maybe that’s a skill that will come later.

Novels can big undertakings.
The thing I tell people is you have to break them down into little pieces. Write 2,000 words at a time and keep plugging away at it until it’s done. Six or seven months, you’ll be done, work with the editor on the rewrites; you have plenty of time.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers who are really down in the dumps?
Things get better. You have to work to support yourself, but don’t give up. Carve out some time to write. Elmore Leonard, before he became famous, would wake up at five in the morning and write until he had to go to work. Robert Parker had two kids and a full time job and he wrote a page a day and within a year he finished his novel. It was his first book and it established him as an author. Ian Fleming would get up, sit at his typewriter and write 2,000 words every day. He’d have a book in three or four months. So, the trick is to sit your ass down and do the work! If it means sitting at a blank screen for three hours, then that’s what you have to do.

I wanna thank you for taking the time to answer questions. I was actually surprised because you were the first author who wanted to do the interview by phone.
I’d much rather do it over the phone. I hate email writing. I got to write enough during the day, I don’t want to write a long email.

Thanks again.
Thanks Rob.

"The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the single most valuable investment a writer can make with his time." ~ Raymond Chandler

1 comment:

AmberInGlass said...

Wow, great interview man, thanks to both of you for putting the time into that.

I had never heard, of Steve Dublanica or his book, before this, but now it's definitely going onto my list of things to check out. I thought you both brought up some very excellent points in there.

Serious kudos!