Paperback Writer is pleased to introduce the author for today, Andrew Jalbert, author of the historical fiction novel, West Across the Board. Award winning freelancer Andrew Jalbert has been a professional archaeologist and scuba instructor for over 15 years. During that time, he has worked throughout the Great Lakes, the Caribbean, Central America, Southern Africa, the Florida Keys, and Hawaii. His work focuses on tropical subjects–both above and below the water–and he is a regular contributor to scuba diving, natural history, fitness, and travel magazines. Andrew currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
West Across the Board synopsis:
What are the elements of friendship that last a lifetime-the mysterious connection that can outlast great distances and more than half a century of separation to bring friends back together?
For Lázaro, a salty Cuban mariner and Dominic, a brilliant Chicago engineer, the answers can be found in the game of chess. From the time of their meeting and first chess match on Key West in the 1930s, each man’s win is scratched into the back of the board. As the game tally grows, so does their friendship. Now, both men are in their twilight years, but it’s Dominic’s life, weathered by cancer, which is reaching its conclusion. Lázaro, who fled from his island home and his friend years ago, learns that Dominic is rapidly dying and sets off on the long journey from Boston to Florida to see his old friend. Prior to leaving, Lázaro retrieves the old chessboard and makes a startling discovery. The number of scratches, first marked over sixty years before and uncounted until
now, has the two men evenly tied. As he drives towards Dominic and the keys, Lázaro is forced to confront a past he has struggled to forget while anticipating the reunion with his old friend and what could be their final game.
Welcome to Paperback Writer
Will you share with us how you came up with the idea for this book?
First of all, I wanted to thank you and your readers for having me here. I’ve always been a bit smitten by the tropics. As far back as I can remember I wanted to write and be near the ocean. I should expand on that a bit: I wanted to be near, in, or beneath the ocean’s surface. By the time I was in my early thirties, I had a decade of working on dive boats, jumping around the Caribbean and writing for scuba and travel magazines under my belt. Those years were priceless, not only in terms of the environments and cultures I was lucky enough to experience, but for the opportunity to write about them. My writing teeth were cut on sailboats, beaches, and port town taverns and for that I consider myself fortunate.
It goes without saying that when I decided to cross over into publishing fiction, the stories would take place someplace tropical. West Across the Board is set in one of my favorite locations: The Florida Keys. I fell in love with the island chain years ago, not only for its stunning scenery, collage of cultures, and pristine waters, but for its fascinating history. Closer to Cuba than the U.S. mainland, Key West was more accessible by boat than car until the mid 1930s. It was during the 1930s that I chose to set my novel. This gave me a great opportunity to research an era in the southern keys that I’ve always been interested in and an excuse to spend more time on Key West.
West Across the Board begins in 1999 with 86 year old Lázaro driving from Boston to the Florida Keys to see his dying friend Dominic before time runs out. As he drives, he remembers not only his younger years in Key West, but his reasons for fleeing his island home and his friend over half a century before. Lázaro, a gifted Cuban mariner and fisherman in his youth first met Dominic at Sloppy Joe’s Saloon in 1934. The two young men bond instantly over a game of chess played in the smoky tavern. The games continue and after every one, each man’s win is scratched into the back of the board. As the game tally grows, so does their friendship. The games are a constant during an era that saw devastating hurricanes, shipwrecks, and even war.
Prior to his journey back to the keys, Lázaro retrieves the old chessboard and makes a startling discovery. The number of scratches, first marked in the saloon over sixty years before and uncounted until now, has the two men evenly tied. As he drives towards the keys, Lázaro is forced to confront a past he has struggled to forget while anticipating the reunion with his old friend and what could be their final game.
Much like the tropics, the game of chess is endearing to me. Not because I’m any good at it, but because (much like my characters) I still play chess with my childhood friend–a tradition that has continued for nearly 30 years. Across the board from each other, we have enjoyed and talked about happy times and supported each other while weathering loss. It was this relationship through time in tandem with my love of the Florida keys that inspired me to write the book.
Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?
I have a broad idea of how the storyline will take shape, however this changes quite a bit as I’m writing. I’m sure a lot of other authors fin this to be true: As the story unfolds, other ideas surface, often steering the story in a new direction.
Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?
When writing West Across the Board I knew certain pieces of the ending but I wasn’t sure how to get there. As much as my story may have strayed from the original outline, it ultimately came back on course to the ending I had planned. I am currently writing another novel and I know exactly how it going to start and how it is going to end. It’s all that pesky stuff in between that takes time!
Do you have a process for developing your characters?
I tend to outline the kind of character I need and base aspects of them on real life people. I have found this to work pretty well and in a round about way, this method adds more realism to fictional characters.
It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?
I based my two main characters in West Across the Board on other people and by doing so, assumed that very little of my own opinions seeped into the story. But how wrong I was! I can vividly remember when, during a re-read I realized that I’d managed to subtly inject my own viewpoints into the book. In particular, some of my opinions on tourism and how it can be detrimental to certain environments came out through one of my characters. I’m currently writing another novel and have found the same thing to be true.
What is your most favorite part about this book?
I really like the story’s ending (it has become the most talked about part during book clubs) and the chapter about the shipwreck.
When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?
I waited until the book was finished before seeking a publisher. However with hindsight, I should have been even more patient. Just because a story is written doesn’t mean it’s ready for publication. This was a hard lesson to learn. I submitted the manuscript to several publishers before it was ready. Ultimately, I brought in a professional editor and a writing coach. The result was a much shorter (and much better) book.
What struggles have you had on the road to being published?
I think the task of finding a publisher can be as daunting as writing a manuscript, perhaps even more so. Chances are, most authors write a book because…well…they’re writers. But being a writer doesn’t make you a marketer. Writing a book and marketing a book to a publisher are two very different animals. In my case, I made countless mistakes during the marketing process, however I learned something from each of them and I feel confident that when I pitch my next novel, I will be more prepared.
In hindsight, writing and trying to publish my first book was a great test of my tenacity. As a freelance writer, I’d already been exposed to rejection letters and managed to push through them to become a regular contributor to several magazines. But when I decided to write and pitch a novel, I wasn’t prepared for the quantity of rejections. There was a period of several months in which I seemed to get at least one “dear author” rejection letter every day. And using the word “letter” is being generous. Often, the rejections would be a Xeroxed, quarter sheet of paper (mailed back to me with the postage I provided) with a few sentences saying they weren’t interested.
After enough rejections, I was faced with an unsettling question: Was my novel any good? I, like so many other writers, had put so much time, energy and thought into it that an answer of “no” was utterly deflating. I may have had a bit of an advantage when faced with this question because I’d published quite a few magazine articles before, but there are only so many rejections you can face before the question is asked. My answer–and ultimately “how I overcame the blows”–was to go with a small POD publisher and see what the readers and reviewers thought before deciding.
Now, a year later, I’m glad I made that decision. Reviews from magazines, newspapers and book reviewers have been very good and the feedback from readers has been touching. I am already well into my second novel and had I given up on the first one, I never would have started.
What has been the best part about being published?
I’ve always wanted to write a novel so reaching that goal is incredibly rewarding.
What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel?
I worked very hard to animate my fictional characters against geographically and historically accurate backdrops. My hope is that readers will become engaged in a compelling story and learn some things about the Florida Keys along the way. Perhaps the most consistent comment I receive from readers is that after finishing the novel, they wanted to visit Key West.
Do you have plans to write another book?
I am a ways into my second novel (set in the tropics as well) and I hope to have the manuscript completed by the end of this year.
Would you care to share with us how the virtual book tour experience with Pump Up Your Book Promotion has been for you?
As I’m writing this, the tour is just beginning so I’ll have to wait and see. That being said, the exposure has been nice and this particular marketing strategy is one that I probably would not have come up with on my own.
Where can readers find a copy of your book?
Online through amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, or my website.
Do you have a website for readers to go to?
Yes! www.jalbertproductions.com. Please drop me a line and say hello if you visit the site. I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you, Andrew for sharing your book and characters with us today. It has been a pleasure and I hope you have had a successful virtual book tour.
WEST ACROSS THE BOARD VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ’08 will officially begin on May 1, 2008 and continue all month. If you would like to follow Andrew’s tour in progress, visit http://www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com/ in May. Leave a comment on his blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of his tour! One lucky winner will be announced on this tour page on May 30!