[This is an interview I did a few weeks ago with Matt Connor for The Rabbit Room (www.rabbitroom.com).] The Fiddler’s Gun is the first in a two-part series, a Revolutionary War tale that’s “not a children’s story,” as Peterson explains.
Here in our latest Rabbit Room interview, we go inside the independent publishing process, the story line of The Fiddler’s Gun, and the hidden classic known as Burger Wars.
Rabbit Room: What’s the timeline on the book’s release? Pete Peterson: The official release date is December 1st, 2009. I’ll be shipping out orders to my patrons as soon as I receive the books from the printer, which should be a bit sooner. RR: Let’s start with the basics of The Fiddler's Gun. Can you tell us the genesis of the idea? Pete: About 10 years ago I made a bunch of treasure chests, filled them with presents, and buried them on my parents’ farm. Then I hand drew maps for everyone and sent them on a treasure hunt to dig up their presents on Christmas morning. It was a blast.
During the process of creating that experience I decided to make a grave marker to use as a landmark on one of the maps. I came up with a name that I thought had the right flavor and carved it into the marker, but when I finished I realized I’d spelled it wrong. I meant to write “Phineas Button” and instead wrote “Phinea Button.” I liked the way that dropping the “s” made the name feminine and that was the beginning. As I finished the maps and buried the chests I kept wondering who Phinea Button might have been and how she came to be buried here and what stories she might have to tell. The Fiddler’s Gun is the result of that happy misspelling.
I started writing the book on New Year’s Day and by the end of that year I knew Fin’s story. She was an orphan from outside of Savannah, Georgia that grew up to fight in the American Revolution and even became the captain of a privateer ship (some would say a pirate if folklore is to be believed). It’s funny because I’ve never had any particular interest in the Revolutionary War but I found myself writing a novel about it, not because it was the story and setting that I chose but because it’s the story that chose me. I know that sounds like some kind of writer’s cliché but it really is the most accurate way to describe the experience. RR: Has that happened to you ever before–this idea of the story grabbing you? Pete: I guess, now that I think about it, it’s not the first time. I’ve always had a sort of cinema running in my head, and in the past I’ve written down notes and ideas but but then never really followed through on them or devoted the time to them that they might have deserved. So yes, stories do come to me but they usually just hang around for a few days and run off. This was the first time I decided to chase it down and catch it.
Which is probably a good thing because half the ideas I have are preposterous. I once had what I thought was this brilliant idea for a story about a guy that was being hunted by McDonald’s assassins because he’d invented the perfect burger and refused to sell out to them. I’m really glad I didn’t spend eight years working on that one. It was called Burger Wars...of course. Ugh. RR: I think there’s a market for that, although I hear it’s not a glamorous one. Do you have plans to take this story–The Fiddler’s Gun–even further? Or is this a stand alone? Pete: This is the first of two books in the Fin’s Revolution story line. I originally envisioned it as a single book but I got to a point in the writing when I realized that for length, thematic, and dramatic reasons, that it made sense to split it. This first book is about getting lost, the second, which is about half-written, is about finding your way home. RR: How do you handle hopes and expectations when it comes to the self-publishing aspect? Pete: I don’t really like the term self-publishing. It comes with a lot of baggage and it gives the impression that the book was created in a sort of vacuum, which definitely isn’t the case. I think it’s more accurate to call what I’m doing “independent publishing”. To make a music analogy, I think of independent publishing in the same way that I think of independent music, or film for that matter. It might be made without the help of a big record contract but there is still every possibility that the quality of the work is just as high, if not higher. Self-publishing on the other hand carries a connotation similar to that of a record made by a guy in his bedroom on an old four-track with little outside input, advice, or polish and we all know how badly those usually turn out.
When I decided to go the independent route, I built the idea around selling a thousand copies. I thought that if I could do that, and break even financially, I’d be able to call it a success. I expect that making that happen is going to be a lot of work and, because I don’t have the option of distribution to chain bookstores, I expect that it’ll take quite some time to meet that goal. I’m excited about it, though, and I’m in it for the long haul.
My hopes, on the other hand, are obviously that it will generate some word of mouth, and eventually begin to sell itself. I’m not naive enough to sit back and wait for that unlikely scenario to happen, though. RR: When you say you’re in it for the long haul, have you thought about what you will have to do to sustain your own spirit and drive? Pete: That’s a great question. I think there’s a perception by a lot of people that a novel is something that you write in a couple of months and then hand over to an editor and a few months later a book magically appears. That might be the way it works in my dreams, but the reality is that it’s a process that is in itself years-long before anyone ever even gets to hold the book in their hands.
At the beginning of that process I struggled a lot with calling myself a writer, thinking that it was a title I couldn’t claim until I’d reached some hidden benchmark, like selling a million copies. But over the years, through the edits, and rewrites, and searching for a publisher, and all the work and emotional capital I’ve spent on it, I’ve learned that writing, storytelling, is just as much a part of who I am as my own name and I’ve every right to call myself a writer after all. Why? Because it’s what I do, it’s what I long to do, and it’s what I’ve done all my life without realizing it.
So when I say I’m in it for the long haul, what I mean is that I’m comfortable wearing the writer’s mantle and the burden that comes with it is one I’m ready to carry. I’ve reached the point in my understanding of myself that I’m ready to fail, and being ready and willing to fail is, I think, the first step on the road to being successful. A lot of people never write, or sing, or create art because they are afraid of failure, they’re afraid others won’t like what they’ve created and so they live their whole lives wishing they could create something as beautiful or meaningful as those people they admire for doing so, when the truth is that those people that they so admire probably started off in mediocrity at best and failure at worst.
I hope The Fiddler’s Gun is a wild success, but I’ve come to my own terms with it. People with either like it or they won’t, and either way, I’m still a writer, and I’ll go on creating stories, and hopefully some of them will rise above mediocrity and maybe in time, one or two of them will even be found beautiful by someone. RR: Speaking of people who won’t like it, you’ve said that this is not something for children, correct? Pete: That’s correct. I think there is some misconception out there that because Andrew’s books are aimed at children that mine are too and that’s not the case. I don’t mean to give the impression that the story is full of things that aren’t fit for kids, but it definitely does follow characters into some dark places physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
The Revolutionary War is a big part of the book so death and violence are things the characters face and have to find ways to deal with. I’d say it’s a book that a parent should probably read first if they have children younger than 13 or 14. If your child isn’t ready to read The Red Badge of Courage or The Lord of the Rings, then they might not be ready for The Fiddler’s Gun.