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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

BITS & PIECES: CHRIS KEESLAR



Chris Keeslar of Dorchester Publishing needs little introduction: he is one of the best in the business. Our chapter honored him with a Golden Apple for Editor of the Year in 2008, and he took time out of his busy schedule in 2009 to help us judge our Love and Laughter contest. He also found time to meet up with me to do this Bits and Piecesthe first male I’ve interviewed for the blog, I am excited to say, and what an amazing subject. I could see why some of the most acclaimed romances, including THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER by our own Leanna Renee Hieber, are edited by him. From the beginning I was encouraged by Chris's open and frank nature, and then I was struck by his insightful psychological and philosophical outlooks. He is an editor, but he's been a writer, too, which is clear from the way that he looks at people and life. He was reading BOZO SAPIENS: WHY TO ERR IS HUMAN, which contains interesting psychological studies. There is absolutely nothing “bozo” about him at all. Chris admitted to being hesitant to reveal too much about himself, wanting to keep some of his life private, which I totally understood. But the point of Bits and Pieces is to show quirky aspects of the interviewee, which he was happy to provide. He definitely managed to keep his “mystique,” but he definitely gave up a lot of interesting “bits.” Here they are:



 
“I still play Dungeons & Dragons—or play again, as I’ve recently gotten back into a game. It’s super dorky, I admit. Still, I ascribe a lot of my editorial ability to having played it growing up. The reason: DMing, creating scenarios and worlds for players drives you to take into account many of the same things an author would.”

“If I wrote, I would likely write urban fantasy. I was a fan of that genre long before it became popular in Romance. Steampunk? Yeah, I like that, too. It’s been around for a long time, and romance is just finding it. Everything is cyclical.”

“Do I get tired of romance? I don’t get tired of believable, well-crafted romance. Books by people following trends can get tiresome. Of course, authors don’t always see things from the same perspective. I see a lot more of what is being produced (or attempted) than your average reader or wannabe writer, not filtered by publishers and distribution channels. I am a little ahead of the curve in that way. So is almost everyone on my side of the industry.”

“Sports? I’ve watched basketball and hockey and baseball. I was a Knicks fan, but I don’t follow any team in particular now. I play basketball: I have the ball-handling ability of a center and the rebounding ability of a point guard. But I'm no Jason Kidd. I still run the office college basketball pool—the totally legal office pool.”

“I’ve never really been a bartender; that was a joke of Barbara Vey's. A bunch of people were involved in that. I can make a gin and tonic and a rum and coke, but don’t ask for a Cosmo or you might get something awful.”

“I am currently reading BOZO SAPIENS, a nonfiction book on why humans do the dumb things we do—biological programming. An early chapter is on why we react as we do to alpha males and certain actresses. They play to a number of unconscious sociological and biological imperatives.”

“How’s it different being a twin? I don’t know anything else, having never not been one, and I don’t have any other brothers or sisters. One guess, though: Most siblings compete, and usually the older child has a leg up. With twins you are very much contemporaries. You’re stuck: either embrace your relationship or not. You are in each other's immediate space. In developing an individual personality you can either become opposed to each other or meld. A teacher once predicted to my mother, ‘They’ll fight like cats and dogs when they’re young and grow up and be best friends.’ That’s pretty much true. We definitely fought when we were kids. Sometimes I even won…. (She’s tough.)”

“It’s funny. I didn’t think it was an issue being male as a romance editor when I was younger, but now I do—or at least I accept that there are differences. Preconceived notions, expectations, the way we think as men and women, the way we are socialized—or perhaps biologically prepared—to think…. I think like a man, and I’m working with women writing primarily for women. There’s a language there that I will never speak perfectly.” (He laughs.) “I am sort of translating, like a Martian with a decent education teaching Americans English. Yet I believe the differences can be both weaknesses and strengths. I provide a sounding board. I don’t take certain things for granted. I like to think I make authors figure out exactly what they’re trying to say and do, and be sure they’re doing it right. I like to think I challenge them and their craft.”

“I think a lot of the fiction that is successful does not fall into social norms—like V.C. Andrews, with the incest in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. That was a long time ago, of course, but the rule still applies: if you do it well, and it appeals to some base human instinct, you will be found. Maybe it’s because of the innate conflict of social expectations in that book. Anyway, it will be interesting to see where publishing goes. I think a lot of distribution channels are failing, and easier outlets are becoming available. Ultimately, people will read what they want to read. Who will be the new gatekeepers? Someone will have to step forward to inform—and hopefully elevate—the masses.”

“Why am I interested in the psychological? My mother. She was something of an unlicensed social worker. She was all about kids. She ran two health centers for students, as well as helping build Michigan’s I-23, hauling concrete, to keep me and my sister in school. Psychology was one of many professions I considered, but I wasn’t really cut out for the medical route. I wanted to write back then. I wrote a novel and it was awful.”

“I’m tough on myself, yeah. I’m even tougher on my authors. Some listen to what I have to say and others don't. Eventually I stop talking. It’s their book in the end.”

“No, I don't want everyone to know exactly who I am. In some ways I’m very private, which is why my social media sites are not really for work connections. (Sorry if I’ve not friended anyone!) Personal relationships are very different than business relationships, and it’s sometimes hard for people to sync up about where one ends (or should end) and another begins. It’s particularly difficult in this age of information and connectivity. I am naturally a very trusting and open person. Of course, candor and honesty carry a lot of responsibilities and pressure. It can be tough, there’s sometimes a fine line you have to walk between what you need to project and who you are.”♥

9 comments:

  1. What a great interview, Chris and Fidencia!

    Chris, I've always admired you from afar (I promise I'll introduce myself at the next opportunity). I think you're probably the coolest editor out there. I love the perspective you bring to the industry, as well as the professionalism. You're honest and kind - that's not always the case in the business.

    P.S. I always wanted to be a twin, and my dream is for our second kid to be our second and third - girl/boy would be ideal - I think that's the coolest :)

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  2. Great interview. I heard Chris speak in DC at the Dorchester Spotlight. I was impressed with how passionate he felt about a new story he was editing. In fact, he sorta took off on a tangent. lol. But you know, I really appreciated his excitement. It's obvious he loves what he does. And kudos to him for keeping his private life private.

    ** Chris, if you are reading the comments, I apologize for talking about you as if you aren't. :)

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  3. What a terrific "chat" to brighten this dreary Wednesday morning. I will have to echo what the others have said, Chris, as I heard you speak at last year's LI RWA chapter luncheon and your enthusiasm for your work and this business is both eminently evident and infectious. I also firmly believe that your unique perspective is a boon to the romance fiction business, which can become rather insular. Thank you for sharing your fun details and your take on the publishing world.

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  4. Great interview! And thanks for sharing your insights on being a male editor. On an interesting side note, a number of the sales reps and buyers I use to work with were male too:)

    Next time I see you at Lady Jane's, I will be sure to introduce myself!

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  5. Awesome interview. I am very impressed with the male view on editing. I love the fact that you are hard on your authors. That's the only way for an author to grow and improve their craft.

    I also agree on the privacy act. These social networks are great, however, can be quite open. One can definitely cross the line if not careful.

    Thank you Chris for taking time out of your busy schedule to share with us your views on the publishing industry and a little sprinkle of yourself. (My son loves Dungeons & Dragons!)

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  6. Great interviews Chris & Fidencia! I love these Bits & Pieces interviews for the random bits you learn.

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  7. Great interview Chris and Fidencia. Chris is a fabulous editor -- I still hear his voice in my ear sometimes as I write! Thanks for sharing with us today.

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  8. Trust me, Jerrica will introduce herself the first chance she gets. She's a ball of sunshine on any day - you wont miss her!

    Chris, I heard you speak at the Washington RWA Conference and could tell you were really passionate about your work, your authors and finding a great story to publish. That Publisher Spotlight session made my trip from Australia worth it. Thanks.

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  9. Yep. He's the very best. (Of course, I may be biased. *grin*) I'm so grateful he's willing to take chances on new work that can be hard to categorize. (Certainly I owe my dream-come-true to that quality). In addition, he's made me a better writer both in structure, story concepts and in specific story-telling craft and that's a priceless gift.

    Thanks for being here Chris, and Fidencia, for doing the interview!

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