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INTERVIEW: Joel Brigham Says Every Book Is a Journey For Him

Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.


CHRISTINA: Like so many publishing industry people I meet these days, I stumbled across author and editor Joel Brigham on Twitter last year as he was promoting a developmental edit event, #RevPit. Joel sits on the board of Revise & Resub, a writing community co-founded in 2017 by a group of editors, and they were gearing up for their annual event. I decided to submit my novel to win feedback and mentorship from a professional editor. (But why, Christina? You are a professional editor? Yes, but I am not above asking for help. Even editors need editors for their own work.) In the end, I hired Joel to help with my query package and was grateful for his actionable feedback. I enjoy following Joel on social media, sharing his smart editing tips, and gleaning his solid industry advice.


If you could tell your 21-year-old self anything, what would you share?


JOEL: For those who follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my newsletter, you know my whole vibe is helping writers succeed, level up, and make the most of their time behind the keyboard. A major reason why I've tried to take on the role of "friendly, approachable expert" is because when I was a young writer, I didn't have access to that. This probably sounds kinda arrogant, but I wish 21-year-old Me had 41-year-old Me to hold his hand through the writing journey!

A few big pieces of advice I'd give to that sweet baby angel:

  • The first book you write probably isn't going to be The One, no matter how much you love it, because you just don't know how to do it properly yet. Remember when you worked at Dairy Queen and made an ice cream cone for the first time? It was a mess. So, too, will your first book be. But it isn't wasted time because you have to do something wrong a bunch of times before you start to do it write. And you have to be mediocre for a while before you get good. Be patient. Write one, and then another, and then another. Keep getting better, and eventually, it'll happen for you.

  • Try to do as much of this as you can before you have children. In six years, you're going to get VERY busy.

  • You have ADHD. Get medicated.


CHRISTINA: Such good advice. ‘Be patient' is a universal truth.


Best advice for new writers:


JOEL: Get words on the page. Don't stop to consider whether they're any good or not because you can always go back and clean them up later. It is much easier to revise a garbage first draft than it is to stare at an empty Word document. I always tell writers to imagine that the first draft is like gathering a bunch of clay from the earth. Get your fingernails dirty, dig under the soil, and just accumulate all the raw materials you're going to need. Then, once you've got a gross, dirty lump of wet clay (your rough draft), you can start forming into the shape of whatever it is you want to sculpt (revision). Then you can work on the fine details (proofreading) and eventually show your art to the world (publication). You know what you can't turn into a beautiful sculpture, though? A big ol' fat lump of nothing. If you don't gather all the clay, the rest of the process isn't going to happen.


CHRISTINA: Lawd, yes. I'm doing sprints every morning with some writer friends, and the words are usually garbage, but the effort certainly gets the writing muscles warmed up.


What is your favorite of your own novels?


JOEL: I wrote an MG [middle grade] book about a thirteen-year-old whose old favorite childhood toy comes to life when Dad dies unexpectedly, and the kid has to move to a new town to live with his estranged uncle. First, the stuffed monster (named "Bingo") is a huge pain in the ass but was really fun to write, but more importantly, as someone who lost a parent at a young age, I found writing the book to be incredibly therapeutic in my own grieving. It's just a great mix of heartfelt and funny, which is my overall vibe as a person. It went on sub, didn't go anywhere, and then I left my agent, so it rots in a digital storage folder in Google Drive. But perhaps someday it will see the light of the day!


CHRISTINA: I hope it sees the light of day too. This business is such an emotional rollercoaster.


Is there one of your characters you most identify with and why? 


JOEL: There's always a character in every book who is a sort of avatar for me. The kid in the Bingo story lost a parent when he was a kid, and so did I. I wrote a book about a kid with a debilitating stutter, which I dealt with growing up. I wrote a book about a kid who takes his elderly grandmother to Colorado to hunt for treasure in the mountains, which is an echo of me lamenting the loss of my own grandparents before I was ever able to ask them personal questions about their own incredible lives. Each book is a journey for me in some way. I use these to work through my own stuff, which makes taking rejection a little easier. Even if I haven't landed a book deal yet, every manuscript I've ever written has made me a better person.


CHRISTINA: Have you gone on an author pilgrimage or research trip? Where and what was the most memorable moment?


JOEL: I almost can't go on vacation without finding some dorky literature detour. When I was covering the NBA as a journalist, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to cover Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame induction in Springfield, Massachusetts. But did I carve out a couple of hours to visit the homes of Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain while I was out there? Absolutely, I did. Every time I'm in Boston, I take a sojourn to Walden Pond (which is beautiful, by the way), and since the homes of Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson are just right up the road, I made sure to stop and visit those, too. There's something about being in the place where legendary authors made magic happen that floods my brain with dopamine. Thankfully, my wife is also a book nut and is happy to accommodate our little vacation detours. My kids, though, are not always as patient.


CHRISTINA: Ha! I get all of that. Thanks, Joel, for taking time from your busy schedule. I hope the summer brings lots of opportunities to write. And thank you for all the editing and industry advice—it's so appreciated.


Smiling white man with short, cropped hair wearing glasses and cream sweater
Joel Brigham, author and editor

ABOUT THE AUTHOR/EDITOR

Joel Brigham (Brigham Editorial) is a freelance editor and an agented kidlit author with YA and MG books currently on submission. He's been a high school English teacher for two decades and has a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing and a master's degree in Education. He loves '90s hip-hop, fantasy football, genealogy research, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You can connect with Joel via his website, Twitter/X, Reddit: @joelbrigham, Bluesky: @joelbrigham.bsky.social, Threads: @joelbrigham


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Sophia Rose
Sophia Rose
7月04日

Great advice and interesting interview! :)

いいね!
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