Tony Perez-Giese decided to leave his agent behind and pursue his literary dreams through self publishing. His reception from the literary community has been incredibly welcome and he proves that you don't need a publishing house to generate a following. Here, he shares his decision to go it on his own and the continued joy he feels through the positive reception of the book and meeting its fans. By Danielle Magee
1. Tell me a little bit about the process of writing this novel. What inspired you to write Pac Heights?
True to the preface of the book, I did go to a temp agency. I quit the newspaper business after going out there from Denver in 1999 and was trying to figure out if I was going to be a novelist.
So the temp agency sent me out to a series of jobs in Pac Heights. It was essentially just getting into these really high-end households and watching all the mayhem. Coming from the background of a newspaper reporter, first and foremost, I couldn’t understand why they were sending me to do this. Why send an investigative journalist to crawl around your mansion? So I thought after that first year, year and a half, I’d tried to write this story, but I just had too much journalist in me. I kept on finding myself totally unwilling to let the characters develop. There was no plot to it. I just kind of shelled it and it didn’t work. So I went on to other writing projects but the stories I told from up there really resonated with people. People would go to social events and say, “tell us a story about that house”. I would find myself talking about what I thought was really mundane, but there was just some really wacky people up there.
2. The novel takes place in 1999 at one of the heights of the dot.com boom but there seems to be a lot of parallels since we’re currently experiencing a big tech boom. Do believe the characters in the novel are reminiscent of the first dotcom boom or is this just how things are in San Francisco now?
I don’t think you see the same level of arrogance you did in 1999. In 1999 it was just like they are giving away free money saying, “ Come on up and grab it!” If you couldn’t grab it you felt like the biggest idiot on the West Coast. It was really hard. As I do see some similarities in the time, I still see a little more caution. But that might be too, not associating with at the time I was 24 years olds and I was going out every night running around in a different social circle. I’m 40 now and when I see these guys we go to nice restaurants instead of loft parties with Umpa Lumpa’s handing out ecstasy tablets. I’m sure that’s going on, I’m just not invited to those parties anymore.
3. What was it like self-publishing your novel? What made you decide to self publish?
There is nothing to be lost by self-publishing this. If it goes out there and nothing happens and it flops, then so what, I have two other books I’ve finished to keep going with. My agent obviously didn’t really want to go that way. I thought if I self-published I’d give her 20%, but I finally just told her I’m doing this and you can either be in it or, and here’s how stupid I am, but I’ll still give you 20% if you stay on board, just like a security blanket. But that’s also nice for a writer, its security for a writer. I have my agent on W 137 Street in New York, you know? As writers we’re always like “When’s your book coming out?” “Uh, I don’t know, never. But at least I still have my agent! My agent’s out there kicking ass for me!” It gives you some sort of, shred of dignity. She just didn’t want to be involved in it and she didn’t think it was right. I sent a termination letter that next day and she said, “ What? You’re terminating for all the books?” And I told her, “ If you’re giving up on this one then just forget it.” I was just tired and it was making me passive. I was putting all my fate in her hands and I was writing but I wasn’t pushing it. I wasn’t being aggressive. I wasn’t taking the next step.
Sometimes you got to make your own fate for yourself.
Yeah, if you’re going to fail, fail actively. Not passively, and I’ve been failing passively for a dozen years. So once I got over that fear and decided to do it, it’s been wonderful. A lot of my fears have been put aside. In the end I had a trunk full of books going around bookstores to get them to pick up a couple copies so I can sign them, you know, having to do all the mailing yourself. Now I just bought the site and a friend of mine started the distribution network. It’s been fantastic. I mean, it’s kind of daunting that you’re out there by yourself and have to do it. But the reality of it is if you go through a publisher for a first time novelist you’re getting a pretty small sum. Then you’re responsible.
4. What was the most useful piece of feedback you received when writing the book? I see that you’ve created a site that promotes the book with some pretty adorable pictures (https://www.rebelmouse.com/PacHeights/). We’re finding more and more authors promoting their work on digital media either through websites or social media. Do you look at that as another hardship facing an author or do you enjoy using the Internet to get your book out there?
What I really enjoy is the goodreads comments. I love the fact that you can see on goodreads that someone has given you four stars and you can write a little note just to say, “thanks I appreciate you buying the book”. At first I thought it was kind of creepy but then I heard back universally that people love it. I used to write notes to all my favorite writers and it was such a thrill when they took a moment to write back on a post card just thanking me for reading the book, and it’s like “oh my god, this is a real person.” So being able to connect like that is fantastic. I think that’s what I see the most and again the way self-publishing works now with these distribution systems it’s pretty wonderful and you can watch it go out there. You can watch it happening.
5. Where did you write most of your novel? Is there a specific place you go to work? Do you have certain rituals in your writing or do you simply sit down and write?
After I left San Francisco I went to Montana. I figured I would just cut myself off and have nothing else to do, because then I’ll be forced to do this cause otherwise I’m going to go stir-crazy. The problem is I have a routine I took from Stephen King on his book On Writing, where you set yourself a word limit and I think for Stephen King it was about 2000 words a day. So in the beginning, 2000 words takes you all day and they aren’t a very good 2000 words. But then eventually as you keep going 2000 words comes pretty easy. Now you get 100 pages in and you’re cooking. Then you find yourself hitting 2000 words and its lunchtime. So what the hell do you do with the rest of your day when you’re in Montana on an alfalfa farm or in Texas on a deserted island? You get into all kinds of trouble and that ended up being my problem.
How long were you in Montana for?
I was in Montana for 2.5 years so I did the first crack of Pac Heights up there and it failed. Then I got an idea for another thing just being out there in this small town in Montana. So I was up there for 2.5 years when I further isolated myself and went to El Paso, Texas where I was doing some work down there. Then I went off to a deserted island off the gulf coast of Mexico. So a lot of wilderness for a few years but, hey, you know I was writing and I guess at that point it worked. But for the social parts, it did not work so well.
6. Do you have plans for another book soon?
Pac Heights came out in the end of June and it seems to me like it’s been out there forever but really it’s pretty early. Now I’m in the process of getting this book in the stores since it’s on the Internet. So I’ve been doing my traveling around the city and got the book in four or five places. After this I’m going to Alexander bookstore and they want me to autograph the book. I’m not Ken Follett, but if you want me to autograph my book I sure as hell will! I literally dropped the phone when the woman called me. So it’s still pretty early in the game. It’s at the point now where I’m hoping that reviews will start popping up and that will take sales to another level. The idea is to just focus on this and see if I can make my money back on this whole publishing thing and the PR firms and then once it’s had its time to run then move to the next one. I guess I do think too along the lines that some publisher is going to see the success of Pac Heights whenever that may be and they’ll sign me up or maybe another agent will come along and will want to sign me up. But I think, maybe since I went through all that I can do it the same way I did. That’s something I have to think about. It would be nice to have a little more support. Pac Heights is in some way, an audition.
7. How has the reception been for the book with the dotcom community?
They love it. It’s been really surprising. For the people here in San Francisco, it’s kind of a nostalgic case for those people who remember that time and that whole scene. It’s like “ those good old bad days,” you know, and they get a real laugh at it. So there is a great reception here. I mean no one yet has sour grapes saying you got it all wrong, or I’m misrepresenting what it was. People are saying you nailed it.
What are you currently reading?
Right now, I am reading a JK Rowling book The Casual Vacancy.