Greg R. Fishbone is a Boston-based attorney whose debut middle grade novel, The Penguins of Doom, will be released this October by Blooming Tree Press. Greg wrote serialized fiction for the Superguy project from 1994 to 1997, edited Mythic Heroes magazine from 1996 to 1997, served as Assistant Regional Coordinator and Webmaster for New England SCBWI since 2001, founded the Class of 2k7 debut author group, and published feature articles in the 2002, 2006, and 2008 editions of Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market.
I’ve always written short stories to entertain myself and my friends, and they were children’s stories because we were all children at the time. I knew I eventually wanted to write and publish longer works but also realistic enough to know that careers in writing are difficult to establish and maintain. My plan was to have the attorney thing as a backup job, and I continued to write silly stories and comic book scripts all through college and law school.
My first attempt at a novel was superhero parody that became a finalist in the Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel. I revised, rewrote, and resubmitted that book a half-dozen times over the next three years before it was ultimately rejected. During that time I got to work with Wendy Lamb of Random House and she was always generous with her time and advice. She was so nice and I was so grateful for her help that I had to thank her in the aknowlegements when I finally got a book into print, even though it was with another house.
I sent that book out a few more times before I finally got burnt-out on it and turned my attention to other projects. One was The Penguins of Doom, which was based on a story I’d written back when I was studying law and living in Tokyo.
Aside from writing and law, I also did some web design work on the side. I designed the New England SCBWI website and got a bit of a reputation for being a go-to guy for tech stuff. One day I got a message from a friend who was having trouble with her email and needed some help. During our discussion she asked how my writing was going, and I told her that The Penguins of Doom was at a small publisher called Blooming Tree Press and I’d been waiting to hear back from them for a couple months.
“Didn’t you know?” my friend asked. “I’ve just taken a job as an editor at Blooming Tree!” She grabbed my book out of the slush, read it, loved it, and championed it through the house. So for me getting published was a combination of hard work, determination, and a one-in-a-million stroke of blind luck.
Well, I already mentioned the story I wrote while I was living in Japan—that was about Septina’s parents. Years later, somebody asked me what had ever become of those characters and I came up with the whole story of Septina and her missing sister, the penguins, the mad scientist, and everything else. The first draft was a comic book or graphic novel script but I had to give that up because I’m not a good enough artist.
The basic story has remained the same but I went through a bunch of different styles and viewpoints before I hit on letting Septina tell the story through a series of letters. The characters are younger than they were in the original draft, middle school age instead of high schoolers, and Septina is not as proficient with her powers and abilities. When the characters got younger I dropped a romantic triangle subplot and added all the music stuff. And Septina’s triplet-brother Quinn was a girl in the earlier drafts, but the story really needed him to be a boy.
The penguins first appeared on the first page of the first draft, following Septina and Quinn to school, sitting in on their classes, taking exams and totally wrecking the curve. I don’t know why, exactly, but they’ve always been at the center of everything that happens to Septina in the story.
Getting inside Septina’s head was fun because she and I are so completely different. I also enjoyed the challenge of writing a book in the form of letters and coming up with doodles that Septina might make in the margins—which makes me a published illustrator as well as an author. I used to get in trouble for drawing doodles on my school papers and now I’m getting paid for it! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that.
Early on I worried that the format might be too strange. I searched everywhere for another book written in the form of letters from a single character to a multitude of other characters, but I couldn’t find any. It made me a little insecure because if it really was such a great idea, why hadn’t anybody else done a book like it before?
When I was writing silly superhero stories, I always had a thing for math-based powers. I even did one story based on the Fibbonacci sequence. Septina’s name has seven letters and means “Little Seven” in Latin. Her mother Viyayai’s name means “Seven” in Roman Numerals: VII. Septina’s parents had seven children and the last three are triplets, so there are your sevens and threes right there.
My laptop computer is my desk, which allows me to work in coffee shops, libraries, or on the living room coffee table in front of the TV. My real physical desk just collects dust and junk mail.
Updated News: We're turning my study into a nursery, so
The Desk of Greg R. Fishbone went out with the trash this week.
I get pumped up from writing conferences. I was at the SCBWI midwinter conference in New York when I came up with the format for THE PENGUINS OF DOOM. I woke up at 6AM, sat bolt upright, and exclaimed, “Letters! She could be writing letters!” Then I spent the next three hours writing and almost missed the keynote speech.
I’m getting ready for the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles where I’ll be on a panel with fellow Class of 2k7 debut authors Joni Sensel, Carrie Jones, Greg Neri, Thatcher Heldring, and Jay Asher. Writingwise I have a series that my agent is shopping around and another that I’ve been working on and hope to whip into submittable shape fairly soon.
Don’t tell anyone until this interview hits the web but my wife and I are expecting our first child early next year. Shhhhh… :D
I can be reached through the Penguins of Doom website at www.SeptinaNash.com
The penguins are accepting fan mail at:
THE PENGUINS OF DOOM
PO Box 541401
Waltham, MA 02454