Peter Greyson, whose book Dear Lilly has sold thousands of copies, talks about his reasons for writing the book and his plans for the future.
Imagine you’ve been put in charge of one of the big publishing companies. You have total control. What’s the first thing you’d change on your first day?
Well, I self-published Dear Lilly, so I guess I would try to lessen the steel curtain that is so prevalent in this industry. Having your manuscript read by anyone in “the biz” is next to impossible. I had to sell my book on street corners and build up a buzz before they would even agree to read a sample. I would try to create a department that accepts and reviews self-published material. There are some amazing undiscovered works out there. Just look at Lisa Genova and the magic she has created with her novel; Still Alice. She’s been a beacon of hope for many of us indie authors.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Honestly, no. I don’t even consider myself one now after 5,000 copies of Dear Lilly have been sold. My book started out as a hand-written journal to my daughter, Lilly, and was never meant to go beyond our small circle of family and friends. But everyone who read it would say the same thing, “Oh, I just have to share this with so and so. They would love it!” And from there it spread like wildfire. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my life would take this turn of events.
Do you remember the very first story you ever wrote?
Yes, in junior high I wrote an “original” story for my English class combining the plots of Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future. It was before I knew what plagiarism meant, but luckily my teacher called me on the carpet and taught me a valuable lesson on intellectual property.
Are there any authors who inspire your own work?
The first time I ever read a book and felt that magical connection between reader and writer was Howard Stern’s Private Parts. That book was so raw, honest, and cringe inducing that it literally knocked me on my ass. I never knew how much emotion could be conveyed through words on a page until then. When I started my book I knew it wasn’t going to be a Shakespearean masterpiece, so I focused on keeping it as real as possible. This is the one thing that everyone who reads Dear Lilly tells me they loved the most. They couldn’t believe a sane man could share the things I shared… with his own daughter none the less.
Some of the passages in Dear Lilly are very honest when it comes to your own life and your past. Was there anything you left out that you didn’t want to deal with in the book?
Yes, the abuse I withstood at the hands of my mother was actually much harsher than I alluded to in the book. However, she has since gotten sober, received therapy, and transformed into a wonderful caring grandmother. I saw no reason to include Lilly in the gory details and ruin the pleasant image that she has of her “Mamaw”. My motivation for writing this book was always to explain to my children who I was, not to pass judgement and unleash vengeance on a person in recovery.
When I’d finished reading Dear Lilly, it occurred to me that in a couple of decades, Lilly might write her own sequel, a kind of response to your book. How would you feel about that?
That has been an idea floating around my head for a while now. It occurred to me early on that people might want to know how Lilly reacted to the book and the imprint it left on her psyche. The way I envisioned the sequel was as a co-authored collaboration between her and I. It could be an open dialogue in which we both describe how the book affected our lives and the people we care about. I’m sure there will be many bones that she will want to pick with me someday… “the crib incident” in chapter 4 being one of them.
Would you take a deal with a traditional publisher if one came knocking?
Yes, I want Dear Lilly to be able to reach as many young people in the world as possible. People have written me from places like Canada, Europe, and Australia to tell me how my words have changed their lives for the better. I still can’t believe that something like this could happen for this little story that I wrote with a pen and spiral notebook. Can you imagine the impact it could have with a big company’s promotional budget behind it? Until now, Facebook, street fairs, and word-of-mouth have been my sole marketing weapons. If they call, I’ll answer.
How involved are you with things like the covers and book descriptions for your novels? Do you enjoy that side of being a self-published writer?
The cover came to me in a dream. One morning I woke up and told my wife that I wanted the cover to be a father and his little girl walking hand-in-hand down a country road with their backs to the camera. The two elements that were most important were the sepia imagery and the fork in the road that lie ahead of them. I called my publisher immediately and described what I wanted and two days later the cover art for Dear Lilly was sent to me via email. When I opened it I almost passed out from the beauty. It was too perfect for words… almost like they saw exactly what was in my heart. It still takes my breath away every time I see it.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you force yourself to write a certain number of words?
Well, I currently have 4 children under eight, a home-schooling wife, 2 dogs, and a fledgling speaking career. So writing is definitely not a daily ritual for me at the moment. Dear Lilly took me three years to complete, so I’m giving my brain a little time to recharge. However, I do try to devote at least one weekend night to organizing my thoughts for future works. I am in awe of authors like Stephanie Meyer and Suzanne Collins and would like to attempt a fictional story someday, but for now a survival guide for my son seems like where my head is at mostly.
Have you had much feedback from readers?
The feedback has been absolutely life-changing! As soon as I received my first batch of printed books in ’09, I rented half a booth at the Miami book fair and wound up selling every copy I brought along. Almost immediately, I started receiving spirited emails from people thanking me for my honesty and asking where I’d be appearing next. So I started setting up my card table at every street fair and festival that would have me. In the 3 years since publication, Dear Lilly has been added to 27 libraries across the country, accumulated 175 five star reviews on Amazon.com, and has held the #1 spot on the Kindle teen charts for six weeks straight.
Finally, what else do you have coming up over the rest of 2012?
I’m about to embark on a public speaking tour this summer to help take a stand against this horrific bullying epidemic that is decimating our schools. Growing up a brace-faced and spaghetti-armed weakling with a pretty severe stutter has made me someone who really understands this problem and I believe I can help young people see things in a better perspective. I can remember exactly how it feels to be a lonely teenager, completely insecure, and terrified of what the future holds. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from sharing this book with the world, it’s that kids want the truth. And as awkward and embarrassing as that may be sometimes, it’s exactly what I intend to bring them.