Kev’s Author Interviews Presents:
A Short Biography
Grant Overstake is a former Miami Herald Sports Writer and Kansas newspaper editor. He has been writing professionally since he was 18. He began as a part-time sports writer at The Wichita Eagle before attending the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, where he was awarded the William Randolph Hearst Award, the college version of the Pulitzer Prize. Grant also competed in the decathlon for the KU track team; and was a USATF All-American. After writing sports, news, and features for The Miami Herald, Grant later returned to Kansas to edit hometown newspapers, earning numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association. Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is Grant’s first novel. His second novel, The Things We Put Away, will be released soon. In addition to writing, Grant leads Artist’s Way creative workshops for adults and is a Teaching Artist, with Arts Partners of Wichita, presenting motivational assemblies and writing workshops at schools. Grant and his wife, Claire, live in a tiny bungalow, with a great writing porch, in Wichita, Kansas.
Kev: What is your latest book about?
Maggie Steele is a gritty farm girl from tiny Grain Valley, Kansas who pours her broken heart into the daring sport of pole-vaulting. Driven by a secret she cannot share with anyone, Maggie finds herself on a dangerous quest to soar waaay higher than her critics think a girl should ever go. Unflinching in its exploration of a teenager’s grief with gripping descriptions of a breathtaking sport, Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is a rewarding read for mid-grade to adults.
Kev: Who or what influenced you to write it?
I got the idea for the novel watching three-time Olympian Earl Bell coach young vaulters at the Tailwind Pole Vault Club in Jamestown, Kansas. I asked him if he would consider coaching a fictional pole-vaulter to new heights and when he said yes, I knew Maggie was destined for greatness.
Kev: Did you do any specialised research for your story?
Maggie is a piece of realistic fiction which takes place in a composite rural Kansas farming community. But Maggie’s quest is a familiar one, to make it to the Kansas State High School Track and Field Championships, the largest track meet in the nation, with over 3,000 participants. I took the farm scenes from my experiences as a newspaper editor and pastor in rural Kansas. I competed at the Kansas State Track Meet three times in high school, with limited success. I wanted to experience what it would be like to be a state champion, and so I wrote a story about it.
Kev: What challenges did you face while writing the story?
The opportunity to make the story truly great came when Earl Bell said he’d be the voice of the coach. So I wrote the story, leaving blanks in the places where he needed to add his expertise, then traveled to Arkansas to meet with him. I was hoping he’d give me at least an hour of his valuable time. Six hours later, we were toasting Maggie with a bottle of twenty-five-year-old scotch.
Kev: Who is the protagonist?
Maggie Steele, a gritty farm girl from tiny Grain Valley, Kansas.
Kev: What would you say is the protagonist’s greatest weakness or obstacle and why?
Maggie suffers a loss that seems insurmountable, leaving her to face an unknown future alone just as she enters her senior year of high school.
Kev: Who is the main Antagonist?
Grief in its many forms. Gender discrimination by school board members who think girls should not pole vault and the challenge of the ever-rising crossbar, which she faces with bravery and courage.
Kev: What would you say is the main antagonist’s greatest strength?
Grief is so devastating and debilitating. The sport of pole-vaulting is perhaps the most demanding of all athletic events. In this story, her healing comes from her passion to master it.
Kev: Could you provide a short passage from your book to give us a taster?
Here in Grain Valley Township, we don’t have paid professional firefighters or emergency rescue crews to rescue us. We rescue ourselves.
My dad has been a volunteer fireman since he was eighteen. Carries his emergency radio everywhere, fastened to the belt of his jeans. At night, his radio sits on his nightstand. When it goes off, he springs out of bed no matter what time it is. It doesn’t happen every night or even every week, but it happens often enough for me to worry about him. Which is too often, I’d say.
Like the time Dad and the other volunteers got called out of our little church on Sunday morning. The preacher was leading us in the Lord’s Prayer when beeping radios went off all over the sanctuary. We said an extra prayer for all the men who up and bolted for the door that day.
Being a volunteer firefighter seems exciting and I’ve thought about becoming one myself next year, when I turn eighteen. I know I could do what they do, if given a chance. But being a fireman is strictly a guy thing around here.
It would be exciting to be one, but at the same time, it’s dangerous and stressful to go out on emergency calls. For one thing, you never know what kind of accident you’ll be responding to, or how bad someone is hurt. And for another thing, since everybody knows everybody else around here, there’s a good chance that whoever desperately needs your help will be somebody you know.
Now it was just after eleven o’clock on Friday night, June third, almost a year ago, when Dad and Mom and I heard the radio alarm. I was in the bathroom washing my face and getting ready for bed when Dad rushed from the bedroom toward the kitchen and dashed out the back door to his pickup. The radio screeched, “Two-car crash, cars on fire, three miles east of Grain Valley on 39 Highway,” as the screen door slammed. The engine roared and tires spun on the gravel as he sped away into the night.
When the alarm goes out, whoever gets to the firehouse first opens the big metal doors, and starts one or both of the fire trucks, depending on how serious the call is. The other men show up within two or three minutes, pulling their coats and gloves on, on the run.
Mom came out from the bedroom in her robe, fussing with her short, graying hair. With the radio gone, the house was quiet. We heard sirens wailing through the screen door. Both trucks were on the roll. “Sounds like a bad one, Maggie,” Mom said, brow furrowed. “Have you heard from Alex and Caleb?”
“Not since before supper,” I said.
“Why don’t you call. See where they’re at.”
I hit the speed dial on my cell phone for my brother, Alex, but it went straight to voice mail. “Hey, there’s a wreck on the highway, and Mom wants to hear from you guys.” Then I speed-dialed my boyfriend, Caleb, but got the same result, voice mail.
After that we just sat there at the kitchen table, as the clock ticked and the refrigerator hummed and the crickets chirped. We had no way of knowing what Dad would find out there on the highway. We sat there for twenty minutes or so, but nobody called.
Finally Mom said, “Well, maybe they’re still at the movies.”
I nodded. “Or maybe they’re just out of range.”
We get lousy cell phone coverage here in rural Kansas.
They say there’s a special bond between a sister and her brother, that they always know when the other one is in serious trouble or something’s gone terribly wrong. Since I didn’t have any bad feelings, I thought Alex and Caleb were fine. I expected them to roll in any minute, laughing and joking around, heading straight for the fridge to eat us out of house and home. Whoever it was out there in that awful car wreck, I was sure it wasn’t them.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Kev: Favourite author’s book… What lured you to it?
The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. He was a journalist turned author and I marvel at his tight writing style.
Kev: When you write, do you write off-the-cuff or do you use some kind of formula?
I saw the final scene then wrote the story with that through-point in mind. Some might think I’m way out there, but I believe there is a source where creative ideas come from. The story unfolded scene by scene, with many twists and turns I ‘d never anticipated before putting pen to paper. It was a gift, I say.
Kev: How do you deal with writers-block?
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I spent too many years writing newspaper copy on deadline, where you either write it now or you’re out of a job. While writing fiction, there are times when I need to take a walk with a notepad and pen. What needs to be sorted out will come to me and I’ve got to write it down on the spot or it will be lost before I can get back to the house.
Kev: Preference for writing: Day or Night?
I write best in the wee hours of the morning. I come away astonished at what shows up on the page.
Kev: What is your process for editing your work?
I write the first draft in longhand, and then my wife, Claire, who is truly a saint, types the daily work into the computer. She won’t let me see it again until I’ve written the entire story. I was unsuccessful in my attempts to write fiction on a keyboard because of my newspaper background. I kept going back up the screen to polish what I’d written, and lost the inner voice. When it’s time to edit, I print the manuscript and approach the text with a copy editor’s mindset. Two or three rounds, then beta readers, and two or three rounds more.
Before letting the novel go to press (CreateSpace) we made every effort to make sure the manuscript was up to industry standards. We hired their editing services to make sure it was polished. We didn’t want anyone to say, “This novel is obviously self-published!” And nobody has said that about Maggie, so I see that as a validation. The owner of Watermark Books here in Wichita says, “Maggie isn’t self-published; it’s independently published, and there’s a big difference.”
Kev: How do you come up with your book covers?
I had the cover details in mind and discussed it with the graphic designers at CreateSpace. We went back and forth, combining elements from his two versions. At the time it was published, black book covers dominated the YA shelves, so I picked tourquioise, to create a different vibe.
Kev: Do you think the book cover is important?
Indeed, especially when it depicts a sport so popular with tween and teenage girls, the target audience for the book.
Kev: Which publishing platform do you prefer and why?
I went with a full CreateSpace package and have nothing but great things to say about my experience. The execution and customer service have been outstanding.
Kev: Do you face any daunting obstacles during the publishing process?
My least favorite thing about the process was searching for a literary agent willing to give a first-time author and Maggie a chance. After six months and several nice rejection letters, I grew impatient and formed my own publishing company, Go Team Enterprises.
Kev: What methods do you use to promote your work?
I do all of my own marketing for Maggie, which is still a daily process. I got the title placed in our local independent bookstore and had a very succesful book launch there. The book has made the store’s best seller list several times. I do local readings at libraries and give presentations at schools.
I’ve posted more than 200 blog posts in two years time, and have top status on search engines as a result. While I’m looking for a traditional publisher for my next project, going indie has been great for me, because I learned so much in a short time. Traditional publishers want to see how much an author is willing to promote themselves. I’ve spent more time and energy marketing Maggie than any publishing house would have.
The story has received several great reviews and endorsements here in the states, and in Great Britain as well.
Kev: Do you have any advice for new authors?
I needed help to make the shift to fiction, so I read a dozen or more must-read books. I learned there are Three Important Rules to Writing Fiction, but in fact, nobody knows what they are. There is a real craft to storytelling and you need to know the basics, but then you must trust the voice in your head and be who you are and write from your own experiences. It seems to be working for me.
Kev: Which social media platforms do you use the most?
Follow Maggie’s blog on WordPress
Like Maggie on Facebook
Follow on Twitter@MaggieVaults
Kev: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes! The audiobook version of the story was released on March 31st by Blackstone Audio. Narrator Tavia Gilbert is a six-time finalist for the Audie Award, the Oscar of the industry. To have my indie published novel become part of Tavia Gilbert’s exclusive portfolo makes Maggie a real over-the-moon success story.
Maggie on audio is available for download at Blackstone Audio
And other major online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound