A Conversation with 'Fresh Heir' Michael Reilly

Michael Reilly is a writer and entrepreneur. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. His first published novel, Fresh Heir, was released in May 2011. He is also founder and chief executive officer of FitDivs Inc, a company that promotes and rewards healthy living. Michael resides with his wife and four children in Charlottesville, VA.

You can visit his website at www.freshheirnovel.com or connect with him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Fresh-Heir/168240473246308.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Michael. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book, Fresh Heir?

Thank you for the opportunity. I have been writing most of my adult life. I was a journalist for many years and attempted several novels before publishing my first one, Fresh Heir. My earlier attempts were historical fiction, mostly because I love history; but the books admittedly lacked spark. As a parent of four young children, I began to live through and observe so many of the pressures and challenges of raising kids in such a hyper-competitive, instant-information world. I knew that was exactly what I wanted to write about. All the elements just fell into place.

Q: How did you come up with the title?

The title has three separate connotations. First, it’s derived from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be...” soliloquy. “...and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to...” Jamie Shoop, the main character in the book, is a 12-year-old genius with a photographic memory. His obsessive father, Doug, believes his son is his ticket to salvation, compensating for all the other failures in his life. So he’ll do anything to launch his kid into stardom, and he is never hesitant to “show him off” to others. This includes making Jamie recite Shakespeare...like a dog doing tricks.

Doug is portrayed as a rather unworldly man, burdened by his past and his misplaced values, which feed his obsession over his son’s success. So the name Fresh Heir also implies a new beginning for the family, born from Jamie’s ability to rise above rather than succumb to the pressures his father places on him. Which sadly is not always the case in life.

Lastly, Fresh Heir is derived in a humorous way from the traditions of the family car ride. Fresh Heir takes place during a four week period in which Doug is driving his family from New York to California, where Jamie is scheduled to attend a program for gifted youth. Anyone who has been packed in a car on a long trip with family - either as a kid, or a parent, or both - knows there is a long list of ubiquitous complaints, among a few of which are: I’m hungry; I need to pee; I’m not feeling so good; I need fresh air...

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?

Fresh Heir is actually self-published through Amazon.com’s CreateSpace unit. I never even attempted to publish Fresh Heir through traditional channels. Previous books I had written had been rejected by dozens of publishers and agents. So with Fresh Heir, I decided to forgo the aggravation. I believed the book deserved to be in print, because I think it delivers an important message, while at the same time just being a quick and enjoyable read. Hopefully most busy parents can appreciate this.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

Once again, being self-published, I have not had the benefit of the marketing provided through an established publisher. CreateSpace did distribute press releases when my book came out, but the onus has pretty much fallen on me. I have been using social media to get the word out and am currently doing a virtual book tour through PumpUpYourBook.com.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

Fresh Heir is very similar to a book named Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College. It’s by Andrew Ferguson, and it was released last March, just about the time my book was about ready to go to print. Crazy U, as the full title suggests, is a non-fictional account of Mr. Ferguson’s journey toward sending his oldest child off to college. It’s a hilarious, and sometimes frightening, depiction of the pressures and stress that make the college application process today so overwhelming for kids and for parents, who so passionately want the best outcome for their child.

Crazy U and Fresh Heir are similar in the way they treat a very serious theme, the pressures of parenthood in a hyper-competitive world, with a good dose of humor and light-heartedness. The books are different primarily due to the fact that Fresh Heir is fictional and Crazy U is not. Mr. Ferguson’s work is packed with entertaining narrative, but there are also the statistics and factual information that you would expect in a non-fiction work.

I think what makes Fresh Heir so special is that it fundamentally achieves the same message in Crazy U and other non-fiction portrayals of modern day parenting, but it does so within the framework of a story that hopefully the reader finds just plain fun.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

I opened to page 176. Close to the top it reads: “That’s where he’s gifted,” she said. “Not like all this other crap you always blabber on about. Being a genius.”

The person talking is Doug Shoop’s ex-wife, Corrine. Through a series of unforeseen events, Doug has somehow been forced to divert his family trip to Aspen, Colorado, where Corrine has a vacation home with her new rich husband. Their divorce was brought on by Corrine’s infidelity and this leaves nothing but a severe bitter taste in Doug’s mouth. On this page is a scene between Doug and Corrine in the kitchen early one morning. Here is an excerpt from the remainder of the page:

“He is,” Doug cut in. “All the testing says so.”

“Testing” she said. “So he reads a lot. Pfff.” As she made this noise, she quaked her body in an exaggerated fashion, like she’d just taken too big a bite of ice cream on a hot day. She poured a cup of coffee and handed it to him. He took it reluctantly. It was the cup she had shaken out earlier. He looked at it, wondering if he’d see the uncooperative dead bug floating on top.

“I suppose it’s part of the reason why I’ve not made an issue of your keeping the kids,” she continued. “I know I don’t deserve them, but I’d simply be too scared to take that boy from you. He loves you too much. Despite all your flaws.”

My flaws!” He took a deep breath, but never had time to discharge his lode of accusations.

She cut him off, not to be derailed, and said, “I mean, let’s face it, it’s the one gift all kids are universally born with—an instinctive love for their parents. Not all parents want their kids right from the start, but all kids want their parents. Right?” He didn’t answer. She took a sip of her coffee, the annoying, slurpy kind of sip you use when it’s still too hot to drink. He looked again at his cup and just placed it on the counter, rebuffing the dead bug.

“His love definitely goes deeper.” She paused, and as if to emphasize the validity of her theory, said, “Definitely deeper. I don’t know why. Maybe it does have something to do with all that crap you’re always boasting about. Maybe he can see things other kids can’t. Or maybe it is all that reading he does. Books sometimes do put romantic notions into your head, don’t they?” Again, no answer. He put his hands in his jeans pockets to affirm his pledge of silence to her onslaught of rhetorical questions. “But that doesn’t mean his adoration can’t be broken, Doug.” As she spoke, she looked him straight in the eye and then paused, turned wistfully out the window one last time, and said, “Don’t break the gift…not the way lots of us other parents somehow find a way to.”

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

Yes, I am working on a follow-up to Fresh Heir, with a similar theme. I have not started writing it yet, but I have essentially laid out the plot and the characters.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Michael. Do you have any final words?

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity. I am grateful to anyone who takes time to read my book and hope they will pass the word on to other people.

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