By Kristen Rafferty
Author Eric Luper is not your typical writer. He wasn’t born with a passion for the classics—Dickens, Shakespeare, and Chaucer were Cliffs Notes tabs on the left side of the page—and Don Delillo, Junot Diaz, and Melvin Burgess’s edgy contemporary writings left him wanting. For most of his life, comic books were about all he would pick up.
“I was a reluctant reader,” Luper admits. “There was always too much stimulation around for me to get lost in the world of reading—other than comic books, of course.”
So how did a former comic book junkie end up the highly praised author of two young adult fiction novels, and a much-anticipated upcoming release this spring, all within two years? Steadily rising in the world of literature, his third novel, Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto, is set to be released next June, and a fourth is already in the works.
“Not until college did I develop a love for the written word,” explains Luper on his professional website. “Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.’ I just didn’t get on the boat until really late.”
Once on board, though, Luper’s career took off fairly quickly.
Though Luper struggled at first to find his niche, receiving limited feedback and “nibbles,” on his first writings, he jokes that he was “too stupid to stop”.
After a friend urged him one night to watch poker on television (a suggestion Luper has been quoted as responding to with “I couldn’t possibly think of anything more boring than watching people on tv playing cards”), an idea, THE idea, was born. Call it beginner’s luck, but Luper jotted down a chapter, shared it with friends, developed the plot, and bam. Five months later, a nanosecond in authorial time, Big Slick was written.
A story of temptation, Big Slick revolves around a teenage boy who watches poker on television and online until discovering an illegal club where he can play Texas Hold ‘em for real. The novel was nominated last year for the American Library Association’s list of Best Books for Young Adults, amidst overwhelmingly positive responses.
One especially notable online review describes Luper’s storyline as “An action-filled tale involving hot girls, hot cars, very dangerous people, serious desperation, and some seriously bad choices,” and speculates that the Big Slick “is going to be a great new title for reluctant readers.”
The more prestigious Kirkus Reviews compliments Luper’s writing, praising his first novel as an “authentic first-person narrative,” a “powerful” breakout novel.
Its success was unexpected, especially given the speed of the process.
“Big Slick was written largely at my dining room table in the evenings after the kids went to sleep,” Luper shares. “I could hear the ambient noise of the television as my wife watched Law and Order (or whatever legal/medical drama was popular at the time).” Luper says that his novel was accepted for publishing with little necessity for revision—it seemed his career had hit a turning point, and the destination was his choice from here on out.
“I tend to write by the seat of my pants,” Luper confesses. “Story ideas occur to me all the time. I jot down notes and sometimes brainstorm to develop ideas more thoroughly…if the idea doesn’t totally bore me at that point, I’ll give it a few chapters and see where I end up.”
He is not without guidance, however. “My 8 year old son wants me to write a baseball story,” Luper shares cheerfully, “and my 5 year old daughter wants me to write something with princesses and ponies.”
Intriguing and as tempting as his children’s suggestions were, Luper’s inspiration for his second novel was instead his longtime passion for horseracing (hey, it’s almost a novel about ponies, right?)
Bug Boy is a Seabiscuit-style story of Thoroughbred racing set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the elegant history of the Saratoga Springs Racetrack, where Luper actually spent part of his summer doing promotional book signings.
Released last June, his sophomore novel is quickly living up to its predecessor’s success, most recently named to the Indie Next List, a prestigious list of the best books of 2009 as chosen by independent booksellers.
Reviewed as a “well-written, engaging story” by the School Library Journal, and described as “a book that's going to make teen boys fall in love with historical fiction without ever knowing what hit them” by the increasingly popular Goodreads.com, a social networking site for literature, Bug Boy is continuing to gain attention and praise in the professional community for its unique storyline.
Even as Bug Boy steadily climbs in reviews, Luper is gearing up for the promotion of his third novel Seth Baumgartner’s Love Manifesto, set to begin marketing this spring.
A story of teenage love, loss, and discovery, Love Manifesto revolves around a male teenage protagonist’s podcast about his ponderings, and even has its own playlist to accompany it.
“Yes, you read that right,” jokes Luper. “I wrote a book with a playlist. My iPod has the current playlist on it and I’m tinkering with the song selections. Right now, Cupid’s Chokehold by Gym Class Heroes is playing.
If the classic-but-still-rock-and-roll song is any indication, Luper’s fourth novel is sure to be an edgy change to his previous writings.
“I love the humor in my third novel,” Luper shares enthusiastically. “It’s a great change of pace for me…really the first time I allowed myself to spread my wings and just write.”
“Just writing” seems to be all Luper will be doing this winter, and he doesn’t mind a bit. Already setting to work on finishing a fourth novel that is aimed at younger readers—name and plotline are still under wraps, but “rest assured,” Luper says, “it’s got a lot of potty humor and antics!”—Luper’s is counting on the cold days of January and looking forward to staying inside and writing.
“If I could accomplish one thing with my writing, it would be to open people’s minds to the possibility of reading a book from the young adult section,” Luper says, adding, “I don’t mind when people don’t read my book as long as they’re reading books in general.”
A far cry from his days at the Cliffs Notes rack, Luper insists that his professional writing career does not take away from his everyday life.
“My inspirations are my kids,” Luper says. “I want them to see how hard work can be very rewarding.”
The very best part about being a published author?
“I’ve seen my books on the shelves of a bookstore or library hundreds of times,” wonders Luper, “but it still makes my heart skip a beat.”