“I don’t have the sad story of the 50 rejection letters.”


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BRIAN PETERSON

Position:
Senior information technology support specialist,
College House Computing
Length of service:
5 years
Other stuff:
A big believer in education,
he organized and teaches in a
Saturday academy for West
Philly public schoolers at
DuBois College House.
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Photo by Candace diCarlo

At last, the guys have a Terry McMillan of their own.

Brian Peterson (EAS’93,GEd’97) noted as he read his way through Penn that no contemporary black author was writing about relationships from an intelligent male perspective the way McMillan was for women. So, as is typical for him, he decided to fill the void himself. The result was his first novel, “Move Over, Girl,” which has just been published by Random House.

But this isn’t its first appearance. Peterson originally published the book himself as well, promoting it on his own Web site, www.chance22.com.

The story of how “Move Over, Girl” came to be, and came to be picked up by Random House, is almost as interesting as the novel itself.

Q. What led you to write “Move Over, Girl” in the first place?
A.
I was in my junior year, studying engineering. I was getting tired of it, really, so I just started looking for different things I could do, so I started reading more. My girlfriend had “Disappearing Acts” by Terry McMillan, and I picked it up. I read a bunch of contemporary black fiction, but I never really found a book that was speaking directly to me — something that was talking about a young black man, maybe in college, maybe not, but [who] was having different issues with relationships, trying to figure out what is going on.
   So I was trying to negotiate that stuff myself, and I knew all my friends were. So I just sat down and started writing, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I think my first draft I probably finished about a year and a half later. I showed it to one of my professors from Penn, the one English class I did take as an engineer, and she was real enthusiastic about it. She really gave me a lot of encouragement, and I got a lot of other feedback, but I was never really happy with the draft, so I kept rewriting it. That’s why it took six years to do it.

Q. Why did you decide to self-publish?
A.
I was also doing music production, shopping people’s demo tapes, and I always think you should have your own vehicles to put your voice out. In the music industry, it’s so difficult to do that, but looking at [writers] like Omar Tyree and E. Lynn Harris, who started out self-publishing, it seemed like a viable option for me. I could set up my own schedule, I could send it to the [printer], I could put it out on the streets, I could send out the press releases.

Q. How much did it cost you to publish the first printing?
A.
I’d say the first batch of books I put out, about 1,500 books, cost roughly $5,000. I think I [sent it to the printer] at the beginning of the summer [of 1998] and I put the book out by September.

Q. And how long did it take you to sell all 1,500?
A.
It only took about three months.

Q. So how did Random House find it? Did you wave the book in front of them, or did someone there see your Web site?
A.
Actually, it was both. The editor there who signed me is Manie Barron. He had been picking up a lot of self-published authors. [And] in Random House there was a girl named Melody Guy who actually went to Penn, knew about my book and had mentioned it to them in passing a couple of times.
   But what I did on my end – there was a writing conference here, the Philadelphia Black Writers Conference in February, right around Valentine’s Day. So I went there [in 1999] and met an editor from Warner Books. She said that Warner didn’t take self-published authors, so I just sent her a book afterward and said, This is for your personal review, just check it out. And she read it and sent me a letter back to say, Contact this guy at Random House, I think there’s a spot for you there. So I sent the man a book, and a little later, they wanted to pick this up. But I don’t have the sad story of the 50 rejection letters.

Q. Did your girlfriend read any of the drafts?
A.
I didn’t want her to read it until I knew it was tight. So she read the last draft.

Q. What was her reaction? Did she see herself in it?
A.
Everybody sees themselves in it. Everybody thinks I’m the main character, she thought she was the girlfriend who was having issues with the main character, because at the time we were having issues, and some other friends thought they were like the sidekicks or whatever, so it’s hilarious. But they all asked me, So what’s going on next, Tony? ’Cause that’s the character’s name. My life is not nearly as interesting as this guy’s life. He’s the star of the basketball team, and I sat on the bench in high school.

Q. Do you plan to follow this book up?
A.
Yeah, I’m working on another one now. I hope to have that on the Summer 2001 list. “Move Over, Girl” is a college story, but it sort of alludes to getting out of college, what’s the next step. This next book deals with all of that, putting people in different positions where they have to question themselves and really decide, Am I doing what I want to do? And I think that’s a question we all ask ourselves pretty much every day.

“Move Over, Girl” is available at the Penn Bookstore and other area booksellers.

 

Originally published on April 6, 2000