By Melissa Warner Published March 13, 2022
When he first started writing, author Kurt Dinan wrote horror stories. Like many of the author Festival authors, he grew up reading Stephen King. After writing for a while and attending conventions, he realized “it wasn’t me. It’s totally not me. I’m pretty much a 15 year old boy mentally – I still look like I’m 15 for crying out loud!” He admitted that “my initial thought on most things is some sort of juvenile” joke. As a high school teacher for over 25 years, “I’m surrounded by it all the time,” and he writes the world he knows. “YA was a very natural thing once I decided I wasn’t going to write horror anymore.” Mr. Dinan’s first book, Don’t Get Caught (2016) is a bit of an action book, and he realized “this is a lot more me” and “it was a lot easier to write.”
After the sale of this first book, Mr. Dinan had the sequel ready “in my head” and he talked to his agent about it. The publisher waited to see how well it would sell before taking on the sequel. Not wanting to “just sit here,” he began work on a different book. Bizarrely but normal for the publishing world, despite the success of Don’t Get Caught, his publisher and many others declined to publish The Scam List, although they received “glowing rejections.” One even said they loved the book and believed that kids would love it and it would sell, but declined it. He then turned to self publishing, reading up a great deal on it, and chose this publishing path although he realized that self publishing “is a whole other full time job.” He does prefer the assigned deadlines inherent in traditional publishing. He has also self published a short prequel to The Scam List, The Con Artist Dates.
When asked how he handled rejection (after many rejections from agents and then publishers), Mr. Dinan said “not well. I do not have a thick skin.” He admitted that he tends to “sit with it a little bit” but “I will say I have gotten much better with it, sitting with it less time.” He has learned to put “things into perspective” and acknowledged “I have nothing to complain about – I have my family, a full time job and my health” and he “knows not to complain I can’t get my book published.”
In the meantime, Mr. Dinan proposed and is working on a book co-authored with Mindy McGinnis although it is not YA. He has not given up on a sequel to Don’t Get Caught. He keeps writing because “I think it’s good for me – it’s the creative outlet…I think it’s good for my soul – it makes me think. It gives me an outlet to be myself sometimes.” The “magic [when writing comes together] pulls me back and makes me happy, a little calmer too.” Additionally, “it’s a good experience for kids to see” both his own and his students. Both the struggle and failures as well as the amount of work provide useful examples for life.
However, along the way he has learned “there’s no magic pill on how to” write. He was advised by a more established author “you have to find your own way.” Mr. Dinan adds “you have to find what works for you and do that. If I had learned that early on, I think I would have been a little more prolific. At the same time I also know myself well enough to know I process things slowly so it takes a long time for me to write anything or for me to write something I’m happy with.” He has also learned to appreciate “pantsing” it (versus outlining in writing) and wishes “I had known earlier on…how good it can be and how creative it can be.” Covid affected his writing because it took away his “privacy” and “time alone”; he writes better “when no one is around.”
As a young child, he wanted to be either a stunt man (due to watching The Fall Guy tv show) or a truck driver (having seen Smokey and the Bandit and BJ and the Bear) when he grew up. By the age of 15, he had “no idea” what he wanted to be but briefly considered joining the FBI and his dad was the head of the Cincinnati FBI office. Although he did not participate in many high school extracurricular activities, he did work at the school radio station, and later for McDonald’s. There, he “found this oddball group of friends who I never would have been friends with” otherwise. Working there “taught me hard work, it made me grow up, it made me polite.” As an adult, he wishes he had known as a teenager that “nobody is thinking about you on the level you think they are (and if they are, they are weird and creepy).” He would advise those kinds of fears to not eliminate opportunities.