Colorado Gold Mainstream Fiction Winner ZJ Czupor

This is so thrilling–our first on-line interview!  Enjoy, everybody, and please let us know if you like this kind of article:
ZJ Czupor is a successful business professional who, with his wife and partner, Marta Sipeki, has run The Interpro Group public relations firm for more than 20 years. This last Saturday saw ZJ collect another accolade: Winner of the 2012 Colorado Gold Conference writing competition in Mainstream Fiction. I caught up with ZJ after the conference and asked him a few questions to help aspiring writers along:
portrait of ZJ Czupor

Author ZJ Czupor

ZJ, with your years of experience in public relations, one could assume switching to writing fiction, would be easy. Can you tell us how you made the transition? 

Well, it wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. But, I’ve had great support from my writer’s critique group. Plus by attending conferences and seminars organized by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers I have learned and continue to learn more and more about the craft of fiction writing. That said, I think I’m fortunate because of my journalism education and training, I write fast and write to meet deadlines. It’s also something I’ve always wanted to do. I find great joy in writing for myself, making up wild plots and equally wild characters.

When did you start writing The Hot Tub Club, your winning entry, and can you tell us a little about the story? 
I stared writing this story after I joined RMFW in 2007. But, the idea had been swimming around in my head for several years before that. It wasn’t until I saw Mark Stevens at my first conference. I had known Mark as a public relations colleague but didn’t know he was a published author. (He’s currently the president of RMFW). It was Mark who encouraged me to join a critique group. That’s made all the difference in the world. That one act gave me the confidence to start writing and keep going.
The Hot Tub Club is a blend of tart comedy and sweet tragedy. It takes place over a weekend in Denver when a mordant and witty New York business writer tries to interview the world’s number one business guru. But things get complicated when the guru’s estranged college friends show up for a Hot Tub Club reunion. Only this time, they’ve come to settle old scores. Meanwhile, the writer finds himself falling hard for one of the friends who was the guru’s former lover. The finale is heart-stopping, and a riot of confusion, ending with a murder.
What made this particular project important enough to you to pursue it over time? 
Once I started writing and understanding who my characters were I became more curious to see how it would all end. So, I kept writing and got enough positive feedback from my critique group that I became convinced I might have a good story.
I know at lunch time on the day of the awards, you were pretty sure that you had NOT won. Can you tell us about your experience on stage and hearing your name announced as a result? 
The final judge was Erika Imranyi, editor for Mira Books, an imprint of Harlequin Publishing. I met with her earlier in the day to get feedback on my novel. I had researched her pretty extensively in advance and was convinced that my novel was not the kind she would buy since her audience is more attuned to romance fiction and women-oriented fiction. Nevertheless, since she was the final judge, I thought I might learn something. But, she sandbagged me and convinced me I couldn’t win because she said she hated my title, as did her assistant. She also gave me conflicting feedback alternating between positive and negative comments about the story, the characters, the plot, etc. I left the meeting shaking my head and feeling pretty dejected. I picked up my wife and as we drove back to the banquet I told her I was convinced there was no way I was going to win, but we should put on a happy face and cheer on my colleagues who were finalists in other categories. So, when I was on stage and Erika called my name as the winner, holy cow, I was absolutely shocked. And, she gave me the wickedest grin.
Is there anything you’d like to tell aspiring writers that you wish you’d known a couple of years ago?
I  do wish I had a magic piece of advice, but I don’t. I think if you’re going to write, you have to write. You can’t think about it or talk about it. You also have to read lots of books in different genres and get a feel for why a particular book is special. You have to read books about writing, and go to seminars and conferences. Meet with agents and editors and understand the business side of writing. You should talk to published authors and authors-in-training. Learn from them. I’m convinced this is a process like any craft. You only get better by doing and repeating. Doing and repeating. And keep doing until you succeed. If writing is your dream, you have to write. There’s no easy way to get there. But it is easier if you approach this craft with joy in your heart and fierce determination in your soul. This should not be drudgery, it should be fun and fulfilling. Keep going. Success will follow.
Keep going, my friends, and like for ZJ, “success will follow.”  Have a super day.

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