Abbey Marshall | Managing Editor
Kurt Dinan held a book signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Wednesday, April 6. Photo by Abbey Marshall.
Lots of students are going to “get caught” reading English teacher Kurt Dinan’s debut novel.
Dinan’s Young Adult book Don’t Get Caught hit bookstores on April 1. It is is a comedic tale of Max Cobb and his friends, who begin an elaborate prank war at their high school.
“Don’t Get Caught is a YA heist novel, but instead of them stealing things, they’re pulling really elaborate pranks within their building,” Dinan said. “Hilarity ensues. Lots of really over the top pranks. A lot of humor. Really fast-paced.”
Dinan said his inspiration came from a place of failure. After writing a book he couldn’t publish, he began listing out elements that would make a good story.
“I wrote a novel I couldn’t sell and when I was reevaluating, I decided to make a list of what I like in books because they tell you to like what you would read,” Dinan said. “So I made a list and on that list was what I like: heist films, ensemble casts, juvenile humor, short chapters, not much description, plot twists and I made that list and ultimately that’s what I ended up with.”
After 18 months and eight drafts, Dinan’s work was complete. Following that, the real work began.
“I sent out 125 query letters (for an agent),” Dinan said. “Query letters have very specific specifications…You have to sell the novel within about 250 words…I bet it was a year and a half before an agent agreed to represent it…I had bites from certain agents and they read the book. My agent, Carrie Sparks, loved the book and offered to represent it. She had revision notes and I revised the book again for what she said we needed to do. Then she sends and meets with all the book editors she knows. She specializes in Young Adult novels. So she goes to all the Young Adult editors and publishers she knows and gives them this book…From those, Source Books, out of Chicago, loved the book and wanted to publish it and here we are.”
As the April 1 release date approached, Dinan said he began relentless promotion across the country and internet, including a book signing April 6 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood.
“It’s been a lot of busywork: writing blog entries for people’s books, doing interviews, but I’m trying to enjoy it all because as far as I know I will never publish another book,” Dinan said. “Once this one’s done, it doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean that I get to publish another book. I went to visit the publisher in Chicago last year and I loved that. I wanted to see the people who were working on my book. I was sent to Denver to meet with booksellers and that was thrilling. I was with other authors whose books were coming out and some were Pulitzer Prize winners. I felt like a fraud at times, but at the same time, I felt really appreciated and that was fun.”
Dinan said his experience will not only help further his career as a writer, but assist in his job as an English teacher.
“I try not to oversell the book,” Dinan said. “That’s not my job. I’m here to teach, but the book comes up. It has to. I reference it when we talk about the writing process. It does give me a sort of verisimilitude. I have a certain amount of authority, especially in creative writing, because I do this. This is what I do. I know what works and what doesn’t. I know how to approach certain problems.”
Junior Holly Martin, a mentee of Dinan, benefited from his real-world experience.
“Since he has that real-world experience, he can give us real advice,” Martin said. “Instead of a teacher saying, ‘Write what you feel’, he can actually give us feedback on what he has gone through and what he’s experienced…I’m looking forward to seeing his writing style because he taught Creative Writing and I want to see how he writes.”
Dinan said he is excited about having students approach him about his novel.
“I do have kids who walk by me in the hall who come up and ask me when the book is coming out,” Dinan said. “They want to read the book. I know when the book comes out, kids are going to be coming and asking me to sign it. I’m going to see a kid I don’t know walking down the hall with my book and that’s really exciting and fun.”
Freshman Andy Carter picked up a copy of Don’t Get Caught on the release date and finished it within a day.
“I started reading it Friday morning and finished reading it Friday afternoon,” Carter said. “It reads pretty quick and it keeps you turning the pages so I thought it was pretty fun to read. It’s a good book.”
Dinan said he is proud of his accomplishment of becoming a published author.
“I’m thrilled it’s coming out,” Dinan said. “A friend of mine said the other day, ‘You’ve achieved something some authors will never achieve. A publisher is putting your book out.’ I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the book. A lot of people seem to love the book.”
Originally published in The Chronicle on April 15, 2016.