Friday, 5 June 2015

A Police Procedural without the police!

My guest today is Mike Wallace, whose third Quill Gordon mystery has hit the market. Great cover, Mike!
Where did the inspiration for Not Death, But Love come from?
In 2012 I was hired by a family foundation to write the family’s history. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, because it paid generously and the work was fascinating. By the end of it, I felt the long-deceased family members had come alive inside my head and that I was able to convey a reasonably good sense of them to the readers.

In the course of that work, I came across several things that were a surprise to the people who hired me. There were no terrible scandals, but there were lawsuits and family schisms they hadn’t known about until I started digging. At the time, I was simultaneously working on my second mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away, and at some point it occurred to me that a family history with a deep secret — one worth killing to keep — could make the basis for a good mystery. One of my plans for a future book had been a story centering on a controversial land-use plan, something that would make use of the knowledge I picked up working as a consultant for Wells Fargo Bank and The Home Depot more than a decade ago. I decided to combine ideas to make the land development part of the family history, and was off to the races.
Having your character Charlotte maintain a journal is an interesting approach. What gave you the idea?
It’s an old trope, of course, but when I was working on the family history, I often lamented that none of the family members had kept journals (at least none that had survived). I decided to give my murder victim, a retired English teacher named Charlotte London, a journal. It was originally supposed to provide a set of clues to complement those in the family history, but it ended up being much more than that. Simply put, in the course of creating the journal sections, I discovered that Charlotte had come to life most vividly, and, surprisingly to me, became one of the most dominant and complex characters in the book.

You call this a police procedural with no police. How did you manage that?

With a great deal of outlining. The concept was that the local sheriff, facing a tough re-election campaign, was more than willing to accept the murder as an accident, leading my protagonist and some of the victim’s friends to get together and look into it on their own. As with a police investigation, they gather information and get together periodically to share it and put forth hypotheses. I tried to have them put together information that non-law enforcement people would be able to gather. The historian picks up historical information; the newspaper editor contacts public figures; the librarian looks up the sorts of things reference librarians look up, and the protagonist, charged with completing the family history, talks to people he could plausibly talk to in connection with that task.
What one story would you like to share about the trials and tribulations of writing this novel?

This one was pretty tribulation-free, so let me share an unexpected pleasure instead. When I was doing the section of Charlotte’s journal where she and her lover go to San Francisco just before Christmas of 1970, I went to the public library and looked up the San Francisco Chronicle for that period. As a former newspaperman, I was blown away by how good it was and what writers they had. And to think that people used to make fun of it! They didn’t know what they had until they lost it.

Who would you say represent the three most influential writers in the mystery genre?

Because I work in the classical tradition, I’d say Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. And of course Dickens’ Great Expectations (who was Pip’s benefactor?) is one of the best mysteries ever and a great study in how to keep the suspense and story going. If I wrote hard-boiled noir, I’d probably give a different answer.

How has your writing been influenced by them?

From Poe, I got the importance of atmosphere, and from the other two, the importance of presenting the apt detail in the right way. A modern writer has to do more with character and moral issues (although later Christie was pretty good in those respects), but that’s part of the natural evolution of the genre.

If you could name one author who has influenced the current generation of authors, who would that be and why?

Within the mystery-thriller genre, there are so many styles of writing (especially now, when self-publishing has enabled authors to connect with smaller but more passionate groups of readers) that it’s probably an impossible question to answer.

What would you say is the best formula for putting yourself “out there” in front of your readers?

I wish I knew for sure. I do a weekly blog that seems to be steadily gaining readership, and I’ve been growing my Twitter @Qgordonnovel base. Having a website is essential, and I have a page on Goodreads that I probably don’t tend to as much as I should. The one thing that really seems to work is personal appearances, but there’s a limit as to how many of those you can get until you’re famous, at which point you don’t need them as much.

What would you say is an appropriate balance, percentage-wise, between time for writing and time for promotion/building visibility?

When I became a consultant more than two decades ago, another consultant told me, “The problem with this business is that when you’re working, you’re not selling, and when you’re selling, you’re not working.” So it’s an eternal problem, and not just for writers. With three books out now, what I’ve found is that nothing, absolutely nothing, increases book sales as much as putting out another book. With that in mind, my focus — except for the period immediately surrounding the release of a new book — is on getting the next one written and doing whatever promotion I can on the side. I’d say 80-20 in favor of the writing. But that’s a guess, and people who are better at promoting than I seem to be, might find it worthwhile to spend more time on that.

When did you first know you had a book or three in you?

I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was a kid, but not until I completed my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, in my mid-40s, did I realize I could pull off a whole book at an acceptable level. What I found, interestingly, was that the structure of the mystery novel enabled me to clarify the rest of the stuff a novel has to have in a way that I could complete it.

Mini Bio

MICHAEL WALLACE is a native and lifelong resident of California. He received an A.B. degree in English Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, worked for 19 years as a daily newspaper reporter and editor, and has had a long second career as a public relations and publications consultant. He has been an avid reader of mysteries since childhood and a fly fisherman for more than three decades. He lives in the Monterey Bay area with his wife, Linda Ogren, a university lecturer in biology. Their son, Nick, is in the army.


The McHenry Inheritance

Wash Her Guilt Away

Not Death, But Love
          Video: In production

Twitter: @Qgordonnovel


Monday, 6 April 2015

Clayton Bye: An Author with Life Experience

My guest today is fellow author Clayton Bye, who has self-published another collection of ten short stories he wrote. Behind the Red Door is just going to print now. Welcome, Clayton!

When do you find the time to write?

I used to write in the evenings and on the weekends. Did it for over a decade. Now I begin writing (or writing related work) at 6 a.m. and quit between 4 and 5 p.m. I get to do this because of a physical disability that keeps me confined to the couch.

Will you be Indie publishing, looking for an agent/publisher or a combination? 

I’ll be Indie publishing. I’ve been an Indie publisher for 20 years. I made the decision when I began writing that I would publish my own work, and I’ve seen no reason to do otherwise. In fact, I’m a traditional publisher on the side, and I’ve found it less lucrative than publishing my own work. This is mainly due to authors who don’t want to market their books or they don’t understand marketing.

Who would you say have been the three most influential authors in your reading/writing life? Why?

Damon Knight, Steven King, John D. MacDonald. Damon Knight was an editor and a fantastic author in the heady days of the dawn of modern science fiction. I loved his writing. But the thing that influenced me the most was his comment, “No one should be allowed to write before the age of 40—they don’t have enough life experiences.” I was unable to produce any writing of note until I was in my 30’s. His comment gave me hope to keep on trying.

Steven King creates characters and stories like no other. His book on writing gave me a style of writing that fundamentally changed the way I work. Basically, you treat a story like a fossil you’ve found in the ground. Sometimes you can break of large chunks that allow you to see the shape of what it is you’ve found. Other times you must chip and brush with painstaking care in order to tease the thing out of the rock that surrounds it.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Killer Music is a Killer Detective Story!

Hi all! I’m back with author Tammy L. Grace and her brand new detective novel Killer Music.

What gave you the idea for Killer Music?

I went on my first trip to Nashville a few years ago. I spent about a week there and visited all the tourist spots and had a great time wandering around the city. I love to visit capital cities and spent time touring the legislative and capitol buildings. While I was driving through Belle Meade, I thought it would make a great setting for a book. I loved looking at all the gorgeous homes and came up with the idea for the main character of the book to live with his aunt in the exclusive neighborhood. It’s a terrific city with so many things to see and do and I thought adding a little murder, while weaving in a bit of the country music scene and some of the local sites, would be fun.

How much and what kind of research did you do into police procedure, some of the specialized terms used and especially the political aspects of the story?

I retired from the legislative branch of government in my own state and wanted to use some of my knowledge in that area in this story. The political process is interesting and, at times, baffling. I knew it would be fun to exploit some of the processes and the antics of politicians make great fodder for fiction, embellished or not. In addition to my own experience, I researched the Tennessee General Assembly to find out a few things and even called a former colleague to ask specific questions about parking and facilities to make sure I was accurate.

My dad is a retired sheriff and has been in law enforcement since I was a small child. I’ve grown up immersed in stories of crimes and procedures my entire life, so I picked up on much of the process. I relied on my dad’s expertise in fleshing out details and making sure I was accurate with regard to forensic evidence processing and legal procedures for warrants and judicial matters.

Did you block out the entire story in advance or did some of it develop by the seat of your pants?

I outlined 90% of the story, which is different from my last three books in the women’s fiction genre. I found with writing a detective novel I need to delineate the plot points with regard to clues, suspects, and action. I did add a few things as I followed the characters, but most of what I added was related to character development, rather than the murder and subsequent investigation, which were plotted out in detail.